Live bait - Part 2, the presentation
by Chris Tan S.G.
The presentation of the live bait is crucial to getting the fish to bite. If the live bait is presented poorly, no matter how fresh or lively the bait is, the predator could be turned off from attacking.
Choosing the right hook
The type of hook used affects the presentation of the bait. If the hook is too big, the weight and thickness of the hook will inhibit the natural motion of the live bait. The live bait is quickly tired due to the weight of the hook. In addition the large hook size prevents the live bait from wriggling naturally. The large wound created by the large hook also kills the bait in a short time due to the shock.
A large hook is also highly visible, and a cautious predator will be quick to note that the profile of the bait fish is quite different. It is also a fact that the metal of the hook reacts with saltwater and creates an electrical field in the water. It is possible that the predator senses these unusual differences and might be put off!
On the other hand, a small hook can be hidden well, sometimes too well! The predator might take the live bait in its mouth and swim off, but when it feels the weight of the line or the strike by the angler, the bait could be pulled out of its mouth without the point of the hook penetrating anywhere in the mouth of the predator. This is due to the small size of the hook keeping the point of the hook buried in the body of the live bait. Even if the bait has been swallowed into the stomach of the predator, it is possible for the predator to regurgitate the bait up, with the hook still embedded in the bait, unless the angler is fortunate enough to have the hook tear free of the live bait and get a hold within the jaws of the predator.
Therefore, the size of the hook should match the size of the live bait. Too big a hook, the live bait may not be taken; too small and chances of getting a hook up are lessened.
Match the hook gape to the bait size
I personally prefer to use a short shanked hook for live bait as there is less hook/metal exposed. Basically I use the gape width (width between point and hook shank) as my guide to choosing hook size for the live bait. The width of the gape should be approximately the same or slightly smaller than the thickest cross sectional width/thickness of live bait where it is hooked. As the live bait is hooked up below or above the thickest portion of the live bait where it is thinner, therefore the hook point will be exposed.
The position to hook the live bait varies with the conditions. Generally while fishing offshore there will be a strong current. I normally hook the live fish just behind the "neck" at the "shoulder" just before the dorsal fin. This allows the fish to swim naturally facing the current, thus staying alive longer. This technique applies whether I fish with a balloon rig near the surface, mid water or just off the bottom.
If I am fishing on the bottom near the coast in areas of nil or very slow current with a running sinker rig on the bottom, the hook is placed below the fish, after the caudal fin near the tail.
Keeping the point clear
At all the times make sure the hook point is not pressed flat against the body of the live bait, but the hook point is standing well clear of the body of the live bait, especially when the leader is pressed flat against the body of the live bait, as if the live bait was in the mouth of the predator, This will ensure that the point has a good chance of sinking into the mouth of the game fish, when it takes the live bait in its mouth.
When live bait is plentiful
If there is plenty of live bait available, intentionally hook the fish upside down through its stomach. The severely injured fish will struggle and give off distress signals of a dying fish, attracting the predators from all around. Cutting off the tail also does the same thing; in addition the blood leaves a scent trail for the predators to follow. However, the live bait does not live very long when it is handled/baited this way, thus the need for plenty of live bait.
Squid and octopus
Squid need to be handled gently. Hook the squid at the top of the head, just a little; too much and the squid will die. (The head is the pointy part, opposite to the squid tentacles.) The octopus is hooked up in very much the same way. However, watch out for the sharp beak in its mouth below the tentacles.
Prawns are a favoured live bait in estuary fish, especially for siakap. There are a few methods of hooking up a live prawn. One of them is to gently hook it up behind the head at the shoulder, just lightly through the shell. Do not hook too deep or the live prawn will be killed. Another method is to hook it through the tail. The use of thick wire hooks here will kill the delicate prawn. Quality fine wire hooks like the high carbon hooks are best suited for this job.
Are wire leaders a necessity?
Generally wire leaders are a must when using live bait. Many an angler has found that out the hard way. A sudden tug, and the rod bends over and immediately goes slack. When the line is wound in, the line just above the hook will be cleanly cut! One experienced angler got lazy one slow day and just tied on a live bait and placed it near the sea bed. Within half an hour there was a sudden pull and after a short tussle the line went slack. It was bitten off cleanly; we never knew what fish it was.
If the target fish does not require a wire leader, a heavy abrasion leader of mono can be used. For fish like siakap, queenfish and mangrove jack that do not have cutting teeth, mono leaders of 20 to 40lbs can be used. When going for the bigger toothless fish like sailfish or marlin, mono leaders of 100lbs or more should be used as the fight might take some time, thus wearing through a light mono leader. Note that the angler has to be willing to accept bite offs from the razor gang when not using wire leaders. However the chances of a fish hitting the live bait are increased when no wire is used.
The length of wire leader should be as long as it is from the stomach to the jaws of the predator you expect to catch. Any shorter, and if the predator does swallow the live bait all the way into its stomach, it will cut the main line. I have found this out more than once, when I used a very short wire leader. Too long a wire leader, there will less bites, as wire leaders are very obvious in the water.
Barracuda, spanish mackerel, queenfish, sailfish and marlin are some of the predatory fish normally caught using live bait just below the surface. Placing the live bait in mid water will generally get the same fish, cobia and trevallys. Put the live bait near the bottom, and bottom feeders like grouper can be caught in addition to the normal gamefish predators. In the estuary, live baits will take siakap, mangrove jacks and even estuary grouper.
Live bait placement
Placing the live bait just above the bottom requires some care. If it is too close to the bottom the live bait can easily swim into the rocks or corals snagging the line. Lower the rig, when the sinker touches bottom. Quickly raise it the length of the wire plus mono leader and a bit, or else the live fish will swim into some nearby hole and get itself and the rig snagged.
If the fish targeted are at mid-water, use a sinker to get it down, the rig much the same as for placing the live bait near the bottom. For live bait just below the surface a float or a balloon rig can be used. If the live bait is large, a float might not be able to keep the live bait near the surface as the large live bait would be able to overcome the flotation of the float. Thus a balloon would be preferable. If the current is strong, the use of a balloon may not be necessary as the fast current on the line and live bait itself will keep it near the surface.
Just chucking in a poorly rigged up live bait can result in some catches, but with judicious use of live bait, one can increase the hook up rate dramatically!