Using live bait on Siesta Key fishing charters
FISHING WITH LIVE BAIT IN SARASOTA BAY
Live bait will produce the most action for the majority of novice anglers on Siesta Key fishing charters. The two predominant baits used here on the West Coast of Florida are shrimp and baitfish. Shrimp can be purchased at most bait shops and are the “nightcrawler of saltwater”, they catch everything! Anglers fishing from shore will need a bait bucket to keep them alive. Most buckets have holes in them so that the bucket can be lowered into the water, insuring a supply of fresh water to the shrimp. Small battery operated air pumps can be purchased to keep them frisky in a five gallon bucket. Most fishing boats have an aerated baitwell.
Baitfish come in all shapes and sizes; big fish have been eating small fish for a long time. The two basic types are “whitebait” such as scaled sardines (pilchards), threadfin herring, and sardines and “finfish” including pinfish and grunts. Fishing with baitfish is more complicated; they must be caught by the angler in most cases and are more difficult to keep alive. Whitebait in particular need the water changed constantly. Pinfish and grunts can be kept alive in a bucket for a while.
The rig for using live bait is fairly simple. A #10 black swivel is tied onto the end of the main line and 24” of 30 pound fluorocarbon leader is tied onto the other end of the swivel. A hook finishes off the rig. Hook choice is determined by the size of the bait being used. In most cases, a #1/0 short shank live bait hook is a good choice. Shrimp are hooked either under the horn just behind the eyes or in the tail. Baitfish can be hooked under the dorsal fin or through the lips or nose. A float can be used to suspend the bait from the bottom and weights can be added to both get the bait down to the bottom along with adding distance to the cast. Baits can also be “free-lined” which means just hooked on with no other weight and allowed to swim naturally in the current.
It is probably safe to say that over the years more trout and other species have been caught using a live shrimp under a popping cork than any other method. A popping cork is a float that has a concave face with a weight at the bottom. The float sits up-right in the water and when the rod tip it “twitched” sharply, the float makes a “pop” which imitates fish feeding on the surface and attracts gamefish to the bait. In recent years noisy “clacker” type floats have become popular. These are effective but one drawback if that the depth cannot be changed as easily since the leader is tied on versus the popping cork which slides onto the line.
Using the popping cork rig is quite easy. The cork is attached 3-4 feet above the hook, which is baited with a live shrimp. If a lot of current or wind exists, adding a small split shot a foot above the hook may be required to keep the bait down. A 7’ rod works best as the rig is “lobbed” out using an easy swinging motion. Once the bait settles, reel up the slack and twitch the rod sharply. The cork will “pop” and the shrimp will jump up, and then slowly settle back down. Fish find this difficult to resist! Wait 30 seconds or so and repeat. Do this several times then reel it in and cast out to a different spot. When the float disappears, reel the slack up and set the hook. This works well from both the shore and from a drifting boat. A bait fish can also be used in place of a shrimp.
Both live shrimp and bait fish can be “free-lined”. This simply consists of hooking the bait, casting it out to a likely spot, and waiting for it to get eaten. This works best over deeper grass flats, off the beach, and near structure such as docks and bridges. It will not be effective in shallow water as the bait will go down into the bottom to hide.
Bottom fishing is another popular method when using live bait. This is usually done from shore or from an anchored boat. The amount of weight needed will be determined by the depth of the water and the strength of the current. The rule of thumb is to use only enough weight to hold the bottom. If the bait moves too much it will eventually snag on the bottom. In shallow water a split shot or two will often times be enough. In deeper water or if current is present, a sliding egg sinker should be used. The sinker can be added on the main line above the swivel, this is called a “fish finder” rig. It allows the fish to pick up the bait and move without feeling the weight. Another method is the “knocker” rig which puts the weight right on the eye of the hook. This works well and will not hang up as often. Frozen bait and fresh cut bait can also be used effectively when bottom fishing.