18 Top Southeast Bait Options
Freshwater, Inshore, And Saltwater
Top 5 Freshwater Baits
1) Jig – Tiny jigs with marabou, fiber or plastic tails are excellent lures for black crappie, bluegill, and other sunfishes in Florida lakes and rivers. Slow-troll several rods with jigs to locate crappie concentrations. Or, still-fish a tiny jig under a float. This is a great approach for panfish of all types. Another technique is to tight-line a little jig in the lily pads or bonnets, enticing strikes from crappie and other sunfish in the dense cover.
2) Popper plug – Here’s a good lure for those early summer mornings when bass are flushing shad and other baitfish at the surface. It’s one of the few hard-body-style plugs with universal application in Florida. Many other styles of plugs will produce bass in Florida, but in the state’s predominantly shallow, weedy waters, it can be hard to fish sub-surface lures, such as crankbaits and floater-divers, without snagging. However, these other kinds do have a place on some waters.
3) Live Shiner – This is the best of all baits for trophy largemouth bass in Florida. Wild shiners are better than pen-raised versions, as they retain their natural flight instinct when a predator is near. Lip-hook for slow-trolling or fishing under a bobber in open-water pockets near heavy cover.
4) Spinnerbait – This is an excellent “search lure” for largemouth bass in Florida’s typically vegetation-heavy waters. Slow-roll a spinnerbait over pre-emergent hydrilla and expect crushing strikes. Spinnerbaits are also great along heavily wooded river shorelines, where they run snag-free along downed timber.
5) Plastic Worm – Worms are used in all sorts of applications: pitching to beds in the spring, slow-crawling through Kissimmee grass and bulrush, surface-swimming over pads and other topped-out vegetation, or jigging past dock pilings or other hard structure. Many types of specialty worms have been developed in recent years, including extra-flexible Senko types for finesse fishing, and heavy-body models with paddle tails for swimming through thick grasses.
Bait: 6 Offshore
1) Ballyhoo – This is the universal trolling bait for everything from sailfish to dolphin to king mackerel and tuna. These slender, hydrodynamic baits (usually purchased frozen), may be rigged in a variety of ways. Shown here is a circle-hook method preferred by many tournament sailfish anglers in South Florida.
2) Sardine – Oily, reflective sardines are easily and eagerly consumed by a variety of ocean predators in Florida, including snapper, king mackerel and cobia. Boxed sardines are almost always available at tackle shops.
3) Trolling Plug – There is a huge field of “plugs” worthy of mention for Florida bluewater fishing, but the deep-running, high-speed crankbait has a special place in the Sunshine State. The durable, straight-running plug can be fished at a wide range of speeds. The configuration causes the lure to dive naturally, though many anglers choose to add a trolling weight or possibly a metal planer (as shown here) to achieve even greater depths, where wahoo are a frequent and highly desirable target.
4) Jig – As with plugs, there are many kinds of jigs that see action in Florida, but the newer, metal, speed jigs are particularly important to modern anglers. These lures are dropped with casting tackle from a drifting or anchored boat, and allowed to sink to the bottom or to concentrations of fish identified on sonar. A rapid retrieve, with rhythmic pumps of the rod, causes the speed jig to dart and drop like a fleeing baitfish.
5) Squid – Squid are most commonly converted into strips or chunks for bottom fishing, but sometimes Florida offshore anglers use them whole, as in this special night-time swordfishing rig. Whole squid may also be affixed to a jig or even a trolling rig.
6) Goggle-Eye – Nothing beats a live goggle-eye for all-around slow-trolling or kite-fishing. These are hardy baits that thrive for hours, even days, in a well-flushed live-bait container, and they are similarly durable on the hook.
Top 7 Inshore Baits
1) Shrimp – There isn’t a fish in Florida coastal waters that won’t eat a live shrimp, and some species, such as a spotted seatrout, sheepshead and red drum, are especially fond of the juicy crustaceans.
2) Sardine – Live sardines, a.k.a. whitebait or pilchards, are perhaps the best inshore finfish bait for snook, redfish, seatrout and more.
3) Jig – Jigs come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Shown here is a skimmer-type flats jig, with a flattened head and upturned eye. It swims point-up, which helps minimize snagging on seagrass.
4) Soft Plastic – There are dozens, if not hundreds, of soft-plastic tails and bodies that appeal to inshore gamefish. This one is rigged weedless, with the hook lightly buried in the plastic.
5) Topwater Plug – Walk-the-dog style topwaters are popular all around Florida. They are excellent search lures—when a redfish or snook homes in on one, you’ll know it. The side-to-side shimmy of a topwater is no doubt one of the best actions for spotted seatrout.
6) Weedless Spoon – Many kinds of spoons will take fish in Florida coastal waters, but models with wire weedguards are particularly valuable to the angler, as they avoid catching on grass, shell and other structure.
7) Live Mullet – For big inshore gamefish, such as tarpon and snook, there’s nothing better than a live mullet hooked through the lip and fished at seawalls, bridges or inlets. Smaller mullet, often called “finger mullet”, are great flounder baits.