What is the secret to landing a monster grouper, or battling a spirited marlin? It’s all in the bait. Most saltwater fish prefer natural baits to artificial lures, so it is important to know what certain species eat. Bait common to a fish’s environment leads to more consistent striking action and angling enjoyment.
Live shrimp is considered by many the best overall saltwater bait. Few saltwater fish species can resist the temptation of lively, fresh shrimp. It is the natural diet of nearly every type of near-shore saltwater game fish. When rigging a live shrimp on a hook, avoid piercing the dark vital organ behind the head. This will ensure the shrimp remains alive longer.
Several saltwater fish prefer small live crabs. Tasty sheepshead and sea trout love to feed on fiddler crabs found around bridge pylons and docks. A great thing about this bait is the ease of finding and catching them, eliminating the need to buy bait. Hook crabs through the rear of their shells to allow natural movement in the water.
Clams are a great bait when surf fishing for species like pompano or whiting. Around seawalls, flounder and halibut will also hit clams consistently. The ideal size for a bait clam is 4 to 5 inches. To rig a line with clam, remove the “meat” from inside the clam shell and run the hook through it to the first bait-holder barb. The point of the hook should remain buried in the meat. A 5-inch clam provides enough bait for up to three hooks.
Small Bait Fish
Larger offshore game fish, such as tarpon and dolphin, are enticed by a variety of small bait fish. Pin fish, pig fish and finger mullet are the most popular choices for saltwater fishermen. Properly rigged bait fish are lively and spark attention from aggressive feeders. Run a hook through the mouth, allowing the fish to move naturally through the water.
Cut bait is simply fish that’s been cut up into smaller pieces. It is flexible and is effective for surf, near-shore and offshore fishing. Large saltwater species in deeper waters, such as grouper and red snapper, are especially fond of cut bait. Prepare cut bait by cutting of the head and tail. Discard the tail, but keep the head. Cut the body into horizontal and vertical strips for rigging on the hook. Keep the hook transparent when rigging the bait.