• Published:March 28, 2013
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You catch more fish with live bait. Fishing with live bait is an extremely effective technique for catching a wide range of game fish, and George Mitchell is an expert fishing pro who agreed to share some of the live-baiting secrets that he employs in his home waters off Florida.
Mitchell, a 40-year veteran charter captain, guide, tournament fisherman and Yamaha Pro Angler, has been sharing his knowledge through Yamaha's Saltwater School for many years. He also has an impressive number of wins and top 10 finishes in the Southern Kingfish Association's Professional Kingfish Tour.
In this two-part series, Mitchell will demonstrate seven of the rigs he uses for kite fishing, trolling and drift fishing for sailfish, kingfish and tuna. He will also cover deep drifting for bottom species and with downriggers.
"To fish live bait effectively, your boat has to have a live well and pump system capable of supporting them."
"To fish live bait effectively, your boat has to have a live well and pump system capable of supporting them," said Mitchell.

Mitchell's 36-foot Yellowfin powered by triple Yamaha F300s, Snake Dancer, has two large live wells fed by three 2,000-gph bilge pumps housed in a sea chest in the bilge. A network of valves and hoses allows Mitchell to feed just the right amount of flow to accommodate goggle-eyes, greenies, hardtails, mullet, bluefish and rainbow runners.

The baits Mitchell uses are dictated by the location he fishes and the game fish he targets. His boat is set up for charter and tournament fishing, and frequently carries more baits than most anglers would need, but his set up does demonstrate the importance of having a live-well system that carry a lot of bait and keep them kicking. You never want your baits to die halfway through a day of fishing.


Mitchell is a big proponent of fishing with kites, and not just for sailfish. He flies kites for kingfish, blackfin and yellowfin tuna -- almost any game fish that will attack on the surface.

This rig is specifically for sails and tuna, and makes the baitfish splash and swim invitingly on the surface while keeping the leader out of the water. The rig consists of a mini barrel swivel, a long fluorocarbon leader and a circle hook. It's important to have an "open eye" rigging needle and small plastic bands. Both are readily available at tackle shops. 

Slip the plastic band into the needle eye and over the hook. Insert the needle into the fish's back, an inch or so behind the head, and pull the plastic band through, then detach it from the needle. Next, slip the hook point into the plastic band where the needle was and twist it a couple of times. 

Finish the rig by passing the hook point between the fish's back and the band. This keeps the band from unraveling while allowing the hook to be completely exposed when a game fish inhales the bait.


The same basic technique can be used for drifting, slow trolling or even casting to a fish on the surface for a wide variety of non-toothy game fish. It works whether the live bait is being fished on a flat line, with weight, or from a downrigger. It also keeps the circle hook completely exposed so it can easily wrap around the jaw structure of an attacking game fish. 

Start with the same needle, band and hook arrangement as above, but instead of inserting the needle in the back, pass it through the fish's nostrils on the forward area of the head. 

This rig is finished the same way as the first rig, the only difference is the position of the hook forward of the fish. This position allows the fish to swim naturally as it is pulled along by the boat. 


The Single Hook Wire Kite Rig comes into play when toothy fish, such as kingfish or wahoo, are in the area. Your primary target with this rig could also be tuna or sailfish.

Set up the leader the same way as the two rigs above, but add a trace of AFW Tooth Proof stainless steel wire (range from #5 through #7), about 12 inches long with a mini swivel on one end and a ringed circle hook on the other. Both are attached to the wire using a haywire twist. 

Note that the hook is placed directly in the fish instead of using a bridle, and it is positioned in the same location as the other kite bait rig. Be careful not to plant the hook too deeply in the fish, obstructing the gap between the hook point and shank. That makes it harder for the circle hook to wrap around the jaw structure of the attacking game fish, and can result in missed bites. 

These three single-hook rigs cover a wide range of fishing applications, but are used primarily for sailfish, blackfin tuna, yellowfin tuna on the surface and bottom fish such as grouper, snapper and amberjack when fished deeper in the water column. They work well with goggle-eyes, greenies, smaller mackerel, mullet and blue runners.

The wire rig is a great way to avoid getting cut off by kingfish or wahoo while targeting other game fish. The next installment will cover the tournament-proven rigs Capt. Mitchell uses when specifically targeting kingfish during competition. Stay tuned.