Catching live bait
  |  First Published: December 2013

For all that is written about our major angling target species there is precious little about the finer points of catching the bait that you need to catch them. Sometimes the effort to catch, keep and transport live bait is the hardest part of the equation.

This pictorial gives you a few hints for targeting live mullet and salmon, which are prime baits for two of summers most popular target species, mulloway and kingfish.


Catching mullet takes on a few different forms. Using a paternoster rig with tiny hooks (8-10) and minuscule baits, combined with a light berley trail, works well when the water is slightly deeper or there is some current. Any form of saltwater worm is the most deadly bait guaranteed to tempt the fussiest mullet.


In shallow areas or areas with little run/wind. A floating bread berley is a good way of finding where the mullet are. They are soon attracted to the floating bait, giving away their presence with swirls and splashes. Once again small baits on small hooks, but this time under a float that can be cast into the feeding melee.


Keep your mullet healthy in a large bucket combined with a battery aerator before you transfer them to a larger boat live well or holding tank. Carefully remove the mullet from the hooks as bleeding or injured ones can taint the water killing all your baits.


Mullet keep well in a large saltwater aquarium. They can be fed on a variety of foods, including aquarium fish food, and I’ve kept them for over a month. They are then ready for that time when you hear the mulloway are on and you can go straight away without having to spend time locating and catching your supply.


I like to rig my live mullet with a single through the nose and a treble in the rear of the bait. I rarely miss a run with this hook placement, unlike when I used to run two single hooks.


A large saltwater tank is great for keeping live baits ready for an upcoming trip. Make sure you use sea water not river water as it stays cleaner for longer. The more aeration/bubbling your filter makes, the better.


Specifically targeting small salmon using a small/tiny metal slice retrieved quickly through the water is not only effective on getting your bait, but can be a lot of fun. Having small salmon shouldering each other out of the way to eat the slice prepares you for finding the kings doing the same to a bigger lure or bait in a day or two.


If the salmon are hard to find on the surface troll a spread of shallow diving bibbed hardbodies around on electric power until you find the fish.


A good recirculating live well like this Flow-rite system is essential for keeping your salmon in healthy condition. Once again release any fish that bleeds from the effects of capture.


Salmon are a little more temperamental to keep than mullet. But I have kept them for over a week and feed them live food like shrimps. The salmon, which annoy you when bream luring, can simply be put in the live-well taken home to the tank ready for when the sea flattens off in a day or two. Remember they need to be over the legal length of 21cm.


Live salmon are usually just pinned through the lip to keep them alive and swimming properly. They are usually swallowed headfirst and hook up well. This photo is a rare occurrence of when a big king hit the bait but didn’t hook up.


Your electric motor is an important tool for not just presenting your live baits quietly and precisely. It is also important for being able to give chase once hooked up.


Downriggers are an effective tool for presenting your live baits at depths or in an area they don’t want to naturally swim to.

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