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Sabiki Sense

Catch bait fast, easy and hassle-free with these tips.

Keep it cool around the markers: Polish your technique and be a courteous boater.

What a feeling to head offshore with a livewell full of fresh-caught baits. Sabiki rigs are a great way to wrangle up that bait, and some anglers say the baits are livelier than those caught in a castnet. But using these tangle-prone rigs loaded with needle-sharp mini-hooks can be a hassle at times. Here are some tips gleaned from experience.

• Buy 10 packs at a time and keep ’em stowed in a watertight container. Cudas, Spanish mackerel and inexperienced crew will cause you to go through several packs a day. Choose the type favored in your area by pros—in Southeast Florida, many prefer the Hayabusa Hage-Aurora fish skin with green head, gold hook, sizes 4, 6 and 8. The R&R brand also rocks.

• Use at least 1.5 ounces of lead, on up to 3 ounces. Too light and the baits will swim up and tangle with each other. Keep extra sinkers handy, too. Dipseys are easy, or add an egg sinker by running a piece of heavy mono through and tying a loop.

• It’s often best to forget saving sabikis. The high-carbon hooks will corrode before a second trip, so why not just trash them—they’re only a couple of bucks to start with. Ditto for bad tangles—just drop them in your trash bag for safe disposal ashore; never toss them over the side, of course.

• Always use a dehooker on caught bait. A small shepherd’s crook dehooker or thin metal rod terminating in a U-bend does the job. Hold the leader straight, run the dehooker down the dropper line to the hook bend, and shake or flip your bait right into the livewell, untouched by human hands. Buy dehookers as well as bait dipnets two or three at a time—they tend to go missing.

• Don’t drop your rig until you mark baits on the depthfinder or see them flashing at the surface. Keep moving until you find a big concentration—you’ll load up much faster. Herrings are usually in midwater, pilchards deeper. Check different levels to find the action.

• Never ignore a marker; often schools of bait hang downcurrent.

• Keep tension on the line as you drop; letting the rig freefall allows baits to grab the flies and get tangled before you even know they’re there.

• Shaking the rodtip usually helps attract bites. Big, fast jerks will shake off fish, though. When you feel a bump, come tight and wait a few seconds; often, the “tree” will load up with baits. Then, just crank them in—no hookset needed.

• Block chum will fire up the sabiki bite on some species, as will a menhaden oil and whole wheat bread paste in the shallows.

• Most species bite best just after sunrise, maybe because you’re the first boat to work them. Evening can be slow, except for goggle-eyes, which bite best in total darkness, often on glowing flies.

• When moving to another spot, link adjacent hooks in pairs at the bends and wrap the sinker around the reel mount, or take it off and clip the bottom snap swivel to a line keeper on the rod. Tighten the line, make a few wraps around the rod, and the barbs are fairly safe.

• For more security, consider making a sabiki saver tube out of thin-walled PVC, 3⁄4- to 1-inch diameter, cut as long as the whole rig. When you want to stow the rig, just drop it down the tube and use a tie-wrap to secure it to the rod; hooks, sinker and leader all are neatly stowed. If you want to keep the rig for another trip, run a bit of fresh water down the tube to rinse it when you get back to the dock. There are also commercial sabiki rods available with hollow blanks; some anglers like these.

• Make sure your baitwell is full, and the aerator and overflow are working properly before you start dropping bait in the well. Check your bait regularly to make sure it’s staying “happy.”

• Give other bait-chasers a bit of courtesy. Don’t cast at the other guy’s stern and don’t use your boat’s size to “shoulder” others out of the way, as some charterboat skippers do. FS