Catching Fishing Bait in Tampa, FL
With the water in Tampa reaches the 70 degree mark, bait (Greenbacks) gets very plentiful at most bridges and markers. This is a favorite meal for Snook, Redfish, Trout, and every other inshore species, especially in early spring. Being prepared with the right gear, bait and knowledge will help you have a great day on the water.
Having the right equipment is just as important as knowing what to do. Since bait does not last long the best way to catch greenbacks is to throw a cast net. Having the right size, mesh and weight net is one of the most important things. So let’s start with the size. I recommend a 10ft net. It is a perfect size for me. A 12 ft net works great, but you will be exhausted after a couple throws. An 8ft net is ok, but this means more throws since it won’t cover as much ground. As you look at nets you will notice a weight per foot. Since bait in the cooler months moves to deep water you need to have a net with the adequate amount of weight so bait won’t swim out from underneath. A good net will weigh between 1.4 lb and 1.8 lb per foot. Mesh will also affect how fast your net will sink. The bigger the mesh the faster it will sink. But you don’t want to get too big of mesh as your net will have baits gilled throughout the net. A 3/8 mesh is a good size to have, although its not a bad idea to have a second net with ¼ inch mesh for the times of year when the bait is smaller.
When the water is cooler the bait will move to deeper water and around structure. When this occurs it is sometimes very difficult and time consuming to get the amount of bait needed to have a full live well . This is where having a heavy net is a must. As you find the marker or bridge that is holding bait, the next job is to catch it! If the bait is deep, which it usually is after a few cold days, you will need to bring it to the surface. This is when chum comes in handy. While throwing bits of chum out you will notice the bait will start to come to the surface after the chum. When you have chummed the bait to the surface this is when you want to throw the net. Depending on water depth, you want to let the net sink to the bottom before pulling up. A couple of good ingredients for chum are dry tropical fish food mixed with water or canned Jack Mackerel mixed with 100% whole wheat bread. Tropical fish food is my favorite and I buy it at the local feed store. For the days when the bait is scattered mix a little Menhaden oil with either of the ingredients above and it will leave a chum slick they can’t resist. The key to catching bait is to bring the school to you.
As the water starts to warm up the bait will move onto the flats. This is a good time to find a healthy flat. Just like fishing the flats, when you are getting bait on the flats you want to take a stealthy approach. Once you find an area holding bait shut off your motor and anchor up, don’t chase the bait up and down the flats. Bring the bait to you. Use the same technique mentioned above about chumming. Anchor up and start spreading the chum out. You will see the bait start coming to the boat and reacting to the chum. When trying to locate a good flat that has bait look for birds diving, thick healthy grass, and good tide flow.
As you start to find consistent spots for bait make notes of the time of year you caught it there. If you find a spot that holds bait don’t be satisfied with just one spot, try to have a few. Bait is constantly on the move. This is why it is important to have notes and compare them year in and year out. The last part of catching bait is the art of throwing the net. This is something that takes time and practice. Practicing in the back yard is a great place to start. There are some videos on the market that have good net throwing instruction. Put all of this together and you will soon have a live well full of bait!
Captain Jason Prieto is a USCG licensed captain and an active member of the Florida Guides Association and The National Association of Charter Boat Operators.