Like most dedicated early rising anglers, Trey Daugherty wakes up before the sunrise, preps his boat and heads off in search of bait. This year, bait has been tough for most as the late snaps of cold have made it difficult to find. Most reports say it's thin on the flats and a bit patchy at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier.
Daugherty does his best to find the biomass each morning since he has two 120-gallon live wells to fill up. After bait is caught, he doesn't head to his favorite fishing hole -- he sets a path back toward the 59th Street boat ramp where he meets those in need of the precious live pilchards.
"Right now, I'm selling bait to about 10 guides everyday," Daugherty said. "If they're putting in at 59th Street, I meet them right there. If they are fishing from the (Anna Maria) island, I'll meet them at the mouth of the Manatee River. About three to four scoops of bait will fill up a live well that's about 40 gallons."
For the charter captains using the service, it's a matter of comfort and convenience. Daugherty charges $25 for each scoop with a long handled dip net, but that cost is worth it to his clients. "They save money on gas, save energy not having to wake up as early, they don't have to worry about ripping up nets and don't have to worry about running to the Skyway and beating themselves up," Daugherty said.
The cost of convenience has found its way to the everyday angler market, and it makes sense. Kingfish tournament anglers have been known to spend thousands of dollars on bait during various events, with a dozen blue runners or goggle eyes often costing $100-$150 per dozen.
Local anglers have probably seen bait barges in front of various boat ramps, allowing them to purchase bait quickly and easily while on the boat, making it much easier than transporting from land stores when purchasing live fish that need fresh water and space to swim.
"Most captains and anglers enjoy not having the hassle of catching bait. It's easy to pull up and have it ready so you can just go fishing," said Daugherty.
One of the biggest problems Daugherty is running into is keeping up with demand. On weekends, he may sell out, meaning multiple trips to catch bait.
"I've been going out in the morning then having to refill in the afternoon. At the Skyway, the incoming tide has been tough to catch bait on, so it can take two to three hours to fill both big live wells depending on the tide."
Daugherty plans on providing his bait service as long as the demand is there. He wants to add a wrap to his boat as well as signs, making it easier to spot for passerby's in the future. He also wants to rebuild a pontoon boat that will be able to hold more bait for a longer period of time.
If you're interested in using his service around the Manatee River, Daugherty can be reached at 941-518-6600.