We all know fresh bait works fantastic. And we also all know livies are even better. However, most of us still struggle to consistently catch live baits. We thought we’d out together this little piece to help you get the best live baits possible, every time you go. Keep in mind this is a Victorian article and ways to catch baits vary between regions and states.
Slimey Mackerel and Yellowtail Mackerel (yakkas) make some of the finest kingfish live baits, but also a fantastic fresh bait for all bottom fish, and mulloway. Slimeys and yakkas love enclosed harbours, piers and jetties. They can also be found offshore in large schools in open water, using a sounder to find them. Often near boat ramps are a perfect spot to start, so don’t head too far from the jetty to try. Send down a burley trail with plenty of oil, but be careful not to feed the fish too much. Once the fish are active in the burley trail (they can often be sighted swimming around the back of the boat), send down a bait jig (sabiki). These rigs use multiple tiny hooks, all rigged with small flashers, and a sinker at the bottom (10-30g swivel bomb is perfect). Bait these with a tiny piece of pilchard on each hook and hopefully the mackerel will be coming in six at a time. Early morning, sunset and after dark is easily the best time for these fish, especially when found in harbours. In addition, tiny metal jigs of less than 15g, or small soft plastics less than 2″, can be deadly catching mackerel, and also a whole stack of fun. Mackerel will need a plumbed live well, or aerated esky to keep live and plenty of room to swim around.
Seriously, what doesn’t eat squid! It’s always a tough choice between the bait tank or table for squid, but they can be caught the same way no matter what their final fate becomes. The two main ways to catch squid are jigs, and baited jags. Jigs come in literally thousands of different colour patters/combinations, sizes and varieties, but for the south west a size 3.0 in shallow water (under 5m), and a 3.5 in over 5m is ideal. In deeper water, try running a jig on a paternoster rig. Pinks, blacks and browns are my favourites in terms of colours. The best spots to try for squid are over calm, broken (combination sand/reef) inshore reefs and weedbeds. Clear water is also essential. Casting one jig, while having another in a different colour drifting at the back of the boat is very effective. Squid die very easily- so once caught, you will have to minimise handling out of the water and place straight into your live bait tank, or an aerated esky. If you don’t use your squid live, you’ve then got the tough choice of a fresh bait or to your table!
Mullet make an awesome estuary bait- live for mulloway and estuary perch, or fresh for the previously mentioned species as well as bream. Mullet respond very well to a burley trail. They can often be found around windblown sandflats, as well as jetties in the lower sections of rivers near the mouths. In the evenings on calm nights, the can be seen rippling the surface. A bit of tuna oil, and breadcrumbs make a great burley to fire the fish up. Once the mullet can be seen eating the floating breadcrumbs, place a tiny piece of bread dough on a #12 hook under a small float and cast it in the trail. A small mullet fished on a 3/0 circle makes a great bait for big perch under a float. Larger mullet can be placed on a hook up to 7/0 and either statically fished, or slow trolled for mulloway.
Shrimp make a fantastic bait for bream, estuary perch and trout. To catch shrimp, you can either use a bait trap (check your local regulations) or a small scoop net with a fine mesh. The bait trap should have a fish frame placed inside for bait, and placed near any kind of underwater structure. To scoop shrimp, simply get a long handled fine meshed net and scoop deep around weedbeds. The lower Moyne River at Port Fairy is known for big numbers, and sizes of shrimp. Shrimp can be kept in a small container with a damp rag placed on top, or in an aerated esky/bait tank. Place up to four shrimp on a 1/0 circle and you’ve got one of the best estuary baits around.
Crabs are simple- simply head down to a local beach, bay or river on a low tide, and lift over the rocks to find crabs! Crabs are also quite easy to store but make sure there is some kind of damp rag, weed etc for crabs to hide in to ensure they don’t fight. A 1/0 circle placed between the back legs makes these a beautiful big bream bait.