By Captain Mary A. Fink
Bait selection is one of the most common topics discussed among angling enthusiasts. The two basic bait types are natural and artificial. Artificial baits include a wide variety of options including soft plastics, top water plugs, buck tail jigs, assorted trolling lures, flies and jigs. Natural salt water baits which are most commonly used include live crabs, shrimp, small fish such as mullet as well as a wide variety minnows or baitfish.
If given a choice, I prefer baitfish over all others especially in the back country regions of south Florida, and more specifically, the Ten Thousand Islands. Not only are baitfish a very productive bait, but catching them can be just as fun and exciting as catching fish! Baitfish can be caught using a variety of techniques including nets, traps and tackle.
In our local waters, cast nets are most commonly used to catch live bait such as pilchards or sardines, pinfish, mullet, glass minnows, killifish and other various species of minnows. I enjoy consistent success with a simple ¼ inch mesh cast net with a diameter of 4 feet. It’s a simple net to throw and is light weight and easy to clean. The cast net can be used right from the beach or from the bow of a boat.
In other areas of Florida, such as the Florida Keys, where the water visibility is exceptional and a greater density of minnows can be found, sabiki rigs and bait traps are often used to catch baitfish. The downside of the sabiki rig is its tendency to tangle easily and hook virtually everything in sight including the angler using the rig!
Seine nets provide yet another viable bait catching option. This technique requires two people as both ends of the lengthy net are dragged along the waters edge to trap the bait and bring it onto shore. Seine nets are great fun to use with children as the net captures all types of salt water critters including crabs, shrimp and a variety of sea life, along with the targeted bait, that provide children the perfect opportunity to discover and explore the wonders of the sea that we all enjoy.
There are many advantages of using live bait in our local waters. First and foremost, catching your own bait can cut down or eliminate the need to purchase bait, which can be somewhat costly as most experienced anglers well know. Second, live bait will do most if not all of the work for you! Select a jig head, split shot or heavier sinker based on the strength of the current and the water depth at the given time. You may opt to use no weight at all depending on the type of fishing you choose to do. Some anglers choose to thread the hook through the lips of the minnow, while others thread it through the dorsal fin or tail.
Another benefit to live bait selection is that you can expect a real mixed bag of fish as most all species feed on baitfish. Snook, redfish, snapper, grouper, flounder, mackerel, sea trout and countless other species are aggressive live bait strikers. Use live bait when drifting, bottom fishing or when using a cast and retrieve technique along mangrove edges.
Be sure to extend the liveliness of your bait by keeping the density of the minnows in your bucket or live well fairly low, cool and oxygenated. Use the eco-system to your advantage and go out today in pursuit of your own bait. After all, it’s the natural thing to do!
Captain Mary specializes in fishing the beautiful Ten Thousand Islands. She holds a “six pack” captains license and has a knack for finding fish. A passionate angler possessing over 35 years of extensive experience in both back country and offshore fishing, Mary offers fishing expeditions through her Island Girls Charters company. When fishing with Captain Mary, you will be exposed to a variety of successful techniques including cast and retrieve, drift fishing, bottom fishing and sight fishing. Visit www.islandgirlscharters.com to learn about fishing with Capt. Mary.