Life On The Lookout

Miniscule Baitfish Feed The Food Chain

FSF Staff March 15, 2013

The life of a tiny baitfish is a difficult one, with nearly every predator that swims willing and capable of capitalizing on the easy meal. Small statured baits like dwarf herring and various subspecies of silversides and anchovies are prevalent throughout the state’s varied habitats and are nearly indistinguishable from one another. While offering essential nourishment, tiny baits also provide hunting scenarios that train juvenile game fish so they can flourish in nearby haunts once they vacate the shallows.

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Photo: thinkstock.com / istockphoto

With such an important role in the livelihood of inshore ecosystems and the rearing of many of our favorite saltwater species, these diminutive baits often referred to as glass minnows gather in such large concentrations that they often cloud the water. Found along inshore shallows and deeper near-shore depths, dwarf herring, bay anchovies and silversides know no boundaries and tolerate a wide range of salinities and water temperatures. Giant schools can be intercepted along both coasts during the spring and summer, with billions of these translucent baits moving offshore during the cooler months of the year.

Abundant from Mexico to Maine, these semiopaque baitfish congregate in massive numbers and are some of the most abundant species among coastal communities in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Huge biomasses can be found breaking the surface as they attempt to escape relentless predators of all shapes and sizes. From trout to tuna, nearly everything feeds on these nutrient rich morsels. Wherever they are found, shimmering baitfish often result in incredible action as they are a staple in the diet of nearly every carnivorous marine predator.

Feeding on plankton and aquatic invertebrates, baitfish no more than an inch or two long fuel food chains around the state and are some of the easiest forage species to mimic. Whether inshore or near-shore, boiling masses of these flickering baits will be revealed by relentless predators attacking from above and below. Seen dimpling on the surface, these small statured finfish can be caught with a fine mesh cast net or seined along nearly any shoreline, but because they are so tiny they don’t do well in captivity. Furthermore, they are so small that they will likely get sucked through the overflow in your baitwell and kill your circulation. They don’t even do that well on a hook, so it’s best to try and mimic them rather than fish with natural enticements. One thing fresh silversides and glass minnows are great for is chumming. Tossing handfuls of these irresistible offerings into the water is a great way to ignite a feeding frenzy both inshore and offshore. If you can’t find and catch fresh silversides don’t worry, because most tackle shops sell frozen minnows by the box full.

If you are fishing around an erupting school of silversides, there are numerous artificial offerings that will get you connected. Appearing almost invisible, silversides and glass minnows are best imitated by flashy lures that are white or chrome. Conventional wisdom says you want to match the prevalent forage and a host of hard plastic baits like the MirrOdine Mini do a great job at mimicking the natural forage. While some recommend tossing a larger bait or lure in an attempt to stand out from the crowd, small baits are more susceptible to predation and big fish certainly capitalize on the opportunity no matter the size of the offering.

Small SPRO white bucktail jigs with a bit of flash also work extremely well and enable anglers to cast great distances while letting their offering sink below the schooling silversides. When you see a surface eruption you don’t want to cast directly into the melee, rather place your offering along the outskirts of the school. It’s natural for forage species to school in tight patterns, so if a hunting game fish sees a disoriented baitfish outside of the main pack it’s likely game over as it presents an easy target.

If you are looking for the most impressionable presentation it’s hard to beat the subtle approach of a properly presented fly. With the lifelike mimicry offered by expertly tied flies, game fish can hardly tell the difference. These are also great patterns to learn how to tie, with 2- to 3-inch streamers and Clousers tied on #1 or #2 hooks some of the easiest imitations to perfect.

No matter where and when you encounter a boiling mass of tiny baitfish, regardless if they are anchovies, herring, glass minnows or any other species of shiny baitfish, you can practically guarantee it will lead to incredible action. Educated anglers know when glass minnows and silversides are on scene breaking the surface in a panicked frenzy that there are very likely much larger predators lurking in the shadows below.

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