Baitfish Need Love Too!

Tips for Keeping Live Bait ALIVE

Capt. Steve Dougherty November 21, 2011

Offshore anglers understand the importance of healthy live baits and often times make incredible sacrifices to acquire and care for them. Although live baits aren’t ideal for every situation, if you are not already a firm believer you should be. When fished properly and in the presence of game fish the most productive lure or perfectly rigged dead bait can’t compare to a frisky live bait. Unless you’re willing to shell out cold hard cash for precious offerings you have a lot of work ahead of you. If you are serious about fishing with live bait you are eventually going to be forced to fish for live bait. Rain or shine, day or night, calm or rough, the conditions don’t matter and baitfish will beckon die-hards. The question is whether or not you have the dedication to hunt for fish the size of your dehooker.

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A fine mesh dip net protects scales and slime coat of fragile pilchard. Photo: doughertyphotos.com

While on the topic of dehookers, these simple devices protect a baitfish’s slime coat and greatly lengthen their longevity. Under constant attack from predators of all shapes, sizes and species, baitfish are relatively rugged. However, remove them from their natural environment, throw a little road rash into the picture, and the results will be clear to see. Trauma from a cast net, dehooking with your bare hands, and bouncing off a dry deck can result in undesirable consequences.

If you are serious about fishing live bait you need to take extra care to make sure they live a happy and healthy life.

Unless you’re catching a couple dozen baits to head offshore in a hurry, you’ll probably catch and cull baits prior to your day on the water. If you don’t practice the proper techniques your baits won’t last in a bait pen. Combine the trauma of catching and transferring and you have a recipe for a mass kill. Because of this you need to take extra care with a fine mesh dip net. When dipping baits never scoop more than a few at a time as they will likely panic as they bounce off one another. If you have enough patience scoop them one at a time. Professional tournament anglers all have one thing in common—they go to extreme lengths to care for their baits and you should too. With a primer in bait collection and storage, it’s time to go fishing. But don’t think you are in the clear just yet. There are a few things you can do to keep your baits as frisky and enticing as possible once they are on the hook.

The practice of bridling is an effective technique for the healthy presentation of large offerings like goggle eye, blue runner, speedo and tinker mackerel. The process utilizes an open eye rigging needle and small, specialized rigging bands. While you could certainly stab your baitfish with a bare hook, the impaled metal will create a large hole that will quickly zap the life out of your recently lively enticement. Bridling is a much friendlier approach and baitfish rigged in this manner can last for hours.

Start by placing a rigging band in the open eye of a rigging needle. Now place your hook in the loop of the rigging band. Baitfish destined for a flat line should be bridled in the nostrils and you must carefully insert the rigging needle under the bridge of the eye socket. This is a critical region so be sure to get the correct placement. Once you’ve inserted the needle and pulled it through the other side of the bait bring the loop in the eye of the needle over the hook point. With both ends of the rigging band on the shank twist the hook to take up the slack before passing the hook point under the bridge formed in the twisted band. With practice you’ll be able to perform this technique in seconds.

While larger baits destined for trophy pelagics require a bit of surgery, smaller scale baits like pilchard, herring and sardines can be fished effectively without the use of a bridle. But if you’ve ever fished small statured live baits you are likely well aware of their ability to ride up the hook shank. This often results in an unnatural presentation and premature demise. Often times, the hook point gets stuck in the gill plate and results in their expiration.

To keep smaller, fragile baits alive, innovative anglers have devised a simple plan. A soft glow bead designed for various rigging applications can be placed along the hook shank. With a bead positioned just behind the bend in the hook there will be no chance of your nose hooked bait sliding up the shank. While several companies offer soft glow beads, Owner’s #3 works well for a variety of hook sizes.

Often times the best anglers are the ones that are competent at catching and caring for a variety of live baits, not the ones with the flashiest boats and most horsepower. If you are serious about fishing live bait you need to take extra care to make sure they live a happy and healthy life. Otherwise you might as well save the grief and fish with frozen sardines.

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