Stuart Live Bait
- Whitebait (aka pilchard and scaled sardine) are great overall because they last a long time and can catch pretty much any inshore fish you would want to target.
- You can tell a whitebait from a threadfish by the size of its eye (the whitebait has a much larger eye, and is also much stronger and less scaly than the threadfin).
- The whitebait is found in the shallow water (although you usually find the big whitebait on deeper flats), and I usually get my whitebait in grass flats that are in 3-5 ft of water.
- Whitebait is a strong bait and can hold strong overnight if placed in a bait pen.
- You can chum up whitebait near the boat to throw the cast net (but know that whitebait hug the bottom more than threadfins do – so if you see bait raining all over the surface, it’s most likely threadfins… not whitebait).
- Whitebait are very shiny (attract predator fish).
- Approx 2 to 5 inches long.
- Just about anything you can target inshore (and even offshore) will eat whitebait. We use whitebait to catch our redfish, snook, trout, cobia, tripletail, and even tarpon.
Pinfish are my second choice in terms of the best live bait.
Here are some facts about pinfish:
- Pinfish, like whitebait, are also a very hardy bait, so they will not die in the livewell.
- Note: Do not put your pinfish with your other bait because they are known to eat the eyes out of weaker bait.
- They have spiky fins (because it feels like you are getting poked by a pin).
- Approx from 2 to 6 inches
- Pinfish are usually very plentiful and easy to find on most grass flats.
- You can catch them using a cast net, pinfish traps, or a small hook and a really small piece of shrimp or Berkley Gulp (watch a cool trick on catching loads of pinfish using old Berkley Gulps here)
- Redfish, snook, trout, tarpon, grouper, snapper, and pretty much all other predator fish love pinfish
- Pinfish are also useful as dead bait or cut bait (we’ve caught some monster bull redfish using cut pinfish as bait)
3. Threadfin Herring (aka Greenback or Greenie)
These scaly bait fish are my third choice due to the following reasons:
- They have a dark green back, and dark spots along the dorsal ridge, there is also a long thread-like fin on the back.
- To find threadfins look for those in deeper water, they will show on your fish finder or can see the bubbling on the surface.
- If you see bait fish “raining” on the surface, it is usually a school of threadfins.
- You often don’t need to chum for these… usually you can simply find threadfins located around any structure (like Sunshine Skyway fishing piers the Anna Maria Island Pier).
- You can also use a sabiki rig to catch the threadfins.
- Threadfins are in high demand during tarpon season, but know that threadfins will not last all night in a bait pen (and in many cases won’t last all day in a livewell).
- The threadfin scales come off easily and make a mess in your livewell.
- Threadfins work great for cut bait as they release a lot of aromas (excellent for redfish).
- Approx from 2 to 5 inches
- Large threadfins can be awesome for big tarpon just offshore
- Overall, threadfins are not very hardy, they die easily, but they are great and useful as dead bait and cut bait.