29 Oct 2010

Bait Fishing Tips to Catch More Bigger Fish

I have been guiding overseas and in the tropics for many seasons and it still amazes me what people are prepared to put on a hook.
Fishing with bait is the most popular method of salt water fishing. But buying a block of frozen fish deemed not fit for human consumption is not going to optimise your chances of success.
The days of sticking on any old lump of bait and tossing it over the side are long past. Every now and again you might strike it big, but don’t count on it, effort and preparation is all important.
Don’t get me wrong, fish do get caught on frozen baits, especially purpose caught baitfish such as pilchards and squid, but much of the fish frozen for bait is by-catch, as tough as old boots, and is probably nearly as edible. Many people will use tougher baits because they are tough they stay on the hook longer. It stops the baits stealers.
If you are being plagued and your baits are being nibbled off before a decent fish can get hold then try bigger bait. And walk your bigger bait back down tide , below and further away from the boat , especially when fishing in shallow water , big fish don’t get to be big fish by being stupid and they will stay back from the disturbance of the boat , so drop the bait back down tide and seek out the bigger fish.
There is a simple rule for bait-fishing - the better the quality of your bait, the better the quality of the fish you are likely to catch.
Catch it there.
Bait caught on the fishing ground tends to be the baitfish your prey is chasing, and this makes your bait just that much more attractive than imported bait. Freshly killed bait still retains the oils, blood, and other attractions to your prey.
Any of the normal shoaling baitfish which can be caught at the fishing site will work and used freshly killed will be very seductive. If the size is suitable the bait can be used whole – or if too big, cut up. If cutting up these baits remember to cut across the fish at an angle from head to tail to expose as much of the flesh as possible.
If you are chasing big Snapper or Conger try a ‘butterflied’ bait. From the tail, cut up each side of the backbone, to just behind the head, then cut out the backbone behind the head. This leaves two fillets still attached to the head. Hook the bait between the eyes and fire it out. If the bait is still alive when you turn it into a butterfly, so much the better.
Fillets of freshly caught fish such as yabouy and bonefish make very attractive baits. When freshly caught the flesh is still firm, and will stay on a hook much better than when it has been frozen. Try cutting the flesh into strips, rather than cubes, this will give the bait some added movement in the water.
When using a freshly killed yabouy, take off a fillet, skin it, cut the bait into strips, and rig it with a two-hook rig, wrapping the line between the hooks around the bait strip. This bait-rig has accounted for many large snapper.
The gills of freshly caught bigger baits such as trevally, Spanish mackerel, are top baits. Push the hook through the pea-sized knurl at the top of the gills and send it down. Do not fish gills for much longer than ten minutes without a bite or hook-up, the blood will have leeched out, taking with it the reason for fish to bite.
Catch it close.
Try and keep the bait alive if you can, from the point of capture to the fishing ground. Fresh killed bait will still be attractive even if it does not match what your prey is feeding on. If you cannot keep the bait alive make sure it is kept as cool as possible maybe in a bag on the ice you are taking out to keep your catch in tip-top condition.
It is imperative to keep caught bait either alive or as cold as possible. Keeping dead baits in a container of water is a bad practice. This will actually speed up the process of raising the fish’s temperature, and turn the flesh into mush.
You can use any of the bait rigging techniques outlined above for baits caught on the way to the spot.
Ok, if you must.
Choose frozen bait using much the same judgement factors you would use if you were planning to eat the fish yourself.
Fish that has been well cared for up to and including being frozen will look better in the pack. The fish will still be bright. Any bait that looks lifeless in the pack will probably appear so under the water as well. It is essential that frozen bait should retain the oils and juices that make it attractive to our prey. Bait that looks flat in the pack has probably been left too long before freezing and it is likely that oils and juices have dissipated.
It is for this reason that you should never totally defrost frozen baits.
As bait defrosts, much of the oil and juices leak out. Look at all the oils and blood that is left in the bag at the end of the day and you will see what I mean. Keep most of the bait you have taken out for the trip as cold as possible and only take enough out to cover the next 10 minutes. Many frozen baits such as mackerel and pilchards turn into slush when defrosted and we all know how difficult it is to rig slush on a hook, and how easy it is for the pickers to rip it off. The best condition for frozen bait is a texture something like the packaging foam, firm but not solid.
It is likely that fish have very little means of detecting hot or cold, in terms of food, so bait that is still partly frozen is no problem.
I can only think of one bait that is probably best used after freezing, and that is tuna. Fresh caught tuna is very soft and it is difficult to keep it on a hook. But in saying that, tuna that is allowed to totally defrost becomes next to useless. Try and keep all baits out of the sun whilst baiting up.

What to Look For in the Bait Freezer
When you look at bait in the retailer’s freezer – and don’t buy bait till you get a look at it – look for the following key points before selecting bait:
  • Make sure there is no evidence of oil or blood in the bag or box. This is a sure sign that the bait has either been defrosted or frozen too slowly, and the oils and juices have leeched out.
  • Check that the bait has not been crushed. This can indicate either that the bait has been badly handled, or that the bait has been allowed to defrost. Crushed bait has flesh that is bruised and soft often too soft to stay on a hook. Oils and juices have been forced out of crushed bait.
  • Look for evidence of freezer burn. This may show up as bruising on the skin, or discolouration of the skin. This may indicate the bait has been poorly treated when freezing, or that the bait has been in the freezer for too long. Again, freezer-burned bait will be low on oils and juices.
To be successful in catching more or bigger fish
means starting at the fish’s end of the process:

  • The first thing that must exist is that there are fish to catch where you are fishing.
  • Having found fish, the next important factor is to set up a berley (ground-bait) trail that will attract and hold fish near where you bait is going to be.
  • That is where the bait comes into play – the better the bait, the better the fish that will be caught.
Everything else that follows up the fishing system hook, line, rod, reel, and angler is of no use unless the first three factors are in place. Bait selection and presentation is too often disregarded in the haste to get fishing.
- Richard Sheard, World Sport Fishing

Richard Sheard has spent his life hunting big fish in more than 40 countries. He started fishing at the age of six, progressed to competitive fishing, and then founded World Sport Fishing. Few are as qualified to talk about the techniques, sport and allure of big game fishing as Richard. He currently lives in the UK and spends a good part of each year abroad, fishing and shooting.

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