Save bucks and catch more using yesterday’s bait.

A Chum paddle on a power drill will render these sardines into freezable chum.

This advice won’t sit well with all the pelicans, herons, egrets and sea gulls accustomed to scoring free chow when livebait anglers dump their wells at day’s end. Nevertheless, saving that leftover bait will save you time, effort and maybe some green on your next trip.

Penning leftover livies is the first thought, but that’s only a viable option if you have all-hours access to a private dock with ample tidal flow. For most anglers, freezing baits is the way to go.

Dropping a load of baitfish into a plastic bag and sliding them directly into freezer will suffice, but a few steps will ensure they retain their color and consistency.

Sardines from above, bagged and boxed for the freezer.

For starters, soak baits for a couple hours in a mixture of rock or Kosher salt, ice and water to toughen them for future use. Some say that adding a little baking soda to the brine achieves a good balance of toughness and pliability. If you’d rather skip all the mixing, Pro-Cure Brine ‘N Bite ( offers a dry formula for sprinkling directly on baits. Added amino acids are said to boost the baits’ smell and flavor for increased

Vaccuum-sealing the bags, using a Food Saver or other device, is another good idea. Removing the air helps prevent ice crystals from forming and compromising the structure of the tissues.

Consider the uses for those excess livies:

Dead Baiting: Mangrove snapper can’t resist a dead herring or sardine hooked through the eye sockets, and pretty much any dead bait dropped to the bottom on a fishfinder or knocker rig will tempt grouper. Kingfish are easy to catch on dead sardines: Hook a bait up through the lips and freeline it behind the boat while anchored or drift fishing. Well-preserved baitfish are far superior than mushy ones, for all these applications.

Sweetening Sabikis: Gold-hook rigs tipped with a little chunk of dead bait will tempt those vermilions, yellowtail and triggerfish.

Chumming: Snapper, grouper, cobia, mackerel, sharks, bluefish—many commonly targeted predators follow their noses to likely feeds.

With smaller baits of 3 inches or less, whole chumming is a good bet for the initial round. Be careful not to overdo it, as you risk filling up the freeloaders before they find a hooked bait. Chunking dead baits with a fillet knife or kitchen shears keeps the appetizers smaller and that lessens the likelihood of spoiling anyone’s appetite. Yet another option, one often used by tournament kingfish anglers, is a gunwale-mounted chum grinder in manual or electric models.

Tampa Bay guide Billy Miller’s a fan of chum grinding, but he does so at the dock. The objective: homemade chum blocks that eliminate the $5-$8 he’d pay for commercially- produced blocks at the bait shop.

For this, Miller employs a bait-mashing tool called the Chum Paddle. This stainless steel rod with a box tip fits into most handheld power drills and turns a pile of threadfins and/or whitebaits into a pile of smelly mush. It’s made by the folks at Sea Claw Anchors (

“I like how this leaves some bigger chunks for the fish to find,” Miller said. “Both baits work just as good, but threadfins are softer so they grind more easily.”

Miller grinds his chum in a 5-gallon bucket with a hole cut into the lid for Chum Paddle access because lidless grinding means wearing a few chum bits. He then scoops a couple pounds of ground baitfish into a plastic bag and forms it into a rectangle that fits into a cardboard box from an area fish house. It’s perfect for later deployment in a mesh chum bag.

For this and any leftover bait storage, do yourself a favor and invest in a chest freezer with a capacity that fits your needs. Recycling baits will lower your fishing expenses, while doing so with a dedicated freezer will save your marriage or significant relationship. Let the lady of the house find a chum block or bag of sardines next to her pork chops and it’s sleep-on-the-couch time.

Miller’s perspective: “You need a chest freezer, unless you’re a single man who plans to stay that way.” FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Apr. 2012

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