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Saltwater Fishing Bait - Catching, Brining, Freezing, Rigging and Fishing with Baits

Updated on August 4, 2015

Top Baits for Saltwater Fishing

This page has information about baits for saltwater fishing; how to catch, brine, freeze, rig and fish with live or cut baits.

Popular baits for saltwater fishing include shrimp, crabs, clams, mole crabs (sand crabs), squid, bloodworms, sand worms, mussels, silversides, glass minnows, mummichugs, spot, pinfish, pigfish, ballyhoo, herring, shad, menhaden, mullet, eels and other species.

Many of these baits can be caught using cast nets, sabiki rigs, seines, dip nets, minnow pots, fish traps, umbrella nets or other specialized equipment.

mummichog
mummichog

How to Catch Live Bait

Information on catching your own live bait.

Popular bait catching equipment includes cast nets, sabiki rigs, seines, dip nets, minnow and fish traps and umbrella nets.

These options allow anglers to catch live bait such as shrimp, crabs, squid, silversides, glass minnows, mummichugs, spot, pinfish, pigfish, ballyhoo, herring, shad, eels and other small fish suitable a live baits or to store or use immediately as fresh baits.

Brines and Brining - The Key to Preserving and Freezing Bait

Learning to brine baits can greatly enhance your stock of fishing bait. Brining will preserve and toughen bait, making it suitable for freezing and more useful after thawing.

There are 2 basic methods for brining baits.

Kosher Salt Coating

Prepare baits by rinsing in sea water. Cut larger baits such as fish bellies or squid into strips. Add baits and coarse kosher salt to a ziploc bag and shake vigorously. Add enough salt to thoroughly coat all the baits. Purge excess air from the bag and store. Most baits will remain somewhat flexible due to the salt, even when frozen.

Brine Solution

The second method is to mix up a liquid brine using about 1 cup of kosher salt to 2 cups of water. Baits can be cut and cleaned before adding to the solution.

Storage of Brined Baits

Brined baits should be kept on ice or refrigerated for short periods, or frozen for longer storage. Correctly brined baits often last up to a year.

Catching Bait with a Sabiki Rig

This special leader features a daisy chain of small lures.

Perhaps the easiest way to catch bait is with a sabiki rig. This special leader features a daisy chain of small lures. Anglers sometimes bait the sabiki hooks with tiny bits of bloodworm as an added attractant. The rig is then slowly worked along the bottom near pilings or over structure. The rig will catch spot, perch, herring and even silversides or other species of minnows.

cast net
cast net

Cast Nets for Catching Bait

Cast nets are excellent tools for catching bait. They work well in the surf, along shorelines and from boats. To catch bait effectively, a quality cast net is important. Cheap versions may not open or sink correctly, which allow fish to escape in some situations.

Bait Fishing Checklist

Before heading out to catch bait, it may be helpful to make a list of items needed. The following is an example of a bait fishing checklist:

cooler
ice
bait
buckets
dip net
seine
cast net
small aquarium net
crab traps
minnow traps
strainer
salt or brine solution
plastic bags
towels-rags
flashlight
local fishing regulations booklet

Popular Live Baits

Spot

Spot are named and identified by the distinctive dark spot above the pectoral fin. The species is also known as lafayette, goody, or Norfolk spot. Spot are common from Cape Cod to Florida and through the Gulf of Mexico. Spot rarely exceed 10 inches in length, making them highly sought after as live baits. These fish are abundant in near-shore oceanic areas, coastal bays, and estuaries.

Pinfish

Pinfish, also known as sailor's choice, or pin perch is one of the most common inshore fish. It ranges from Massachusetts through the Gulf of Mexico. Pinfish known to coastal anglers as a "bait stealer," but are sought after as a bait for other larger fish. Pinfish are abundant from Virginia south. Pinfish are typically 4-8 inches in length and are usually considered as baitfish.

Pigfish

Pigfish are colorful members of the grunt family. They are marked with a bluish upper and a silver lower body. Each scale has a blue center and bronze edge, which forms a series of yellow-brown stripes on the sides and sometimes exhibits orange bands on the snout and head. The full range of pigfish extends from Massachusetts through the Gulf of Mexico, although they are rare north of Virginia. Pigfish make excellent live baits for striped bass, cobia, sharks and other species.

Eels

Eels can be very effective as live baits in saltwater fishing. They are usually hooked thru the lips or eye sockets and fished on a Carolina style leader, with a no weight or with an egg sinker above the leader. Anglers use circle or live bait hooks, depending on personal preference.

Live eels are usually allowed to drift along rips, drop offs or channel edges where large fish tend to congregate. Along the Mid Atlantic coast they are also popular for sight casting to cobia.

Striped Mullet

Striped mullet are common in warm to temperate coastal waters. Immature mullet are 3 to 8 inches long, making an excellent choice for live bait. The fish have a rounded, silvery body, dark bluish green back and dark stripes on the sides, and a small mouth.They spend a great deal of time close to shore around the mouths of streams and rivers or in brackish bays, inlets and lagoons with sand or mud bottoms. Striped mullet can often be seen in coastal waters, jumping to evade predators.

