Catching Live Bait
F or many people catching live bait is just not something they think about. They will either use frozen bait—which is ok but can result in feeding lots of small fish—or they go buy the live bait at a tackle shop. However, having fresh live bait can make all the difference between a good day of fishing and an average day.
Consider yourself and your eating habits. Most people prefer fresh food over frozen or older leftovers, and it’s the same with fish! Feeding them good, fresh bait is always the best. So how do you catch it and where? So how do you catch it and where?
The Cast Net:
You’re going to need a good, fast-sinking cast net to catch live bait. Smaller pogies are easier to get because they are usually in shallow water compared to the ocean pogies that can be located in as much as 50’ of water. I use an 8’ Betts Old Salt Cast Net for all my inshore live baits and sometimes in the ocean if the water is not more than about 15’ deep. If the depth is more than 15’ I’ll pull out the 12’ net. The 12’ net means you’d better be ready for a workout, and if you load the net with baits, you’ll need help pulling it into the boat!
Regardless, the point is: Buy a fast-sinking net if you want to be successful at catching live bait of any kind. Don’t skimp on the net! Cheap nets will work you to death and will not sink fast enough. Spend the money on the Betts Old Salt or Super Pro, or a good Calusa Net. You’ll be glad you did.
Live Menhaden (Pogies):
Live pogies are a favorite of many local fishers—and fish. In early spring they are the only larger live bait around, as many of the other baits are too small to use and harder to find. Looking in warmer creeks off of the Intracoastal Waterway, especially places where there is not much current, will be where the small (1” to 2”) to medium ( 2” to 4”) pogies are growing up. These little baits are great for red drum, flounder, Spanish, kings and speckled trout. The larger pogies (4” to 8”) are located in the inlets, Cape Fear River, and from just off the beach to further out in the ocean. These are the larger baits used for king mackerel, large Spanish mackerel, cobia, jacks, grouper—just about every fish in the ocean love them! A large Flounder also will eat a 5” or 6” pogie, so don’t be afraid to use a large bait because you just might catch a very large fish!
Mud minnows can be purchased at tackle shops but also can be caught with a cast net as well as a minnow trap. Mud minnows are also small right now but are growing fast and can be used for red drum, flounder as well as trout. They work all season long but tend to get rejected as the mullet minnows grow and become abundant. Look for these guys in shallows at the water’s edge, in small saltwater canals, and in pools around muddy waters. The mud minnows are very robust and can last for a long time.
Mullet minnows are certainly the crowd favorite of many fishermen/women and fish. As these little guys grow up and show up, we all get excited to see them. They can be found everywhere from the ICW, small creeks, the Cape Fear River, the water’s edge in the inlets and also in the ocean near shore out about a half-mile or so.
The mullets are very fast swimmers, so having that fast-sinking net is critical if in deep water. In shallow water it’s a bit easier, but they are still very fast—so practice accuracy in your aim and you’ll get right to catching them. Mullets are very robust as well but do tend to lose their gusto after a half-day in the bait bucket or live well.
There are other live baits such as pilchards, croakers, pinfish and other small fish that also work but the three listed above are the most commonly used around here.
Remember to keep them all in fresh or re-circulating salt water and catching fresher bait every two to three hours always works best. The fish you’re after are smart and they can tell the difference in a fresh bait and one that has been captured for three to six hours. Fresh bait always wins!
If you buy your live bait, get it from the local tackle shops that work hard to keep you fishing all year round!