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A Catalog of 21 Popular Live Baits around the World

By Doug Olander

While just about anything alive and wiggling in the right place at the right time can elicit a feeding response, coastal anglers in just about every location the world over have found certain species of indigenous baitfishes that most consistently provoke that desired response. These pages offer a unique comparative profile of 21 of the world's most popular liveys. Granted, there's no shortage of other hot-bait species that space precludes listing, but most of the major go-to liveys are here. ("Ratings" note; A = excellent; 6=good; C=fair/adequate; the "Durability" rating pertains primarily to longevity in a livewell.)

United States

Family: Herrings (Clupeidae)

Size: 8 to 10 inches commonly, though can grow to more than a foot

Distribution: Gulf of Mexico

Habitat: Inshore and (in winter) offshore

How caught: Cast nets

Local importance: Throughout the Gulf

Target game fish: Smoker king mackerel, though everything eats 'em

How fished: Often variously hooked through mouth or dorsal area; klngflsh anglers may add a treble stinger

Comments: One of oiliest of forage fishes, also great for chunking to bring game fish within casting range; supports a huge commercial seine fishery

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B

Durability: B

  • Hemiramphus bra sinensis)
  • Hemiramphus bra sinensis)


Family: Halfbeaks (Hemirarmphidae) Size: 10 to 12 inches commonly: horse ballyhoo may reach nearly 18 Distribution: Northern Atlantic in warm waters

Habitat: Nearshore shallow reefs and sea-grass beds, as well as around structure in deeper waters

How caught: Cast nets or tiny, baited gold hooks, sometimes under a smat! float Local importance: Limited as live bait; tremendously popular fresh or frozen Target game fish: Saiifish and other blue-water pelagics

How fished: More often rigged (variously, with wire and mono) for trolling but can be drifted or kite-fished with thin-gauge hooks Comments: Very similar species found in tropical seas around the world; a popular baitfish in many areas. The group uses the tail's elongate lower lobe to skip along the surface for long distances to escape predators. Small schools can be enticed to a boat's transom with fine menhaden chum. Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: C

(Harengulajaguana, aka pilchard or white bait)

Scaled Sardine

Family: Herrings (Clupeidae) Size: 4 to 6 inches; may reach 7 to 8 inches Distribution: Coastally along southeastern United States to Brazil, including Caribbean islands

Habitat: Inshore estuaries and bays and shallow reefs

How caught: Cast nets, sabikls

Local importance: Popular throughout the


Target game fish: Snook inshore; kings offshore (but effective for nearly any predator with fins)

How fished: Varies; thln/llght-wire hooks often preferable to avoid impeding natural swimming action

Comments: Often easily caught in large numbers; pilchards popular as "live chum" to draw fish out of mangroves Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A Durability: A

Heir Hurhnfnrf / UiGS V ininc-millf, FL

Heir Hurhnfnrf / UiGS V ininc-millf, FL

(Fundulus grandis, aka bull minnow, mud minnow, cocahoe)

Gulf Ktlllfish

Family: Kllllfishes (Cyprinodontidae) Size: 4 Inches; may reach 6 to 7 Distribution: Northeast Florida through the northern Gulf of Mexico Habitat: Estuarial, especially in brackish shallows

How caught: Baited traps (also sold by bait shops in some areas) Local importance: Northern Gulf Target game fish: Flounder, redfish, trout How fished: Single small hook through lips or back; also fished on a lead-head jig, hooked through the mouth Comments: Other, similar killlflshes may be labeled bull minnows and cocahoes also; all species fished similarly — very popular in mid-Atlantic states for summer flounder. Killifishes can tolerate wide salinity and temperature ranges. Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: C Durability: A

  • Mugil cephalis, aka black mullet)
  • Mugil cephalis, aka black mullet)

Striped Mullet

Family: Mullets (Mugllidae) Size: From finger-mullet size of a few inches to mature 10- to 14-inchers; reportedly reaches 3 feet in length

Striped Mullet
(Brevoortid patronus, aka pogy) Gulf Menhaden

Distribution: Throughout the world: there are a great many species of mullet — this is but one; however, it is one of the most wide-ranging

