November is a great month to be in the Keys. The weather finally gets a little less humid and it’s great to be out on the water. We start getting some cold fronts which change the fishing in the area.
The key element that we’ll focus on for the next few months is live bait. It provides us so many more options as we plan our excursions. As captains here in Islamorada and the rest of the Keys, we spend many hours daily gathering live bait. We try to leave early to get them on the way out or we go during our time off to stock up our pens. Anything to make our charter days more successful. Live bait here in the Keys consists of goggle eyes, pilchards, threadfin herring, cigar minnows, sardines and ballyhoo.
When the bait is plentiful, the preferred method is cast netting. It is an easy and quick way to get the job done. Last month in Islamorada there were large schools of pilchards just a couple of miles offshore on the ocean side. We threw our cast nets and loaded our bait wells for the surrounding tunas. The more bait the better. The schools of pilchards will start making their way to the shoreline here soon. I’ll be spending time locating the schools and trying to keep up with them. Often the pelicans will give them away first.
One item you’ll need to successfully catch and keep live bait is a good bait cage that you can use on a day to day basis. The better handling of your live bait, the longer it will last. As much as I like the quick and easy results I get from throwing the cast net, bait used in this manner does not live well into the next day.
To allow bait a longer lifespan, I like to use Sabiki rigs. This rig consists of 4 or 5 hooks where one can attach a lead to the bottom. In this manner, one can catch the bait without having to touch it. This keeps the scales on their bodies which lets them live longer than when roughed up by the nets. It takes longer to catch them using the rig method but they will remain living for days when bait is scarce thus guaranteeing that you have bait for all your charters.
As mentioned earlier, the less you handle bait the better and using a d-hooker helps. This is simply a hook that slides down the line to the hook and pulls the hook out of the fish’s mouth so that you don’t have to touch it. It’s also important not to take big scoops of bait.
Transfer just one or two at a time when moving them from the well to the pen and use a tender touch.
The majority of the fish we catch this time of the year love live bait. It’s the key to a successful season. We get more action using live baits versus dead baits, especially when targeting sailfish, blackfin tuna, bonita and king mackerel.
Live bait definitely makes our fishing world turn for the next few months and taking good care of it really helps. The more bait we can pen up, the more consistent we can be with our fishing. On days when bait is scarce, we can use bait previously penned up to provide us a stellar day of fishing.
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