Atlantic Menhaden

The Atlantic menhaden is a toothless herring with a blue, blue-green or blue-brown body. The sides, fins and belly are silvery, often with a yellowish sheen. Menhaden are a favorite prey of many predatory fish and other species, including bluefish, weakfish, striped bass and others. Menhaden can be caught using cast nets or seines.

Atlantic Mackerel

The Atlantic mackerel is native to both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. On the US coast, it ranges along the continental shelf from Labrador south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Mackerel are caught in the ocean using leaders equipped with multiple jigs. The make excellent cut or whole baits for sharks, tuna, striped bass, bluefish and other Atlantic species.

Atlantic Herring

The Atlantic herring is one of the most abundant species of fish on the planet . They are small, pelagic fish known for their schooling tendencies. Herring are iridescent, greenish or grayish blue dorsally with a silvery abdomen and sides. They can be caught using jigs or cast nets and make excellent baits for predatory fish found in the Atlantic.

Atlantic Silverside

Atlantic silversides live over sandy seashores and mouths of inlets. They are an important forage fish for predators such as striped bass, bluefish, weakfish and Spanish mackerel. Silversides are caught with seines, traps or small mesh cast nets. Their small size makes them difficult to fish as live baits but the results can be well worth the effort.

Mummichogs

Mummichogs and other species of killifish make excellent saltwater baits. Live mummichogs, often called "bull minnows" are kept alive and used for catching flounder (fluke), bluefish, trout and other species. Mummichogs are easily caught with a minnow trap and are also available from coastal fishing tackle shops.

Fish Traps

Mid to large size bait fish can be caught using fish traps. Cans of cat food are sometimes pierced just enough to leak and then used for bait in spot traps. Other baits such as fish scraps can also be used for attracting bait fish to the trap. Always check local regulations before attempting to catch bait with traps.

Seines

Seines work well for catching bait but are bulky, expensive and require a large amount of effort. Seines are fine mesh nets with a pole on each end. Fishermen work in pairs, pulling the net across the bottom and up onto a shallow shoreline. Seines will catch practically everything in their path, including small fish, crabs, shrimp and other baits.

minnow trap
minnow trap

Minnow Traps

Minnow traps are easy to use. These traps consist of 2 bucket shaped sections that snap together. Each half is made of wire and has a funnel shaped entrance.

A line secures the trap to a dock or piling. The trap is baited with fish scraps, bread, raw chicken necks or other baits and left overnight. Minnow traps work well for smaller baits such as killifish (saltwater minnows) or grass shrimp.

Crabs for Bait

Blue Crabs

The Atlantic blue crab is found in inshore areas of the Atlantic Coast. These crabs make excellent bait for bottom dwellers such as croakers, spot, sea bass and tautog. They are fished as cut bait and occasionally fished whole.

Green Crab

The green crab is an introduced species that is originally from Northern Europe. Their shell size can be up to 3". Green crabs are now found from New Jersey to Nova Scotia, and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Rock Crab

The rock crab is a common species of shallow-water crab. It is usually found sheltering in nooks and crevices. It is a fairly un-aggressive species. These are mid sized crabs, with shell widths up to about 5". Rock crabs are found from Labrador southward to South Carolina.

Jonah Crab

The Jonah crab is a species of crab found on the Atlantic coast of North America. It is closely related to the Dungeness crab of the Pacific Coast. Jonah Crabs look similar to rock crabs due to similar color and possessing 9 teeth on each side of the eye. Jonahs have black tips on their claws and a rougher shell edge as compared to rock crabs.

Mole Crabs

Mole crabs are used for catching pompano, drum and other fish found in the surf. Fishermen gather them by hand, with special metal mesh scoops or with meshed wire nets attached to poles. They can be purchased at bait and tackle shops in some areas.

Fiddler Crabs

Fiddler crabs are found along beaches, marshes and mud flats. They are sometimes gathered by fishermen and used for bait for species such as tautog, scup, sheepshead and black sea bass.

butterfish chunks
butterfish chunks

Butterfish for Tuna Chunking

Butterfish are small, bony fish with a thin oval body, reaching lengths of up to 9-10 inches. They are fast-growing and live only a few years. Butterfish congregate in schools and are commonly found from Southern New England to Cape Hatteras.

They are sold for bait in large boxes, important as bait for tuna, mahi mahi and other species. The use of cut butterfish is called "chunking" and is commonly practiced along the northeast and Mid-Atlantic coast of the USA.

mole crab
mole crab

Mole Crabs - Sand Crabs

Mole crabs, sometimes called sand crabs or sand fleas, are easy to catch along Mid Atlantic beaches. These small crustaceans are popular as baits for Florida pompano, spot, croaker and other species of fish that feed in the surf.

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