Habitat: Shallow intertidal estuaries, lower rivers; often favoring muddy bays: their annual coastal migrations form major feeding events for predators How cauqht: Cast nets Local importance: A favored baitfish in many areas where they occur; finger mullet often eagerly sought as live baits by inshore anglers

Target game fish: Tarpon, snook, red drum, kingfish, jack crevalle How fished: As live bait, usually with a single hook through the back, head or belly Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: B

Tarpon Rig Live Bait


Family: Porgies (Sparldae) Size: 3 or 4 Inches to at least 6, typically; may reach a foot more in length Distribution: Southeastern United States, around the entire Gulf of Mexico and south to Yucatan Peninsula, plus Cuba and nearby Caribbean Islands Habitat: Shallow bays, estuaries, eel-grass beds

How caught: Cast nets, sabiki rigs or tiny bait-tipped hooks

Local importance: Widespread if somewhat limited use in Florida and west to Texas

Target game fish: Seatrout, redfish, cobia, grouper, snapper, various jacks How fished: Typically with a single circle or J hook through the head or (especially in shallow, grassy areas) back Comments: Handle with care; dorsal, anal and pelvic fins are well armed with needle-sharp spines on the aptly named pinfish Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A Durability: A

Pacific Sardine

Family: Herrings (Clupeidae) Size: Most often 4 to 8 Inches; can get larger

Distribution: Common to the entire California coast and down into Baja, occasionally farther north and south Habitat: Up and down the coast, near-shore, off kelp beds

How caught: Seldom caught, mostly bought — from large bait receivers (typically priced at $20 to $25 per scoop — enough for two anglers for a day) Local importance: A mainstay of the South Coast partyboat fishery and private boaters as well

Target game fish: Kelp bass, yellowtail, California halibut, albacore and yeliowfin tuna,dorado

How fished: Lightest possible hooks, often through the "collarbone" or nose but variously in the back or belly; often fly-lined with no weight or fished with light rubber-core sinkers

Comments: Fragile baits, best with minimal handling, gentle casting; most anglers switch out baits frequently to ensure natural movement; select baits light green in color and slimy to touch, say experts — avoid blue-backed fish with red noses Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A (as long as a bait receiver isn't far off) Durability: B (in bait tank but more like C on the hook)

(Anguilla rostrata)

American Eel

Family: Freshwater eels (Anguillidae) Size: Anglers generally use them 12 to 18 inches, but common to 3 feet and reputedly reach 5

Distribution: All of eastern North America and south to northernmost South America Habitat: Adults live in fresh or brackish waters but (being catadromous) return in winters to salt water to spawn How caught: Traps (especially baited with crushed crab) or small, baited hooks (most often, anglers purchase live eels) Local importance: A favorite among Gulf and Southeast cobia anglers and among Northeast and mid-Atlantic striper fishermen

Target game fish: As above, cobia and stripers; also used for bluefin and other species

How fished: For stripers, hooked through the lips on weighted (often fish-finder) rigs from anchored or drifting boats or trolled slowly; cobia fishermen like to sight-cast them directly to cobia on top Comments: Slimy, squirmy live eels almost defy handling; most anglers either use sand to get a grip or put eels on ice to make them temporarily lethargic. Voung eels live and feed in fresh water for 10 to 20 or more years before they become adults and return to the sea.

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B (or

A if you just buy the darn things) Durability: A

Carangidae Trevallies

(Caranx crysos, aka hardtail) Blue Runner

Family: Jacks, trevallies (Carangidae) Size: Commonly a pound or 2; may reach 5 or more

Distribution: Coastal waters on both sides of the Atlantic; in the western Atlantic from the Northeast to Brazil

Habitat: From shallow bays and inshore waters to offshore, particularly around sargassum and flotsam

How caught: Sabiki rigs or small baited hooks (especially If schools chummed to the boat) or trolling small squids

