Catching Bait

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 Not Really ‘Brain Surgery’
By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA



Despite a devastating red tide infected 2005, anglers can rejoice in a gradual return to normal. And among the most encouraging signs of the renaissance are the vast schools of baitfish percolating across our local waters. They are called many names – whitebait, greenbacks, pilchards – even “crickets” by some of the more freshwater oriented fishers. But whatever you call them, live baits are like M&Ms to our local fish populations. And coming from a devoted lure user, I believe that they will catch more fish more often than most any bait you can use.

One of the problems for many of our rookies is that chumming and tossing that net appears to be a daunting task. What to use for chum? What size net makes sense? How to throw the net? These and other questions stand in the way of many who would like to take advantage of the bountiful supply of baits.

To learn more about the ins and outs of netting bait, I asked Capt. Brian Caudill, one of the most accomplished North Pinellas guides, to walk us through the entire procedure.

First thing Brian does is prepare his chum mixture. Now many have their own formulas, and others use commercially prepared chum. But Capt. Brian feels his concoction of corn meal, canned jack mackerel, mixed with Menhaden oil has proven to be very effective on “calling over” the greenies. “This is a smelly – oily mix which really attracts the baitfish. It is a very oily mixture, and the corn meal gives it the consistency it needs to stay together, “he said. “And since it doesn’t float, the birds won’t get it. “

Getting bait off Fred Howard Park, I asked Caudill why he set up for netting bait in this particular spot. “Well, there’s lots of healthy turtle and eel grass which attracts the fish—the tide moves real well through here and it’s consistently deep – the kind of area the baitfish seem to like,” he said.

What are some of the mistakes that a novice might make when they first try to net bait? Well according to Capt. Brian’s observations, most who are new to netting bait don’t chum long enough. He said “they expect to see bait in their chum-slick right away – but your gonna have to be patient to get the numbers of baits you’ll need for your fishing trip. And Caudill adds that “sometimes we chum for 25 – 30 minutes before even throwing the net.” So, as with everything else associated with fishing, patience is a virtue.

Where can most folks find bait during the warming spring weather? Well according to Brian, “any of the grass flats that are near open passes or around barrier islands that have lush grass flats will hold lots of bait. And this time of year, most of our beaches will hold good numbers of baitfish.”

As for net size, many make the mistake of starting off with a smaller net, believing that they’re easier to learn to throw. And that would be wrong. According to Caudill, “the smaller nets are actually more difficult to toss because if you don’t throw it perfectly, you have much less volume hitting the water. With a larger net – even if you have a poor throw, you can still have enough volume to at least net some bait.” He said that’s why he uses larger nets. “I use a 10 foot net that typically has 15 to 18 pounds of lead on it – so it sink fast.

And yes, there is a definite learning curve for beginners who have no experience throwing a cast net. “My fist suggestion would be to go to a tackle store or look on the Internet for one of the many ‘how to videos.’ They can be helpful – because you can review it and learn at your own pace. Also, there are often net tossing demonstrations at fishing shows as well.” However Brian added that, “before you use it on the water, it would be a good idea to go to a park – get up on a picnic table – or in your back yard and practice throwing it several times – until you get it down.”

One of the keys to successfully tossing a net is just like casting – the back swing is very important – because that’s where you get the momentum for it to open. “A lot of people make that mistake – they don’t give enough of a back swing,” he said. “And when they come around to open the net, they just don’t have the momentum for the net to open properly.”

Now most of the old timers still put a lead from the bottom net in their teeth and fold the rest of the net over one shoulder. However, Caudill is one of a new generation of skippers who eschews the lead in the mouth concept – and tosses equal amounts of the net over each shoulder. However, as indicated earlier, practice, practice, practice. Then, once you get it down, you will also admit that throwing a net is definitely not ‘brain surgery.”