Salt-Water Bait
By: Gary Buchannan Posted On: 2022-06-10

Bloodworms and Sandworms

Do you know there's a state in which raising and selling fish bait is one of the leading industries ? Bloodworms and sandworms are the bait, and the state is Maine. Tons of these fish-getters are shipped annually to salt-water anglers along the Atlantic Coast. They're big worms, as thick as pencils and about 6 inches long, but they're more fragile than the nightcrawlers used in fresh-water fishing. When you put one on a hook, you must be gentle or it'll mysteriously fall apart. The sandworm is similar to the nightcrawler in appearance. The bloodworm, so called because it seems full of blood when you puncture it with a hook, has a number of legs on each side and a formidable pincer on its snout that can nip your finger if you're not careful. Buy either kind from a seaside bait dealer and keep them cool in damp seaweed in a waterproof carton. The refrigerator is a good storage place—if the "boss" of the house is willing. Use a piece of either worm on a small hook (No. 8) for Porgies, Flounder, small Sea Bass and Weakfish. Use a whole worm, or two of them, on a large hook (No. 3/0) for Striped Bass or Fluke. You can thread the worm on the hook or loop it on. Threading is best because it holds the fragile worm together. To loop one on, pass the hook through it just behind the head where it's toughest.


This little animal, from 6 to 12 inches long, resembles a miniature octopus. It is found along the North Atlantic Coast where you can buy it from almost any bait dealer. Most salt-water fish seem to be fond of it. It can be fished whole to catch Striped Bass, Sea Bass and Weakfish while still-fishing, or its tubular body can be skinned and used in strips (usually inch by 4 inches) either as a still-fishing bait or as a wriggling tail on a cast spinner or spinning lure. Since squid are cheap, large quantities can be chopped and used as chum. It must be kept cold, however, frozen if possible, because it spoils easily and then smells most unpleasant—to the fisherman if not to the fish.


Of all baits, this is one that no normal salt-water fish refuses. It's No. 1 on their menu. And it's even an ingredient in the prepared fish food fed in fresh-water hatcheries. In North Atlantic coastal waters the shrimp is a small creature, about 1½ inches long, called grass shrimp or pin shrimp, but a huge Striped Bass will go for it just as eagerly as he will for a more filling 6-inch baitfish. Down South the shrimp are jumbo-sized and plumper, and are just as much in demand by the warmer-water species. The easiest way to get shrimp is to buy them from a bait dealer, but up North you can catch your own grass shrimp by working a long-handled net with a fine mesh close to the bottom along the edge of a small inlet or tidal creek. Keep the shrimp in a cool place (refrigerator, if permissible) in a flat box half full of damp seaweed or wood shavings. While fishing, keep them shielded from the sun.

Use small hooks (about No. 6) even for small fish because the shrimp themselves are so small, and hook on one shrimp for a small fish, at least three for a large species. Crush the dead shrimp and drop them overboard to make a "chum slick." For large southern fish, the jumbo shrimp can be fished whole, but bait them in small chunks for the small species.


Here are killers for Striped Bass especially, although other large fish like them also. But they're usually difficult to obtain. You can catch your own by fishing the tidal creeks at night with No. 7 hooks and earthworms or sandworms for bait, but an eel is so slippery and lively that it takes an experienced eel-angler to keep it from tying his tackle into one large knot. The more usual eel bait is just the skin, which you can buy at your tackle store preserved in jars. This skin is slipped over a two-hook arrangement called an "eel-rig" and it is cast or trolled. The water fills it, and its motion through the water gives it a realistic swimming action. If you're brave, and know how to handle eels, a small one, 6 to 10 inches long, hooked through the lip or back and allowed to swim where it wants to, is a sure thing for any Striper in sight.


These are good baits for Striped Bass, Sea Bass, Weakfish and Porgies. All kinds of crabs are fish food, depending upon what part of the coast you're fishing. Fiddler crabs can be found in their sandy lairs between the high- and low-tide watermarks. At low tide you can gather them on the sunny mud flats if you're fast enough; they really scramble. All crab species can be caught in nets baited with dead fish. But, of course, the simplest way to get them is to buy them. Large crabs must be fished in pieces. Turn the crab on its back, break off its nipping claws so they can't hurt you, then cut it in half from head to tail. If these pieces are still too large, cut them in half also, so you have the crab in four quarters with some legs on each one. Hook the quarter between the legs, the toughest part. Small crabs (an inch in diameter) can be used whole; hook them between the legs and out the back or side.


If there's a salt-water fish that will turn up his nose at a clam, he's yet to be found. This bait rivals the shrimp as an all-fish catcher. Be careful about digging your own, however, because in many areas they're protected by shellfish laws. It's best to buy them. Keep them alive in damp seaweed and discard any with cracked shells because these will die quickly. The only part to use for bait is the neck and the tough tissue that it's connected to; the remainder is much too soft to stay on the hook. Take a hammer with you when you go fishing with clams; they're easier to open this way when they're not destined for your own dinner table.


This is a common bait on the southern coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific. It's a small, silver school-fish, rarely growing over a foot in length and usually taken by netting. It has almost no value as a game fish. An entire mullet hooked through the upper lip or back and still-fished from a drifting boat is a successful appetizer for big fish, but most often the mullet is fished as a "cut-bait" for smaller species. A cut-bait is simply a fillet—one side of the fish cut loose from the bones. It is wired or tied to a hook with a long shank in such a way that it wriggles through the water with a natural swimming motion and doesn't revolve. It is generally fished by trolling.

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