Gulf Coast Live Bait

The wiggly things keepers find tasty.

Another two part! This week I thought I would talk about some of the various live baits found in and around the Gulf areas. Next week I’ll talk about some of the tips I’ve learned for fishing with live bait.


A delicacy to just about anything you would want to keep. Shrimp are usually plentiful at coastal bait shops throughout most of the fishing season.

Live shrimp can be fished in a myriad of ways but the most exciting, in my humble opinion, is when fished under a popping or clacking cork. Watching a live shrimp jumping across the surface as it’s chased by a swirling trout is exhilarating. To achieve this, fish a 3-foot length of 25 pound test fluorocarbon leader material under the cork, and then finish off the leader with a 3/0 hook. If the current is strong where you are then you may need a split shot weight a foot or so above the hook to keep the bait below the surface.

There are a couple of ways to pin a live shrimp on a hook. You can insert the hook through one side of the skull at the base of the horn and out the opposite side or insert the hook under the shrimp’s head and back out at the base of the horn. Whichever way you choose, make sure you don’t hit the dark brain spot as this will kill the shrimp instantly negating the point of using live bait. Some prefer to insert the hook through the third joint up from the tail; in dirty water, you can add more scent to the water by pinching off the tail.

A live shrimp works well either free-lined or worked on a Carolina rig.


Menhaden play an important role in the coastal bay’s food chain. Rich in fatty oils, they are fed on throughout the summer and late fall.


Unfortunately, you don’t normally find any live at local bait shops so you’ll have to catch them yourself. You’ll need a small-meshed brill net around 6 or 7 feet, and you’ll have to learn how to throw it. Menhaden can be quite delicate and give off a lot of slime and scales. So be careful not to overload the live well. The best model to keep them alive and active is one that pumps out the old water and pumps in fresh seawater.

When looking for them, scan the surface for patches of nervous looking water. If it’s a windy day, coves and protected bayous will be your best bet. Listen for the distinctive tail flipping sound, that will let you know when a school is right at the surface.

Menhaden get excellent results when fished under a popping or clacking cork, free-lined, and on a Carolina rig.

To hook a menhaden, simply insert the hook in one eye socket and out the other. Make sure you don’t spear the eyes themselves. Another option is to insert the hook through the clear spot in the bait’s nose, in one side and out the other.

To free-line a menhaden first tie a size No. 8 swivel to the main line, and tie on 3 feet of 25 pound test fluorocarbon leader material. Finish off the leader with a 2/0 to 4/0 live bait hook. A five- or six-wrap improved clinch knot will be optimal for making all swivel and hook connections.


Croakers are bottom dwelling finfish, and are central to the daily diet of many species but especially trout.


Spending their lives on the bottom, Croakers are great for fishing deep around structure or over oyster reefs.

The Carolina rig has a lot to recommend it when using these guys. To assemble it, first slip a ½ to ¾ ounce egg sinker onto the main line. Next, tie a No. 8 swivel onto the main line and then a 3 foot 25 pound test fluorocarbon leader. Finish the tag end of the leader with a 3/0 to 5/0 hook.

If you’re going to use this rig, give what’s biting a few seconds to run with it and take in the bait. Since the Carolina rig allows the line to slip through the egg sinker without the fish being able to feel the tension, it’s ideal for this type of angling.

Croakers can be purchased at some of the coastal live bait shops.


Resembling small freshwater perch, pinfish can be found near barnacle encrusted pilings and grassbeds. With their alluring silver, purple, and yellow sides, active pinfish almost sparkle when the sun hits them. This makes them excellent clear water bait.


Sometimes referred to as a “sailor’s choice” they can be caught in small meshed minnow traps baited with dead shrimp or cracked crab. They can also be chummed up near pilings or grassbeds and then caught in a brill net.

To fish a pinfish, insert the hook through the bait’s back just behind the dorsal fin, in one side and out the other. When you want it to swim in a downward direction, insert the hook just behind the anal fin, again, in one side and out the other. Cork rigs over grassbeds, free-lined, and Carolina rigs all work equally well with Pinfish. Since these are best used in unforgivingly clear water, it’s a good idea to go with a nearly invisible fluorocarbon leader.


A year-round staple, mullet thrive throughout the Gulf coast waters and come in all sizes, from a few inches to well over a foot. These silver-hued baitfish play an important role in the diet of many on the coast. If you are out for trophy sized catches you’ll want to go with a 6-inch or larger mullet, but if you’re just looking for dinner then small finger-sized mullet are the way to go.


Like pinfish, mullet make extremely active and showy bait, and never more than when a hungry speckled trout’s hot on its tail. A mullet swims naturally when hooked through the lips. It can also be hooked behind the anal or dorsal fin.

Odds on finding live mullet at coastal bait shops are pretty low, so if you plan to fill your live well with these valuable baitfish, keep a cast net on hand.

Have fun out there and remember, make every trip a guided trip with MyFinFinder.