We often lose focus on the little things while fishing, mainly due to being impatient in a hurry to get a line in the water.
What’s more, the main focus lost is bait presentation. Bait presentation is one of the most important keys to success.
How can bait presentation be the difference between catching a fish and not? It’s quite simple really. In fast tidal locations such as the majority of Western Port or southern Port Phillip, baits will spin if not rigged on the hooks correctly.
A fish trying to eat a spinning bait is like trying to eat a sausage hanging from a ceiling fan – it’s not going to happen.
So with that, better attention to detail needs to be taken when attempting to rig baits before they are tossed into the water.
The same attention to detail also needs to be adhered to when fishing Port Phillip. Though the southern sections of the bay have a tidal flow, the upper reaches are not so affected. In this case, baits need to appear more natural as a sinking bait rather than a spinning bait.
Whole baits come in a variety of sizes and can be rigged in numerous ways. Most of the whole baits used in Western Port and Port Phillip are sauries, garfish, silver whiting, red rockets, Tommy ruff, slimy mackerel and pilchards.
The one thing in common with all these baits is that they can all be rigged in the same way, using the same type of rig. As easy as it is, a running hook rig or snelled hook rig is the most widely used for this type of rigging.
Rigging whole baits can be done in four easy steps:
Pass the bottom or fixed hook into the bait right through the mid section and bring through the other side.
Insert the hook into the top of the head and rotate through until the hook point exits the brain cavity.
Pull the mainline tight and insert the second (sliding) hook into the skin of the tail section and rotate around so the hook point protrudes back through the skin.
Place two half hitches around the tail to keep the hook in place and cast out.
Whole baits can also be used for other species such as when fishing for mako sharks or even salmon in the surf. Each bait has its own unique rigging technique to keep it as natural looking as possible.
Mako baits are much larger in size requiring larger hooks, although I still rig mako baits in the same way as I do for snapper but instead of half hitching the tail, I use cable ties to hold it in line.
When fishing the surf for salmon, instead of using a two-hook rig, I use a single hook. The hook is placed directly through the bait and inserted into the top of the head and brought back through the brain cavity. Two half hitches once again around the tail and I wrap the bait in Bait Mate Elastic to keep it from falling from the hook.
The reason for the main hook being inserted into the top of the skull is because this is the strongest part of the bait, which will hold the hook in place. Inserting the hook into other parts, even the gill plate, can have the hook fold over or tear off the hook.
Calamari is the most versatile species that can be used for bait. They can be used either as whole baits, strip baits, heads, tentacles, or even just half a hood.
Calamari is one of the easiest species to catch to be used for bait and don’t often get looked at twice when on offer. The only down fall to using calamari or squid for bait is that it is very soft. This means, in tidal areas it is prone to spinning in the current as well as prone to having the hook fold over or pulled out of the bait.
Special baiting techniques are required to have a piece of calamari rigged correctly to avoid spinning or hook folding.
Calamari strip baits or tentacles are a section that is cut into a long strip around 1cm wide. This is the easiest bait to cut and rig without spinning occurring, as long as your top hooks is pinned into the very tip of the strip.
The ideal hook setup for this is a snelled two hook rig. Tentacles are rigged in the same manner although you will only need to cut them from the head section of the calamari.
Head baits, depending on the size of the calamari it has come from, are often too large to use whole.
In saying that, if you do come across a smaller calamari, using the head as a whole bait is recommended. For this, a snelled two-hook rig is ideal so the head’s weight is held by the top fixed hook. The bottom hook is then threaded around one of the candles or larger tentacles. If the head is too large for use as whole bait, just cut the head in half between the eyes and rig the same.
Last of all with the calamari is the hood. It is recommended that the hood be skinned leaving only the white coloured hood. The hood can be cut in half horizontally, leaving the top section of the hood and the bottom section as a large ring.
The large ring can be cut in half to open out into a strip bait. This can be cut lengthways to make more baits and the top of the hood can be used as one bait.
Again, a snelled hook rig is to be used with the top hook pinned right in the very tip of the hood. The second hook can then be inserted just into the hood and be rotated around with the hook point exposed.
Fillet baits are one of my all time favourites to be used when fishing Western Port. These are ideal for gummy sharks but also worth using on snapper. Any larger sized fish can be used as a fillet bait, for instance, salmon, tuna, trevally, scad, pike, snook. Pilchards can also be filleted and used when targeting large King George whiting or barracouta and salmon.
Fillet baits are created by removing the side of a baitfish. An incision is made into the gill area of the fish and the entire fillet is removed. The fillet is then cut in half along the bloodline on the inside of the fillet separating the fillet into two baits.
Once ready to use, these baits almost resemble a triangle of cut flesh. They are best rigged with either a sliding two-hook rig or snelled. The very tip of the bait needs to be placed onto the snelled hook to hold it in place.
These baits are also prone to spinning in current so it pays to hold it next to the boat before casting to check to see if it spins. If it does, the bait will need to be trimmed down to prevent the spinning from occurring. This could take several times but is essential if you want to catch fish.
Other baits that are very popular are of course pipis and mussels. These are very easy to thread onto the hook and it is only a matter of placing one end of the pipi or mussel onto the hook point and wrapping the bait around the shank of the hook while continually passing it over the hook point. This will turn it into an tight ball of bait onto the hook.
Pipis and mussels are best suited to being rigged on long shank hooks for whiting, silver trevally and salmon.
There’s a myriad of baits available, each with its own way of rigging correctly to stay on the hook and look as natural as can be. With a little more time and correct hook placement, you too can have better success when hooking fish.
With every bait and hook placement mentioned it is imperative that the maximum amount of hook exposure is applied. Hidden hooks in baits will only prevent hook-ups from occurring. The more exposed hook point the better the hook-up rate.