Bait: 7 Top Tips!

Live bait is king! It doesn’t matter where around the peninsula you ply your craft, live bait certainly plays a key role in every angler’s success. Without question there is always a place and time for artificial baits, but day-in and day-out, NOTHING will out-produce a ‘livie’ frantically flipping for freedom. Even the most modern technology can’t duplicate the irresistible come-eat-me vibration omitted from a struggling baitfish. Tournament competitors will go as far as paying up to $10 for each offering; another testament to live bait’s fish-catching ability.


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Sabiki rigs, often referred to as quill rigs, are available in various colors, shapes and sizes for specific applications. Photo: FSF Mag

If you’re not already proficient in procuring your own live bait, it’s time you smarten up. You’ll save money, certainly catch more, and achieve a level of gratification that only comes with enticing quality fish on bait that you invested your own time and energy to catch. You’ll also learn a tremendous amount about the region you fish in including, migration routes, seasonal patterns, and key focal points that will typically produce bait and game fish year after year.

If you’re tired of purchasing your live bait, the following will get you started and also does well as a refresher course for those interested in advancing their bait-catching skills. Remember one thing though; in the world of fishing the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. Experiment and look way outside the box, as sometimes ingenuity is exactly what is needed to achieve consistent bait-catching success!

1. Location, Location, Location
Bait-fishing is just that; it’s fishing! And like most other species that we target both inshore and off, baitfish are structure-oriented. They have to be because left vulnerable out in the open, well, they’re dead meat! Rock jetties, barnacle encrusted pier supports, shallow reefs and wrecks, grass beds, depending on the precise species of baitfish you are targeting, these locations provide ideal security and solitude. If where to start your search for bait is still a mystery, paper charts and local tackle shops are great places for reliable information.

2. Moving Water
Now that you know where to begin your search, you must time your bait-catching efforts correctly. Incoming or outgoing, it doesn’t matter as long as the water is moving. You’ll typically find the last two hours of incoming and first two hours of the outgoing tide to be the most productive.

Fish For Bait at night
During the daylight hours when boat traffic is at its peak, concentrations of bait generally seek shelter in deeper water, where they become skittish and increasingly challenging to find and catch. Once the sun has set, the same bait will typically move back in shallower and let their guard down. Statewide piers are a great place to take advantage of this phenomenon.

3. Don’t Be A Tool
Assuming you’ve struck pay dirt and have located a solid concentration of baitfish, it is now time to catch them, with two primary options. Sabiki rigs are ideal for plucking baitfish one, two or four at a time. Remember that these innovative quill rigs are classified by style, size, branch strength, and main-line strength. Using a #6 or #8 Sabiki best suited for threadfin herring will leave you extremely frustrated when targeting hearty blue-runners. The same theory applies to the alternative, cast-nets. Cast-nets are classified by diameter, weight-per-foot and mesh-size. Throw a perfect pancake with a 12-foot net on a thick school of finger mullet and you won’t be able to lift the net out of the water. Utilizing the right tool for the job will make the entire bait-fishing experience more productive and more enjoyable.

4. Here Fishy…Fishy
Why wait for baitfish to find you. Anchor over a shallow reef, wreck or wide open grass bed, scatter some chum and low and behold, whatever bait is in the area will soon appear in your slick. Tiny dimples on the surface will give away the baits presence, so keep a sharp eye out. Either frozen chum blocks or your own concoction of sand, ground oats and menhaden oil will ring the dinner bell.

5. Be friend a Dehooker
After investing all of that time and effort to procure a supply of live bait, the last thing you want is your fragile baitfish to perish because of something that could have easily been avoided. Baitfish dehooking devices cost no more than a couple of bucks and by allowing you the ability to dehook your bait without ever touching it and wiping off its protective slime coat, the simple device will guarantee your bait remains healthier longer.

6. Bait Motels
While many anglers only invest time fishing for bait the morning of a big trip, many of Florida’s most competitive fishermen actually bait fish for weeks in advance of an upcoming event, stockpiling hundreds and sometimes thousands of baitfish. Now comes the challenge of maintaining all of this bait and ensuring it is in prime shape for the upcoming challenge. Bait pens in various sizes can be purchased at many retailers and can also be manufactured with only a small investment in time and materials. A couple things to look out for when storing bait in a pen at your dock is rain or drainage from washing your boat. If the heavy dose of freshwater doesn’t kill the bait, the soapy residue surely will. This is why those-in-the-know prefer to sink their pen to the bottom. Like all fish, baitfish must eat to remain healthy. A daily schedule of ground chum will keep your baitfish fit and fed. Finally, don’t overcrowd your bait pen. Too many baitfish in too small of a confined area will quickly take its toll.