Big Bend Florida
Species Specific Tips -Best Bait
# 1 Crab Bait for Tarpon,
Cobia, big Redfish,
Drum, big Permit
When you find Tarpon and they won't
bite, rest them a while then pitch them a 3”-4”Crab with the legs
broken off one side. Put your hook through the legless side.
Cast ahead and past the fish then reel
it pretty close. Stop reeling and give the Crab plenty of slack. The
crab is gonna’ have problems swimming.
This will get Mr. Tarpon's attention, real quick.
Tarpon are usually sensitive to your
presence so you have to use as much stealth as possible.
Approach Tarpon from down sun, whenever possible.
(They are harder to see from this angle but much easier to catch.)
Avoid bright yuppie clothes.
Stay off the trolling motor if possible.
Don't make a lot of motion. Be quiet.
Expect to get bit often.
Use 50# Fluorocarbon leader, 12/0 circle
hooks. With 50# leader, the fish will chafe through and get away after
a few jumps. By then, you have already had the best part of Tarpon
fishing and can avoid the work involved in fighting the fish to the
boat. This is a lot easier on the fish too.
Pitch the crab at Cobia also.
Cobia seldom turn down a struggling crab.
Tip # 2
Gar-On-Teed Cobia Bait
and darn near every
other game fish.
I’ve heard many people say that a live
Eel is the #1 can’t miss Cobia Bait but I much prefer a lively Squid.
Unfortunately, live Squid are not common bait in Florida
although they are down right abundant here.
I catch Squid occasionally while bottom
fishing but certainly not enough for filling my bait well. Night time
is the right time for catching Squid. Squid jigs are commonly used
off piers on the northern Gulf Coast during Squid runs. They
work for Squid everywhere but several 1/0 hooks on dropper loops and
baited with small pieces of cut bait work just fine too.
Unfortunately, Mackerel and worst of all, Ladyfish often beat the
Squid to the bait. If you have ‘em, use Squid Jigs when Ladyfish and
Mackerel are present.
Squid often flock to a light and hang
right in the edges of the shadows. They can change colors and are
sometimes darn near totally clear so seeing them in the light is not
When you swing a Squid aboard, grab him
quick with a wet towel, completely covering him or expect to be
squirted with ink. The towel must be wet to prevent injury to the
Squid. Squid have a sharp “beak” and they can inflict a nasty and
painful bite. Large squid can remove a chunk of meat. Get the Squid
into your live well as quickly as possible. I can often catch a
couple of dozen Squid in an hour or so before dawn.
If you plan to catch Squid for
tournaments that require a start from a pre-determined location,
investigate the water quality at the starting point. Squid are
delicate and cannot tolerate poor water quality. Store your Squid in
a live cage offshore and then pick them up on your way to the fishing
Double hook the Squid at the apex of the
mantel. (Right up at the pointy end.) I prefer circle hooks and a
12/0 works fine for me. As in all fishing applications, use no more
weight than absolutely necessary to fit depth and current conditions.
Cobia that have been recently hooked and
lost will usually charge a lively Squid on sight. I can’t say that
for any other bait. Hooking Cobia on a live Squid is a total no
brainer. Leave the rod in the rod holder with the reel in gear. Big
Cobia hook themselves every time. A small Cobia sometimes has a
problem with a big Squid.
If you are sight fishing, drop the Squid
several feet in front of the fish. The Cobia will eat the Squid on
sight. Put the reel in gear or close the bail and allow the fish to
hook himself as the line comes tight.
Most game fish will eat a Squid on
sight. No other bait instills confidence in me like a Squid.
more about Squid.
Do you remember Alfred Lord
Tenneyson’s poem the Kraken? The Kraken
was the Giant Squid. Here is a 39 cent Canadian Stamp featuring the
Tip # 3.
Little Crabs, the Super Sheepshead,
Permit, Pompano, Drum, Redfish, Hogfish bait
I’ll venture to say that 90% of the
Sheepshead caught in Florida are
caught on Shrimp. Of course, that likely holds true for many other
species of inshore fish that are caught on natural bait. Summer,
spring and fall, it is far easier to catch Sheepshead on Rock Crabs or
Fiddler Crabs because they are not pecked on by Pinfish and tiny
Catching Rock Crabs is simple but I
seldom see people hunting them. Turn over rocks and driftwood in the
intertidal zone and you’ll find them. I won’t call you a wimp if I
see you wearing gloves to catch them either. They can pinch,
especially the larger ones.
Fiddlers are very agile and can move
surprisingly fast. The easiest way I have found to catch them is to
run them into the grass and pick them up one by one. At low tide,
catching a couple of dozen Fiddlers shouldn’t take more than a few
For some reason, I’ve had little success
with Mangrove Crabs, the little critters you often see crawling on the
Where I often go through a hundred
Shrimp a day when targeting Sheepshead in warm water, a couple of
dozen Crabs will be sufficient to catch all the Sheepshead I need to
I prefer a #4-#7 Mustad Style # 3467
Sheepshead hook. Note the size
designation here. For some reason, Mustad deviates from
standard hook size designation with this model hook. These hooks have
a straight point, short shank, and slightly offset bend. From my
experience, these are the most efficient hooks on the market for
I break off one claw and insert the hook
point into the crab at this point. I leave the hook completely
covered. The hook is less likely to snag and, believe
me, a Sheepshead
will crush the crab and get the point.
Tip # 4,
Drift Crabs, (Calico Crabs) Primo Permit,
crevalle, Drum, Redfish, Tarpon, Cobia,
Grouper, Hogfish bait
These little crabs resemble Blue Crabs
but seldom exceed 4” in length. Their claws are narrower and smaller
than the claws of a Blue Crab but they can still inflict a painful
pinch. These crabs ride the outgoing tide in spring and early summer
as they head offshore for their spawning ritual.
A long handled dip net is all you need
to catch plenty of these fine baits. Dip them as they swim by.
These crabs are among the top bait
choices at Boca Grande Pass, especially when they are abundant.
The bar at the south end of
Anclote Key off Tarpon Springs is a great
place to anchor and pitch these crabs at passing Permit, Tarpon and
Cobia. I’ve caught a half dozen Permit on a single tide anchored
there. These fish seldom exceed 20# but they are a handful on light
gear. I catch 10 on crabs for every one I catch on flies or jigs. I
see more Permit close to the end of the key in 2-4’ of water than out
deeper. Perhaps this is because Permit are
notoriously hard to see over sand bottom. Although I have never
fished out of a tower boat, I can certainly appreciate the viewing
advantage the tower affords. Permit are
wary. You must cast several feet from the fish or he will spook.
Drum and Redfish often feed in the same
area as the Permit. I’ve never seen schools of them in the shallow
water the Permit feed in but they are there in sufficient quantity to
get an occasional cast at them. Redfish usually bite aggressively.
Drum, on the other hand darn near require
hand feeding in this situation. Possibly a broken crab impaled on a
jig and cast just up tide of the Drum might be the ticket. (If you
try it, send me a report.)
On the extreme south end of the bar, as
it drops off into the pass, Tarpon and Cobia often gather to pick off
these little crabs as they drift by. These fish are feeding, make no
mistake about it. A half way decent cast with a crab will get a
bite. Cobia may be any size but the Tarpon there are usually 50-60
I’m sure these crabs attract fish around
other passes but I am most familiar with Anclote.
The bar off the south end of Anclote Key
sort of funnels the crabs to the fish, providing an excellent place
for them to lay in wait.