Local importance: One of more popular live baits in the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Eastern Seaboard

but particularly smoker king mackerel and swordfish

How fished: Great, hardy baits under the kite or trolled slowly on top or behind a sinker or on a downrigger; also dropped deep

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A Durability: A

(Opisthonerna oglinum, aka threadfin)

Atlantic Thread Herring

Family: Herrings (Clupeidae)

Size: Can reach 12 inches; commonly 5 to

9 Inches

Distribution: Western Atlantic from the U.S. Northeast to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Islands Habitat: Shallow coastal waters, generally in 30 feet or less How caught: Cast nets, sabikis Local importance: A key baitfish along most of U.S. southeast coast Target game fish: Most game fish — including sails, kings, grouper/snapper offshore, snook and tarpon inshore How fished: Mostly free-lined on top of or below a sliding-sinker rig for deeper species (or on kites when conditions are calm since they're pretty light otherwise) Comments: Not much that swims and eats other fish won't go for a live threadle Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: C

They're Alive!

(Euthynnus alletteratus, aka bonito, false albacore)

Little Tunny

Family: Tunas/mackerels (Scombridae) Size: Schools of Vz- to l-pounders (ideal live-bait size) form large shoals, though tunny can exceed 25 pounds Distribution: Throughout tropical and into temperate waters of the Atlantic and Mediterranean Habitat: Typically at the surface or mid-depths as fast-moving schools in nearshore waters

How caught: Trolling tiny squids or at times drifting sabiki rigs Local importance: Throughout its range, seldom a primary bait but important when available

Target game fish: Sailfish, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, marftn

How fished: Slow-trolled or, if not too large, fished beneath kites, usually bridle-rigged

Comments: Tuna tubes offer the best chance to keep liveys lively Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: 3 Durability: C

(Se/ar crumenophthalmus, aka goggle-eye)

Bigeye Scad

Family: Jacks, trevallies (Carangidae) Size: 8 to 12 inches commonly; may grow to about twice that length Distribution: Around the world, thriving in warm seas

Habitat: Clear coastal reefs How caught: Sabiki rigs, often late at night around ships anchored just offshore and buoys or markers

Local importance: Southeast Florida — one of most coveted live baits Target game fish: Sailfish as well as any large peiagics

How fished: Great kite baits, directly hooked or bridled with circle hooks Comments: How much do south Florida anglers iove their "gogs"? Enough to pay $100/dozen during sailfish tourneys! Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: A

Atlantic Menhaden

Family: Herrings (Clupeidae) Size: 6 to 10 inches; sometimes much larger

Distribution: Western Atlantic, common from the Northeast to the lower mid-Atlantic states

Habitat: Near coastal; prefer deeper waters of bays and harbors How caught: Cast nets, snag hooks Local importance: Fundamentally important baitflsh, live/fresh/frozen, from Maine to Carolinas

Target game fish: Bluefin tuna, striped bass, bluefish, weakfish How fished: Bridled or hooked through nose, eyes or below dorsal; on tuna grounds, can be a great kite bait; essential for chunk or chum lines Comments: Ecologically critical role as forage for predators such as striped bass and as filter feeders; support large commercial reduction fisheries (where local depletions may be occurring in the Chesapeake Bay)

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: B

Australia fi ft, Swaimton / wtt anima, fi ft, Swaimton / wtt anima,

(Trachurus novaezelandiae, aka yakka, horse mackerel)

Yellowtail Scad

Family: Jacks/trevallies (Carangidae) Size: Commonly 6 to 12 inches; may reach as much as 20

Distribution: Central/southern Australian waters, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and as far north as Japan

Habitat: Surface and rnidwater over reefy bottoms and in deeper water

How caught: Sabikis, small strip baits, bread, small lures/jigs

Local importance: A key live baltfish around most of southern Australia

Target game fish: Narrowbarred Spanish mackerel, tunas, mulloway (large drum), yellowtail, cobia, billfish

How fished: Hooked through nose, tail or dorsal fin

Comments: Found over most inshore and offshore reefs and particularly around pylons and channel markers; respond well to chum

