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Live bait seems to be a staple of Florida fishing and a world unto its own. The extent of my live bait knowledge ends at bluegill and farm ponds (or throwing the occasional skipjack w/ a stinger hook for stripper and flat heads).

What are some of your favorite methods for catching bait? Do you pay attention to moon phase, water temp, water salinity, etc? Do you prefer a cast net, sabiki rig, or some slick ol' timer trick?

Years ago - I was maybe 14 - I used to catch pinfish on a 5-6x hook dropshot rig on east coast piers (around Jupiter) but can't seem to replicate the results where I fish now (Port Charlotte/ Punta Gorda). My theory is the waters too brackish where I am, but I really don't know the answer... I've had passing conversations around bait shops about chumming up for ballyhoo or throwing for greenbacks but nothing's ever netted me much success.

I'm watching the tutorial videos and getting guide trips but I'd be remiss not to check with you guys before trying again.

Side note: One thing I really want to try is flipping docks with a pinfish in a Mustad double-live bait hook (see pic) and working it like a fluke.
 

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PuntaG, any of the accessible flats in your area should hold pinfish, although in the heat of summer you will need to get closer to the pass for more numbers. Try a small gold hook with some squid and a small split shot and you should not have problems. Greenbacks you will need to get closer to the pass during most of the year to locate bigger schools to throw a net. Look at the sand potholes to spot them easier.

On a side note, Florida Law prohibits the use of multiple hooks while using “natural bait” on a multitude of the species you would be targeting. FWC would have a field day with that.
 

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PuntaG, any of the accessible flats in your area should hold pinfish, although in the heat of summer you will need to get closer to the pass for more numbers. Try a small gold hook with some squid and a small split shot and you should not have problems. Greenbacks you will need to get closer to the pass during most of the year to locate bigger schools to throw a net. Look at the sand potholes to spot them easier.

On a side note, Florida Law prohibits the use of multiple hooks while using “natural bait” on a multitude of the species you would be targeting. FWC would have a field day with that.
Uhhh officer I'm drunk, nothing I said is admissible in court.
 

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cast net, or local seafood store (live blue crabs).
 

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Down in the coastal Everglades where I am bait comes in every variety (and we catch 'em in a few different ways...). Ladyfish are everywhere and I always thought they were a nuisance until someone opened my eyes by pointing out that any place with ladies - has big fish that eat them... All we do is grab everyone that we hook with small bucktails or leadheads with plastic or Gulp tails and toss them into the livewell... Yesterday we got a surprise big tarpon (looked to be 80lbs) on just a chunk of ladyfish on the bottom.. Where we are everything eats ladyfish - as live bait or as cutbait. You can't keep dead ladyfish though since it turns to mush by the second day so you end up catching them each day if wanted... For better keeping cutbait simply buy fresh dead mullet at your local bait store...

Next easiest are pinfish along the edges of grass flats everywhere in Florida Bay (hardly any pinfish at all in the interior). Set up a chum bag (or fish food) where there's a current along the edge of a grass flat in around three feet of water or better and almost instantly you'll have pinfish. Bits of shrimp (squid is even better since it stays on the hook....) on a double or triple dropper hair hook rig (#12 or smaller Mustad #3193 hooks with the barbs mashed down..) into the chumline and start hauling them in... With two anglers aboard I can have fifty or more pins in the well in less than an hour all told... Yes, many use store-bought sabikis instead but I prefer my own rigs since I have absolute first time beginners on board if I'm resorting to pinfish...

Lastly all the bait that you can catch with a castnet... But first you'll need to learn how to toss a cast net...
 

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Down in the coastal Everglades where I am bait comes in every variety (and we catch 'em in a few different ways...). Ladyfish are everywhere and I always thought they were a nuisance until someone opened my eyes by pointing out that any place with ladies - has big fish that eat them... All we do is grab everyone that we hook with small bucktails or leadheads with plastic or Gulp tails and toss them into the livewell... Yesterday we got a surprise big tarpon (looked to be 80lbs) on just a chunk of ladyfish on the bottom.. Where we are everything eats ladyfish - as live bait or as cutbait. You can't keep dead ladyfish though since it turns to mush by the second day so you end up catching them each day if wanted... For better keeping cutbait simply buy fresh dead mullet at your local bait store...

Next easiest are pinfish along the edges of grass flats everywhere in Florida Bay (hardly any pinfish at all in the interior). Set up a chum bag (or fish food) where there's a current along the edge of a grass flat in around three feet of water or better and almost instantly you'll have pinfish. Bits of shrimp (squid is even better since it stays on the hook....) on a double or triple dropper hair hook rig (#12 or smaller Mustad #3193 hooks with the barbs mashed down..) into the chumline and start hauling them in... With two anglers aboard I can have fifty or more pins in the well in less than an hour all told... Yes, many use store-bought sabikis instead but I prefer my own rigs since I have absolute first time beginners on board if I'm resorting to pinfish...

