By Robert Thornton
Bait fishing is just as much a part of sport fishing now as it was way back when people were using split cane rods and gut lines. There’s nothing unsporting about using bait instead of lures, in fact, this is how many lure casters start their fishing journey. It’s therefore well worth keeping the knowledge picked up from bait fishing, which is a highly technical pursuit in its own right.
Daiwa Australia strives to provide quality tackle for anglers of all budgets, skill levels and their preferred techniques, and anyone looking to fish with bait can enjoy a tailored range of gear.
It’s All in the Bait
Luring is an art that involves mechanical input from the angler to attract a bite. The angler generally moves from spot to spot and uses their rod and reel to impart life-like action in the lure to draw strikes from feeding fish.
Bait fishing usually involves putting a bait in one place and waiting for the fish to come to them. But it isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.
Because the sole attractant is the bait, care must go in to ensure it presents naturally, stays on the hook to survive the onslaught of smaller, undesirable species, and most importantly, draws fish in from a distance. A bait fisher’s success depends very heavily on how their bait is rigged on the hook.
Daiwa’s team of Pro Staff, while mostly lure anglers, remember their roots and often return to a bit of old-fashioned bait soaking. Sometimes a return to bait fishing is required to get a bite when lures won’t cut it, but for many, using bait is a way to clear the mind and soothe the soul.
Mark Gercovich from Victoria’s West Coast still keeps bait fishing in his arsenal of tricks, not just out of necessity, but because he finds it enjoyable!
“When we fish for mulloway or kingfish, we’ll often have a bait out the back as we lure fish,” he explains, “Combining the two techniques is how we like to do it, and it can make it more fun.”
“I certainly did a lot more bait fishing when my kids were young too.”
Jesse Rotin, another member of the Daiwa team, also enjoys taking time away from lure fishing to revisit the basics, and enjoys the challenges that come with it.
“Finding a place to set up your baits where you think fish are, or where they might come through, is a lot of fun, and is certainly a skill on its own,” Jesse says.
These two seasoned lure fishers certainly don’t turn their nose up at bait fishing, and you shouldn’t either! With that said, let’s look at a few different bait types and how they should be rigged!
Worms and Insects
Worms and insects (terrestrial and marine) have been a staple in bait angling for generations. They can prove effective in fresh and saltwater, and it’s often quite simple to source them yourself.
Earthworms and scrubworms are usually used to catch freshwater fish, while bloodworms, beachworms and sandworms are often collected for saltwater fishing, but these are not hard and fast rules. Be mindful that some areas do not allow non-native baits, for example, saltwater worms cannot be used in certain freshwater impoundments.
When rigging worms, it’s a good idea to cut the worm in half (or smaller pieces if the worm is particularly long), or use several worms if they are small. Threading the worm on by poking the point through one end and running it around the bend and up the shank until the whole hook is covered is very effective. Make sure to leave a length at the end to wriggle and attract fish. Worms are best rigged on small, long-shank hooks.
Crickets, mudeyes and cicadas are often pinned lightly through the wings so they stay alive and attract fish with their distress. Small hooks around #10 or smaller make sure these small insects aren’t weighed down, and present naturally.
Live Fish and Squid Baits
Live fish baits are used to catch a variety of species, large and small. It’s important that you choose an appropriate size live bait for the species you are targeting.
For slow trolling, many anglers hook the fish under its jaw through to the top, or through its upper jaw if it is an especially large baitfish. Alternatively, you can hook the bait through the nostrils, and this is Mark’s preferred method.
“When I live bait for mulloway, I like having just one suicide hook in the nose,” he explains.
These methods will allow the bait to swim in a natural motion to attract your targeted fish. Making sure your bait can swim straight is important for a natural looking live bait.
When fishing from a stationary position, hook the bait through its back underneath the spine to avoid paralyzing it. Doing so will make the fish swim more frantically, which will attract attention.
When freelining, hook the bait near its tail so it can swim forward.
Some anglers prefer to do what’s known as ‘bridle rigging’, which uses a two-hook rig, with one hook going through the nose and the other through the back. This increases hook-up potential.
If using live squid, a single hook through the very top of the hood will ensure the squid stays alive and can move freely. If using double hook rigs, a second hook can be pinned lightly through the bottom of the hood, so you don’t kill the squid.
Live baiting can be done with a variety of hooks types, with circle hooks, ‘J’ style hooks and suicide hooks favoured by live baiters.
The 21 Saltist MQ is a fantastic spinning reel that is tough and perfect for live baiting for big angry predators, and when matched to one of Daiwa’s Beef Stick spin rods, you’ve got yourself a very formidable and affordable live baiting set up!
