Folks often ask me what is the best bait to use in the inshore?
My answer is always shrimp, because most of the critters in our brackish waters eat them. For most beginners, dead shrimp is a fine choice. Dead shrimp will attract a wide variety of fish. Bottom feeders, bait snatchers and game fish will often come calling when you bait with them.
If you hope for a little better class of catch, you might consider going to live shrimp. The trouble with live shrimp begins right at the bait shop. How do you keep them alive? After paying a premium price, you need to have a method ready. Most opt for a flow through bucket and that works OK if you are not too far from the water. An aerator works much better. If you plan to fish from a dock or pier, put your shrimp into a clean five-gallon bucket and attach a battery operated aerator. If you are a boat fisherman, you might want to invest in a 12-volt model.
The preferred method of fishing live shrimp is by free-lining. That is done with a light line and no weight. Most anglers hook the live shrimp through the head. To do that, insert the hook between the shrimp’s eyes and the dark spot. Just beneath the horn (yes shrimp have a horn), you will find a hard bit of shell. If you do it correctly, the shrimp may stay alive indefinitely. If you insert your hook into the dark spot, the shrimp will die immediately.
My personal preference is to hook the shrimp beneath the bottom of the end of its tail. That lets the shrimp have a more natural swimming motion on the retrieve. A line between six- and 10-pound test will allow the bait to swim with the tide and stay up off of the bottom.
Live finger mullet are a great bait for larger fish, but for the most part you will need to catch them yourself with a cast net. Once again, free-lining is the best method.
A live mullet may be hooked in several ways. If you want the mullet to swim on the surface, hook it right behind the dorsal fin. Fishing a live mullet on top is one of the most exciting methods of fishing you will find. Often a large fish will hit with an explosion and at times will repeat that hit several times before swallowing your bait.
To fish a live mullet on the bottom, hook it through the upper lip or just below the tail. The lip hook is good for trolling while the tail hook is great for fishing with a weight. Place the lead about 18 inches above the bait and hook it through the tail so the bait will struggle against the weight. That is irresistible to game fish.
Mullet are not easy to keep alive. An aerator will help, but that works better in a large container. If you have no aerator, place your live mullet in a five-gallon bucket with only about three inches of water. As you travel, the motion and action of the fish will help to keep oxygen in the water. Contrary to belief, that works better than a bucket full of water.
As you can see, a big part of fishing live bait is keeping it alive. Always have a plan before you begin. If you are fishing from shore or a platform without an aerator, change the water in your bucket often. One thing is certain. Live bait will increase the quality of your catch. Go for it!
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “I Swear the Snook Drowned,” is available for purchase for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.