A livewell full of frisky baits can be a dangerous thing for the fish you’re seeking. But as close a “guarantee” as they can give, some adjustments can make live baits swim where and how you want.
Recently, a friend and I were drifting live pilchards over the South Florida reefs. The current was slow, so we placed a few baits at the surface. I hooked a pilchard near its throat, and free-lined it on a spinning rod. By briefly stopping the line to restrict its forward motion, I made the bait surge forward to cover more territory. Best yet, the hook weight and placement, and tugging, forced it deeper. On the first drift that bait yielded a sailfish; it was a great start to a day that ultimately produced a few kingfish, blackfin tuna and a dolphin.
Below are five ways to hook a live bait, and how each placement influences its actions.
Whether you are fishing a hardtail, menhaden, pinfish, goggle-eye, pilchard or herring, “nostril hooking” restricts less of their natural action.
This is ideal for surface live-baiting, such as when drifting offshore, around bait schools, and through inlets and passes for surface-oriented fish. When nostril-hooked, the bait swims at or near the surface, keeping pace with the boat’s drift or slow-trolling rate.
They remain lively, with little risk of drowning. With small baits, simply run the hook through the nostrils. On larger baits, bridling the bait through the nostrils keeps the hook fully exposed, so the bait won’t interfere with a hookup.
This is ideal when light-tackle
fishing for striped bass, snook, tarpon, sailfish, tuna, and also heavy-duty drifting over wrecks for big amberjack and grouper.
An alternative to nostril hooking is to jaw-hook a bait. Run the hook under the lower jaw and out the upper jaw. Or, with a large bait, run the hook up and out the upper jaw only. Some anglers believe this provides a better hookup percentage with circle hooks versus a nostril rig.
Hooking a bait in front of its -dorsal is deadly for kite-fishing, slow-trolling and still-drifting; it generates action, and the aft placement nabs “short-striking” fish.
Hooking in front of the dorsal fin forces a bait to swim head-down and more frantically. These “distress” vibrations draw strikes. The
swimming attitude is like a deep-diving swimming plug. What’s more, the degree of digging can be fine-tuned through precise hook placements: For the maximum angle/digging, place the hook right in front of the dorsal fin; for a more level attitude, place the hook more forward of the dorsal fin.
Bridling is recommended for pelagics but not necessarily with smaller baits intended for bottomfish.