Live bait is the best and most effective way to land monster fish. Period. Dot. End of story.
There is no doubt that live bait is the most effective bait available. It looks real, it smells real, it is real. To be considered the best, live bait must be ready to work when the big fish are around. The preparation and effort to ensure success here is an important job that should not be taken lightly.
If you are a live bait angler, then congratulations are in order because you've met a very certain criteria, including:
- Living in a country/state where live bait fishing is legal
- Fishing in a fishery where live bait can be caught or bought whenever needed
- Owning a boat and/or equipment necessary to keep live bait alive.
- Willing to pay the time and monetary cost to keep aforementioned equipment maintained and clean
If this is you, then live bait is your plan A, your go-to, your MO (Modus Operandi). We've written before about your Plan B, your backup plan (thanks to Capt Rick Ryles), and by all means this is still something you absolutely should have. But enough about all that, let's talk about how to keep lively live bait.
6 Tips To Keeping Lively Live Bait:
1) Transition Quickly & Safely
Whenever transitioning your live bait from one body of water to another, do so quickly & smoothly. This process is already traumatic to the bait who have lived their entire lives in their preferred environment.
If hooked, take extra care in removing the hooks to prevent further damage. Get them back into the water as soon as possible. Never let them land on the deck or smash into anything on their way into their new "home".
2) Aerate & Oxygenate
Just like you and I, bait fish need to breathe. Fresh Oxygen is the most critical ingredient to keep live bait alive and strong. Standing water contains a finite amount of oxygen which will begin consumed.
Fresh oxygen is introduced by circulating new water from the environment that you are fishing in or using an oxygen infuser. If using a pump, keep a backup on board either installed or ready to be swapped in case the primary pump fails.
3) Regulate Water Temperature
All fish thrive in certain temperatures and bait are no exception. An insulated livewell with temperature regulation will be needed to ensure that water is kept in the preferred range for your given bait species. Cooler is better here as most baits have a better tolerance for cooler water and will slow their metabolism to survive. This will most likely mean having a way to refrigerate the water as the water being circulated on the surface is much warmer than the water in 10-30 feet of water.
If the water is too warm, the baits will be excited, deplete the water's oxygen content quickly, and excrete more waste into the water. In addition, warmer water will encourage bacterial growth in the tank which leads us to our next tip.
4) Keep Tank Clean
Water contaminants are everywhere while fishing, from oils, lubricants, and fuels, to bacteria, to ammonia and other chemicals that bait will excrete throughout their life, especially when they die. Paint the tank with a pool or tank paint to reduce bacterial growth on the tank itself and make it easier to clean. Be sure to use clean hands when handling the baits in the tank.
Keep the tank lid closed when not in use to prevent any errant fluids from entering. Most of all, remove dead baits from the tank as these baits will begin to excrete chemicals such as ammonia once they have expired. It is a good idea to have a view window into your livewell so that you can keep an eye on them without needing to handle them as often.
5) Regulate Water Flow
As mentioned above, water needs to be clean, the right temperature, and also needs to have the proper flow rate. Proper flow will help keep the water clean with a properly installed filter. Too little flow will lead to reduced oxygen levels and too high flow will tire your baits out.
Healthy baits will mill around the tank, swimming against the current. If the current is faster than the baits are familiar with, they will need to work harder and may become lethargic.
6) Cure/Prepare Baits
This final tip is one that will vary based on the hardiness of your bait but is designed to improve the chances that your baits have on the water of staying alive. The basics here are to keep your live baits in captivity for a couple of days before you put them in the live well on the boat.
(Photo Credit: Pat Ford)
Curing baits allows you to weed out the weak baits and allow the stronger baits to have time to adjust to captivity. This obviously will require some time and preparation but the end result could be a huge fish on your line.
21 common bait species and their durability rankings are available from Sportfishing Magazine here.
Another Way to Look Alive
We think it's great that you want to fine-tune your live bait game but we would be remiss if we didn't mention that there is another way to have lively bait on board anytime, anywhere. Zombait has been engineered to provide realistic swimming motion to any dead bait fish 8"+. Simply insert the rechargeable battery, tie Zombait back to your line, and shove down the throat or gill of your favorite bait fish to get realistic "live" bait swimming motion to help you catch monster fish.
Here is a video of using Zombait for offshore fishing off of the New Hampshire coast when we simply couldn't get live bait.
Until next time,
Look Alive Out There.