Prawns/Shrimps and Other Crustaceans
With live prawns and shrimps, most prefer to pin the hook through the prawn or shrimp’s tail, either sideways or vertically. This allows the prawns to kick and send out vibrations in the water. If your prawns or shrimps are too small for your target species, piling 3-4 on a hook can work well too. Anglers can also remove a few segments of the shell to make the scent stronger.
Small kahle and wide-gape hooks are regularly used when rigging live shrimps and prawns.
Saltwater yabbies are a popular bait in the estuaries, and are generally rigged live. Running a small long-shank hook from the underside of the tail, through the body, and then out through the bottom of the carapace will help disperse its scent. Rigging yabbies this way still allows them to wriggle and kick, while keeping it on the hook long enough for a decent whiting, bream or flathead to come along.
Live crabs (where legal) are excellent for toothy saltwater predators such as estuary cod, tuskfish, coral trout, cobia and more. Hooking the crab through the carapace (top to bottom or bottom to top) will increase scent dispersal, but the crab may not stay alive.
Some anglers like to superglue the bend of the hook (so the hook faces upwards) onto the top of the carapace, and this ensures the crab can walk, swim and behave as a crab would normally.
Crab pieces are also effective baits for the same species, and getting them onto a hook is best done however the shape of the bait allows, making sure there’s hook exposure for this incredibly hard bait.
With crab baits, thick-gauge circle, suicide and live bait style hooks are best.
Non-Natural and Dead Baits
With soft baits such as cheese, bread, pre-mixed doughs and similar ‘kitchen’ baits, it can be a good idea to ball the bait around the hook bend and over the point, as given some fish in pressured areas are capable of discerning a hook, this will hide the hook point. With these soft baits an angler is able to shape a bait so that it’s symmetrical and won’t spin.
Tougher baits such as uncooked meat, pipi, fish flesh, squid pieces and tougher food items are best fished with the hook point poking through, as the toughness of the bait may prevent the point from penetrating the bait – let alone the fish’s mouth – once the angler attempts to set the hook.
“A common mistake I see is people burying the hook too deep, lumping it all on and having it all twisted – it doesn’t look natural,” Mark explains.
Most flesh and dead baits can be rigged by running the hook point through the bait twice, and leaving the point exposed.
Dead baits such as pilchards and dead prawns are quite soft, but if rigged like other ‘soft’ baits by burying the hook inside there will be problems with presentation. Something to remember is that if a bait is not rigged straight, it will spin, and Jesse knows that different waterways can require different presentations.
“When fishing in places like Western Port that have strong current, a bait needs to be streamlined,” he explains, “If it’s pinned in the middle, as people often do in Port Phillip Bay, it’ll spin, and this causes tangles, and I think the fish are less likely to grab it.”
Dead pilchards are often rigged by pinning the hook twice through the body, toward the gills and head (with the hook point exposed), and then a half hitch can be tied with the trace around the tail, and this makes a nice streamlined bait that shouldn’t spin.
Dead prawns are often pinned from the tail, through the body of the prawn, with the point poking out the bottom of the carapace. If using a prawn tail, they can be rigged similarly.
For anyone wanting to try these simple bait techniques, Daiwa’s Strikeforce B series of reels and Revros series of spin rods together make excellent and inexpensive combos for anyone wanting to dip their toes in.
Organic Plant Baits
Just as there are vegetarian humans, there are also plenty of vegetarian and omnivorous fish. Species such as luderick, European carp and milkfish are all well-known for having a plant-based diet.
Weed and algae baits can be difficult to fix to a hook. Stringy weed baits are best wound around the hook, by laying a few strands over the hook shank, and winding each end in opposite directions, leaving a few strands to swing free at the bottom to help make the bait appear natural. Anglers will sometimes tie a half-hitch with the trace around the bait to secure it.
Luderick anglers love to use small panfish style hooks when rigging weed baits.
Berries and small fruits, which are eaten by a variety of freshwater species, can be pinned onto the hook by simply poking the point into the bait. Some anglers choose to keep the hook point hidden, while others will let it poke through the berry.
Take the Bait
As you can see, there’s quite a lot of thought that goes into bait fishing, and this adds to the challenge and makes it exciting.
There are many other bait types and techniques not covered in this article, but to list them all would take too long. Most of the basics are covered here, and now it’s up to you to find what works for you in your area!
Whether you’re sending live baits out the back of a boat for large pelagics offshore, or just kicking back with the kids on a sandbank for whiting, taking time to rig your bait so it looks good in the water will improve your catch rate.
If you’re planning to try your hand at a bit of bait fishing, or are thinking of making a return to the basics, you can start or continue your journey with Daiwa!