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November 12, 2013

5 Ways to Hook A Live Bait

Fine-tune hook placement for ultimate control of liveys.

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.