By Capt. Joe Kent
One of the most frequently asked questions is: “What bait should I use?”
The answer to that question is not easy, as the best baits vary from season to season and the experience level of the angler in using a particular bait comes into play. For instance, a newcomer to fishing is going to get a totally different recommendation than what an experienced angler would receive.
Baits are actually broken down into two categories, natural (live and dead baits) and artificial.
Even within those categories are segments depending on the experience of the angler. Let’s start out by addressing the newcomer to Galveston Bay Fishing whether it is someone with no experience or limited time dropping a line in the water.
Natural baits definitely are the answer here and, depending on where the angler fishes, dead versus live bait. A fisherman who comes to the coast with experience fishing for freshwater perch or catfish and likes the casual approach probably should start out using dead bait such as shrimp, squid or cut fish like mullet or shad.
Live shrimp is one of the most popular baits in saltwater; however, there are skills necessary to fish them productively. First comes the attaching of the bait to the hook. A wrong move and you will be dealing with dead bait that is not as effective. Knowledge of where to hook the shrimp (just under the horn on top of the head or in the tail) is the only way to keep the shrimp alive and active on the hook. For small finfish like croaker or fingerling mullet, the most common method is to hook the fish in both lips (upper and lower). Many anglers choose to place the hook near the tail just under the backbone. Both spots will keep the fish alive, with the latter allowing more movement.
Next, let’s discuss using live shrimp or finfish fished under a popping cork. Popping corks likely are the most common method for fishing around here; however, they do require knowledge as to how to work them effectively in the water and in the casting skills to get them to their destinations.
Anglers new to bay fishing tend to equate popping corks to fresh water bobbers that basically are used to keep bait suspended and to show nibbling activity.
Popping corks are a technique in attracting fish with the popping sound that resembles a fish popping the surface after bait. The key here is to imitate the sound with quick jerks of the line that result in a popping sound from the cork.
The length of the leader is important as shorter lengths (10 to 12-inches) are best in shallow waters or when fishing birds working schools of fish. The most common length used in Galveston Bay is from 16 to 24 inches.
The size of the cork depends on where you fish. Small corks making less sound are best for shallow, grassy areas while the larger varieties are designed for deeper waters and choppy conditions.
Casting skills are important in using popping corks as the rig needs to be cast a good distance when drift fishing or working birds. Most fish caught on popping corks are not going to be close to the boat.
Now, for the more experienced anglers, artificial baits are a popular and productive choice. The key here is in casting abilities and knowing how to retrieve the bait. For example, soft plastics such as Bass Assassins, Norton Sand Eels and many, many others, require a technique that differs considerably from that used to retrieve hardware such as Mirrolures, She Dogs, jerk baits and spoons.
A separate article would be necessary to cover those lures and the ways to work them in the water.
The time of year and method of fishing have a big influence on your choice of baits. Drift fishing requires a lot of casting and the two most popular baits for that type of fishing are soft plastics and popping corks with live bait.
Wade fishermen tend to prefer artificials, both soft plastics and hardware. Two reasons, they can cover more territory faster and do not require dragging a live well.
For stationary fishing, such as anchoring over a reef or around the jetties, live bait is the preferred option. This is especially true for the jetties where lots of debris exists to snag your lures.
Artificials work best in the fall, winter and spring when fish tend to be in shallower waters. During the heat of the summer months, live bait especially croakers and shrimp are preferred as the fish are in deeper waters and live bait tends to be the better choice for deeper depths.
Practice and patience are two key elements to learning which bait to use when and where. All of this points to the need to go fishing as often as you can.