Bait Strategies

Tips to help you fill your bait tank and catch more fish on live baits.
David A. Brown
Nothing fosters offshore optimism like a well full of live baits. This is the fuel for your fishing machine, so mind the details of collecting prime baits and effectively holding and deploying them. Story and photos by David A. Brown.
The first step is catching bait, and few tools are more helpful than a sabiki rig. In a hurry, however, it's easy to reel the upper end of a sabiki rig into the eye of your rod tip. To avoid tangles and damage to your tip-top, add a plastic bead to your line before tying on the sabiki.
Once you get on a pile of bait, keep several rigs in the water to maximize the opportunity. Watch your spacing and make sure to give everyone room to operate because hooked baits tend to tangle with adjacent lines.
For efficiency and ease of operation, attach your sabiki weight before pulling the rig out of the package. This way, the rig unfolds one section at a time in a neat and manageable order. Getting the sabiki rigs back into the packaging is an exercise in futility.
Fresh, lively baits perform best and look the most attractive to predators, so minimize handling. One trick is to use a dehooker to drop each bait off the sabiki rig directly into the livewell.
Keep an eye on the well throughout the day and scoop out the weak or dead ones, but hold them for cut bait/chum.
It's never a bad idea to have a few dozen live shrimp handy. Snapper, hogfish, tripletail and other reef species love them, while cut shrimp sweetens sabiki rigs for blue runners.
When sharks detect your bait catching commotion, they're naturally drawn to the feeding opportunity. If bite-offs persist, find another bait spot or you'll end up burning rigs and daylight.
Keep watch fur bait "raining" -- baitfish rising to the surface. Sling sabiki rigs around the school's perimeter, but don't bomb the school or you'll send them packing.
A little color can attract attention to your live baits, so consider colored stinger hooks and plastic rigging beads.
For many offshore species, covering the entire water column with a mixed spread is a good bet. Once you determine a consistent bite depth, you can place all of the baits in the strike zone.
In addition to downriggers, anglers can slow-troll baits a little lower in the water column by adding a bullet weight ahead of the nose hook.
The thing about flat lines is that they're not immediately "flat" when they run directly from the rod tip. To get your lines closer to the surface use a release clip attached to the stern.
When trolling big baits like blue runners, it's often helpful to seed the water with the occasional freebie.
Send chum baits farther with a plastic chum bat. Most tackle retailers carry these, but you can make your own by cutting the end off a Wiffle Ball bat.
Big tuna gobble entire baits, so a single circle hook is all you need. Hooking the bait just under the skin at the top of the head makes the bait swim down in the water column.
When you put a frisky live bait in front of a big pelagic predator, the results more than justify all of the effort.
Snipping fresh baits into chum chunks attracts fish without overfeeding them. A common chumming mistake is dumping so many freebies in the water that the fish lose interest in hooked baits.
A live blue runner, caught fresh the day of the trip tempted this nice king mackerel off of Florida's Marco Island. An active display is what you want in your bait spread, as evidenced by Chris Brown's sporty catch.
Right off of Florida's Pinellas County beaches, kingfish ravage schools of sardines and threadfin herring. Trolling live baits around the perimeter of the action gives the appearance of vulnerable baits that will bring kings with bad intentions charging.

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