The latest high performance offshore center consoles are outfitted with impressive baitwell systems capable of housing multiple forage species in hundreds of gallons of seawater. However, as advanced as these livewell and pump systems are, you can really only reap the full rewards if you keep the captives in excellent condition by using proper handling practices.
I’ve been fortunate to spend time on many different decks under the careful watch of the best captains in the business and can say with absolute certainty that the way you handle live bait makes a huge impact when it comes time to set your spread. From super scoops of a dozen or more baits at once to individually dipping 500 or more fish when transferring between boat and bait pen—and back again—I’ve seen it all.
...the crews willing to work the hardest in the preparation and presentation of live baits see the greatest reward no matter the target species.
It’s no coincidence that the crews willing to work the hardest in the preparation and presentation of live baits see the greatest reward no matter the target species. Combine the trauma of being caught, de-hooked, bounced off the deck and transferred with poor handling techniques, and I guarantee your precious live baits won’t make it through the night. The tournament teams that do it on a regular basis and have seen the results of their efforts do everything possible to increase the stamina and longevity of their prized possessions. Every detail is thought out carefully, including the selection of dip nets.
Unless you enjoy getting your shirtsleeve wet, you’ll want to invest in a dip net that is long enough to reach the bottom of your baitwell. Handles in 18- to 24-inch lengths are common and great for scooping baits out of a livewell, but if you plan on transferring bait between boat and bait pen you’ll definitely want to invest in a dip net with a 5-foot handle. Additionally, nets with aluminum handles weigh less and typically last longer than those made out of wood.
The most serious anglers prevent the loss of scales and slime coat by transferring baits one at a time with a fine mesh dip net. Although most crews aren’t as obsessive compulsive, we only use nets with extra fine 1/64 inch mesh, but 3/16 inch mesh is the standard and will suffice for most. The only consideration you need to make if you use a fine mesh net is that the sun can damage the fragile mesh, so it’s best to store below deck out of the elements. Baitwell dip nets are also available in a variety of basket depths, with a shallow 4- to 6-inch depth ideal for limiting abrasive exposure to the bait’s scales and slime coat. Nets with a 14-inch depth aren’t ideal for dipping baits, but if you are in a bind you can tie a knot in the mesh to give it a shallower scoop.
While it’s in your best interest to move bait from livewell to bait pen one or two at a time so they don’t stress out or beat each other up, when dipping baits out of the livewell to put on a hook you need to show some restraint as well. Don’t scoop half of the fish so you can pick a winner, and then dump the rest back into the well. Instead, strategically hunt for a perfect bait without disrupting all of the others you worked so hard to catch and keep alive. The only time it’s ok to super scoop is when you are live chumming or dispersing baits to numerous anglers waiting with bare hook in hand.
Consistently successful tournament teams all have one thing in common—they go to extreme lengths to care for their baits and constantly evaluate how they can do it better.
Signs Your Bait Has Seen Better Days
– Red noses, bulging eyes and body sores are a clear indication your baits haven’t been handled as carefully as they should be. This could be a result of overcrowding and an insufficient well design for the particular species in captivity.
– If you notice a lot of scales floating around your well, your bait is on its last leg. Make sure your livewell is pressurized to reduce the sloshing of water and cull any dead baits so they don’t stress the remaining stock or block flow valves.
– Baitfish should be happy and mill in a circular schooling pattern. Baits that are stressed will dart into the corners. Avoid rectangular baitwells for species like herring and sardines. It is believed baitwells with blue interiors keep captives happy and stress free.
Phases of the Moon
7.1.15 – Full Moon
7.8.15 – Third Quarter
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8.14.15 – New Moon
8.22.15 – First Quarter
8.29.15 – Full Moon