Along the west coast of Florida, we have a lot of different bait species that are available most of the year. When one bait leaves the area to spawn, there is generally another that is still available to use in fair numbers. The most popular live bait is the scaled sardine that everyone in the Tampa Bay are calls “whitebait”. Probably the second most popular….
Another of my favorite baits is the Threadfin Herring (Opisthonema oglinum) or commonly known on my coast as the greenback. It has a very long thread-like fin at the back of its dorsal that accounts for its name. Again, like most baits, it has many regional names depending on where you live. It grows to 12″ according to the books, but I have never seen them over 8″. The greenback is usually found only when the water is fairly warm and is easily seen when on the surface. It has been my experience that they do not come to chum like whitebait…..
Spot tail pinfish (Diplodus holbrooki) – I wonder if Diplodus is any relation to Hal? – is also known as porgy, spot, spot-tail porgy, and sailor’s choice. They are similar in appearance to the pinfish, but they have a large black spot in front of the base of the tail. According to the biologists, they hang around in shallow coastal waters and in lower areas of coastal bays and sounds. My experience is that they are most frequently caught in offshore waters around hard bottom and reefs, and they are good baits, cut or alive……
Here’s my all-time favorite bait for just about everything on the Gulf coast! Spanish sardines (Sardinella aurita) are members of the herring family and have a slender body, bluish or greenish back, white belly and very silver sides. They grow to about ten inches – and will fill your bait well with loose scales very quickly. You must have a good water flow to keep them healthy – especially during summer when water temperatures are high. Everything loves to eat sardines and they are great bait either alive or cut, trolled or fished on the bottom….
The silver trout (Cynoscion nothus) is a wonderful bait for most species of gamefish. I love to use them primarily for king mackerel and barracuda, but they are great bottom fish bait as well. Like most of the fish in this series, silver trout are at the lower end of the food chain and so make good bait for nearly anything in the Gulf of Mexico….
One of my favorite baits is the Scaled Sardine (Harengula Jaguana). On the west coast of Florida, we call them whitebait. In other areas there could be many other names from pilchard to greenie. They are distinguished by their sharply pointed, keeled belly. Scaled sardines grow to an average of six inches and are great baits no matter what size you catch for almost all species of fish…..
Sand perch or squirrelfish (Diplectrum formosum), are excellent grouper bait. They also taste good, but their small size makes cleaning them too much trouble for me. They are a very pretty fish, with electric blue cheek lines and orange and blue sides. They also have a large mouth and very sharp gill plates – so be careful when handling them….