Some kids run paper routes, others mow lawns or sell lemonade. Capt. Billy Miller used to make his summer money selling pinfsh to Tampa Bay bait shops. Hook-and-lining is certainly an option, but you gotta bait a lot of hooks to catch a few dozen. Miller, now a bay area guide, figured out early on that trapping was the way to go and at the height of his bait biz, he was dumping several hundred pinners a day into his livewells.
Miller still traps his own pinfsh today and along with insight from a fellow charter captains and a couple of Florida Sportsman Forum users, he offers a rundown on pinfish trapping tactics that’ll help bait seekers of any level.
If you’ve ever fished with shrimp in Florida’s inshore waters, you know it’s hard to find a spot that does not host hordes of pinfsh. The best spots, says Miller, are deep grassfats with broad sand holes inside coastal passes.
Traps set in the grass will catch mostly peanut pinfsh of an inch or two in length, while those sitting amid a sand hole tend to catch the hand-size baits that charm big grouper and amberjack. Another captain, Jesse Mayer, recommends placing traps near hard bottom sites just outside the inlets, or near docks and channel edges. Trap styles vary, but Mayer suggests adding extra lead to the bottom of a trap to ensure that it’s evenly weighted and falls upright on the bottom without blocking an opening.
Bait and Soak
Most pinfsh traps are built to accommodate a standard or half-size block of frozen ground chum. In many regions, the frozen chum works exceptionally well for attracting pinfsh. You put the bait inside the trap, and as it thaws, pinfsh are drawn to it. Finding the narrow opening in the trap, they swim inside to get the chum. The opening is designed so as to confuse the fish, making it difcult to escape. Miller feels that Spanish sardines are better than the frozen chum. Back in his commercial trapping days, Miller had a simple baiting rule: two sardines per four hours of soaking, but no more than four for overnight stays. Any more, he said, is just costly overkill.
Mayer, who also favors sardines when trapping his own pins for charter use, goes heavier on the bait as he checks his traps about every four to fve days. Longer than that he finds the baits too bruised for effective use.
However, Mayer said that he found out, quite by accident, that if he forgets to check a trap for a week or more and the caught bait dies, other pinfish and grunts will avoid the trap. Instead, he can count on a load of pass crabs to move in and feast on the carcasses. A handy nugget of knowledge for tarpon and permit anglers.
Find Your Gear
While Florida doesn’t require recreational bait trappers to mark their gear, buoys with contact information are recommended, if for no other reason than owner identification in the event of storm relocation. For buoy rope length, Miller suggests double or at least 1 1⁄2 times the depth. Other words: 9 to 12 feet of rope for a trap sitting in 6 feet of water.
“If you’re trap’s in 6 feet of water with only 6 feet of rope and a storm brings 2-foot waves, the water’s now 8 feet deep,” Miller said. “Those traps will start walking and if you have a storm with a smoking current, they can move on you a pretty good ways.”
Of course, trap pirates are just an unfortunate truth of this deal and some trappers have developed creative alternatives to the highly visible buoys that bait thieves can easily spot day or night. One Forum member ties heavy monoflament to a 20-ounce soda bottle and links the other end to his trap rope, which remains below the surface. A foating soda bottle is typically overlooked by everyone but the savvy trapper.
Another slick idea from Forum space involves linking two traps with a 30-foot piece of rope, GPS marking each drop site and later retrieving by dragging a grappling hook between the marks to catch the taught rope. (Take care not to rip up grass bottom or damage any live bottom with this method.)
For standard buoy-marked traps, hooking the ball with a gaff saves you a lot of gunwale bending and limits the slipping risk in rough water. Miller advises equal concern for gelcoat protection by placing a towel or bath mat on the gunwale at the point where he pulls his traps aboard. (Tip: Some tie knots every couple of feet in their buoy ropes for grip points.)
Lastly, sturdy gloves prove invaluable in this process, and not just for blister avoidance. Pinfsh earn their name from the sharp dorsal and ventral spines that stand out like needles when the fish is threatened. A sharp poke in the palm makes for a long day of trap pulling, so use the dip net and minimize contact.
Florida pinfsh regulations: Traps not exceeding two feet in any dimension may have a throat or entrance not exceeding 3 inches in height by 3⁄4-inch in width. A recreational fishing license is required, unless exempt. FS
First published Florida Sportsman May 2015