Bait is a necessary part of fishing for many anglers – good bait is the difference between success and failure.
The local tackle shop or service station can provide a good selection of frozen baits. Frozen baits are convenient, work well for all species and are available in a large variety.
However, Western Port is over flowing with a huge array of species that make sensational fresh baits for a wide variety of fish.
Anglers heading out only need to factor in a few extra hours into their fishing session to have fresh baits.
The answer to this is simple - as long as it is fresh it will be good. For the most part, I factor in a bait collecting session into 90% of my fishing trips. This allows me to have the best opportunity to catch my targeted species. If I can’t catch bait, often we don’t fish. A little extra effort can be very rewarding.
Not all baits purchased frozen can be caught fresh. Pilchards for instance would be quite a challenge to target, requiring very small hooks and a lot of patience. However, silver whiting, garfish, calamari, pike, snook, salmon and even Bass yabbies are all available within a short distance of any of the boat ramps in Western Port.
Salmon are my number one gummy shark bait. They are high in oil content making them very appealing for most bottom-feeding fish.
Salmon can be caught year round, are larger in size and more in abundance during most of the winter period. Anglers can hit the surf to catch them, using them the following day fresh.
Alternately, around January, February and March larger schools of salmon enter Western Port. These can be caught by trolling hardbodied lures or casting soft plastics and metal Lazer lures into the bubbling schools.
Good concentrations of salmon are found around Stony Point, Tortoise Head and in the Western Entrance.
Once caught, the salmon can be filleted down and used as fresh slab baits for gummy sharks, school sharks, seven-gill sharks and even threshers.
Remember, salmon are best used fresh. When frozen, salmon flesh dries out and the blood soaks from the fish. Keeping four fish for a gummy session is more than enough.
Australian salmon have a minimum size limit of 21cm and a bag limit of 20 per recreational fishing licence holder per day.
Pike and snook are often found together. They are available year round, and like the salmon have very oily flesh.
Trolling hardbodied lures catches pike and snook. Small minnow styles lures that dive 1-2m and are about 100mm in length are ideal.
Recommended locations to catch pike and snook are in 5m of water around Tortoise Head, Mchaffies Reef, along the edge of the Stony Point Bank and around Eagle Rock and Reef Islands. They are also found in very good numbers in Cat Bay. They also make excellent fresh slab baits like that of salmon.
Pike and snook have a size limit of 30cm and a combined bag limit of 10 per recreational fishing licence holder per day.
Not many anglers know about catching Silver Whiting in Western Port. In actual fact, they are caught in Bass Strait, but within 2km of both the Eastern and Western entrances and in depths shallower than 30m.
They are primarily caught during the warmer months from November to March and are taken while under anchor or drifting. The best technique is to firstly drift until you hook one, and then deploy the anchor setting a berley trail on the bottom.
Very small hooks in a size 10 long-shank rigged paternoster style are the most effective setup. A light 2-4kg whiting type outfit is all that is required.
When caught, place the silver whiting into a live bait tank to keep them fresh as long as possible. Silver whiting are fantastic baits on snapper and I have caught a few gummy sharks on them also.
Once you have caught them they are best taken over to Port Phillip when the snapper are on the chew. Finicky feeding snapper will respond better to a fresh silver than a frozen one.
Silver whiting have no minimum size limit but do have bag limit of 20 per recreational fishing licence holder per day.
Without doubt the number one all-round bait is calamari. Catching calamari is a year round prospect and they can be found on nearly every shallow bank in Western Port. They live on the weed beds and are mainly caught during a high tide or at least two hours either side of it.
Calamari can be caught while under anchor. The setup consists of a silver whiting threaded on a squid prong under a float. A surface berley trail is established to attract the calamari and while the baits are set you can simultaneously cast artificial jigs about.
Calamari are a versatile bait. They can be used as whole baits if they are small enough, as a head, strip baits or just the hood. They are best used when targeting snapper and gummy sharks, although small pieces of the tentacles that are tenderised are dynamite when fishing for King George whiting.
Calamari have no minimum size limit but do have bag limit of 10 per recreational fishing licence holder per day.
If you can refrain from eating garfish yourself, they actually make really good baits for snapper and gummy sharks.
Garfish are in abundance from November through February, but can still be caught throughout the year. During winter they are fewer in numbers and harder to find.
The best way to catch gars is to fish two hours either side of a tide change and set a float out the back of a surface berley trail. Small size 12 fine gauge long shank hooks are recommended. Silver fish is a garfish’s favourite meal, even more so when dipped in tuna oil.
If a berley trail is setup and constant, garfish will school at the back of your boat.
They are found in relatively shallow water from 1-6m over weed beds. The most common locations are along the Middle Spit and Eastern Channel, Tyabb and Quail Banks and close into Cowes boat ramp.
Garfish have no minimum size limit but do have bag limit of 40 per recreational fishing licence holder per day.
Bass yabbies are the all time favourite live bait used when targeting King George whiting although silver trevally are a fan of these tasty morsels.
Bass yabbies are available throughout the year on shallow mud flats. They are caught by walking the mud flats during a mid to low tide and can be easily found by looking for the millions of holes.
A stainless steel pump is passed over the hole and the mud sucked into the pump. The mud is then discarded onto the ground whereby the yabby can be picked up.
When caught, Bass yabbies will require storing in fresh saltwater that will need to be aerated and regularly changed if keeping for long periods of time.
They are heavily sought after and are mainly found around Warneet, Blind Bight and Jam Jerrup.
Bass yabbies also have a bag limit of 100 per recreational fishing licence holder, exceeding this will incur a fine.
There are such a huge variety of baits available throughout Western Port. Catching your own baits is a lot of fun and by taking a little more time to head out to gather them before anchoring can make the difference between catching a fish and not.
It’s not that frozen baits won’t do the job, fresh is just better.
Catching your own bait can also be very entertaining, especially for children. A garfish to a five year old is like you catching a 20lb snapper, they know no different and get a huge buzz just from catching a fish.
Put the two together and you can have a ball with the kids gathering some fresh bait for your fishing adventures.
Next month I’ll show you how to rig fresh baits to get the best from them.
Limit Your Catch Don’t Catch Your Limit
Please understand that most fish have a bag limit. Bag limits are not a target to reach and you certainly don’t need 20 salmon to go gummy shark fishing.
When catching bait, it is best used fresh, not frozen so think about just how many you will need before heading out. Preserve the species and they will be there next time. Wipe them out and you’ll be back to buying frozen bait.