W ater temperatures in Texas bays increase throughout the summer, reaching their zenith in late August or early September.
Readings in the high 80s, even low 90s, are common, leaving apex predators grumpier than a homeowner with a broken air conditioner. Lethargic, doldrums, and blue funk are some of the descriptive terms associated with speckled trout and redfish in the late summer. Comfort becomes their number one concern, trumping food as their top priority.
Trout and reds still have to eat but they become more selective and refuse to expend a lot of energy chasing a meal over a great distance. During the heat of the summer, catch rates on natural bait are significantly higher than on artificial lures.
On a recent trip to San Luis Pass, I watched several young men causally get out of their vehicle, each with a bright yellow bait bucket. Their departure from the vehicle was unhurried. They set the bait buckets down in the sand next to their truck, and began rigging up their rods and checking tackle. The eventually moseyed down to the water’s edge and slowly eased in.
Several hours later I had a chance encounter with the two young men, and I causally inquired if they had caught anything. They admitted that they didn’t catch anything because all of their bait was dead when they arrived.
I normally don’t give advice to other anglers on the water, but the body language of these guys suggested utter defeat, so I shared a few hints on taking care of live bait.
Avoid overcrowding a bait bucket. The ubiquitous yellow bait buckets seen up and down the Texas coast can hold a quart of shrimp under the right conditions, but it is generally a better bet to limit the amount of live shrimp to a pint.
In warm weather, a shrimp’s metabolic rate is much higher and a large number of shrimp will use up all of the dissolved oxygen in the water in the bait bucket in just a few minutes.
When transporting live shrimp from the bait stand to your destination, adding supplemental oxygen to the water in the bait bucket will reduce the number of shrimp that die. Options range from a simple, battery-operated bubbler to a full blown supplemental oxygen system. Live shrimp are expensive, and keeping them frisky is important.
When transporting shrimp, the simplest method of adding supplemental oxygen is to get a large container, such as a five-gallon bucket, fill it with fresh saltwater, then submerge the bait bucket. The extra water in the big bucket provides the needed oxygen to keep your shrimp alive.
When fishing from my boat, I keep bait in a 10-gallon container outfitted with an aerator. A tiny electric motor sitting outside the tank spins a small impeller inside the tank, creating a torrent of air bubbles that replenish the oxygen level in the water. This a superior approach compared to water pumps submerged in the bait tank that spray water. The problem with this design is the electric motor constantly adds heat to the water in the live well. When investigating live well options, choose one with an electric motor that sits outside the live well.
Heat is the enemy of live bait. When you remove a bait bucket from the water, return it as soon as possible. If you fish the jetties, stop and dunk your bait bucket every few minutes to flush out the heated water. If you fish from a pier, return the bait bucket to the water after getting a new bait. If you transport bait to your fishing destination, getting your bait buckets back in the water should be a priority as soon as you arrive your destination.
Live shrimp in an oxygenated live well are not immune from heat and will die quickly if not cared for. Changing out the water in the tank periodically with fresh bay water is beneficial for several reasons. Shrimp give off waste products that will eventually foul the tank, thereby increasing the stress level of your bait. Dumping out the old water and replacing it with a few fresh buckets gets rid of the waste products and also keeps the water cooler in the live well.
Dropping a frozen bottle of drinking water into the live well lowers the water temperature. As a result, the shrimp will be friskier.
Sunscreen is an important part of outdoor life, but it washes off your hands every time you reach into your bait bucket. The residue left behind is death for the shrimp inside.
If you store your bait in a bait bucket, wear a sun glove instead of lotion on your next fishing trip. This eliminates the chance of contaminants comingling with your bait. If you keep live shrimp in a live well, always keep your hands out of the water. A long-handled dip net is a much better option.
During the heat of the summer, live bait out-catches lures by a serious margin. Keeping your bait alive and frisky is the first step to a successful fishing trip.
Email Greg Berlocher at
Email Greg Berlocher at [email protected]