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Advanced guide to live baiting

December 19, 2019
Advanced guide to live baiting

Fishing is a sport we can never master, only improve. Sometimes it is the smallest changes that make the biggest difference as Al McGlashan recently discovered while live baiting. Things were looking good, really good.

The Furuno was loaded up with fish, we had a tank full of livies and the moment we dropped down we scored a double hook up. You ripper, this is what it is all about! But then seconds later things started to fall apart – first my fish dropped off, then seconds later the other fish came unstuck as well.

What had started out so promising turned out to be one of the most frustrating days on the water where we ended up losing several kings in a row. By lunchtime our tally was nothing short of dismal, scoring a measly two fish from more than a dozen bites. Heading home that afternoon with my tail between my legs I stewed over the poor scorecard.

Failure is something no angler enjoys. It doesn’t matter whether it is the loss of a good fish through tackle failure or the dreaded bust-off or even something as simple as a pulled hook, it sucks big time. In this case our downfall wasn’t tackle, instead it was our live bait rigging techniques.

We had taken the lazy approach and had paid for cutting corners. Pinning the mackerel through the nose is certainly quick and easy but, as we learnt, it isn’t necessarily the best or most effective approach.

Spending so much time slow trolling live baits for everything from marlin to kings I am always refining my set up, but I have to admit I am lazier inshore than when chasing marlin. I have downsized my hooks not only in size but also to a smaller gauge as well.

Originally I employed the larger 9/0s when chasing kings inshore, working with the theory that the bigger the hook the bigger the fish. However I found the wider gape that comes with the bigger hook proved to be an issue with the baits.

The issue is the hook would swing around when the bait panicked, catching it in the cheek and with the hook pointing back into the bait there was no chance of a clean hook up.

Downsizing to the smaller 6/0 live bait hooks had largely fixed this problem with the hooks fitting snug around the nose of small mackerel, thus minimising the chance of them turning around during the strike. I also suspect that since the hook was not so obvious, the fish were less cautious.

It may sound silly but now that I spend so much time in the water filming I am constantly shocked at how obvious the hook and leaders are underwater. It has really made me rethink my attention to detail.

Despite all these refinements, on the day in question we were still drawing blanks. The variable in the equation was the bait and in this case we had managed some big fat mackerel and small kahawai. As good as the baits were, the kings were only around a metre and despite their greediness they were having trouble scoffing the XO baits down.

To make matters more complicated, the smaller hooks were not pulling free of the bait which only impeded the hook up further.

This is one of the great things about fishing – it is like an endless line of problem solving, where the more solutions you come up with the better an angler you become.

A fresh approach

The following morning we headed back out with renewed energy to rectify the previous day’s problems. This time we had a secret weapon: dacron bridles. Instead of pinning the bait through the nose we threw a bit of finesse into the mix and bridled them with dacron loops, exactly as I always do when marlin fishing. With the hook sitting neatly on the bait’s nose the difference was instantaneous.

In the water the livey swam freely and was a lot more active but in a natural manner. With the hook completely free of the bait it was clear to find its mark.

The first bait down was eaten immediately; better still, we hooked up solid and stayed connected. It was no monster but it was a success, which was quickly followed by a second and then a third fish. It was a complete turnaround from the previous day and we ended the session scoring several fish with only one missed.

They may not have been record fish but what this highlights is how a subtle change to your live baiting techniques can make all the difference. Too many anglers think live baiting is easy but, in reality, by going that extra mile and applying a bit of finesse to your approach you will see more action. We turned our results around from appalling to bloody impressive inside just 24 hours.

Circle of success

The hook up rate was certainly a lot higher but still using the standard J hook meant we still suffered hooks pulling mid-fight. Again I looked at what I do marlin fishing and, having just enjoyed a season where we scored 40 fish from 44 bites in just 12 days, I realised what I needed to change: I had to add circle hooks into the mix.

Initially I had struggled with circle hooks on kings, finding the little buggers buried me in the reef if I gave them too much line. The trick I have found is to give them a very short free-spool and then load up and commit very quickly.

Unlike a J hook which hurts them, the circle often sees the fish more confused, giving the angler an initial edge to get the upper hand in the fight immediately.
Now I have swapped all my hooks across to circles and am finding the conversion rate is almost as good as marlin. Having said that, I am still getting bricked now and again, but that is kingy fishing!

Hooking up right

A lot of anglers don’t know where to hook their livey. Believe it or not, I have seen guys pin bait through the back and then troll it. Even though the bait is spinning like a propeller they still troll around happily until the hook rips out.

There is only one place to hook livies for trolling and that is through the nose. It’s not rocket science – if you put a hook through the bait’s back or tail it is going to drown very quickly and look really unnatural when trolled or even drifted.

Most baits like yellowtails and koheru have a soft spot in front of the eyes which is perfect to slip the bridle through horizontally. This causes minimal discomfort to the bait, allowing it to live for much longer.

One hint I can suggest is when using J hooks the bridle can be tight against the head, but for circle hooks the best hook up is when the hook sits loose. With the hook a few centimetres off the head the circle hook will be able to roll around and lock onto the jaw hinge. Alternately, if it is tight against the bait’s head the bait may impede the hook up.

Personally I like to make my bridles from dacron. They are simply looped around the hook then the other side of the loop is fed through the bait’s nose with the aid of a needle before being hooked back over the hook point. It is secured by twisting the dacron between the bait and the hook and then finished off by sliding the hook back through the dacron.

Some guys like rubber bands while others do away with the bait needle completely by using small cable ties. Trimmed with pliers they are sharp enough to slide straight through.
Squid are in a league of their own and can be fished with a single or twin hook rig.

A single hook right up near the point in the mantle is the best way to keep the squid alive, however they never last long when trolling. The upside is that unlike fish baits they are still very effective when dead.

There is a wide range of baits on offer from yellowtails to kahawai. It is important to know which baits work best for the technique your’e employing. Some baits like mullet are okay for drifting but can’t handle being trolled.

Yellowtails are a good all rounder and can do both, but do tire quickly if towed too fast or in rough weather. My favourite for slow trolling are mackerel and kahawai, everything eats them and they will happily troll for hours. Tuna troll really well but they can be difficult to rig up and will only survive out of water for a very short time. I should also add that sharks love them.

Two or one

A single hook on the nose works a treat on most predators because most fish swallow their prey head first. The reason behind this is most of the time the fins will fold back against the body so it is easy to get it down.

However there is one group that doesn’t fit into the mould and that is the razor gang; mackerel, wahoo and even the old barracouta work to a different tune. Instead of grabbing the bait, turning it and swallowing it their initial attack is designed to maim it by biting off its tail.

For live baiters this can be a real issue, but there is a way around it and that is to employ a second hook.
Joined to the first hook by single strand wire, the second (which should be a small live bait hook) is lightly pinned near the bait’s tail.

This usually works a gem and stops the razor gang dead in their tracks. There is a downside however, and that is that with the added weight and drag from the second hook the baits tire quickly so they will need to be replaced more often.

Get lively

Live baiting is so much more than simply just flicking a bait out the back and towing it around. As I have highlighted here attention to detail to refine your approach will see you dramatically increase your catch rate. It doesn’t matter whether you are chasing big kings or even marlin, by putting a bit of thought into the process I guarantee you will become a better angler.  

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