How to Catch Bait with a Cast Net

How to Catch Bait with a Cast Net

The subject of this article will be how to catch bait with a cast net. Live bait fish are often the key to angling success!

There is one inarguable fact when fishing; big fish eat little fish! In many fishing situations, the most productive offering is a live bait fish. Small bait fish, or minnows, are often the preferred forage of most game fish. A good cast net, and the ability to throw it, will provide an angler with all of the live bait fish needed. Anglers do need to check local fishing regulations to make sure they are obeying all of the laws.

How to catch bait with a cast net

Throwing a cast net

The ability to throw a cast net properly is obviously very important. There are several different methods to do so. None is really better than the other, it is just a matter of personal preference. Rather than try to explain it in print, below is a short video which shows how Capt. Jim throws his cast net on his Sarasota fishing charters.

Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so on the PRODUCTS page.

Cast net sizes

There many different cast nets. However, the differences fall into three main categories; diameter or length, mesh size, and amount of weight per foot. While this may seem confusing, it really is not. Basically, nets with less weight and smaller mesh size will sink slower and are best suited for catching smaller bait fish in shallow water. Conversely, larger, heavier nets with a larger mesh size are best for catching larger bait in deeper water.

Here is a link to the cast net that Capt Jim uses. It is 8′ Radius  with 1/4″ Mesh. Larger and smaller nets can be purchased as well. Capt Jim likes the 8′ net in a 1/4″ mesh.

Anglers can click on this link to shop at Amazon for the net Capt Jim prefers.

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

The length of the cast net is quite important. Obviously, the larger than that or the longer the diameter, the larger their circumference. This means that when properly thrown, a larger net will cover a larger area and therefore catch more bait. However, larger nets are heavy and cumbersome and more difficult to throw in empty. So, like in all things, cast nets are a compromise.

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

8′ is a good all-around that size for both novice and experienced anglers throwing a cast net. An 8 foot net is small enough that a beginner can learn to cast that well while being large enough to efficiently catch plenty of bait. Cast nets are available as short as 4 feet long. These are okay for kids, but really won’t catch enough bait for serious anglers. Conversely, seasoned pros will throw cast nets up to 12 feet in diameter. Annette this large will catch a bunch of live bait!

Cast net mesh size

The mesh size is extremely important when choosing a cast net! Anglers should match mesh size to the size of the bait being pursued. Also, the mesh size will have a direct effect on how fast the net sinks in the water. Therefore, the mesh size chosen should be a balance between the size of the bait being caught in the depth of the water in which it is being caught.

A cast net with mesh that is too small will have no real ill effects on the angler, other than the fact that it sinks a bit slower. It is better to have a mesh size a little too small then a little too large. Mesh that is too large will not only result in the bait fish swimming through the mesh, but often times bait will be “gilled”.

chumming with live bait

This is where the bait gets stuck in the middle of the mesh. When this occurs, the bait fish usually dies and it can take an angler quite a while to clean the dead minnows out of the net. Anglers cast netting bait want to avoid this at all costs.

Capt. Jim uses an 8 foot diameter cast net with 1/4 inch mesh. In Florida where he fishes, most of the bait fish are between 2 inches long and 3 inches long. Also, most of the time the bait is caught in water less than 3 feet deep. This results in a perfect situation for using a smaller mesh net. Anglers catching larger bait in deeper water will obviously have to go up in a mesh size.

Cast net weight

Most cast nets advertise the weight of the net. They do this and a pounds per foot designation. This is really only a consideration for anglers catching bait in deeper water. In most cases, the net manufacturer understands that a large net with large mesh is going to require more weight. Heavy weights do no good for anglers throwing a cast net in shallow water and it just adds weight, requiring more effort.

Bait fish locations and spots

Once an angler has purchased his or her net and learn to throw it, it is time to go out and catch some bait. There are a number of productive areas to catch bait, depending on the geography. Often times, bait fish can be caught right off the beach or shoreline. Grass flats are prime spots as well. Huge schools of bait will hold under bridges.

Catching bait fish on the flats

Shallow flats are the easiest places for anglers to cast net bait. They are both easier to see in easier to catch in shallow water. Shallow grass flats and bars near passes and inlets are prime spots. Where possible, it is best to hunt the bait when the water is calm and clear. This will make it much easier to spot them on the bottom.

All fish are influenced by tides, including bait fish. Generally speaking, bait will hold on the up tide side or edge of a flat or patch of grass. This is especially true if a small depth change occurs. A shallow point in a foot or two of water that drops off into 6 feet of water would be a prime spot. The bait will generally hold on the up tide edge.

Bait fish can often be seen dimpling on the surface. They will rise up in the school and in the slick calm water there are easy to spot. It almost looks like it is raining. In the morning and evening, they can be fairly easy to sneak up on. However, when the sun is up high they can be a bit skittish and harder to get close enough to to catch.

Catching bait fish near bridges

Bridges and channel markers are also good places to cast net bait fish. Often times, bait in these areas will be a bit deeper, requiring a net that will get down faster. However, it is often worth the trouble. Huge schools of bait fish often relate to the shadow lines and pilings of bridges. Anglers do need to be very careful when throwing a cast net near a bridge in any type of current. It is best to tie the tag end of the cast net off to a cleat in order to prevent the angler being pulled overboard in the event that the net snags.

Chumming for bait fish

Chumming is a very effective technique when using a cast net to catch bait fish. It is a good strategy and water that is not very clear as well as early and late in the day when bait fish are difficult to spot. The angler anchors the boat up tide from a likely area or one that has proven to be productive in the past. He or she then pulls out small amounts of chum periodically in hopes of pulling the bait fish up behind the boat.

The amount of chum that is required will change depending on the tide. Obviously, if the tide is running swiftly, more chum will be needed to attract and keep bait fish up behind the boat. Anglers should start off small and then add more chum if the fish do not show up. Often times, just a few little clumps of chum will get them going. Once the bait fish are seen boiling in the chum, the angler can throw the net and catch them. This can be done from shore as well.

Every experienced cast net angler has their favorite chum. Capt. Jim likes to use a mixture of jack mackerel and wheat bread. This works well for the bait fish that he pursues in Florida. Dry bulk tropical fish food is easy to store and works very well. Anglers can mix up a small batch as needed. Commercial bait fish chum is available as well.

Keeping bait fish alive

Once the bait fish are caught, they must be kept alive and frisky. There is little point in catching a bunch of bait, only to have it die. Some bait fish are much hardier than others. Mud minnows and other bait fish are fairly easy to keep alive. A small live well and aerator is all that is required.

However, most of the bait that is caught with a cast net is much more fragile. These baits require large rounded bait wells along with high-volume pumps. The water needs to be recirculating constantly as well as being changed. Pumps draw freshwater from outside the boat and into the well. The water drains out through a stem pipe.

Capt. Jim and other guides and anglers in Florida employ a fishing technique that is extremely effective called “live bait chumming”. This requires a lot of bait! Once the well is stuffed with hundreds of lively minnows, the process can begin. The boat is anchored up tide of a good flat or other spot. Handfuls of bait fish are then tossed in the water behind the boat. If game fish are present, they will soon show up to feed on the freebies.

In conclusion, this article on how to catch bait with a cast net will help anglers understand the equipment and techniques required to master this very important angling skill!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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