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July 26, 2010

The Best Gulf of Mexico Live Baits

How important is live bait in the Gulf? It is the key to success.

Keeping Bait
When I started fishing in the Gulf of Mexico as a teenager, the rule was to carry a couple of boxes of squid to tip jigs, a couple of boxes of frozen cigar minnows to chum and drift, and a box or two of the biggest ribbonfish to drift. We caught the hell out of snapper, kingfish, dorado and cobia, mostly within 12 miles of the beach, out of an old Boston Whaler Outrage that was nothing more than a hull, motor, steering wheel and throttle. My, how times have changed.

Nowadays, we head into the Gulf in either Dusek's 34 or Cundiff's 42 Yellowfin to fish a hundred miles into the Gulf, but the boats still sport well-designed livewells. Many hard-core anglers are very particular about how their livewells are set up. Dusek is no exception. "On my old boat," he told me, "I had a 30-gallon livewell with only one 800 gph pump, and I paid the price for it several times when the pump fouled and burned up.

"On my new boat," he continued, "I wanted two wells which are at least 60 gallons, and for both to have dual 1,100 gph pumps on separate switches so if one fails, I can salvage the day."

Dusek says it is important to have a livewell pump that circulates the water, but not so vigorously that it tires the baits. It is important to have an oxygen system on the boat to keep extremely large baits in good shape, especially during tournaments. As a rule, run no more than 800 gph for every 30 gallons of capacity.

Rigging the Baits
Every great offshore angler has a preference for rigging their baits. While cobia and tuna require nothing more than a heavy mono or fluorocarbon leader between hook and swivel, toothy critters demand more. For kingfish and wahoo, a wire bridle allows a bait to be drifted or slow-trolled without twisting. This rig usually includes one or two trailing hooks no more than 4 inches apart. Smaller baits require only one trailer, while large baits may require two. For bottomfish, 200- to 400-pound leaders are the norm. Carry a variety of hook sizes and a variety of weights for small and large grouper and amberjack.

Proficiency is the key to success. Those who are the most proficient at catching and keeping the best baits are the ones who show up at the dock wearing the biggest smiles. Whether you fish for fun or in tournaments, whoever has the biggest fish wins. Quality live bait is often the edge.



Blue Runner

Large: Marlin, Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Warsaw Grouper, Wahoo, Trophy Kingfish, Big Reef Donkeys (Amberjack)
Medium: Large Cobia, Large Gag Grouper, Big Snapper, Good Kingfish
Small: Cobia, Smaller Grouper
Blackfin Tuna

Cigar Minnows

Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, Dorado, Kingfish


Blackfin Tuna, Cobia, Smaller Grouper, Snapper