Mid-Coast Bays: July 2014

Mid-Coast Bays: July 2014
Starting them young is a great way to “hook ‘em” for life!
It is July and the heat is on. I take back all that complaining last winter when temperatures were low and the wind chill much lower. You know us anglersalways complaining about something. Luckily we are now enjoying warm summer weather with reduced wind (some days) and very thankful to be unraveling the fishing patterns.

Using artificial lures has always been my preference by far but I have many clients that like to throw live bait. Nowbefore anybody calls me outI do not often discuss live bait here. Still though it is part of my business and, as simple as it sounds to experienced anglers, I receive requests for live bait tips, especially croakers. So here goes
As everybody is probably aware live croaker can be a very effective summertime bait. I will not get into the "politics" of using them because honestly; unless it's illegal, I believe it's up to the angler to decide (without outside prejudice).

So with that being said; you should know that just because you have a croaker on the end of your line doesn't mean you will hook-up every cast. There are actually some "tricks" involved.

Bay shrimpers typically begin catching croakers during late-April and continuing through summer. But, for whatever reason, they did not show until late-May this year and some of the earliest batches were disappointingly small.

Most bait dealers, when time and supply allow, prefer to keep the freshly caught croakers in their tanks for about three days before selling to customers. Being caught in nets and introduced to the tanks is stressful and the three day delay (when weaker individuals will recover, or maybe die-off) insures the friskiest and loudest croakers will be going into fishermen's livewells. At about $8.00 a dozen, the last thing you want to purchase is weak bait!
Now for the livewell; you will need adequate aeration and occasional water exchange in the well can also help insure lively bait. Oxygen systems work best but there are also a number of good bubblers on the market that should help keep them frisky.

Rigging croaker is pretty straight forward. I like a 30-lb mono leader of 10 to 12 inches, attached to my line with a #10 Berkley barrel swivel and a 4/0 or 5/0 Mustad Croaker Hook (depending the size of the bait). Depending current strength and presence of hungry sea gulls, most lively croaker will swim straight to the bottom on their own with no weight in the rigging. It can be necessary though to include a 1/16 or1/8 ounce slip weight above your swivel. I have also used a Texas Rattlin Rig (Chatter Weight) instead of slip weightsa little more "chatter" cannot hurt. Another tip; lively bait catches more trout. If your croaker is not lively on the hook it will not get the attention of a trout so replace it as often as necessary, discarding used bait, and always put a fresh bait on after each fish caught.

After casting the frisky croaker it is imperative to "twitch" it every 5 to 10 seconds, and retrieve the slack. This agitates the croaker and makes them "bark" that much more, drawing the attention of every trout within earshot. After the initial thump of a trout bite, DO NOT try to set the hook. Trout will usually hit the bait aggressively, but not often do they try to eat it right away. Give them some time to get it into their mouth. When they begin to pull away, solid pressure on the line, that's when you set the hook. If you miss, drop it immediately and take up the "twitch" drill again. Quite often they'll be right back after it.

Will redfish hit croaker? Indeed they will; but this bait works best for reds over sand or mud because the croaker will try to hide in grass where "twitching" becomes nearly impossible.

So now that you have read all the tips above, you should know that croaker do not magically produce trout like some think. You still need to look for structure; i.e. reefs, sand pockets or guts on a shoreline, preferably next to a drop off. And as always, active bait or fresh slicks should be present in the area as well.

While most of this information is well understood by many, I believe it is important to get back to basics, to enable novice anglers to also enjoy fishing success. The best tip I have to offer is this: No matter how you fish or whatever your bait preference might be, always respect the resource and practice good conservation.

Summer's here, now let's have some fun!