A school of Yellowtail Snapper. Some of the other fish we catch in the Florida Keys areTuna, Wahoo, Blue & White Marlin, Sailfish, Wahoo, Dolphin (Mahi Mahi), Sharks, Kingfish, Mutton Snapper, King Mackerel, Grouper, Cobia, Tarpon and more.

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How-To Series


Brought to you courtesy of Captain Ron Brack, Captain of the Charterboat "REEL PLEASURE" out of the Whale Harbor Marina in Islamorada.

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Bait Fishing

I have often thought of a fishing trip without live bait as a car with no tires! (You can get there riding on the rims but, the results are dramatically different). So just some tips on what bait and how.

Pinfish: Pinfish also called Sailors Choice, or Choefers. Pinfish are good offshore bait as well as Tarpon and Snook candy. I have caught Grouper, Amberjack, Almaco Jack, Jack Crevally, African Pompano, KingFish, Cobia, and Dolphin on Pinfish. Pinfish can be caught on most healthy grass beds in shallow water between three to ten foot. A chum bag or a carcass to draw them in then use a hair hook on very light tackle and a split shot several inches above your hook. You can use pieces of chum on your hook or shrimp seems to work best and is the easiest to work with just small bits. They are actually fun to catch. When used putting the hook through the nose works perfectly or to change the angle, swim hooking them shallow in the shoulder also works well. Trimming the dorsal spines might save you missed fish as well as a sore hand.

Grunts: Over time grunts have lost their magic as bait goes! But, still many fish including Grouper, Amberjack, and Cobia will eat them. In a pinch they are better than an empty well. There are many places and many types, Blue Stripe French, Flannel Mouth, Cotton Wick and Sugar, just to name a few. Grunts can be caught on most soft coral patches and some grass beds. Once again a chum bag, knocker rig or a chicken rig baited with shrimp or ballyhoo Bonita or Squid on a hook up to a 2/0. If you donít catch fish that day you can eat your bait!

Blue Runner: Blue Runners are really cool bait they are strong, fast and have great longevity in the well. Almost everything eats them and usually they are plentiful. They are excellent in the kite and as bottom bait. Very few Dolphin will turn down a Blue Runner they can swallow. They live on most coral patches and the reef lines, they love buoys and structure. They eat shrimp Ballyhoo, Bonita and almost anything that resembles food in a chum line. Small jigs are very productive and sand balling is also top of the line. Use small hooks and try to mouth hook them. Donít be shy about throwing a Blue Runner to any predator in the ocean. Hook them in the mouth or nose or shoulder according to your needs.

Goggle Eyes: Goggle Eyes have an appropriate name. They are another extremely good bait for almost anything that can put their mount on them. In Tournaments I have heard of bait boats getting $200.00 per dozen. They are definitely fantastic kite bait for Sails! Goggle Eyes can be caught best at night and although they come up on the reef at night the bulk of the schools remain in deep water between 60 and 150 feet. They eat little jigs yellow, white and chartreuse. It is best if you tie several in a daisy chain fashion they also like it if you can get glow in the dark jigs, and sabiki rigs work very well. You can tip your jigs with shrimp or they will eat just shrimp on a small hook. P.S. They have a tendency to bite poorly on bright moon.

Pilchards: Locally, I know of 2 kinds of pilchards, one being the better of the two, the razor belly pilchard and the other being the sandy key. The razor belly is a very hearty bait, but their longevity in the well can be compared to any other bait and can be held in great numbers. Sandyís on the other hand loose their scales easily and the life span in the well is poor. However, both types often school together. They are awesome baits! I donít think there is a predator in the sea that wonít eat a pilchard. Pilchards usually travel in huge numbers, and can be found anywhere from the backcountry to offshore up to 200 feet of water. Birds are more often than not a dead-giveaway as to the location of these most sought-after baits. If theyíre in shallow water, you must keep an eye on the movement of the school as they will move onto a grass bed and will be hard to see. But if you see one, there will be more. If you are in deep enough water to use your fishfinder, they will usually show up very well. They will readily respond to sand chumming and once the school is within range you can get a cast net on them. You may also use small gold hooks or a sabiki rig. At night they will come right to your lights and your can chum and catch them as mentioned above.

Cigar minnows: Cigar minnows can be used in a number of fishing applications, best being used as live bait. Many fish eat them, bottom dwellers and pelages alike. They are fast and pretty durable. Typically, theyíre in large numbers and dwell on patches and reef spots. They respond to chum and sand chum, and can be both cast netted and hoop netted. Theyíll eat gold hooks and sibikis. Also, you can put large numbers of them in your well and they will stay alive a long time, but donít go to crazy on the over crowding. Although they are strong survivors in well, they donít do very well in holding bin.

Speedos: Speedos are a larger bait used in situations where you want bigger fish, they can be frustrating, but rewarding. When I say frustrating, donít take it wrong, most of the time they are pretty easy baits. Youíll need your hoop net and very light tackle in order to catch them, small gold hooks tipped with shrimp work well. Hoop netting is best done by dropping sand balls into your submerged hoopnet, and theyíll go right into it. Caution, keep the number of speedos down in your well, unless you have a very large well. Speedos are big baits and need lots of room.

Ballyhoo Ballyhoos popularity is undeniable, both dead and live. They are probably he most hunted overall of all baits. They are shipped all over the world, and are used by fisherman for everything from grunts to blue marlin. They dwell on the patches and the reef and even sometimes on the edges of flats. To catch them youíll need a chum bag to draw them close enough for a good cast net throw. They also can be hair hooked tipped with shrimp on a cork works great. Sibiki rigs on a float rig are also proven ballyhoo catchers. Also, in the well donít mix them with other baits. Dead ballyhoo rigged right are devastating bait!



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