Outdoors | Get to the fish faster with these bait-catching tips

March 4, 2012 

As spring rolls around, most anglers will be out early to start their fishing days with their favorite cast nets in hand. The day begins with a stop on a local grass flat like Key Royale, the Bulkhead, or Marker 9 in Terra Ceia, to chum for whitebait.

When enough is caught, the real fishing will commence.

When you need to catch bait, the most common question anglers ask is, “Where is it?” While location is very important, you’ll often see a dozen boats in the same area catching bait. Some leave sooner than others, catching it a little quicker.

Here are a few ways to get bait caught faster, and you fishing sooner:

n The three lows low light, low tide, low pressure.

Low light means get out early, as the sun is coming up. Bait will be less spooky and more willing to approach your boat in lower light. You don’t always need to see bait to catch it.

Low tide. The lower the tide, the more congregated bait will be. Bait doesn’t like to be so shallow that birds can attack from above, so they will drop on the edges of flats. Springtime’s evening low tides are a great time to catch bait in a hurry.

Low pressure. Less fishing pressure on a spot will be easier to catch bait. Have other boats been in the same area already catching bait? Are you late to the party? If you are the first boat on an area to catch bait, it will be much easier to bring them to you, if you...

n Chum. Do you anchor and chum, or attempt to catch bait like a rodeo cowboy, chasing it all over the flats? If you’re out early, anchor and chum. Most anglers have gone away from Jack Mackerel to Purina Tropical Fish Food. It is easy to use, much cleaner than alternatives and works very well. Put a little in a bucket and get it slightly wet. It will clump together, allowing it to be spread over the area you are targeting. Concentrate your chumming efforts in one area.

n Cleaner water isn’t always better. If you see birds diving on the flats, but notice the water is a bit stirred and you can’t see bait, that is not a bad thing. Dirtier water will help you surprise the bait more than clean water when your net is in the air. This is especially true with pinfish. If you want pinfish, anchor and chum in dirtier water, as they will run from your airborne net.

n Pay attention to your surroundings. Are there birds diving a few hundred yards away and you’re not catching bait? Do you see it on the surface and it looks like raindrops? These are signs there is bait in the area, and you may want to move.

n Practice throwing your net. This is simple, but the place most anglers fall behind in the bait-catching department. Bigger is better when it comes to cast-netting. The ability to throw a 10-foot [ ]-inch mesh net will help you catch bait faster.

Fishing show today

Are you bummed out by today’s weather? Don’t fret, the Frank Sargeant Fishing Show is going on at the Florida State Fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a great chance to get out and interact with fellow anglers. There are plenty of live seminars, as well as boats, tackle and clothing on display. The price is $8 per person, while children 12 and younger get in free.

Capt. Jon Chapman, who writes Outdoors for the Herald, can be reached at his website, www.captainchappy.com.

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