The real thing is hard to beat when it comes to bait
No matter how hard lure manufacturers try they will never be able to create a lure that works better than real thing, period. The typical profile of the weekend angler is not that of the high end trophy trout hunter who chunks artificial lures for hours on end looking for one big fish, it’s the fisherman who takes a quart of live shrimp or a bucket of mud minnows and looks for anything that will bite.
Much has been made of the big trout phenomenon and all the hoopla that surrounds that style of fishing; I personally have devoted plenty of articles to the subject as well as many days on the water. On the other hand I devoted plenty of time on the water fishing with live shad or mullet and I enjoy those trips just as much or maybe even more on occasion.
There is something very calm and social about anchoring up in the mouth of a little bayou or in the river and peacefully anticipating the next bite for whatever species shows up next. Some of the best conversations I ever had with my son were on the back of boat as we sat fished live bait. The laid back mood associated with this style of fishing is a welcome change from the hectic world that we live in; it’s a shame that more anglers aren’t willing to participate for fear of their macho image being tarnished. I feel sorry for those folks because they don’t know what they are missing.
Here in the Sabine area, we are very fortunate to have such a great supply of free live bait, virtually anyone who can throw a cast net can catch enough bait to fish without spending a dime. Most anglers who live here locally have no idea about how much money weekend anglers on other bay systems spend on live bait, it’s crazy. Live shrimp by the quart ranges anywhere from $12 to $20 a quart! Now if you plan on fishing all day you probably will buy at least three quarts, that’s an extra of $40 to $60 a trip on top of high gas prices.
Anglers who fish with guides on places like Calcasieu or Galveston bay not only pay guide fees but they also are expected to pay for the live bait as well, that price gets steep in a hurry. I don’t know how many horror stories I have heard from anglers who went out with a guide and paid for live shrimp only to have the bait die half way through the trip due to a bad live well system or some other problem only to have to go back to the bait stand and by more shrimp. My wallet hurts just thinking about it all.
The other high dollar live bait we really don’t have in this area is croaker, the big trout bait of choice on the lower coast. Live croaker cost anywhere from $6 to $10 a dozen on average and will usually last all day with minimal care. The live croaker as bait industry is a huge money making business, the numbers of live croaker sold on Saturday at the big bait camps are staggering.
Many in the fishing community attribute the decline of the croaker to the emphasis on them as bait instead of a game fish. Live croaker are lethal on trout in the summer, while artificial only guides struggle to put together a decent box of fish many croaker guides limit out in two or three hours and get back to the dock well before lunch. There have been plenty of cleaning table altercations surrounding this practice but regardless what some may think using croaker for bait is perfectly legal.
While we don’t really have a consistent supply of live shrimp or croaker in our area we do have live bait that is every bit as good if not better, live shad. The small pogies and menhaden that thrive in our waters are great baits for almost any and or all species of fish that can be caught in our area either fresh or salt. Besides being readily available for those who can throw a cast net the best thing about them is that they are 100 percent free. The summer months are tailor made for drifting shad under a cork or fished along the bottom on a Carolina rig; both are popular methods and each works well. If there is a draw back to fishing shad, it’s their durability, shad are difficult to keep alive for long periods if you don’t pay attention. Most anglers try to put too many shad in their live well; this is a recipe for disaster.
All the shad in the same small space produce waste and deplete the oxygen in the water which usually kills all the shad really quick. In order to make the most of your shad don’t put too many in your live well, change your live well water frequently, and keep the water in you live well cool by adding frozen water bottles or some other means. By taking a few extra precautions you can keep your bait fresh and lively for a really long time.
Which ever method you prefer, live or artificial, the summer forecastlooks really good for Sabine and Calcasieu. The saltwater content is super high right now and there are all manner of gulf species swimming around the lakes and the rivers right now so who knows what your next bite will be? Take precaution with the heat and keep an eye on the summer thunderstorms that will flare up in hurry, but most of all be sure to enjoy your time on the water.