How important is live bait to saltwater fishing? According to top tournament angler John Thomas Dusek, “It’s the key to success.” He also states, “If you want variety and quality in the fish box when you hit the dock, you’d better have a livewell full of good baits in the appropriate sizes for what you are after.”
To catch a big fish, you have to have a big, lively bait. Here are a few of our favorites…
Blue Runners: Also known as Hard Tails, this baitfish varies in size and can be found 80-120 feet deep around structures like a rigs, buoys, or weed lines. The easiest way to catch larger Blue Runners (around 12 inches) is with jigging spoons. To catch smaller runners (around 5 inches), tie on a sabiki rig and bring them in four or five at a time.
Depending on the size of the Blue Runner, they are best for:
Large: Marlin, Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Warsaw Grouper, Wahoo, Trophy Kingfish, Amberjack
Medium: Large Cobia, Large Gag Grouper, Big Snapper, Kingfish
Small: Cobia, small Grouper, Blackfin Tuna
Cigar Minnows: With an average size of 8 to 9 inches, this is a go-to baitfish for smaller catches. At times, they are difficult to locate and are typically only available during September, October, and November. Look for cigar minnows around structures in 70 to 90 feet deep water.
Best for: Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, Kingfish, Dorado
Pinfish: Small in size (about 5 inches on average), but big in opportunity. Most often caught with perch traps, baited with a couple handfuls of shrimp heads and tossed into a channel or with a light rod, perch hook, and dead shrimp. For maximum action, hook them around the tail or through the eyes to drift and retrieve.
Best for: Smaller Grouper, Cobia, Blackfin Tuna, Snapper
What’s the best way to keep live bait? According to Dusek, “It’s important to have a livewell pump that circulates the water, but not so vigorously that it tires the baits. It is important to have an oxygen system on the boat to keep extremely large baits in good shape. As a rule, run no more than 800 gph for every 30 gallons of capacity.”
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