Artificials are fun to throw and it’s rewarding to figure out what the fish want to eat, but for a real thrill there is nothing like having a big fish pickup your live bait and run with it, then getting to set the hook with some gusto. That’s the real kicker for me.
Here in Southern California we’re lucky enough to have live bait haulers and receivers in most of our harbors or bays. These bait suppliers usually have live sardines or anchovies and often times live mackerel as well as squid.
If you’re beach launching or fishing an area away from the harbors and the bait receivers you’ll have to catch your own live bait. As Morgan Promnitz described in a recent Hobie article, the Sabiki or Lucky Joe rig is the most common saltwater rig used to catch our local live baits so I’ll cover a few other methods used across the country that some you may find familiar and some others just plain strange.
Making bait isn’t just for saltwater. A big live crawdad or minnow will sometimes be just the ticket to get that big fat bass to explode out of the weeds. There are a lot of different tools out on the market for makin’ bait in both fresh and salt water and a local Southern California company that I work with, called Promar/AHI, has a very wide selection of these traps and nets available. Here are a few methods that are on the market that you may not have been aware of, but be sure to check your local Fish and Game regulations to make sure that they are legal to use in your area.
Cast nets are a very productive tool for gathering live bait. With just a little practice, a 6-foot or 8-foot net can be cast from the sitting position in a Hobie kayak. Using various sizes of mesh and weights a variety of finfish can be caught with a cast net. In places like Florida, a guide like Alex at LocalLines can throw a cast net from a Hobie to gather bait like backwater mullet, whitebait, and pogies. In California we are only allowed to use cast nets in salt water in the northern half of the state, so please check your local regulations on their use and sizes allowed.
Of all the tools used to gather bait the squid jig is one of the most unconventional looking devices used. A jig to catch market size squid is usually about 6 inches long and shaped like a glow in the dark torpedo sinker. This jig has an eye on top to tie your line to and a series of about 20, one-half inch long, needle like pins attached in a circular fashion near the bottom of the jig and these needles are bent upwards. The squid impale themselves on the bottom of the jig while attacking everything in the area in a spawning frenzy. Sometimes when it’s that easy to catch some “candy bait” and the fishing/catching doesn’t work out, your bait can turn into a delicious calamari dinner.
Another unconventional tool to catch bait is an umbrella net. This device is a 36-inch square piece of netting with four metal rods that pop out and keep the square shape and it has hemmed edges sewn in to insure that your catch stays in the net. The metal rods have an eye at the center of the device to attach a rope to so that you can pull your catch up. The umbrella net is really simple to use. The net is assembled and dropped into the water, then some bread or chum is sprinkled over the submerged net while waiting for the baitfish to gather above it. Once enough bait has gathered over the net it is quickly raised to the surface, trapping the bait fish inside the edges and safely inside the netting.
If your state fish and game wardens allow the use of fish traps in your local area, there are a variety of styles and sizes available to catch everything from minnows and crawfish to small bait fish and crustaceans. Most of these traps are collapsible for easy transport and setup. Some of these traps have a bait pocket built-in, but nothing works to attract baitfish like a can of cheap cat food with some holes poked in it. I prefer the cheapest salmon or seafood feast type of catfood because of their oiliness. Some of these traps have an additional layer of netting at the entrance that keeps the fish or critters from exiting the trap. I find this type of trap to be the most efficient at keeping the bait from escaping, especially with an overnight soak time.
Once you’ve caught that bait you’ll need to keep it alive and ready to go. Some baits, like shrimp or minnows are hardier than others and simply require a bucket with some water and a battery operated aerator to stay alive. Anchovies, squid and sardines on the other hand will require a re-circulation or through-hull pump and a live-well with lots of room for them to swim while the water circulates and oxidizes in order for these species to stay fresh and alive.
Both Hobie live-wells work excellently to keep my local saltwater baits alive and ready to catch that big yellowtail or halibut. The new XL tank has two water levels that you can work with, and both the XL and the regular bait tank are run with 12-volt pumps on a 6-volt battery to keep the pressure of the water from beating up the bait. Happy, healthy bait is what you want to catch that next trophy fish.
Remember, when you are out fishing, be alert with your head on a swivel to see those signs of surface action, keep an eye on your fish-finder for bait-balls and “make bait” when you can.
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