Captain Mary A. Fink
When you are serious about catching, and not just fishing, use live bait. The most common local natural baits include shrimp, minnows or baitfish, sand fleas and crabs.
Shrimp are devoured by virtually all game fish, as shrimp make up a large part of just about any marine fishes diet. The advantages of using shrimp are numerous. Crustacean eaters, such as sheepshead and black drum, can be caught on shrimp and crabs, but not live baitfish. Shrimp can be rigged on a simple bare hook or tipped on a jig head of your chosen weight and color.
Additionally, artificial baits like soft plastics can be tipped with a small piece of shrimp to enhance the offering to the targeted species. Most anglers choose to hook the shrimp through the tail or through the horn on the top of the head with a bare hook or jig head.
I have had great success taking the head off of a shrimp (if already recently dead) and threading the hook through the body allowing the jig head to act as the shrimp head. This rig works quite well for fish that “short bite” like mangrove snapper and pompano. One disadvantage of using shrimp is that they must be kept in well oxygenated water with high salinity levels and cool temperatures, making shrimp challenging to keep alive during the hot summer months.
Live minnows or baitfish make excellent offerings for most local species as well. The most common local bait fishes used are mullet, pinfish, herrings and killifish or “mud minnows.” Most baitfish are hooked through both lips and are used on a bare hook or a jig head of choice.
Another popular technique is to hook the offering through the back in front of the dorsal fin, allowing the fish to swim a bit deeper. The advantage of using live minnows is that it allows you to introduce a natural portion of the food chain or ecosystem into the fishing experience.
My top pick when fishing with live minnows is the tough killifish, or mud minnow. Unlike all of the other live baits mentioned, the killifish can survive quite well in waters of high or low salinity levels, temperatures and oxygen levels. Killifish can be found along beaches, in puddles found at low tide, mangrove edges and grassy flats. Because the killifish likes to hide in and around cover like grass and dead branches, blind casts along the shoreline can often be productive in these areas. Popular game fish species like snook, redfish and trout find the hardy killifish hard to resist and will devour them at first glance. I see no disadvantage to using the killifish (subtle hint).
Red fish, black drum, and sheepshead are the most prevalent predators of live crabs. Too keep your offering lively, hook the crab through the corner of the shell with the hook point entering the underside of the carapace and exiting the top. When sheepshead and black drum are your targeted species, use a weighted jig head or a standard slip-sinker rig to keep the offering near the bottom for best results. Look for areas where barnacles, dead branches and oyster beds are near by, providing the ideal habitat for these species.
To increase your chances of catching fish on your next outing, be sure to use live bait as it is 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 backcountry 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, or reach her at 239-571-2947.