Commonly known as ten-pounders or whatever they’re called, ladyfish make excellent bait for both inshore and offshore fishing applications.
The ladyfish begins its life offshore, after the adults spawn during the winter months. After being carried inshore, the larval stage under-go a metamorphosis in the estuarine systems throughout coastal regions.
Ladyfish live most comfortably in subtropical climates but can be found along most of the eastern shores of the United States. Though rare, ladyfish have even been reported as far north as southern New England, but their range typically extends only up to the Carolinas.
Ladyfish are common in all the estuarine systems throughout Florida and can tolerate a wide range of salinities, even sometimes appearing in freshwater canals. The ladyfish is widely distributed from inlets all the way into the back country.
Ladyfish are relatives of the tarpon and are sometimes referred to as the ‘poor man’s tarpon.’ Although ladyfish grow nowhere near the size of their bigger cousin, they do closely resemble juvenile tarpon with their elongated bodies and bright silver scales. Ladyfish are fast growers. They can grow from 20-30mm to 200-300mm within the first year. Ladyfish can reach fifteen pounds and around 39 inches but fish this size are rarely encountered. The Florida record is a mere six pounds.
Ladyfish are a schooling fish that tend to gather in large groups. They primarily feed on small fish, such as glass minnows and mullet, with crustaceans rounding out the rest of their diet.
In order to utilize ladyfish as bait, first they must be caught. Due to the schooling nature of the species, more than one can be caught from the group, so adequate numbers are usually available for the taking. The only problem with acquiring ladyfish as bait is storage. Ladyfish can be used instantly as bait, but transporting large amounts alive can be difficult. A large live-well with high circulation is necessary for storing any amount for any length of time. Realistically, no more than a dozen that can be kept for extended periods.
Although ladyfish make great adversaries on ultra-light tackle, the purpose here is to catch them as quickly as possible to be used for baits. Small spoons, jigs, and live shrimp are all effective ways to catch these fish. Target ladyfish in shallow water basins in any of the many inshore estuaries lining both of our coasts. They can be also found swimming in deeper channels while heading from place to place.
Now that the ladyfish have been acquired, there are several methods for using them effectively as bait. The methodology depends on what species of game fish is being targeted and where it will be fished. Chunks of fresh ladyfish can be used in the same way as any other chunk bait while targeting anything from redfish to grouper and all species in between. Freshly sliced ladyfish offers an enticing aroma due to the abundance of fish oil in its flesh. Fish a freshly cut ladyfish chunk in a similar manner to the same way you would fish any other chunk bait.
All sizes of live ladyfish make an appetizing meal, both inshore and off. Inshore fish that can be caught on ladyfish include most notably snook, tarpon, goliath grouper and barracuda and sharks. Live-liners should not be afraid to fish even the largest lady as a monster 20lb plus snook will make an easy meal of the offering. Ladyfish used as bait should be put on large hooks on medium to heavy inshore tackle with fluorocarbon leaders. Add a short trace of wire if specifically fishing inshore flats for barracuda and shark.
Ladyfish also have offshore applications and provide tempting bait for sharks, cuda, king mackerel, grouper, jacks, sailfish and dolphin. Anglers on the west coast have become accustomed to seeing giant goliath grouper often as big as refrigerators willingly slurp down large ladyfish if they are fished on the bottom near typical structure. For this application, super heavy tackle and quick reaction to bites is essential for success.
Live ladyfish sent out on freelines from a drifting boat make an attractive offering to a variety of reef dwelling species. Match the tackle to the fish being targeted. Be prepared for anything though, because depending on the water depth, a marlin may even show up to sample the lady.
All in all, ladyfish make versatile bait that can be used in various applications. Although it is not utilized as often as other baits, adding ladyfish bait tactics to your arsenal of other techniques will definitely help you catch more and bigger fish. As an added benefit, if fishing gets slow, consider switching to ultra-light tackle or fly gear and have fun jumping a few ladies.
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