A Bit About Bait

I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t grow up here in SoCal. I grew up in Washington State, but I’ve also had the opportunity to fish around the country and even internationally.  From this experience, I’ve gathered some thoughts on the bait situation.

bait tipsThe fishing scene we have here in Southern California with the vast fleet of open party fishing boats and live bait operations is very unique.

Nowhere else in the world does the recreational angler have the vast array of choices and luxury of live bait that we enjoy here.

Back home in Washington, they do have some open party boats, but no live bait. There is an entire industry built around dressing up frozen herring and anchovies to make it look enticing to salmon.

bait tipsDipsy-do chrome flashers are used to give it a fish-attracting motion. Then anglers use various brines and cures with assorted scents and unnatural colors to put “lipstick on the pig” of these frozen offerings.

When I went striped bass fishing off Long Island, New York, we had to first find schools of bunker or menhaden. We then ripped weighted treble hooks through the school to snag the bait before we could even start fishing. If you don’t catch bait, you’re not striper fishing.

bait riggingWhen I went sailfish fishing in Guatemala, Capt. Tom Boyce bragged about how he had some special frozen ballyhoo flown in from Florida. Deckhand Victor meticulously prepared the ballyhoo to use for both casting and trolling setups.

Pretty much anywhere else, other than here in Southern California, if you want live bait, then you have to go make it yourself.

Live Bait

Bait is always an issue this time of year for us. You’ve got more anglers and boats going out every day. The bait operations just can’t keep up with the demand. As fast as they get in bait, it’s going back out. The bait doesn’t have time to “cure.”

live baitIf you don’t understand, let me explain.  Imagine you are a sardine and you are swimming around with all of your buddies when all of a sudden you are wrapped up tightly in a net with thousands of your friends and family. You get transported back to the bait receiver where they shoot you out into a dark, unfamiliar pen. You haven’t eaten and you haven’t had time to rest. Then you are scooped up and put on a boat where you are jostled around as the boat makes its way to the fishing grounds. Its no surprise that a lot of the bait “rolls” or dies by the time you are ready to fish.

The bait rolling isn’t anyone’s fault! It just happens.

There simply isn’t the physical capacity at the bait receiver, given the demand right now, to set any aside a batch of baits to cure. The captains and crews do their best to load the bait lightly to minimize the negative effects of handling on the bait. They can’t load more fish to compensate because there is a limited supply and crowding more bait fish onto the boat is only going to make the problem worse.

bait bargeThankfully, the fishing right now is so good, the health of the bait isn’t a huge detriment to successful fishing. There is a massive volume of fish around and they are close. The fishing in the last week has been excellent. Hundred-plus yellowfin trips are being had within half-day range of the San Diego area. Further north, the yellowtail fishing has been great all the way up to the 805.

So if you find yourself on a boat and you are asked to conserve bait, or wonder why the deckhands aren’t chumming wildly, or you are asked to help make bait – don’t despair, and don’t complain, just go with the flow. You will still have an excellent OPPORTUNITY to catch trophy fish. Enjoy yourself and the fishing will take care of itself.

Tight lines.

Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing boats of Southern California. In addition to writing his blog, Joe's writing has appeared in Western Outdoor News, The Log and Griffin Media. Joe is ...