Inshore saltwater fishing in the Carolinas is one of the most fun, interactive sports around. Whether you target fish from the shore, the surf, a local ocean pier, or a boat saltwater fishing is a great way to spend the day.
But the question always comes up. What do you use for bait?
As a longtime Carolina inshore fisherman these are my favorite choices for saltwater fishing bait:
Fiddlers are easy to gather (their little pinchers don’t hurt) and make a strong, cheap bait when fished near pilings for sheepshead. Hook them any old way, and use just enough lead to get the fiddler in the sheepshead feeding zone, which is usually from the bottom to halfway up the water column. They also will catch the occasional redfish, black drum or flounder.
Actually little menhaden, these numerous, delicate baitfish don’t live long in a bucket or live well, but they are a top bait for slashing bluefish and big flounder. Just remember to add some action to the bait, since pogies die quickly once they’re cast out. Hook them through the eyes and they’ll live a little longer.
These little beach surf shellfish diggers are beloved by kids who like to gather them in the sand under the foaming suds. If you have some youngsters get them out there with a bucket, since sand fleas (sometimes called sand fiddlers or mole crabs) make great baits for the delicious pompano. If you don’t have kids around, sand fleas can be gathered up with special rakes available in coastal tackle shops. In addition to pompano, sand fleas will also take sea mullet (whiting) and the occasional flounder.
There are a lot of little shallow-water killifish that fall under the catch-all category of mud minnow. One of the big advantages of mud minnows is that you can buy them at coastal tackle shops and pier houses, in case you can’t find any bait in your cast net or don’t know how to use one. They are also very hardy and will outlive most critters in your bait bucket, as well as surviving in freshwater. Mud minnows are a top bait for the bottom dwelling flounder, and will also take loads of redfish and speckled trout.
Few folks understand that these pesky little critters make excellent live bait for large gamefish. They can be fished under a cork for trophy speckled trout, but their best use lies on a bottom rig. Big doormat flounder just love a flashing little pinfish. Hook them around the tail for maximum action.
Everything wants to eat the frisky, jumping finger mullet. The smallest version of the striped mullet, these finger-sized vegetarians at the bottom of the food chain are loved by roaming game fish, bottom-dwelling crabs, and high flying birds. When a fall ‘mullet blow’ is on hordes of jumping finger mullet schools whisk through inland waterways and the surf line. Hook one just above or through the eye sockets and toss that sucker out on a simple rig (with no wire, spinners, or floats). There’s no better bait for roaming redfish, bluefish, and flounder.
Nothing beats a live shrimp fished under a float or popping cork for speckled trout. Live shrimp are such a deadly speck bait that in some places state wildlife agencies have actually considered making their use illegal, especially when matched with treble hooks. It’s better to use circle hooks, since more undersized fish survive and you don’t even have to set the hook…just play the torut after your float goes under.
Make sure to avoid the dark ‘brain’ area around the horns when you hook them. In addition to specks, live shrimp take tons of redfish, flounder, black drum, sea mullet and sheepshead.
For many more free Carolina fishing tips see my blog A Dash Of Salty.