everything you need to know about BAIT...
Frozen prawn or shrimp is a good bait.
The European Eel: photos courtesy of Thorke Østergaard.
The Poor Cod: photos courtesy of Thorke Østergaard.
key feature about mackerel is that it is an oily fish and that its
flesh alone, leaving aside the innards, will generate a scent trail in the
water to bring fish to the hook. Most other fish in Irish waters do not
share this trait - pichard, sandeel and herring are great, but rarely
available. Pouting, long the curse of the angler in these parts, can
be used as a deadbait, in whole or in part, but it is plainly not that
successful a bait! Fish, used as bait, need to be selected
carefully to match up to the eating habits and preferences of the target
species. Bits of river eels are used all along the Thames
Estuary by anglers seeking the big tope!
Collection: By happy accident one day, on a river, I discovered that slugs were an absolutely killing bait. Having run out of worms, I picked one out of the damp grass, and not sooner had it hit the water than a big roach was rammed it down with relish! Using fish baits other than mackerel or sandeel is a bit like this... you have to check on local conditions - by trail and error - and find out what the target species is interested in... In Wexford, tiny two inch flatfish captured by children with nets in the local pools are cherished by local anglers are a sure fire bet for bass, in particular the larger bass! I am not mad keen on this as you have to wonder as to the impact this will have on the fish stocks - as you should when using all small fish baits... regardless of source. If you are seeking to use small flatfish, then clearly you need excellent eyesight, a net and fast hands! You shuffle your feet on the sand in the water in tidal pools, ideally near an estuary, and watch for the speedy darts and flurries of sand. It is just a matter of tracking them down, cornering them and when catching them, put the net's front lip into the sand and approach them head on - flatfish find it difficult to turn quickly and can not swim in reverse! In the west of Ireland I have found that the shrimp caught in nets in local rock pools using a few crushed limpets as bait are very effective, especially - and this bit I do not understand - when used over sand or in estuaries (far from their natural habitat). Being soft, you can not cast them far mind unless you use lots of shirring elastic. Par boiling them the night before hardens the flesh.
Storage: The clear plastic containers with lids used for storing food in kitchens are ideal - a little water and seaweed will give you fresh bait when you tool up at your selected mark. In my experience there is no need to livebait - shrimp and flatfish work wonders on the top hook of a paternoster or an "ave marie" rig. Almost all fish baits react well to a freezer. I now suspect that the small flatfish we used to scoop up in nets as children 'fishing' in the rock pools adjoining the beach in Lahinch Co. Clare were small turbot, rather than plaice or flounder. The European Eel, Anguilla anguilla, is a handy bait, in the sense that they can be cut into several sections or lengths so that one eel makes a large number of baits. Before we leave this topic, you can try to use a pouting or poor cod, or several of smaller species caught inshore. The Poor Cod is a small fish species, Trisopterus minutus, common in Irish coastal waters.
Bait Presentation: Fish bait presentation ususally involves presenting the whole fish as a bait. For small shrimp you can thread them onto a standard 2/0 hook, but my preference has always been to use a two hook pennel rig, whether legering or spinning a small fish. Wobbling a fish bait works wonders for bass, provided they are around (!) and you snip the tails off to stop the bait spinning in the water. Forgetting this make you...
Rigs or Traces: Coarse fishermen have been using wobbled deadbaits to take pike for years, using a double treble with a wire trace. The same rig works well at sea, however trolling using wobbling deadbaits is not common practice. Most fish baits are used in legering rigs, such as common paternosters, pulleys and wishbones. Distance casting will require that you clip them down to prevent the angler cursing 'helicoptering' baits that fly off into (and as often all over) the sea!
Fish Species: Fish baits are used to attract predators. Whilst all fish will eat fish baits, whole small fish deadbaits are used to target the bigger toothier species, like conger, bull huss, ray, etc. Local knowledge as to what species are available is the key to your bait selection, especially in the use of small fish baits.