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Essentials of Reading the Bait
Croakers v. Piggies

by Capt. Kris Kelley



lunar phases

Here are some bait fishing tips that just don't seem to get through to most people. If fishing with Croaker, you have to "read the bait".

Read It Overall

Read the quality of the overall bait in your tank and then read each bait individually. Grab a couple of handfuls of the baits and look a their overall quality. In a perfect world, there would be NO red nose, red belly, missing tails, etc. If you've got a bunch of this stressed out bait, it's going to be a tough day unless you can perhaps get them into a swarm of Trout in the surf. If the bait looks pretty good overall, then it should be at the bottom of your livewell and staying their. Good bait will be free of redness and they will have tails an slime. There shouldn't be any baits in the upper or middle water column in the bait tank. Whatever is in the upper or middle of the tank is probably going to be trash, cull it out promptly. If the bait looks good and is at the bottom of the bait tank, but starts to levitate toward the upper and middle water column, problems are on the way and adjustments like water change out and/or more or less O2 should be looked at.

Read It Individually

When it goes on the hook, read each bait as you go. If you are putting a red belly red nose on the hook, recognize that this bait isn't going to fish well, so put it on a short leash. Some type of weight is going to be needed on this poor bait, a) to get it beneath a seagull, and b) to get it down to the fish. This stressed out bait will stay in the upper end of the water column in the bait tank so guess where it's going to be fishing in the bay? The answer is nowhere near a Trout but very near a "Skippy". I don't fish with any weight but sometimes a good looking bait supply won't fish right or an individual bait may need some help. Start light, I use pinch weights that are so small some might wonder why add them at all. It doesn't take a lot to get the bait down and lighter is better. If you have a good quality bait supply and it's fishing down, stay off the weight. If currents are encountered, try to find current breaks rather than adding weight.

Good Croaker that are small require less aggressive rod whipping. Bigger baits can tolerate a little more aggression, but still with some common sense. You can turn a nice size good condition Croaker into something that won't catch a fish quickly by whipping the life out of it. This is always a shame so adjust your whip depending upon size and condition of the bait. Stressed out "red anything" baits should be whipped very little. Think about it, why whip a stressed bait that is struggling to get into the lower water column? Small baits need to be fished gently and quickly.

Fish It Aggressively

One cast at most two, one missed fish, and dump it. DON'T FALL IN LOVE WITH THE BAIT! This is the #1 mistake among recreational fishermen. Fishing the same bait multiple times until

it's dead on the hook is a very big mistake. Yes, they are .50cents a piece, who cares? After dumping $250 in out of pocket expenses to get your rig in the water for a day of fishing, why get cheap now? Before making a second cast with a bait, drop it in the water, this is the test for a Croaker. If it's swimming down hard, fish it. If it is laying on its side or if it swims down 6" then comes for the surface, DUMP IT. Staying with the same bait until it is completely lifeless will shut down a bite and suck up the trash.

Distance Is Key

Cast 10' shorter than your buddy and your buddy will catch all the fish. This is because Trout will typically eat a Croaker at the end of the cast. Use slick reels loose on the settings for maximum distance delivery. Backlashes will occur. What that means is you are throwing it hard enough. Thumb the spool throughout the cast lightening up or adding pressure depending upon the success of the cast. 200 Series Curados or Plueger Trions are the main players. If you can't get the distance with a Curado, then jump to something slicker and more expensive to get the distance. When making a good cast, keep the bait there. The reel hand is the devil hand in this game, put it in your pocket if you have to. Making a great cast helps little if you constantly reel the bait toward the boat. Trust it, let it fish, don't try to keep a tight line on it. At the same time, don't lose track of it by using rod tip elevation. More than two turns on the reel (48" plus or minus or 1 crank equal to 24") and you've either got a tide sweeping the bait back at the boat or it's coming at the boat with a fish on it. "Reel till you feel and apply a gentle, testing hookset".


Reading the bait is less critical although upper and lower water column rules still apply. These baits are rarely stressed, but they can have an off day. The difference is this bait is trapped rather than drug up in a shrimp trawl. The smaller the better is the key. Three inches or less for Trout down to something the size of a quarter. Piggies require something like a rod on the light side of a medium light like a Tradition series 7' Rodsmith or a PRL10X All Star. The light action will deliver a very light bait freelined to a farther distance and "distance" is the key. However, Trout will eat Piggies closer to the boat than Croaker so fish it at least a quarter cast from the boat.

Advantages of Piggies over Croaker:

* Piggies are heartier and can take more bait tank abuse and amateur mistakes.

* Piggies are typically healthier out of a bait camp to start with.

* Piggies bark louder and will fish bad water, higher winds, and tougher conditions.

* Piggies fish better over grass.

* Trout will be larger over grass.

* Redfish would rather eat a Piggy than just about anything.

* Trout may dislike a Croaker but they despise a Piggie.

* Bite aggression will be much more exaggerated.


* Trout can be overall smaller over shell.

* More bait is required due to Trout kills and spitting especially on larger Pigs.

* They are hard to come by in the POC area.

Capt. Kris Kelley

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