Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine VOL 41, No. 1 - Page 28

The Bay Naturalist by John H. Hook MAKING Bait T here must have been a lot of coaches who were casual bay fishermen when I was a kid. “Are you going to fish or cut bait?”, was a question you never wanted to hear. Any reference to mullet was just as bad or worse. Either phrase meant more laps or some other athletic torture designed to improve your commitment level. It was an effective motivational technique but as an athlete fisherman I was a bit perplexed. No bait meant no fishing, so somebody had to do it. Guys who were very good at it were very respected so where did those phrases start? It gave me something to ponder when I wasn’t quite quick enough and trudged around the track one-more-time. Regardless of how that fishing-athletics crossover started, those coaches had no idea how important making bait was if you wanted to catch fish. There are those times when lures or flies will outperform good fresh bait, but they are unusual enough that lure fishermen are more than ready to make bait fishermen aware of the event. Bait camps line the coast and do a brisk business for a reason. Sometimes bait is so effective that some fishermen want it outlawed! Those bragging lure fishermen are some of the first to scream that fishing with live croaker should have been outlawed yesterday. It’s hard to argue with quality bait. Live shrimp have probably taken more trout and reds over the years than all other baits combined. As convenient as a quick stop at a bait camp can be, there is something to be said for catching your own. Perch traps, minnow seines, and push nets are all effective at certain times and places but a well thrown cast net will fill a bait tank faster than anything else. There is a trick to tossing one effectively, although there is more to it than a quality toss. A beautifully thrown net in the wrong place gets you the same thing as tossing a wet sock. The art of the toss is just half of the equation. Learning how to choose bait fishing locations is key to loading that bait well with enough of what you want. “Where will those finger mullet be?”, is a critical question. Flats that were full of finger 28 GULF COAST FISHERMAN mullet in June have none in October. As those juveniles age, they change habitats as their needs change. Spring and summer will find mullet grazing warm water grass flats, but cooling fall water will pull them toward passes and surf. That’s where they spawn and then return to bay flats as the water warms. Lucky ones live 3 to 4 years before a predator gets them although they can live much longer. Commercial fishermen in the Eastern Gulf target larger mullet for both local and export markets but in Texas they are just bait. Guys who are good at the bait game know as much about baitfish seasonal changes and habitats as they do about stringing trout and reds. Mullet are found all around the planet and so are bait fishermen. Last summer, I had a chance to wade fish San Luis Pass with a band of engineers from well south of the border. They brought interesting approaches to bait fishing and had no trouble adapting their experiences chasing “lisa” back home to working tidal channel and cordgrass edges for grazing mullet. After a few impressive tosses of the net we were in business for the morning. No matter where you learn the game the rules stay the same. Stiped mullet are one of the most popular bait species because they are both abundant and popular with many predators. Trout, reds, and flounder are particularly fond of them, although that’s just the start. Their appeal is almost as universal as live shrimp. One of my most memorable offshore trips for amberjack would have never happened without mullet. We couldn’t even get those reef donkeys to sniff live blue runners, but once at depth a mullet didn’t last thirty seconds. More than a few rig caught yellowfin tuna have been taken on live mullet. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal in billfishing circles these days but rigged split-tail mullet were responsible for piles of tournament gold back in the day. Catching bait and then catching fish somehow makes fishing even more fun. Dropping a full circle cast net on nervous water full of finger mullet is almost as much of a rush as tossing a bait to tailing reds. Once you get the hang of working marsh channels and grass flat edges for bait, you’ll feel just a little deprived when circumstances require a bait camp visit. It won’t make you want to cut bait instead of fish, but it’s way more satisfying than that extra lap around the field. GCF Photo by Kathy Hook W W W. G U L F F I S H I N G. C O M