It doesn’t matter where you fish in Florida—there are certain species of baitfish that are common topics of conversation. Rounding out the trifecta of tantalizing temptations from the scad family are round scad, often called cigar minnows. Highly effective both live and dead, cigar minnows can be found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the entire Atlantic Seaboard. They can be secured with even greater consistency from the freezers of your local bait shop, with a 5-pound box retailing for about $12. Highly versatile in both the ways they can be rigged and the species they will allure, cigar minnows can reach lengths up to 12 inches, but are more regularly encountered in the 6- to 8-inch range. Fast and strong-willed, you can’t go wrong when you send out a cigar minnow to any level in the water column.
It doesn’t make a difference if you’re a die-hard grouper digger fishing fertile structure with high relief or a seasoned tournament veteran chasing smoker kingfish, do yourself a favor and arm yourself with cigar minnows. Depending on seasonality and location around the state, these hardy offerings can be found near piers, inlets, jetties, navigational buoys, reefs and wrecks. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t find success initially. To achieve any level of consistency you must put in your time and pick up on noticeable patterns that relate to moon phase, tidal flow, water temperature and season.
In Florida’s Panhandle, cigar minnows show up in the summer and hang around until early fall when air temperatures start to drop. During the winter—like many fish—cigar minnows head south to warmer climates. When it comes to promising areas, sea buoys are great areas to try your luck. The thick chains that hold the buoys in place provide a wide variety of marine growth with necessary structure where baitfish are afforded shelter, protection and food. Like most baitfishing endeavors an early start is essential. Inlets and jetties also offer prime territory, with moving water key to success.
While cigar minnows can indeed be encountered along near-shore locales, offshore wrecks and areas of prominent live bottom offer alternative opportunities to load up on these versatile offerings. Another key factor to reaching a level of consistent success lies in your ability to tune and understand the returns on your color fish finder. Baitfish can be identified as a yellow or light colored fuzz and depending on their size and concentration, the returns may be darker in color. With time spent chasing schooling baitfish you’ll soon start to notice distinguishable patterns. Once you’ve cashed in on some soggy stoagies and correlate what you see on your scope with what’s coming over the rail, you’ll find that cigar minnows often school in a vertical pattern instead of holding tight to a particular depth. You’ll also notice that when catching cigar minnows, threadfin herring and Spanish sardines are often in the mix.
No matter where you choose to wet a line, a #6 or #8 quill rig will get you in the game. If you see baits dimpling on the surface a cast net can also be thrown, but you can expect these baits to be a bit weakened from the trauma of the net. While it’s not always necessary, chum can help bring them in. And similar to ballyhoo, cigar minnows will practically mouth morsels of chum right from the bag. As is often the case, baitfish that seem well within reach are often the most difficult to fool. To score these sneaky scad you’ll want to hold your rig as still as possible so the quills ride down current with the chum. This can be very frustrating as you’re practically cane poling, with the cigar minnows cautiously eyeing your hooks. When you feel a nibble slowly lift the rod tip and avoid sharply jerking the rod. They have relatively fragile mouths and if you aren’t gentle you will pull the hooks.
Cigar minnows caught on hook and line are much larger than their frozen counterparts, but don’t discount super scad popsicles. Frozen cigar minnows are routinely used as enticing bottom baits around the state. Most anglers are familiar with frozen sardines, but for just a little bit more those in the know purchase frozen cigar minnows. They’re firmer and hold together better after being frozen. While a chunk or whole cigar minnow is very appealing to a hungry grouper or snapper, many anglers are fond of their ability to entice smoker kings when slow trolled with a duster rig. Whatever your flavor, these great baits will lead you to success. Work your way up the food chain and get in the game.