- Time to Cut Bait - Here are some great
alternatives to mullet
- Capt. Nick Winger introduced me to fishing with cut bait for redfish
some years ago. The bait we used then was threadfin herring, cut into half
inch steaks, and we caught the heck out of redfish along the shadow line
of the mangroves on a high tide.
- He caught the threadfins with a cast net around some bridge pilings
at the mouth of the bay. Normally, threadfins are not the primary target.
Most live bait fishermen like scaled sardines when they can get them because
they stay alive better in the live well and on the hook. But threadfins
excel as cut bait because they are oily and shed lots of scale. They will
not thrive in a crowded well, so the technique is to cull the dead baits
out as they perish and put them on ice. This helps keep the bait firm.
Threadfins also shy away from the net better than sardines, hence a large
diameter, 1/2 inch mesh net is better suited to the task than the standard
- While fishing with small shrimp on an outing for mangrove snapper recently,
a school of ladyfish moved in, and Nick threw a couple in the livewell.
- "Redfish bait," he told me as he saw the quizzical look on
- An hour later we pulled onto a flat near a rock pile and a guy in an
aluminum boat waved us over.
- "Man, there's a school of about a hundred redfish here, but I
can't get 'em to eat!" he said.
- As Nick put the anchor out, I could see big redfish milling around
- "We're right on top of them," I said.
- "Just be quiet we'll be alright," he replied.
- Nick then went about the business of cutting an 18-inch ladyfish into
chunks. I didn't have anything bigger than a number one circle hook and
neither did Nick. This was supposed to be a snapper trip, but we limited
out early. While we were snapper fishing another captain called to tell
us he'd caught some redfish the day before near where we were.
- Sure enough, the fish were here. Nick steaked the ladyfish, and the
weight of the bait was such that you could throw it a mile with no lead.
The water was less than a couple of feet deep, so there was no need for
- Nick hooked up first, but the fish came right off. We were breaking
one of the cardinal rules in fishing always match your hook to the
size of your bait. A bigger hook would have been better for ladyfish steaks,
say a 3/0 or 4/0, but I soon found if you let the fish chew on it a while,
the smaller hook worked just fine.
- There were two boats fishing in close proximity the guy in the
aluminum boat, and another guy in a canoe. Both were fishing with live
bait, and neither was getting a hit. Meanwhile Nick and I continued to
hook up with the chunk bait. The guy in the canoe finally got frustrated
and left. Nick gave the other guy one of our ladyfish when as we pulled
- "Just steak it and put it on a hook, well away from the boat and
you'll hook some fish," Nick told him.
- A week later I was heading out of the Little Manatee River to do a
little scouting. A school of jacks erupted in front of me and I cast a
lure into the middle of the school and hooked up immediately. I landed
the two-pound jack with all due speed, and was about to throw it back,
but after thinking about it, I tossed it into the livewell instead.
- The tide was high, so I decided to try the mangrove shoreline around
Joe Island for a redfish. Instead of threadfin or ladyfish, I would try
using chunks of jack crevalle. The flesh of this fish has an advantage
over threadfin and ladyfish in that it's a lot tougher, so it stays on
the hook better.
- When fishing the mangroves at high tide with cut bait, casting accuracy
is essential. During the heat of the day, redfish will hang in the deep
pockets along the shadow line. To catch these fish, you have to be able
to pitch the bait where the fish are they won't travel more than
two or three feet out of their way to gulp a bait. Here rigging the bait
on a half-ounce RipTide jig head allows precise placement of the bait,
with the perfect size hook for the bait.
- I had never fished with jack crevalle for anything but blacktip shark,
but I reasoned if a redfish would eat a chunk of ladyfish; it would probably
eat the jack fish just as readily. About ten minutes later, a redfish took
the bait and got me in the bushes where he broke me off. Mission accomplished,
and proof positive that jack crevalle was indeed viable redfish bait. Later
that day, I hooked two more reds on chunks of jack to confirm it.
- The best thing about jack crevalle being a good cut bait for redfish
is that here it's available year round. The second best thing is the tough
texture of the fish. It also freezes well, remaining firm after you defrost
it, which can't be said for threadfin herring, or even ladyfish.
- So from now on, when a school of jacks blast the surface, I'm gonna
catch a few and put them in the cooler. Then when I get them back to the
dock, I'm gonna filet 'em, chunk 'em, bag 'em and freeze 'em. Any time
when live bait is scarce, or unproductive, I will have an alternative.
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