One of the age old questions any shark fishermen gets is “What bait did you use?” While bait selection is just one piece of the intricate puzzle that is successful landbased shark fishing, it is a very important part of the equation. The following article will try to de-mystify the basics of bait for shark fishing, with the focus of this article being on kayak deployed baits.
Bait for shark fishing can be almost anything that swims, but obviously certain baits are better in certain applications and for certain species. Most shark baits can fit into one of three categories: Red Meat, White Meat, and Dark Meat. Each type of bait has its niche in landbased shark fishing, and all produce fish when the conditions are right.
“Red Meat” / Offshore Baits
The most prized of the landbased shark fishing baits ironically are fish that live offshore. These include tunas, mackerels, jacks, almost any offshore gamefish is more than likely phenomenal shark bait. Most shark fishermen hold these baits in high esteem, cherishing their bloody and oily meat for its shark attracting power. Without a doubt these baits will draw more strikes, from more species, in shorter times than any other bait available. There is however a downside to their appeal, and that is durability. While these baits are incredibly attractive to all manner of toothy denizens, they are also incredibly attractive to the dreaded “pick biters” like crabs, morays, and small fish. Small sharks in particular have a tendency to chew these type of baits off the hook in short order. Some nights these baits don’t last any time at all on the hook, and the constant paddling out to check or change them can be daunting, especially if conditions are less than perfect. One way to try and reduce this and prolong the life of these baits is to get them up off the bottom by utilizing a floated rig of some type. Not only does this prolong the life of the bait, but it serves as a more active presentation that may draw a few extra strikes as well. Using the fish whole rather than cut can help prolong the life of the bait as well, as many pick biters have a hard time “starting” on a whole fish. One other downfall of the Red Meat baits is their fragility on the hook. Usually the only place one can hook these baits without ripping out is in the head or tail, which depending on the size of the bait can lead to difficulty getting proper coverage with the hook. This sometimes means large portions of baits such as the middle sections of tunas and jacks wind up going to waste. A third issue with these baits is storage. They tend to “mush out” quickly when frozen, and get even less durable once that happens. For this reason a steady supply of fresh red meat baits is a good thing to have!
“White Meat” / Scaled Baits
White meat baits are most any fish with large scales, such as barracuda, croakers/drum, snappers, reef fish, chubs, perch, etc etc. Pretty much any inshore gamefish can be used for shark bait, so long as the local regulations are upheld. These baits are generally more tough than the red meat baits, allowing for longer soaks closer to the bottom while still being appealing for a reasonable amount of time. These baits also tend to have thicker, tougher skin than the red meat baits above and can be hooked more creatively allowing for better hook placement. These baits are less bloody, and generally less effective at drawing strikes, but they also tend to be easier to acquire and can be caught fresh on site usually. Plenty of sharks are caught on white meat baits, and sometimes “matching the hatch” with fresh caught baits from the same beach you are shark fishing from is the better option.
“Dark Meat” / Ray, Eel, and Shark Baits
For those not part of the landbased shark fishing world, or new to it, Dark Meat baits are often one of the most misunderstood aspects of the sport. Nowadays it is pretty much common knowledge that most large sharks (Hammers, Tigers, Cows, and Whites especially) eat rays and small sharks. However, they do not ONLY eat these baits, and oftentimes must be in a very specific mood to go after these baits at all. Other times, these dark meat baits will out fish all other baits on the beach, hands down! The bite on shark and ray baits can be so hot and cold that it is a must to have at least one ray or shark bait in the spread at all times. An added bonus is that when these baits do get bit, it is usually a quality fish! Certain kinds of rays work a little better than others, Cownose, Eagle, Bat and other members of that family are usually a better choice than the more round shaped rough skinned rays, although those rays work well too! Almost any small shark (Blacktip, Bonnethead, Leopard, Thresher) is a good bait as well, and the carcasses of larger sharks harvested for their meat are also good selections! When in the tropics moray eels also come into play. While not always the right choice, moray baits are very effective in reefy areas where they occur. All baits in this category are very durable, and long lasting. Most pick biters wont mess with dark meat baits, and they stay on the hook very well on their own. For the most part these baits are fished best directly on or very close to the bottom, where the predators will expect to find them naturally. Don’t be afraid to long soak these types of baits either, ray baits have been known to get bit after soaks as long as or in excess of 12 hours!
Acquiring baits can at times be easy, and other times can be the single hardest aspect of shark fishing. It seems that every time the bite is on fire, the bait is, ironically, nowhere to be found. One way to make sure you are doing everything you can to make bait is to always fish a lighter casted style rod while shark fishing. Nothing beats fresh bait and whenever possible making bait on the sand is a good way to pass the hours waiting for the big one to show up. Another important aspect of keeping in fresh baits is to network. Making a few friends at the local landings or piers can be a great source of carcasses, heads, or even whole fish. Getting that text message to come pick up half a dozen fresh red meat baits is always welcome to the avid shark fisherman! When nothing else works, buying bait is an option as well. Asian markets or even grocery stores can be good sources of fresh fish in a pinch. Selecting a good store-bought bait takes practice, but check the belly section for firmness and the eyes for clarity. Also, fresh fish smells like ocean, not fish!
Bait Care and Storage
So now that you have caught, bought, or stolen (A joke people!) a primo bait, what do you do with it until you need it? Keep it cold! Ice the bait immediately when caught/acquired and if possible keep it in saltwater, not fresh. If you plan to fish a fresh bait within a day or two of acquiring it, it might be the best option not to freeze it, but to refrigerate it instead. Storing the bait in a large ziplock bags or trash bag and keeping it in the fridge or in a cooler with ice is a good way to keep the bait fresh and firm until its needed. If the baits need to be stored a little longer, freezing is a good option as well. When freezing a bait always use ziplocks or vacuum bags, and try to get as much air out of the bag as possible without smashing the bait. When freezing multiple baits at once bag them in single session portions, and do not stack them on top of each other when freezing them, as it will smash the bait and decrease its quality. Once they are frozen solid they can be stacked to save space. It’s a good idea or organize baits chronologically in the freezer, by either dating the bags with a marker or by storing the newest baits on the bottom and older baits on top to keep the freshest baits possible.
Now that you’ve stored that perfect bait, its time to get it rigged up and ready to catch a shark! Hooking baits can vary depending on the style of bait but the idea is to keep the hook firmly lodged in the bait until it gets bit, but then the hook should come out and leave the bait behind when it finds home on the fishes mouth. Red meat baits generally should be hooked in the head or tail as mentioned above. White meat baits can be skin hooked around the dorsal fin area, or again in the head or tail as well. Dark meat baits are more versatile, and can be hooked almost anywhere theres enough skin, meat, or bone to stay put in. If a bait is large or awkwardly shaped (ie. Whole tuna, barracuda, eel, or shark) consider a second trailer hook hooked gently somewhere in the meat of the bait or even free swinging like an assist hook on a jig. Always try to use circle hooks when shark fishing, not only does it result in more positive hook ups, but it is safer for both the fish and angler on release!
Shark baits are as varied as the species they can catch, but follow the advice in this article, and a lot of the mystery surrounding bait choice can be solved. Perhaps next time someone asks “What did you catch it on?” you can share some of the knowledge you found here!