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A Durability: B

  • Scomber austraiasicus, aka slimy)
  • Scomber austraiasicus, aka slimy)

Blue Mackerel

Family: Mackerels and tunas (Scombridae) Size: Commonly 6 to 12 inches: may be as large as 20

Distribution: Throughout the Indo-Pacific, to the Red Sea/Persian Gulf, Japan, southern Australia/New Zealand and Mexico

Habitat: Surface and mid-depths in coastal and oceanic environments How caught: Sabiki rigs, small strip baits, bread, small lures

Local importance: As for yellowtail scad Target game fish: Nearly all predators, certainly including mackerels, tunas, king-fish, cobia, and great for billfish How fished: Hooked through nose, tail or dorsal fin

Comments: Slimies are a robust and long-lived livey, particularly when hooked through the lips

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: A

United Kingdom

  • Hyperoplus lanceolatus, aka launce)
  • Hyperoplus lanceolatus, aka launce)

Great Sandeel

Family: Sand lances (Ammodytidae) Size: 6 to 12 inches Distribution: Widespread throughout the South and West Coast of the United Kingdom

Habitat: Tide rips, particularly in the vicinity of sand banks How caught: Mostly with small sabikis Local importance: Off Hampshire/Devon/ Cornwall/Wales and the Channel Islands Target game fish: European bass, pollock, turbot and brill, occasionally tope How fished: Usually on a long, flowing trace from a boat drifting oyer sand banks, through tide rips or over wrecks. Smaller eels are rigged with single hook near the mouth; two hooks fished in tandem are used for larger baits, the front hook near the head and the rear hook positioned just behind the dorsal.

Comments: When available, a deadly and highly effective bait. Eels are available In many coastal tackle shops. Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A (spring through early autumn) Durability: B

(.Scomber scombrus, aka joey, when small)

Atlantic Mackerel

Family: Tunas/mackerels (Scombridae) Size: 6 to 12 inches for live baits; larger mackerel mav be used for tope or sharks Distribution: Caught throughout the British Isles, spring through autumn (more abundant In the south and west) Habitat: Both inshore and offshore, notably around tide races but anywhere later in the season

How caught: Sabikis and traditional mackerel feathers

Local importance: Popular with bass anglers fishing English Channel wrecks; throughout Wales and Channel Islands to waters north and west of France Target game fish: European bass and tope How fished: Drifted over wrecks, reefs or sandbanks on long leaders Comments: Dawn and dusk and during high water (tide) are the most consistent times to catch fresh mackerel; shoals are often found by locating diving gannets Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A Durability: C

South Africa

  • Scomber japonicus, aka mackerel)
  • Scomber japonicus, aka mackerel)

Pacific Mackerel

Family: Tunas/mackerels (Scombridae) Size: 4- to 12-inchers are common; occasionally may reach 18 Distribution: Around southern Africa and Madagascar, plus most of the Indo-Paclfic Habitat: Around structure, particularly wrecks, but also reefs, from the shoreline to 50 fathoms

How caught: Sabikis or small, baited hooks Local importance: Important species for live bait wherever anglers regularly fish blue water

Target game fish: AH pelagics as well as larger bottomfish

How fished: Often rigged on wire for couta, or king mackerel, as narrowbarred Spanish mackerel are called here Comments: Similar species found throughout the world's seas Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: B

(Pomatomus saltatrix, aka shad or eif [South Africa], bluefish [U.S.], tailor [Australia])


Family: Pomatomidae Size: 6 to 24 inches (those roughly in the smaller half of that range are used as llveys; bigger specimens as dead swim baits)

Distribution: Circumglobal in all tropical and temperate waters except the eastern Pacific

Habitat: Over inshore reefs as well as around structure in up to 40 fathoms of water, deep during the day and just under the surface at night

How caught: Sabikis for very small shad, but otherwise baited 2/0 with short wire leaders

Local importance: Commonly used as live bait in coastal waters around the country Target game fish: A favorite bait for big mackerel, drifted or trolled in the tropical waters of South Africa's east coast; also for large bottomfish such as kob (large drum) or steenbras (monster porgies) How fished: Trolled on a long wire leader with large single or treble hooks nicked through the flank and lead hook through the snout area or fished on bottom with a 9/0 hook through the snout or eyes

