by Capt. James Marko
I’m going to share the most important thing to charter captains and anglers alike. Everything you need to know about Live Bait. I’m talking about whitebait, pilchards, greenbacks, etc. The first step is to get out there and set up before the sunrise. Thirty minutes before and after sunrise is the magic hour. Get out later than that and it becomes much more difficult because they can see you. There are several ways of finding out where the bait is located. Ask friends, join a local fishing group, or go out and scout the flats a day before. Most of the time there’s a specific area, structure, or flat on the inside of a pass that holds bait from spring to fall. During the summer, it’s plentiful off the beaches.
During the winter months, it can be very hard to find. Diving birds or what looks like raindrops on the otherwise smooth water, is what you’re looking for. Determine which direction the tide is moving and anchor up on the edge of the flat, channel marker, or beach in 4 to 6 feet of water. Start chumming to create a slick that gets carried by the current and acts like a breadcrumb trail for the bait to follow back to you. Never try to rodeo the bait and chase it down. I get asked a lot what I use for chum and frankly you can use just about anything. Mixing menhaden oil with fish, dog, or cat food is an old way of doing it. The problem is it all sinks and it takes a really long time to get a slick going. Chumming 20-30 minutes to build a good slick is typical. My secret weapon and what most charter guys use is Boca Coast Bait Fish Chum. This stuff sinks and then starts to float back up to the surface. This creates a slick really fast. More like 5-10 minutes. I just toss in a handful when I first get there.
By the time I turn on the livewell, get my net ready, and take a few sips of coffee, they’re usually knocking on the door. Another benefit of it returning to the surface is it separates the pinfish from the whitebait. This also saves a ton of time when you’re ready to throw the net. If you don’t see them in the first 5 minutes, sprinkle in about a golf ball size amount every thirty seconds right next to the center console. This will keep the pinfish on the bottom, where they like to feed, and the whitebait right off the stern where you’ll be throwing your net. You’ll catch a lot more whitebait vs pins that way. At the end of the day, return your left-over bait to the flat. Don’t bring it back to the dock and feed it to the dock pets. You may catch it again tomorrow!