Using Live Fish as Bait - Species and Fishing Techniques
Using live fish as bait has numerous advantages when compared with fishing using dead baits, baits in the form of chunks or artificial baits - lures.
Also, one can use other marine organisms, like crustaceans, as live bait.
Depending on the fishing technique, desired game fish, fishing season, there are various fish species that can be used as bait fish or forage fish.
Note: the terms 'bait fish' or 'forage fish' are terms applied to all forage species that are not fish, but can be used as prey for game fish - thus squids and shrimps/prawns are also referred to as 'bait fish', 'forage fish', 'live bait' etc.
Also, keep in mind:
- when trolling using live baits, decrease trolling speed. This is not absolutely necessary, but your bait will live longer and will have more natural moves.
- longline fishing and fishing in deep waters using live baits - try to sink the bait at acceptable speed (which varies with species) in order not to kill the bait.
- when casting live baits be gentle - using long 'soft' rods can help; in last few years using small RC boats (for various purposes) is growing in popularity.
- when storing live bait, change water frequently, use water pumps to constantly circulate water or keep the baits in nets or traps in the water. When using nets and traps in water to keep bait fish alive, check them from time to time, you never know if some predator is lurking near the net/trap.
Species that are suitable to be used as bait fish:
European Pilchard (Sardina pilchardus), European Sardine or simply a sardine is one of the best bait fishes around. Problem is acquiring them alive - they usually feed on large plankton and can be found in large schools. They grow up to 25-28cm, but usually up to 20cm.
They can be used live, dead, in the forms of fish chunks, fish fillets and even their intestines can be used.
Live sardines, regardless of species, are great bait fish for trolling on many species and for longline fishing.
Atlantic Herring (Clupea harengus) is one of the most abundant fish species in the world. They can grow up to 45cm (18 inches) in length and weigh little bit more than 0.5kg (1.1 lb).
As with other similar schooling, oily fishes, acquiring them on time and keeping them alive can be problematic. However, when available, live herrings can be great bait fish for many game fish species that feed on them, like tuna, marlin, mackerel etc.
Live prawns/shrimps are great bait for many species - hooked by the tail can live for a long time and 'jumping' around can provoke almost any fish to strike.
They can be caught and kept live easily - catch them with hand nets or small traps and keep alive in pots or buckets - just keep them in shade and change water from time to time. If you keep them in nets or traps, they can live for quite a long time.
Trolling in the shallow water, with prawns hooked by the tail, can be very successful, since there are numerous species that will accept it as bait - European Sea Bass (Dicentrarchus Labrax), Saddled Seabream (Oblada Melanura - more like bycatch, but ...), Common Dentex (Dentex Dentex), European Eel etc.
Over rocky bottom or over seagrass, species like Gilthead Seabream (Sparus Aurata), Painted Comber (Serranus Scriba), Red Scorpionfish (Scorpaena Scrofa) etc are often hooked on live/dead prawns/shrimps.
Garfish or Sea Needle (Belone Belone) and similar species are great trolling baits. It is migratory species, found close to the surface. It is very fast swimmer and many predatory species will strike the line with garfish as a bait.
When trolling for garfish (one must catch it live before using it as a bait, right?), be very careful - sometimes they can be found in large schools and when excited, they tend to jump above sea surface and when that happens near the boat, hide yourself - you don't want to be hit by their sharp beak, which is capable of inflicting deep puncture wounds (and often breaking off inside). This goes for all needlefish species, not just for Garfish.
Live Garfish is great bait for big game, open sea predatory species, but also for species closer to the shores - European Sea Bass, Common Dentex etc.
Note: Garfish has green bones, but it's meat is not only eatable, but very tender and tasty, fantastic when barbequed - if you got lucky trolling for Garfish as bait, don't forget this :)
Various mullets are great live bait for trolling over shallows. They can be easily caught (at least, few of them, small ones) using rigs with floats, a lead (or just a swivel) and 2 small hooks and using ordinary bread or bread with cheese pasta.
When trolling, pull in the line slowly - mullet will swim all over and it's moves will attract various predators to strike.
When using as live bait for longline in shallow waters, mix it with live prawns/shrimps, Garfish and other small fish of various species - such longlines can have fantastic catch, just be sure to note which hook was baited with what species. This can take some time, but it can help in the long run.
Using sharp knife, open seashell just enough to insert a hook inside of shell.
Cast such bait away and throw few shells around - some of them cracked or opened, some whole. This will attract many species, but only larger ones will be able to pick and crack/open whole mussels and hopefully hook themselves on the hidden hook.
Of course, there are plenty of other species suitable as live bait. With time, we will add more and more species with our comments and recommendations.
When you find yourself in situation that you have to improvise or just use a bait that is not usually used, just try it, you never know what is lurking around ...
Enjoy your fishing! :)