04 Oct Saltwater Edge Tackle and Tactics: Fishing Bait Balls
Starting late August or early September we start to see small schools of young on the year bait in Newport. As the fall progresses these schools become larger and by early October are often described as “massive” and are referred to as “bait balls”. Typically, these are densely packed schools of bay anchovies; but the behavior is shared by other baitfish as well. An anchovy bait ball can turn the water dark brown. With the anchovies come the speedsters; otherwise known as false albacore and bonito
You often hear the expression “find the bait and find the fish” and that’s all well and good until there are no fish showing on the bait or those that are are bluefish and you are hoping to target other species. In the screen shot above you can see the bait is five feet below the surface and visible to the angler and in this instance only a few fish (blues) were showing on top. A thoughtful approach to fishing bait balls produces results; like the one shown here.
Captain Corey Pietraszek of Plug N Play Charters recommends you do what you can to not disturb the bait ball. Use your fishfinder and polarized glasses to identify the edge and focus your attention there. Only good things can happen; the bait will not be disturbed and the predator will keep feeding, the bait will not use your boat as an additional obstacle, your presentation will not be lost in the chaos and it may well stand out as different (brighter color or larger) or it could appear injured. All of which can trigger a strike. He also suggests blind casting the nearby “empty” water is a great way to get “freight trained”
Here are a couple other ideas to keep in mind when fishing bait balls:
1) By avoiding the middle of the bait ball you are less likely to connect with a bluefish. They are always in the thick of it and create the most obvious disturbance. They bust up the school (bad) and injure a few members (good) which then fall to the bottom. I’m not a hater; but if you want to catch something other than a bluefish it’s best to avoid the middle of the action.
2) Due to tide, wind, current and the movement of the bait balls you only have so much control of where your presentation is in relation to the bait ball. Do your best to stay on on the bait ball ideally with the engine off.
3) As mentioned earlier the stunned and injured bait will fall through the school creating an easy target. In the case of larger baits like bunker it is a great way to pick up a trophy bass. They can lay low and let the youngin’s do the work and then feed lazily on the scraps. In the case of smaller bait and faster predators like bonito and false albacore the stunned and wounded baitfish individually don’t make much of a meal; but if the effort expended to get it is low than the return on investment is there. Be sure and “count down” some of your casts to find these fish.
In the freshwater world they may have come up with an answer….