Using Live Bait on a Sarasota Fishing Charter

using live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter

Using Live Bait on a Sarasota Fishing Charter

In this article I will talk about using live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter. While artificial lures can be very productive, there are circumstances in which live bait is the best choice. This can include weather conditions, tide, options regarding species, and angler experience.

My name is Capt. Jim Klopfer and I run fishing charters in Sarasota, Florida. I very much enjoy casting artificial lures, especially jigs and plugs. This is a very interactive way to fish and a satisfying and fun. There are also times when lures, especially jigs, will out produce live bait. However, the reverse is true as well and there are certainly days where live bait will catch more fish.

Using live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter

Believe it or not, there are circumstances in which using live bait actually requires more skill than when casting lures. The weight of the lure makes it easier to toss a longer distance and the angler is almost always in full contact with it. When fishing with live bait, casting is more difficult as the bait is very light.

Sarasota bottom fishing charters

Another aspect that anglers struggle a bit at times with when using live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter is line management. That really means dealing with the slack that is in the line, especially when a bite occurs. This can be true when free lining a bait out behind the boat or when fishing it under a popping cork. This is less of an issue when bottom fishing.

Top live baits used on Sarasota fishing charters

The top live bait that I use most often on my Sarasota fishing charters is a shrimp. There are several reasons for this. Shrimp are readily available at every bait shop in Sarasota. They are easy to keep alive, relatively speaking. Shrimp can be fish and a variety of ways. Finally, and most importantly, just about every saltwater game fish species that swims will readily devour a lively shrimp!

saltwater fishing with shrimp

The other live bait that I employee when using live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter is a live bait fish. There are several different species of bait fish that I use, but they really fall into two different categories. These are white bait and pin fish and grunts. Occasionally when fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico I will catch other species, but for the vast majority of my inshore fishing charters in Sarasota I use these two types of live bait fish.

White bait, also referred to as shiners, are plentiful in Sarasota Bay in the warmer months. Larger baits are fished near mangrove shorelines and in the structure in the passes and other spots for large snook. Smaller baits in the 2 inch range our perfect to use in Sarasota Bay for the normal species such as snapper, trout, mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, and more.

chumming with live bait

The two main species of white bait that we have here in Sarasota are pilchards, also known as scaled sardines, and threadfin herring, also known as greenbacks or threadies. Both of these fish are caught using a cast net, usually on the shallow grass flats near the passes where they are plentiful. During cooler times of the year, they are much more difficult to procure. Pinfish and grunts can be caught with a cast net as well as with tiny hooks baited with a piece of shrimp or squid.

Fishing with live shrimp on a Sarasota fishing charter

As mentioned earlier, live shrimp are a very versatile and productive fishing bait and will catch just about every species that swims in Sarasota Bay. There are several different rigs and fishing techniques that I use when fishing with live shrimp, the technique used will depend on the species being targeted as well as the current conditions.

fishing charter in Sarasota

I probably free line a live shrimp more than any other method. Part of this is due to the fact that two of the types of spots that I fish quite often are deep grass flats and passes. In both of these situations, a sinker is too much weight and a flat will suspend the shrimp too high in the water column. The perfect presentation is a shrimp hooked through the head and swimming naturally in the middle of the water column. I will also at times anchor in deeper water and cast the live shrimp towards the edge of a sandbar or grass flat.

When fishing and water 5 feet deep or less, a popping cork is the way to go. A popping cork is a noisy float that suspends the shrimp 3 to 4 feet above the bottom, which puts it right in the strike zone. The float is twitched sharply, causing it to pop and make a disturbance on the surface. This sound theoretically mimics feeding fish and attracts other fish to the sound. Once in the vicinity, they will see the helpless shrimp hanging there and take it. This is an extremely effective technique, particularly for spotted sea trout.

Sarasota flats fishing charter

When fishing deeper water, usually around some type of structure, standard bottom fishing techniques are used when fishing live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter. I don’t do a ton of bottom fishing anymore, when I do it is mostly in the cooler months when the action on the grass flats has slow down. In particular, the sheepshead fishing in the passes can be very productive from January through early April and bottom fishing with a live shrimp is definitely the best technique.

Live bait fish are productive as well

In the warmer months, it will be hard to argue that chumming live bait fish is not the most productive fishing technique that is used in Sarasota. The angler or guide uses a cast net and catches hundreds of smaller bait fish. Baits in the 1 1/2 inch to 2 inch range our perfect for flats species while larger baits are best for snook and redfish. There are some guides who basically only fish this way, but I am not one of them. I do fish using this technique when the bait is prevalent and easy to catch.

Sarasota fishing charters

Once the live well is full of frisky baits, the boat is then placed upwind and up tide of a likely spot. This can be a large grass flat, a sandbar in the passes, a mangrove shoreline, a dock, or even an artificial reef. The idea is to place the boat above the fish use the chum to pull them into the back of the boat. This is done by tossing handfuls of unhooked, free baits out behind the boat. Once the game fish start popping on these free baits, hooked baits almost instantly draw a strike. The one real downside to this type of fishing is that it can actually be too easy and less than rewarding, especially for more experienced anglers. However, for just plain old bending the rod and putting the fish in the boat, this technique in the summer is hard to beat.

I don’t fish with live pin fish and grunts a ton, but when I do it is almost always when drifting the grass flats and casting lures out in front of the boat while we drift while floating the pin fish or grunt out behind the boat under a float. These baits are typically around 3 inches long. They don’t to generally produce a lot a fish, but the ones that take a live bait this large are usually of better quality. A live grunt in particular is extremely effective on speckled trout in the summer time.

Seasonal fishing patterns in Sarasota

By late winter I am usually fishing for sheepshead for at least part of almost every Sarasota fishing charter. The Sheepshead move into the structure in the passes this time of year and are usually very plentiful. They put up a great fight, are relatively easy to catch, and are excellent eating for anglers who want to keep a couple fish.

big sarasota pass fishing charters

As it warms up in spring and moving into summer, I will use live bait on Sarasota fishing charters in a variety of ways. In the spring, drifting the grass flats and casting a live shrimp under a popping cork is practically a guarantee for speckled trout. On the deeper grass flats, my clients will free line the shrimp out behind the boat. This is especially easy for kids and novice anglers. This will produce Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, pompano, snapper, and other species along with the trout.

Once the bait fish shell up thick in the summer, that is really the only live bait that I use on my Sarasota fishing charters. Not only is the bait easy to catch and free, but the abundance of pin fish on the flats can make fishing with shrimp aggravating this time of year. What I usually do is mix the trip up by starting out at first light casting jigs and switching to live bait fish once the sun comes up and that bite slows down.

fishing report

For the most part, I am catching the smaller bait and using it to chum up the action and variety species on the deep grass. However, if larger bait is available, I will definitely spend some time in the passes as that is where snook congregate in the summer time. As it cools off in the fall, the pattern just basically reverses itself and once the bait leaves I will switch back to using shrimp when I do decide to use live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter.

In conclusion, this article on using live bait on a Sarasota fishing charter will help potential clients understand the seasonal patterns and options available to them.

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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