With countless natural and artificial offerings available to Florida anglers, and numerous different baits effective for various species across a wide array of venues, we wanted to take a closer look at the options and share the benefits of each offering in a one-on-one competition. As Bait Wars progresses, readers may be surprised to learn there are scenarios when an artificial lure is favored over natural bait for its versatility and availability, while on other occasions nothing seals the deal like the real thing.
Average Size: 3- to 6-inches
AKA: Pilchard, Whitebait
Overall Rating: 8.5 / 10
Best Rigging Method
From 10 to 30 lb. running line, add 20 to 50 lb. fluorocarbon leader three- to six-feet in length depending on bait size and target species. A thin gauge 2/0 to 5/0 circle-hook impaled through the nostrils or a J-hook placed directly above the anal fin keeps anglers connected. Weight can be added in the form of a sliding egg sinker (fish-finder rig) when targeting snapper and grouper. Scaled sardines are extremely versatile baits and can also be fished on 1/4 or 1/2 oz. jigheads and free lined into fast moving currents—a favorite for Florida Keys flag yellowtail.
Native to the coastal waters of the western Atlantic including the Gulf of Mexico, scaled sardines school in immense numbers in and around inlets, buoy markers and piers. You can also find them above shallow patch reefs and along seagrass beds and sand flats. Spring through fall represent the the peak period for catching and fishing these silvery sensations.
Once congregated, scaled sardines are relatively easy to procure using a #6 sabiki rig or cast net with 5/16″ mesh. While many pros turn to secret chum concoctions created from a mixture of canned cat food, sand and oats with a drizzle of menhaden milk, frozen blocks of double ground menhaden chum are equally effective.
Scaled sardines are relatively easy to maintain in an adequately plumbed livewell or in a large circular bait pen. Always use a dehooking device when handling sardines. Even a quick grip with a bare hand will compromise their protective slime coat and start a downward spiral that will only end one way—dead bait!
Scaled sardines are deadly hook baits for a wide variety of species inhabiting Florida waters including trout, snook, redfish and Spanish mackerel in the near-shore shallows, and sailfish, dolphin, tuna and king mackerel in the offshore arena. Pilchard are also a favorite for live chumming purposes. The only downside to scaled sardines is that they are relatively fragile and hook baits must be changed often for maximum appeal.
LIVETARGET® Scaled Sardine
Average Size: 3- to 4.5-inches
AKA: Twitchbait, Wakebait
Overall Rating: 7 / 10
Best Rigging Method
From 10 to 20 lb. running line, add 30-inches of 20 to 50 lb. fluorocarbon leader depending on target species, venue and water clarity. Connect the lure with a small loop knot for maximum mobility.
Available at major tackle retailers and local bait shops statewide and beyond. Ask for LIVETARGET® lures by name.
Sold in twitchbait (no lip) and wakebait (small lip) models in floating or suspending versions with multiple colors and finishes. We’ve had excellent success with both metallic and ghost patterns, with the latter absolutely deadly in stained water tight to mangrove shorelines.
Rinse with freshwater after each use. Store in dry tackle storage container. When targeting open water pelagics, consider replacing treble hooks with single J-hooks.
The LIVETARGET® Scaled Sardine is hard to differentiate from the real thing. With its 3-D scale pattern and erratic swimming action, this lure is quickly becoming a favorite for fooling a wide variety of inshore and offshore game fish. Anything that eats sardines will eat this bait! The advantages of fishing a lure over natural bait are availability and ease of sustainability. Anglers can also tailor their approach with suspending or floating models. Because live sardines have a mind of their own, they often avoid predation by swimming where they want when they want. On the other hand, a LIVETARGET® Scaled Sardine can be presented and controlled to swim with a number of different retrieve styles exactly where and how you’d like it to.
Edging out the competition by only a few tiny scales, the natural baitfish emerges victorious in this close bout.
A live scaled sardine’s ability to tempt a wide array of prized game fish, both inshore and offshore, and its ease of availability and sustainability rank them as nearly perfect baitfish. And while the artificial lure can produce equally exciting results under ideal conditions, you can’t live chum with $15 lures, nor can you present a plastic twitchbait a hundred feet below the surface. It’s for these reasons live bait wins the battle over this fabulous fake.