Lastly all the bait that you can catch with a castnet... But first you'll need to learn how to toss a cast net...
Awesome advice, thank you. I know I can catch ladyfish on a given day but never thought to use them for cut bait
 

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Every thing eats ladies as cutbait (long as it's fresh...) small chunks or bait as big as your fist - just depending on what you're going after... Small ladyfish strips tabbed onto a bucktail jig also get the job done...

Live ladyfish... here you need to be a bit careful not to use really big ones (big ones are cutbait..). For a big, big tarpon or a monster snook we want baits in the 10 to 13" size range... Yes, you can use bigger livies - and they'll get bit - but all too often with big bait your target is up jumping and spitting before the hook is where you want it to be...

Hope this helps.
 

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Regarding Lady fish...fresh cut in strips on a 2/0 hook under a popping cork is deadly. Long time a go a couple I met in Flaming said they only bought shrimp to catch ladyfish and then use them for trout. The strips flash real nice and stay on good.
 

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2nd the Tropical fish food from Purina for chum. I mix it with a little Menhaden oil and water, and slowly toss it out on a flat, or where I see birds diving. If there is a bunch of bait there, then it’s not necessary. Just throw the net. Right now I have an 8ft. 1/4in Black Pearl net that works great in the shallower waters. The mesh size is small so I don’t “Christmas tree” my net with small baits. (Had enough of that). If you’re shooting for bait in deeper water get a 10ft. radius net Minimum, and 3/8in or 1/2in mesh. Usually I’m going for Threadfins if I’m in deeper water, but there are a couple places where the white bait and greenbacks are in deeper water.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Purina tropical fish food and the right grass flat with a cast net.

Ask your guide if you can go with him early for catching bait

I just see that getting hung up on docks, just skip a freelined greenback under the dock with a circle hook through the nose.
2nd the Tropical fish food from Purina for chum. I mix it with a little Menhaden oil and water, and slowly toss it out on a flat, or where I see birds diving. If there is a bunch of bait there, then it’s not necessary. Just throw the net. Right now I have an 8ft. 1/4in Black Pearl net that works great in the shallower waters. The mesh size is small so I don’t “Christmas tree” my net with small baits. (Had enough of that). If you’re shooting for bait in deeper water get a 10ft. radius net Minimum, and 3/8in or 1/2in mesh. Usually I’m going for Threadfins if I’m in deeper water, but there are a couple places where the white bait and greenbacks are in deeper water.
How big does a bait tank need to be for threadfins or greenies? Would a regular 5-gallon bucket w/ bubbler be enough or do I need to use a 50-60 quart cooler? I modified a bucket with a false floor so it has a bottom section with an aerator and frozen water bottles. The "false floor" lets cool water and oxygen circulate but keeps shrimp from going down and getting slammed by the bottles. It keeps shrimp alive forever but I don't know it it's big enough for other baits.
 

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I second the “No” for a 5 gallon bucket. I made a 120qt Igloo cooler into a bait well for when I fish on the bridge or beach and want to keep live bait. It works pretty good with just a recirculating pump. I add some foam-off and liquid no-mmonia to the water and it helps a lot. In a boat I have a 12ish gallon livewell that has a fresh water fill pump and a recirculating pump with the rule oxygenator, and it Keeps bait alive really well. It’s small for sure, so I do have to be careful with how much bait I pack in there.
They make plastic stand alone oval livewells that hold like 20 gallons that work well. Getting fresh water in and out quickly will keep bait frisky. If the water temp gets to high, they’ll start dying off. Usually Threadfins first, greenbacks second, then white bait. Pin fish pretty much live through anything. (Not the ones you buy at the bait store)
 

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Swimming baits need to swim - that's why a first class baitwell will always be circular or at least oval... You'll learn through experience just how many baits of a given size can stay in your well (whatever you have....) exceed that and they'll die off in a hurry. My old Maverick has a rectangular well (about 48 gallons) and as a result I only keep a half dozen ladies in it at one time if I want them kicking... After a few hours in the well they're barely hanging on so you hook one up then allow it to sit next to the skiff for a few minutes before allowing it to swim away... Ladyfish for tarpon won't last long at all if you cast them so you need to let them swim away (or you work your skiff slowly away from where you've dropped them..). Ladies for bottom fishing get cast to wherever you need them to be and you don't worry about how lively they are since if there's a big fish there - they won't last long....

Contrast how you fish ladyfish with blue runners and that's a completely different deal... If you don't toss a runner away from your boat it will quickly race back under your hull - and stay there... You definitely will learn to handle different baits differently it just goes with the territory.
 
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