Statewide Tips For Hitting The Live Bait Jackpot!

In today’s day and age, there are a plethora of artificial offerings that assist in enticing your favorite game fish. Vertical jigs, soft plastics, flies, topwater and trolling lures…and the list goes on and on. However, after all is said and done, live bait is still extremely hard to beat. While the latest and greatest technological advancements have no doubt created the most lifelike artificial lures anglers have ever seen; even the most modern offerings can’t duplicate the alluring vibrations and fish attracting abilities of a wounded baitfish. Under certain scenarios live bait is an absolute necessity – sometimes it’s even a guarantee. This is precisely why the most successful anglers are also excellent bait fishermen. While it’s understandable why most people don’t enjoy twitching a quill rig in the wee hours of the morning, it’s a vital part to any angler’s overall success. That is unless you’re willing to dish out some cold hard cash!


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Heading offshore with a livewell full of frisky offerings is many anglers’ ticket to success. Photo: Steve Dougherty

While South Florida’s most highly prized offerings top out at around $100 a dozen, the price and availability will be dependent on the specific forage. Handpicked shrimp, mud minnow, pilchard, goggle-eye, blue-runner, American eel, squirrelfish, pinfish, and mullet. You name it and somewhere around the great state of Florida someone is selling it. While we’re not discouraging you from purchasing live bait under certain circumstances, if you learn the patterns and movements of the local forage you will get a better understanding of why some areas attract and hold baitfish more consistently than others. Some features that create ideal habitats include docks, mangroves, grass flats, oyster bars, inlets, jetties, piers, reefs and wrecks. The reason these areas hold so much life is because it is structure that provides relief and safe harborage from nearby predators.

Whether you prefer to fish inshore or offshore, it should come as no surprise that highly prized predators will typically be holding in the same general areas as baitfish. Quite simply, predator migrations are a direct correlation to an area’s population of baitfish. When you hear of smoker spring king mackerel caught in 20-feet of water, why do you think they’re holding so shallow? I can tell you for certain they aren’t interested in a day at the beach.

There’s no denying the fact that locating massive concentrations of baitfish often leads to a productive day on the water. If you have a firm grasp on an area’s baitfish migrations you’ll be given a treasure map to the highly prized predators you seek. Sometimes finding baitfish is as simple as locating diving birds and surface commotion. While surface strikes and nervous water will be obvious giveaways, many times it won’t be as apparent. This is when you may hear your VHF crackling signs of desperation.

While searching out baitfish is an effective means of procuring a solid catch, in some arenas it’s best to let the bait come to you. Along the Gulf Coast of Florida inshore arenas are dominated by shallow grass flats and tannin-tinted waters. Here, pinfish and whitebait are the main aggressors and can easily be aroused with a bit of chum. Chum also has its place around offshore venues. When ballyhoo are prevalent along Florida Key’s reefs, a steady chum slick can draw these bountiful baits within reach. However, there are certain situations where chum bags aren’t effective. When you’re fishing an area with swift current and the captain is required to constantly stay on top of the action, a chum slick will be rendered useless. Understanding how to read the water and deciphering what you’re looking at is an extremely import aspect of becoming a great angler. Bait fishing is only one step of the process.

Search & Destroy

If you’re new to an area you most likely won’t know exactly where to find bait, but since you’re an educated angler you’ll have a good idea where to start. Resources that will help increase your effectiveness include marine charts, bait shops, fishing clubs, and online forums. On most weekends you can find bait by simply looking for other boats. If you see anglers pulling in full-stringers of frisky offerings, it’s safe to assume you’re in the right spot. When baitfish can’t be found on the surface, a high-definition fish finder helps take the guesswork out of pinpointing prime depths.