Simple tricks for keeping livebait hooks where they need to be.
I love live bait fishing. When I’m teaching a Baits, Rigs & Tackle seminar at a Florida Sportsman Expo, I always make it a point to say, “If you know exactly where the fish are, there’s just no way to beat a well-presented, frisky live bait.” I’ve seen the same sailfish that will cast a suspicious eye at all four rigged ballyhoo in my spread, simply lose its mind when we drop a frisky live sardine anywhere in the area code.
Still, there’s a long way between getting a grouper to eat your grunt, or a flounder to eat your mullet, and dropping their fillets in hot oil. Don’t ask me why you’ll so often get a perfect take, and what feels like a perfect hookset, only to reel in a thoroughly roughed-up bait with the hook turned around and sunk back into the bait.
Captain George Labonte, of Hobe Sound, has built a career around live baiting sailfish. At first glance, you’d never see why he has a much better hookup percentage than 90 percent of the boats around him, but like so many experts, he does so many things just a little bit better than the rest of the fleet. He’s the captain who taught me whenever you’re using a live bait, make sure you snell the hook on, and then slide the snell down to the bend of the hook. The idea is to keep the hook from passing through the bait, turning around and burying itself back into the body of the hook.
The late Lonnie Pitts could catch more Jacksonville flounder in his sleep than I could on my best day, and when we fished together he kept his rubber bands in his pocket, out of sight. Just after he hooked his mullet through the lips, he would hitch a rubber band around the bend of the hook, and snip off the ends. He swore by a number 32 band, claiming the snipped-off tips would be just firm enough to prevent the hook from passing through the head of the mullet. I never challenged his choice; I was far too busy wishing he’d move to Montana, where I’d never have to get out-fished by him again.
Hook beads, rubber bands and sliding snells all work. The idea is to keep the hook from going through the bait, turning around, and releasing the fish you worked so hard to find.
The more experts I get to talk to the more I understand they really don’t have any secret baits that they keep under lock and key and never break out if there’s another boat in sight. They just do everything they can to be just a tiny bit better. Like George LaBonte and his sliding snells, or Lonnie Pitts and those damn rubber bands. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine August 2018