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A

(but seasonal) Durability: A

New Zealand

(Trachurus declivis, aka jack mackerel)

Greenback Jack Mackerel

Family: Jacks/trevallies (Carangidae) Size: 4 to 18 inches

Distribution: Around most of New Zealand and the southern half of Australia Habitat; Smaller fish found Inshore around reefs, islands harbors and coastline; larger ones offshore to 400 feet, from bottom to surface

How caught: Sabiki rigs (often tipped with bait), small baited hooks with split shot; respond to chum and lights at night Local importance: Predominantly used off the North Island; most popular of live bait-fish for Kiwis

Target game fish: Inshore — yeilowtail (kingfish) plus snapper and john dory; offshore — yellowfln tuna plus striped marlin

How fished: Offshore, under a float, slow-trolled from a downrigger, deep-drifted on a weighted rig, pitch-baited; inshore, fished off a ledger (dropper) rig for large snappers and john dory

Comments: One of several similar species sharing these waters, including the popular scad known as koheru (Decapterus koheru) Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: A Durability: A

(Amp;s trutta, aka salmon [Australia]) Kahawai

Family: Kahawais (Arripidae) Size: 6 to 24 inches Distribution: New Zealand, southern Australia

Habitat: All continental-shelf waters to about 300 feet, often in surface-feeding schools; frequents river mouths and estuaries into brackish water How caught: Small lures cast or trolled (will strike a wide variety of lures, flies and baits from the bottom to the surface) Local importance: A very popular live bait among New Zealand anglers Target game fish: Yeilowtail (kingfish) and, offshore, striped and black marlin, mako and other sharks How fished: Inshore, often under a balloon float or drifted with a weighted line; offshore, bridle-rigged and trolled from the rod tip or a downrigger or used as a pitch bait

Comments: Historically, the widespread, robust kahawai have been a go-to bait for most New Zealand game-fish anglers; their numbers are now somewhat depleted by commercial purse seiners, but smaller kahawai are stilf widely available though are increasingly supplanted by jack mackerel and skipjack tuna (particularly for marlin offshore)

Ratings: Ease of locating/catching: B Durability: A

They're Alive!


Life Support

What Makes a Good Livewell System?

By Chris Woodward

How Install Live Bait Well

While the acrylic lid on this livewell is rectangular, the fan ft below it is oval. The large opening allows captains to quickly dump baits from net to well.

62 APRIL 2010

stagnates, baitfish quickly suffer stress and die.

Mosi boatbuilders and ii ve we 11 manufacturers achieve good flow in similar though slightly different ways. We asked a California bait-tank maker and representatives from three boat companies — Hatteras (sport-fisherman ), SeaVee (center-console offshore) and Yellowfin (center-console offshore and bay) — to tell us how they design their Weils.

Go with the Flow

''The most important thing is the volume of water," says Ralph Torres, co-owner and vice president of SeaVee Boats in Miami — a hot spot for live-bait tourney fishing. "A typical 60-gallon i? well should be plumbed § with at least an 1,100 gph s pump," though preferably t> two pumps per well should | be used both for backup or When more wrater is wanted, he says.

As an option, SeaVee offers a sea-chest system plumbed with Lip to four 2,000 gph pumps. A sea chest is built


What's the most crucial feature a livewell system should have? A half-dozen experts we asked say fresh water flow.

Not blue interior paint, LED lights, oxygenation systems or acrylic windows — although all of those may offer legitimate benefits, particularly to tournament anglers searching for any edge. But if a livewell's water into a vessel's bilge and houses the pumps, which are kept submerged in cool water — designed to make them last longer.

In a single-pump, 60-gallon system, a complete load of fresh water flushes through the well every three-plus minutes. Twenty minutes should be the bare-minimum turnover time, Torres says, adding "and the size of the drainage needs to lie adequate to maintain that flow."

