Catching Bait In The Central West Region With Capt. Geoff Page

Baitnetminnowscrabschumpilchardssquid

Captain Geoff Page

The summer months are prime time for catching bait in my region, as a lot of the larger herring species are out on the beaches and passes while the juvenile (and some larger ones) are on the grass flats. Then there’s pass crabs coming out on the Hill Tides, so there’s a lot of options depending on the species of fish you plan to target. 

Given a choice, I’m going to use the larger herring species like pilchards, Spanish Sardines and threadfins for bait when targeting snook, cobia, king mackerel, tarpon and redfish. The smaller baits of those species work just about as well, but they don’t cast as well, which is why I like the larger baits, so I can make a longer cast and get my baits farther away from the boat and any sounds or movement that might spook predatory fish. 

As long as the wind isn’t blowing hard out of the west, I’ll go out on the beach to look for bait. All you do is run the beach looking for pelicans diving. What you want to find is the pelicans high-diving, or diving from way up in the air. That usually means they’re on larger baits. Pelicans that are only a few feet off the water when they dive are usually on minnows or juveniles baitfish. You’ll know, because after they dive, instead of bobbing back up, tilting their heads back and swallowing the fish, they’ll hold their beaks in the water to strain out the water while retaining the minnows. 

You’ll usually find the pelicans high-diving real tight up close to the beach. Get about 40 yards away from the school, turn off your engine and drop the trolling motor over and ease up to the school so you don’t spook them. The school of bait usually appears as a dark cloud over the sand, but you may also have fish flicking or flipping or even flashing in the school. Try to figure out which way they’re heading, then pick a good avenue of pursuit and throw a 3/8 inch cast-net on them. 

You can also pick a pass and go straight to the first marker or buoy outside the pass and it’ll usually hold a variety of bait from herrings to pinfish. The bait is usually staged within a hundred yards of the buoy or marker, so watch your bottom machine and when you see it, you can drop a Sabiki rig and catch them. Some guys like to enhance their Sabiki rigs will little pieces of squid they cut up with scissors, which gets a lot more pinfish and other fish to hold on to the hook longer. 

If I’m looking for smaller bait or the wind is blowing hard out of the west and I can’t get out onto the beach, I’ll head to the flats inside the bay and drive around slowly over the grass and look for baitfish flashing. Once I see that, I’ll stake out and start throwing over some chum, usually a mix of jack mackerel, bread and sand. It takes about 15 minutes to chum the baits to the boat, but when you see them flashing behind the boat on a regular basis, you know you have them. 

I like to throw a ¼ inch mesh cast-net in the bay because I’m not sure what size the baits will be. They may be fully grown horse pilchards or they may be less than 2 inches long, and I don’t want to gill an entire school of bait. So I’ll use the smaller mesh net, throw a handful of chum, load the net and throw it. Then when I bring it in’ I’ll throw another handful of chum to keep the baits I didn’t catch from leaving the chum line. Sort out the baits, chum some more and repeat, until you get enough baits to fish with. 

On the new and full moons of May and June we get what we call “Hill Tides” in my region where the water really dumps out of the bay on the outgoing tide. Catch that tide in the late afternoon or evening, and there will be thousands of pass crabs going out on the surface with the tide. 

Let the tide dump for about two hours, and then find the tide line inside the pass and up in the bay where the grass is accumulating as it goes out with the tide. The crabs will be on the surface in that same area. Have one guy drive the boat and the other use a long-handled, small-mesh net to dip up the crabs. 

Once you have a bunch of them, you can declaw the crabs by grabbing them in the elbow joint of their claws with a pair of pliers and squeezing, which will make them drop the claw. Declaw the crabs and throw them in the live-well, and they’re ready to fish.

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