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Live Baits from a Kayak

Let your live baits do the work offshore.

Drifting live baits from a kayak is a great way to catch ocean fish, from sailfish to wahoo. But as you drift, you can pull the bait and take away from the natural presentation. Freelining provides for a more natural-running bait and will give you a big advantage as you make your drift. It’s an active style of fishing, as opposed to simply letting a bait out and sticking the rod in a holder.

Freelining is exactly what it sounds like: Allowing the bait to swim away from the boat as freely as possible. Put the reel in free spool or open the bail on your spinner and let the bait run. Always keep the rod in your hand and an eye on your line. Most hits will come as you let the bait run, so be ready to engage the reel. After you have let out 75 yards of line, slowly reel the bait back to the boat and start the process again.

Live bait caught and redeployed on site, above, can produce good action.

Keep the outfits light for a better presentation. A Penn Fathom FTH12, for instance, with 420 yards of 20-pound braid on a good jigging rod makes a great livebait outfit and even with its small size will land a nice fish. Spinning reels work well, also. Braid in 20- or 30-pound test works better than monofilament line of the same pound test. In my view, the smaller diameter of the braid allows the bait to swim with less resistance, allowing it to move more naturally. Braid also lets you have the line capacity, on a kayak-manageable reel, needed to bring in a large wahoo, 300 to 500 yards.

Two of the best baits to use are a live goggle-eye and a large pilchard. Goggle-eyes are very hardy and make a great sailfish bait. The best way to rig the goggle-eye is to use a stinger rig. Hook the gog through the nose with the live bait hook and put the treble hook in the back half of the bait. The wire will come in handy when a big king or wahoo takes your bait. Pilchards are a softer bait and not as strong as a goggle-eye, but are an ideal size. As for rigging, try this trick: Hook the pilchard through the nose with the live bait hook but let the stinger go free. Not having the treble in the pilchard will let it swim more naturally and the wahoo love them.

Pilchard with a stinger, a common live bait.

A 5-gallon bucket will hold 4 goggleeyes or a dozen large pilchards. Using an aerator and changing out some of the water every hour will keep your baits at their best. You may want to bring a few speed jigs along. When the bite is on, the live baits may not last long.

If there is a drawback to this style of fishing, it’s that it somewhat limits your ability to cover water. The technique is deadly when applied in areas that hold fish, but if you’re uncertain of what the prospects hold for a given depth or range, be prepared to put in place alternate gameplans. Slow-troll a live bait or lure until you get a solid hit, for instance, and then redeploy as described above, letting out line and allowing the bait to react naturally to threats in the water column. It’s a great tactic for kayakers, and worth trying on powerboats, too. - FS

First Published Florida Sportsman May 2013