What goes in must go out, which means the diameter (wide) and length (short) of the overflow hoses is critical.

Mark Wisch of Pacific Edge Tackle in Huntington Beach, California, builds bait tanks for Pacific live-baiters. He uses a six- to 10-minute turnover rate as average. I le advocates building lower, flatter wells rather tlian tall, cylindrical ones, saying the bait can better mil! alxxit in squatter wells.

Shape is often determined more by the hull design than anything else, however. But all wells should be rounded or oval, the experts say. Baitfish damage themselves if forced to swim into corners.

Pick Up and Circulate

To first establish a flow of clean water, vessels need water pickups, generally installed fluslily into the hull bottom. Jeff Donahue, sales manager for I Iatteras and a tournament angler, says his company designs a very smooth transition with no obstructions from the pickup to the livewell. Flow7 arrives about mid-tank level and exits near the top,

Yellowfin Yachts uses a similar design even for its bay boats, using a pickup flush to the hull bottom covered by a grate, says Yellow-fin vice president Kevin Barker. The grate helps keep grass from shallow-water habitats from entering the well, eliminating the need for a filter, Tournament anglers, however, often install filter systems to further purify the system.




'Hie company also uses overflow drains rather than standpipes to keep circulation moving. Standpdpes drain slowly and may easily dislodge when anglers load the well or scoop out I va ils,

11 le water flowing into the Well should create circulation. But Irait should swim gently into the cunent, not Struggle against it. To ease flow, some manufacturers bring water into the well in multiple locations. Torres says SeaVee brings water into the tank near the bottom and points flow both sideways and down. "I've heard comments from some of the captains that they prefer to see a clockwise flow- of water inside the well," Torres says. "That creates the same scenario of flow [inside the tankl as the rotation of the earth [creates in the ocean] in this hemisphere."

Redundancy is another factor important to dedicated live-baiters. Donahue says Hatteras commonly uses powerful 1,200 gph pumps to drive several wells within the same system; anglers who live-bait for marl in often request installation of backup pumps, especially when supplying water to nma tubes.

On its bay boats, Yellow-fin uses cartridge pùmps, wliich screw off and on and are made only for smaller vessels. Dedicated live-baiters can carry a spare pump and quickly sw-ap it if their original pump fails.

Under Pressure

Pressurization helps keep baits fresher, especially in the wells of offshore vessels that encounter rough seas. SeaVee installs a valve in its drainage system that allows captains to adjust the flow- so the pump can supply just S a little more w-ater than the tank can ui

1 drain. That keeps the well completely 5 full so water and baits don't slosh.

Torres also says tliat hatch access g should be adequate so a captain can § load the well by simply dumping bis

1 cast net. Whether that hatch should be fiberglass or acrylic depends on

5 which captain you ask. A clear lid or acrylic side win clow provides an easy-glimpse to check the health of the bait. But some captains like to keep their bails totally in the dark, claiming it calms them.

Those captains paint their livewells black or dark blue, though light blue seems the most popular color today. Boatbuilders say those colors come from personal preference rather than any kind of scientific documentation.

Most builders we talked to also install some form of LED lights in livewells so captains can see baitfish

in dark or near-dark conditions. They also install spray bars for extra aeration and incorporate multiple wells in their hull designs for convenience as well as to allow- use of several incompatible bait species.

"If the owner does a lot of tournament fishing and maybe lias threadfins and goggle-eyes, he'll want to separate the two," Torres says. "We also [Hit one in the front of the boat for guys who do a lot of kite fishing, TluiL keeps them from running from the back to (lie front of the boat all day,"


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  • charles
    How to install live bait well?
    9 years ago
    How to create a sand eel livewell tank?
    9 years ago
  • Rollo
    How to bridle live fish for sliding?
    9 years ago
  • Bellisima
    How to live bait a horse mackerel?
    9 years ago
  • marzio
    How to hook a live poggy for strippers?
    9 years ago
  • abe
    What is the most important thing with a live bait well?
    9 years ago
  • amie
    Where do the hoses go for live bait tank?
    9 years ago

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