Dead bait is the deader cousin of the more popular, live bait, but not necessarily the less effective. Certainly live bait is the higher maintenance version, requiring basically an act of congress to keep alive (see our post "6 Tips to Keeping Lively Live Bait"), or at the very least, some well maintained, expensive equipment. On a long enough timeline, even the hardiest of baits will expire.
Live bait is that friend who can certainly be a great time but never returns your calls when you need help moving. Dead bait is dependable, reliable, trustworthy, but sometimes a bore at parties.
We are putting dead bait in the spotlight this week. Dead bait is everything that live bait is not:
-- Always available
-- Easily stored
-- Can be used anywhere, anytime
All dead baits are not created equal. If you are going to use dead bait, you need to put in a bit of effort to get the best quality dead bait that is available, whether you are going to troll them, kite fish them, or Zombait them.
Let's break it down. Dead bait can be obtained by the following, in order of freshness:
1. Catch them (fresh)
2. Buy from Seafood market / grocery (fresh)
3. Buy online (frozen)
4. Buy at bait shop / marina (frozen)
1. Catch your own bait and control your dead bait destiny.
The most hands-on method of ensuring high quality dead bait is to catch them yourself. This typically means that you are getting fish from your local fishery. In New England, we typically catch live bait using a rod and reel with a Sabiki rig. These fish go on to expire, and when they do, get them on ice to slow the decomposition process. We are typically obtaining Menhaden, Mackerel, and Herring this way.
Catching bait fish which can be frozen/stored for later use
In other fisheries, live bait is easily had by just tossing a net near a structure and pulling up hundreds of bait fish. Again, it is important to get your bait on ice early and keep them out of the sun to help keep them preserved.
Fresh dead bait being prepared for freezing and storing
If you have a good group of fellow anglers, you could also alternate who is on "dead bait duty" for the week and fish for the bait of your choice in advance and again, get them on ice.
2. Buy them from a seafood market or grocery store
Another way to obtain fresh, high-quality dead bait is to purchase them from a seafood market or grocery store. Most dead bait can be dinner for a hungry tuna or a hungry human so take advantage of this. Obviously, the cost of obtaining a high a large amount of bait fish this way goes up considerably.
Bait fish for sale at J Nagle Seafood in Boston, MA
There are ways to reduce cost here such as finding a wholesaler who will sell to you or purchasing the lower grade fish for bait. We buy directly from a wholesaler in Boston, J. Nagle Co. who gets high quality fresh fish in daily. We are typically buying Atlantic Mackerel (Boston Mackerel) or Whiting here for about $1.29 per lb.
If you are not able to get a wholesale account, you could also find these fish in other areas. These fish go on to be re-sold at seafood markets and grocery stores around the city at prices ranging from $2.99 to $6.99 per pound depending on where you are buying them.
Fresh, whole fish available for sale at grocery stores + seafood markets
We see Whiting and Mackerel on display at Whole Foods, H-Mart, and other local grocery chains with a reasonable retail mark-up and they usually indicate that they are "fresh, previously frozen".
There are Seafood Wholesalers in the Southeast anywhere you find easy access to the ocean. The bait fish that are found here are quite different than in New England.
Mullet is a particularly popular bait fish which is also quite tasty when cooked. These fish are caught in the thousands and are sold to restaurants and seafood markets all over the local areas.
Freshest of the fresh mullet on display in Ft Walton Beach, FL
One seafood market that I have found to have particularly fresh fish, and of course, Mullet, is Gulf Coast Seafood on Miracle Strip Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, FL, just a few miles from Destin, "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village". Rick of Gulf Coast Seafood, explains that they get mullet in about 3 times a week from a local fisherman who uses a cast net to haul them in.
Seasonality affects Mullet quite a bit. Every fall in Florida, as the temperatures cool, these fish make their annual migration to warmer waters further south. Therefore, you are likely to find much larger Mullet starting in September and through to November.
3. Buy them frozen from an online wholesaler
There are several online sellers of freshly frozen dead bait that will ship directly to your door. This is the best way to get the exact bait fish type that you want from just about any fishery without having to lift a finger off of your keyboard.
These online wholesalers are selling rigged or unrigged dead bait including Ballyhoo, Spanish Mackerel, Mullet, Mackerel, Herring, and more. Just be sure to be home when they arrive and get them into a freezer immediately.
4. Buy them frozen at a bait & tackle shop
One of the more reliable and "last-minute" ways to get frozen dead bait is to buy them at a local bait and tackle shop or marina. After all, many of these stores even have "Bait" in their name. They certainly know not only about the kinds of baits you can get in a local area, they will often also be able to offer advice on when and where to find your target fish in the region.
However, these baits can be hit or miss because you do not always know how fresh they are or how well they have been preserved. Some bait shops' have faster turnover and will therefore have a better quality stock of dead bait.
For the best frozen baits from our local bait & tackle shop, we always look for the BAITMASTERS logo. BAITMASTERS baits are packed and sold by Aylesworth's Fish & Bait Inc from Tampa FL. BAITMASTERS can be found at many bait and tackle shops in the US including some of the big stores like Bass Pro Shops and West Marine. They have one of the largest varieties of frozen baits available anywhere and if you want a specific bait to try with Zombait, ask (no, beg) your local shop owner to order some!
BAITMASTERS frozen mullet available at bait & tackle shops
Some of these bait and tackle shops even offer 24-hour frozen bait vending machines so that you can purchase your bait anytime whenever you are ready to fish. While convenient, you may not always know what you are getting for quality.
However you get your dead bait, we hope you value the results you'll see from using high quality dead bait with your Zombait lure. Simply insert the Zombait lure into any bait fish 8"+ and make your bait look alive again to catch big fish!
Zombait fishing lure with a fresh dead mullet bait
Look Alive Out There.