We are approaching another hot Southwest Florida summer and as we all know it becomes very difficult to keep your bait alive. I thought it would be a good time to share some of the tips and tricks I use with live bait to keep it alive and spunky to attract the fish I’m targeting.
Let me go ahead and get this out of the way first: The shrimp are going to get smaller as the summer months arrive. Just like us, they like to be cool. When the water heats up, the larger shrimp head out in the Gulf for the comfort of deeper, cooler, more oxygen-rich water. Yes, the shrimpers can still catch them, but when they come from deeper water they get the bends from the pressure and die. Instead, they’ll be catching the little ones that live inshore. Just a heads up so you don’t yell at the guys at the bait shop (because I’m one of those guys).
If I’m fishing from the shore, I keep my shrimp in a five-gallon bucket with a lid and a good aerator. I also freeze a bottle of water and put in in my bucket to keep the water cool. I try to avoid putting my shrimp in the Harbor water in summer — it’s too hot and too fresh from all the rain we get.
If I’m in my boat, I’ll keep my shrimp in the livewell but try to avoid running the water pick up. If your boat doesn’t have an aerator in the well, you can purchase a 12-volt aerator and hook it to your batteries. Just be sure your well is plugged before you pour the water from the bait shop into it. If I do pump in water, I try to only do so in deeper water or near the Gulf.
If you’re going to buy your shrimp the day before, put the shrimp in the house or in the fridge in the garage to keep them cool and healthy.
Another method that works great for shrimp is dry-packing. To do this, take a small cooler and place a couple frozen ice packs in the bottom. Get a clean towel (make sure it has not been washed with bleach or other harmful chemicals) and bring it with you to the bait shop. We’ll wet the towel with salt water, wring it out and wrap your shrimp in the damp towel. Then you place them on top of the ice pack. Now, make sure it’s not just ice. Ice is made from fresh water, and when it melts it will kill your shrimp. As long as the ice packs are cold and the towel is wet, your shrimp will stay alive for days.
These things are expensive, so we want to keep them as healthy as possible. If they’re kept in water, they can actually drown. I take a plastic storage container, wet a towel with salt water, and place it in the bottom of the container. I put the crabs on that damp towel, then wet another towel with salt water and place it over the top of them. Place the container in a cool location, preferably in the house. Shaded outdoor locations can also work. Make sure to keep the towels wet with salt water.
Pinfish, threadfins and greenbacks can be tough to keep alive. The best advice I can give you on these is fill your livewell with water where you caught them keep a very good aerator on them. Don’t run your water intake for the same reason as discussed earlier.
It’s also important to limit the amount of bait in your well for two reasons: First, with fewer baits, it’s easier to keep them alive, and second, to preserve the future of our baitfish.
Obviously, frozen bait isn’t alive, but it needs proper care all the same. Put it in a good cooler with ice and only take out what you’re going to actually use. Keep the rest in the cooler so it doesn’t thaw out and get mushy.
Follow some of the simple procedures and you will have much more success with your bait this summer. Remember, get your kids hooked on fishing and they won’t be able to afford drugs.
Capt. Steve “Pegleg” Phillips owns and operates Southern Charm Charters, with his wife Heather as occasional first mate. If you’re wondering why his friends call him Pegleg, stop in at Fishin’ Frank’s and meet him. For charter info, contact him at 678-787-4750 or through his Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2vesgVn.