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Cut Bait Reds
by Capt. Fred Everson

 

 


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 3/8 inch.
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 my face.
 
"Really?"
 
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 the boat.
 
"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 sinkers.
 
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 out.
"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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