To find the best live bait you’ll first need to understand the habits of the fish you are trying to catch. Once you know your specific bait requirements the next step is capturing some and keeping them alive long enough to use.
Types of Live Saltwater Bait
Small Bait Fish
Small bait fish are used to attract larger predators and especially game fish. Saltwater baitfish can help anglers of all skill levels catch a wide variety of fish. Luckily, most baitfish are readily available, reproduce often, and are not too difficult to catch.
Some examples of baitfish include menhaden, anchovies, mullets, sardines, ballyhoo, herring, pilchards, and plenty of other species. You can typically find these fellas in places like bays, canals, jetties, beaches, reefs, and more. Additionally, fisheries and government organizations conduct surveys to monitor bait fish populations and set quotas. That’s why it’s important to check any local regulations before catching, keeping, and using live bait fish.
Shrimp are another popular form of live bait that is abundant and can be found from coast to coast. Due to this, shrimp tend to be one of the most popular types of bait for anglers both inshore and offshore. They can be caught in a variety of ways including cast netting and through the use of mesh dipped nets. Keep in mind that different size shrimp tend to hit for different-sized fish.
EELs tend to live in and around tidal rivers or bays and can be caught with special eel pots or more generic fish traps. As an added bonus eels are easy to keep alive and you’ll often only need a bucket full of water and a bit of seaweed. If you are you’re trying to catch striper look no further than eel for effective live bait.
Hard and soft shell crabs make great live bait for tobia, tarpon, redfish, and plenty other species. The most popular kind to use as bait tends to be blue crab, but you can also make use of mole, sand, and fiddler crabs. Blue crabs, in particular, are often available to catch from the coast of Maryland all the way down to the gulf of Mexico.
Squid make great live bait because they can help you catch just about any type of fish out in the open ocean and even inshore. More specifically, you can make great use of squid as bait when trolling.
Ways to Catch Live Saltwater Bait
A casting or throw net can be used to catch various kinds of bait fish and crab. Throwing a casting net can be difficult and the bigger the net the harder it gets. We suggest practicing at home on the lawn if it’s your first time or want to move up in size. Your best bet is finding areas with large concentrations of bait fish like near structures or the shoreline.
Make sure to also check your local cast net regulations as they can vary from area to area.
There are several different types of traps for catching different species of bait. These include crab, shrimp, fish, and lobster traps to name a few. This method takes a little more patience as you will most likely have to sink the trap for at least a day. If you have the time trapping can net you some fantastic live bait. Pro tip: chum up the trap a bit before letting it down.
Sabiki rigs come with pre-attached leader lines with small hooks that catch bait fish. This is an effective method as you can adorn the lines and hooks with sparkles to further attract the bait fish. Simply attach your rig to a fishing line, throw it out to a school of fish, and watch the magic happen.
Raking & Digging
Using a rake or your hands to dig up sand crabs, sand fleas, worms, and clams is another great way to capture live bait for your next fishing trip. If you’re lucky you may even find other fun trinkets in the process like lost jewelry and more.
Choosing Bait Based on Species
The best way to choose live bait is to understand the feeding habits of the types of fish you are looking to catch. Continue reading for a list of popular fish and the recommended live bait that will help you catch them.
Grouper: Sardines, Mullet, Menhaden, Squid, and Shad.
Red Snapper: Minnow, Herring, Mullet, Squid, Menhden, and Pinfish.
Speckled Trout: Crab, Mullet, Sardines, Shrimp, and Pinfish.
Cobia: Blue Crab, Shrimp, Pinfish, and Eels.
Wahoo: Ballyhoo, Menhaden, Pinfish, Shrimp, Sardine, Minnow, and Mullet.
Salmon: Sand Shrimp, Herring, and Minnows
Striped Bass (Striper): Eels & River Herring
Mackerel: Menhaden, Scaled Sardine, and Blue Runner.
How to Maintain and Keep Your Bait Alive
To ensure your live bait attracts fish, you’ll need to keep them alive and moving. That means you should follow some best practices like not overcrowding bait, aerating your well water, and keeping the water at room temperature. The general rule of thumb is that the cooler the weather the longer bait can survive in your bucket or well.
Additionally, you can use things like air pump systems, bait trays, live boat wells, and more to help better hold and keep bait alive.
It’s easy to forget how much work goes in to saltwater fishing. Not only do you need to master the proper fishing techniques and equipment, but you will also have to understand your desired fish enough to know what they’ll feed on. Once you have this information, collecting live bait is the best way to go. As an added bonus, collecting your own live bait can save you a decent amount of money in the long run.
Written by Don McDowell