Popular bait catching equipment includes cast nets, sabiki rigs, seines, dip nets, minnow and fish traps and umbrella nets. These options allow anglers to catch live bait such as shrimp, crabs, squid, silversides, glass minnows, mummichugs, spot, pinfish, pigfish, ballyhoo, herring, shad, eels and other small fish suitable as live baits or to store for later use.
Cast nets are excellent tools for catching bait. They work well in the surf, along shorelines and from boats. To catch bait effectively, a quality cast net is important. Cheap versions may not open or sink correctly, which allow fish to escape in some situations.
Minnow traps are easy to use. These traps consist of 2 bucket shaped sections that snap together. Each half is made of wire and has a funnel shaped entrance. A line secures the trap to a dock or piling. The trap is baited with fish scraps, bread, raw chicken necks or other baits and left overnight. Minnow traps work well for smaller baits such as minnows and grass shrimp.
Spot, small perch and other baits can be caught using fish traps. These are special traps which are designed to catch fish more than crabs. Cans of cat food are sometimes pierced enough to leak and used for bait in spot traps. Other baits such as fish scraps can also be used for attracting baitfish to the trap. Always check local regulations before attempting to catch bait with traps.
Seines work well but are bulky, expensive and require a large amount of effort. Seines are fine mesh nets with a pole on each end. Fishermen work in pairs, pulling the net across the bottom and up onto a shallow shoreline. Seines will catch practically everything in their path, including small fish, crabs, shrimp and other baits.
Dip nets are sometimes useful, especially at night under lights. An area can be dipped blindly, or sprinkled with cat food and swept with the dip net after a few moments.
Perhaps the easiest way to catch bait is with a sabiki rig. This special leader features a daisy chain of small lures. Anglers sometimes bait the sabiki hooks with tiny bits of bloodworm as an added attractant. The rig is then slowly worked along the bottom near pilings or over structure. The rig will catch spot, perch, herring and even silversides or other species of minnows.
Finding live bait while fishing in the ocean can be difficult. There are a few possibilities, but rarely can any option be relied on totally. One option is to stop on a wreck or reef and jig artificial lures for small fish.
Also worth checking are buoys or floating debris. Often small jacks or other pelagic fish will congregate under floating objects and strike a small flashy lure or a light leader and baited hook. In some cases a bottom rig will also catch small fish, depending on the location.
As night falls in the ocean, options get better. Squid, tinker mackerel or other baitfish often appear around the lights of an anchored boat at night. Squid will take a baited line, or special jig, while tinker mackerel will eagerly attack the essential Sabiki rig which should be standard equipment on summer overnight trips.
Virginia deep sea fishing charters sometimes use this technique to catch fish which are then used as live baits for tuna, mahi mahi, swordfish and other offshore fish species.
Learning to brine baits is a good way to use leftover fishing bait. Brining will preserve and toughen bait, making it suitable for freezing and more useful after thawing.
A basic method for brining baits – Kosher salt coating
Step 1. Prepare baits by rinsing in sea water. Cut larger baits such as fish bellies or squid into strips.
Step 2. Add baits and coarse kosher salt to a ziploc bag and shake vigorously. Add enough salt to thoroughly coat all the baits.
Step 3. Purge excess air from the bag and freeze.
Most baits will remain somewhat flexible due to the salt, even when frozen. Well brined baits often last up to a year.
Read more about fishing and seafood at Virginia Saltwater Fishing, Chesapeake Bay and Fresh Seafood.