This is the third in a series of articles written for the average bay fisherman who wants to use bait. I don't know how many times I've been in the bait house on a summer morning and hear a customer ask "What are they biting on?" after which a slow drawl from Ron would follow, "Been bite'n on croaker," and an excited "I'll take a couple of dozen of those!" would shoot out of beginner croaker fisherman's mouth. I can't help but wonder what those 24 croaker will go through during the day! Hopefully after reading this article, the croaker and the fisherman will have a more pleasant day! For example: For a three-person charter I'll take anywhere from 12- to 18-dozen baits, and this could be the difference between four fish or 40 fish!
Now some fishermen ask what is best, piggy perch or croaker. That can be a tricky question. Croaker actually show up at the bait shop earlier (May) than piggies (June), so that is an easy choice in the beginning of the summer. Wherein lies the problem, determining when and what size the piggies are when they become productive as fishing bait. I start using piggies as early as possible, and sometimes for more than a month after they show up at the bait shop I'm still buying both. Because of their size, croaker are stronger swimmers for deeper water, but the piggies doubled up in the shallower sand pockets can be awesome fish catchers!
Let's get down to the rigs I prefer when fishing these baits. I always use 20-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to the main line. I do not use a swivel, because I believe it is in the way, snags more grass, and is more visible. As with most live bait or lures, I use a loop knot at the terminal or hook end.
Leader — Easy, I use only 20-pound fluorocarbon! The leader length should be about 18" give or take. It should be long enough to were the knot does not have to go through the eye when casting which prevents longer casts.
Hooks — 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 6/0 Gamakatsu or VMC Kahle hooks depending on the size of the bait.
Corks — I predominantly use Cajun Thunders. On lighter wind days the old Mansfield Mauler could be an option too. I even save old corks for those days that the Redfish don't want a lot of sound!
Cork Colors — I always start with two primary colors, pink and chartreuse. Most of the time you will find Redfish like one and not the other and the same for Trout?however they may be hitting both or you can select the color depending on when you are fishing an area more conducive to the fish you expect to catch.
Knots — I use a line to leader knot instead of a swivel. The only time I use a swivel is when fishing the bait on the bottom using a weight because at times I need a longer casts on the calm shallow flats. I tie a loop knot at the Kahle hook for more realistic movement.
Accessories — Beads are not as important in this type of fishing but can be used. If you're going to try beads the general rule of thumb is to start with small beads and at least one rig without a bead. Really make sure your buddy's is fishing the bait properly before ruling out any combination! Sometimes going to a larger bead when the water is very muddy or stirred up makes a difference!