The water across the lake began to explode. Bass were ripping
through the helpless shad with unrelenting ferocity. I looked
at the tip of my rod only to see a lure that vaguely resembled
a minnow. It only made sense to me to use a bait that fish eat;
their natural prey. From that point on, I began to explore different
ways to catch a bass's natural food, mainly lake shiners.
I first started catching shiners on cane poles at local ponds,
but this became too time consuming. I then purchased my first
cast net at the local K-Mart with money I saved from mowing lawns.
With about a half a loaf of bread and my new cast net, catching
enough shiners to fish with was easy.
From the first moment I began to fish with live shiners, I was
hooked. Nothing in my opinion compares to live bait fishing. It
all begins with your cork slightly bobbing up and down and slowly
moving around, and then all of a sudden, things begin to change.
The movement of your cork increases dramatically and then wham,
your cork disappears with a swirl. Maybe it's those few
seconds between the time the shiner gets nervous and the time
you set the hook that makes it so exciting. Sometimes the cork
will disappear less dramatically. It just slowly goes under. It
doesn't matter how it goes under, it's still a thrill.
After I began using live shiners for bait, artificials became
obsolete. Live shiners became a priority for me. This was a difference
between a lot of fishermen in the area and myself. This was very
apparent when you saw the amount of emphasis I placed on catching
them. Shiners were not always readily available in the local ponds
and sometimes I had to travel several miles to catch them and
then several more miles to fish them at my favorite bass fishing
spot. Indeed this was a challenge for someone who didn't
have a driver's license, but I always got it done somehow.
The result, I caught more fish. It was worth it for me to go the
extra mile to have the best bait. It still is today.
I've since graduated from those lakes and ponds to the gorgeous
Gulf of Mexico. I've spent the last twenty years fishing
these beautiful waters for just about every species of fish that
frequents the area. However, without a doubt, fishing for grouper
has become my favorite. Digging these fish out of rocks has become
an obsession of mine. Having a family that has been in the seafood
industry for four generations has given me the opportunity to
learn from some of the best. Whether I was decking on a boat or
captaining my own vessel, I quickly realized how important live
pinfish were to catching our limit of grouper. Just as shiners
were to bass fishing, pinfish were just as important to filling
the ice chest. I rarely left the dock without them.
With the priority that I placed on having live pinfish for every
offshore trip, I quickly learned how to fill the live well with
these frisky baitfish. But it was not until I decided one summer
to sell them commercially to local marinas that I truly mastered
the art of catching them. As you probably already know, catching
live pinfish may not be very difficult, but with a few helpful
tips, you can increase your catch dramatically and on a more consistent
Trap DesignIt amazes me at how much trap design
varies depending on the area your in. I've traveled all
along Florida's gulf coast and I've seen about as
many different trap designs as people who use them. Just as there
are numerous designs, there are just as many opinions on what
design catches the most. I've used just about every one
of them, and even designed a few of my own, and I still don't
have a favorite. My advice to you is to experiment. There are
many factors that affect the ability of a trap to catch fish.
Among them are water temperature, water clarity, time of year,
salinity, type of bottom the trap is on, etc.... Most local
fishermen have an opinion on what type and color of a trap works
best. This may be a good place to start. Especially if they contend
that the trap they're recommending catches fish in the area
that you want to place the traps. Try starting with the least
expensive traps and see if they're successful. Those small
fifteen-dollar hexagonal traps will sometimes out-catch those
expensive one-inch square colored traps, depending on the water
variables. I can't tell you how many times I've kept
those expensive traps in the boat and only used the cheap ones
because they would out-catch them, even when placed right next
to one another. Least expensive is also important because bad
weather, sharks, porpoises, boat motor props and bait pirates
(a term I will later define) can make them mysteriously disappear.
Nothing will ruin your day more quickly than to arrive at your
traps, expecting several dozen live pinfish, only to find the
BaitI've experimented with just about
everything to use as bait in traps. From cat food to grouper heads
and everything in between, I've tried it all. Keep in mind
that pinfish are scavengers and they'll eat anything dead.
My advice is to stop by your local seafood store and kindly ask
if you can take some discarded seafood wastes off their hands.
