Natural Bait

There are numerous types of bait used in saltwater fishing, and each type may have several variations in size, methods of use, and whether the bait is fished live, dead, whole or cut into strips or chunks. Each baits popularity and effectiveness depends on the species an angler is fishing for, as well as the fishing situation at hand, i.e. water depth and clarity, time of year, and the presence of natural food sources and predators in the area. Following are some common examples of each type of bait used for saltwater game fish:

Fish Almost every saltwater game fish has at least a portion of its diet comprised of some other species of fish, if not its entire diet. And of all the baits used in salt water, fish make up the majority. In most cases, fish used for bait do not attain the size or sporting value of small game fish and are commonly referred to as baitfish. However, some species valued as either food or sport are occasionally used as bait, especially for big game fish.

Popular baitfish include (common names): alewives, anchovies, ballyhoos, blue runners, butterfish, croakers, flying fish, herring, menhaden, pilchards, pinfish, sardines and smelt. Other fish used as bait include bonito, mackerel, grunts and whiting. Anglers can purchase live or frozen baitfish at bait shops or catch their own with seines, cast nets and, in some cases, hook and line.

Baitfish can be fished live, dead, whole or cut into chunks and strips, depending on the size and feeding characteristics of the game fish being pursued; likewise, different sizes of the same bait will appeal to different sizes of game fish. Following is a partial list of baitfish and the species of game fish they are commonly used for:

  • Mullet amberjack, dolphin, grouper, jacks, kingfish, marlin, redfish, sailfish, sea trout, snook, tarpon, tuna and wahoo.
  • Pilchard amberjack, bonito, cobia, grouper, jacks, kingfish, ladyfish, redfish, sea trout, snapper, snook and tarpon.
  • Pinfish amberjack, grouper, jacks, kingfish, snook and tarpon.
  • Ballyhoo barracuda, dolphin, kingfish, marlin, sailfish, tuna and wahoo.
  • Flying fish dolphin, barracuda, marlin and sailfish.

    Shrimp Shrimp are another highly popular and effective bait for a vast number of saltwater game fish, especially inshore fish such as snook, speckled trout, sheepshead, redfish and many others. Shrimp, like baitfish, are widely available in bait shops, either live or frozen, and can also be caught with cast nets. They are also a versatile bait that can be fished whole on a hook in a number of ways, added to a jig, and used as chum bait.

    Crabs Various crab species, particularly the blue crab, fiddler crab and sand flea, make excellent bait for many species of inshore game fish and bottom fish. Crabs are usually hooked through the upper edge of the shell, to the right or left of the head. Many anglers will remove the claws prior to fishing, which makes the crab more appealing to game fish, and crabs must be small enough (generally 3 inches or less) to fit in the mouths of most inshore game fish.

  • Blue crabs tarpon, permit, redfish, grouper, snapper
  • Fiddler crabs snapper, grouper, sheepshead
  • Sand fleas pompano

    Eels Small eels are especially common in Northeast waters off the Atlantic Coast. They are often the preferred bait for catching striped bass and occasionally used for blue fish, though eels are effective for the many grouper species and other bottom fish.

    Squid Small squid are an especially popular bait for big game fish such as marlin, sailfish, tuna, dolphin, wahoo and kingfish. They are commonly rigged whole onto a trolling bait rig, usually a harness-type arrangement of two hooks a single hook near the head and a double hook near the tail attached by a strong, short leader.

    Worms Aquatic worms like clam worms, blood worms and sand worms work well for a number of inshore and bottom fish species such as flounder, grouper, black fish, croaker. Worms can be hooked in a variety of ways threaded onto a single hook, a jig head, or a multiple-hook bait rig.