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Fishin' the Bait Schools

Why leave fish to find fish? Catch quality fish right where you're catching live bait.

More than your average greenie on the line. Stay on top of cobia and other interlopers.

Seems obvious: Fish where the live bait is being caught. Most of the time, however, you will see anglers pull up to the local bait stop offshore, load up on whatever is currently moving through that season (greenies, sardines, cigar minnows, whitebait, ballyhoo, etc.) and then power up and head farther offshore in search of more quality fish. Nothing is wrong with this, but with today's rising fuel prices, why run farther than you really have to?

Bigger, more predatory gamefish, such as sailfish, kingfish and cobia, are often right there in the mix of live baits, looking for a snack. Of course, so are less desirable critters such as barracuda and bonito, a small price to pay for quite possibly a large reward. Just like fisherman, these hungry fish only want to work as hard as they have to and as little as possible for a meal. Go figure!

My friend Ryan Albert and I were bumping around offshore of St. Lucie Inlet on a calm summer day for dolphin. Going all day trolling without a hint of action, we were down in spirits. After a bit of deliberation of whether to call it a day, we decided to check out the local bait stop on the ride in, just to bend a rod or pick up some live baits for snook fishing inside of the inlet. With a broken livewell and malfunctioning fishfinder, we motored up to a fleet of boats catching live bait on a shallow wreck. Blindly dropping a sabiki to the bottom, I quickly felt a nibble and reeled up exactly one sardine. Well, from sabiki hair hook to pitch rod circle hook, that little sardine was sucked down in what seemed a matter of seconds. The anglers on the boats around us all cheered when a nice cobia came boat side, was gaffed, and then made a thud in our fish box. No sooner than the fish hit the box did we fire up the engine and head in; that was all we needed. Which made me wonder: Should we have hit that close-in spot and just stayed with it?

As water temps rise we'll see more and more boats catching bait outside Florida inlets.

Sailfish often go aerial just off beaches when schooling baits are closer. Cobia swim up to boats while on wrecks and reefs that are holding bait. And of course a plethora of large kingfish are responsible for tearing apart and cutting sabikis while jigging for live bait. With the dinner bell ringing, who knows what will be tugging on the end of your line? No matter what time of year, there will be many fish to be found around the many places where live bait is concentrated. Captain Rick and Jimbo Thomas on the Thomas Flyer out of Miami know this all too well, landing a spot in the IGFA world-record book for catching a whopping 121.2-pound cobia on 50-pound test while scoping out the buoys in Government Cut for live bait one morning before a charter. They had seen the monster fish there before and kept a big rod waiting, just in case the giant showed itself again. This serves as a reminder to always have a jig and pitch rod ready at all times and to pay close attention to what is driving the bait up from the bottom and crashing bait on the top, or just cruising along the surface. It may be much more than pesky barracudas—rather, the fish of a lifetime.

So, next time you're loading up your well with live bait, toss a live one back behind the boat and hold on. You may just get lucky. FS

Bait Spot Courtesy

When fishing for gamefish that may play tug-o-war around boats trying to catch live bait, keep your distance as much as possible. No one likes to play bumper boats, and surely no one wants to unwind fishing line from their propeller hub during a relaxing day of fishing. Most of the boats hanging out over the live bait are only there to catch the bait and leave. If you happen to be the odd one out that has a spread out of the back, things may get tricky. If you decide you want to anchor, make sure it is out of the way of boats drifting over a specific area- and vice versa. Drifting over these areas may prove to be the most effective method, seeing as the bait school is constantly moving and you can allow the boat to drift with the rest of the live bait fleet. Also, if a large fish is hooked you can motor the fight away from the crowd of boats.

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