Don't forget your five-gallon bucket. I've rarely
been turned down. In fact, when I did it commercially, one local
seafood house gave me two 35 gallon trashcans full of discarded
wastes from the local sales of that day. They were glad I took
it off their hands. In those cans were grouper heads, mullet heads,
shrimp heads, crab shells and other assorted discarded wastes.
I didn't have a favorite and I don't think the pinfish
did either. They all seemed to catch equally. Before choosing
which bait to use, take notice of the size mesh of the bait holder
in the trap. The larger the mesh size of the wire, the larger
the bait should be. This will make it harder for the smaller fish
to eat all your bait before your trap can catch enough pinfish.
You can also freeze your own bait. Just keep the discarded fish
parts from you last trip. Don't pay for bait. Offshore fishing
is expensive enough.
Trap PlacementWhere you place your traps will
certainly affect the amount of bait you catch. Some fishermen
will insist that grassy bottom is vital to catching pinfish. I
disagree. I've caught just as many on mud and sand bottom,
and next to oyster bars as I have on the grass flats. The bottom
line is you need to place them where the pinfish are. Find the
fish by experimenting. Place your traps on different types of
bottom, at different water depths and next to different types
of structures. See what works best in your area. Keep in mind
that an area that may have water on it at the time you place the
trap may not have it all the time. Be aware of the tidal flow
and place your traps in an area that's constantly covered
with water. Also ask around to local fishermen. Chances are they'll
know where the pinfish are.
Bait PiratesIf you've run pinfish traps
long enough, chances are a "bait pirate" has probably
stolen your bait. I must admit, nothing angers me more than to
arrive at my traps and find the bait trap release door is open
and empty of baitfish. Those of you that have had this happen
know what I mean. It makes you look incompetent in front of your
charter, especially when they begin to realize they're not
going to catch as many grouper. In Florida, it's illegal
to pull a bait trap that's not yours. Still, bait pirates
refuse to be deterred and continue to steal what's not theirs.
Over the years, I've found some ways to keep the bait pirates
away. The first is to place your traps away from boating channels.
Try to place them in areas that are less prone to boat traffic,
especially boat traffic that's going offshore bottom fishing.
Pinfish aren't cheap. Their price per dozen generally ranges
from $3.00 to $5.00 or even more. This is all the motivation bait
pirates need in order to steal your bait.
Also, if possible, try to place your traps in front of waterfront
homes. Pirates tend to be less bold if they know someone may be
watching. I've had traps in front of homes go undisturbed
for years. Another way is to ask permission from homeowners to
use their docks. Docks are great places to catch pinfish.
Chute Size and DirectionI've always wondered
why two identical traps with identical bait, placed right next
to each other will catch different amounts of pinfish. One trap
may have fifty pinfish in it and the one right next to it has
none. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. I've
found that the size of the opening of the trap's chutes
or their necks (where the fish enters the trap), can dramatically
affect the amount of baitfish you collect. It's important
that we make a distinction between the two different openings
of the chutes (necks). One end of the chute attaches to the trap.
From here the chute funnels down to the inner opening. It's
mainly the width of the inner opening of the chute I'm talking
about. If you have traps that are not catching that are among
other traps that are, you may want to adjust the inner opening
of those that are not. I like to have mine opened just enough
to allow my hand to barely fit in right up to where my thumb adjoins
my hand. At this point, you should not be able to push your hand
through the inner opening without forcing it through. Take a look
at the traps that are catching and try to adjust the traps that
are not to the same width. It's important to remember that
a chute that's adjusted too wide will allow more fish to
escape by swimming back through the chute and an opening that's
too thin will not allow as many pinfish to enter the trap.
Another important step in placing your traps is to point the chutes
in the direction of tidal flow. In other words, if the tidal flow
is north and south, then place your traps with the chutes pointed
north and south. I had a local crabber one time tell me that by
placing his blue crab traps in this manner, he increased his catch.
He recommended that I try it with my pinfish traps and as he predicted,
I caught more pinfish.
Although I've changed the type of fishing I do, I haven't
changed the type of bait I prefer. Live baitfish will always be
a priority for me. Whether it's the increased number of
grouper I catch or just the sheer excitement of fishing with them,
I've got to have them. And hopefully with these few helpful
tips, you'll experience more full traps and ultimately more
fish in your cooler.