Bait Fish

White Bait, this is not a certain fish, it is a name given to a group of fish,
     Mojarra,               Hard scaled Sardine                     Bunker                                 Soft scaled sardine
    sand brim                 "Green Backs",                         0Pilchards,                            "Threadfin Herring".                Spanish Sardines

Term white bait really is for hard scale sardine Green backs, which are the true white bait of Charlotte Habor, but over time, and people
catching and using other types of bait fish, the name now has a more general meaning.


Green backs
Hard scaled sardine,
is very hardy in a live well,
but is difficult to keep in commercial tanks
they do not like changes in the levels
of salt, ph or temperatures, making then almost impossible to sell in bait shops.
This is one bait better caught when you go.
This is the fish originally called white bait, or salt-water shiner, 
 Now many fish have been lumped into the name of white Bait.


  Threadfin Herring

  A Soft scaled sardine. Which is often mistaken for Green backs,
  because of their bright green back with back spots
 Thread fins have a thinner lighter body and will die very easy in a live well.
  Threadfin Herring get their name from their dorsal fin which has
   a long thread like extension, much like a Tarpon.
   Soft scaled sardine because their scales fall off very easily, just hold one in your hand,
    when you set it down your hand will be covered in scales. They are good bait, but the soft attachment
 of their scales mean the will die very easy in a live well, If you catch what you think is green backs
and 15minutes, after you put them in you live well, they are all dead, It was thread fins.

To keep these in a live well, low water pressure & high volume of water coming into the tank works
better. The high pressure jet of water which works well on shrimp or green backs because it adds
lots of air into the water, will blow the scales and slime off of the thread fins. and then funeral march.

Cut-bait- Fish that has been cut into chunks. Laying the fish on it's side and cutting straight down to make pieces,
We commonly use fingers for sizing, lay two fingers and cut that thickness of the bait fish for Red fish, 3 or 4 finger thickness for Mid size Sharks

I would guess this is not the best way to start a story, but as far as this is concerned the truth. Yes we need to stop using phrase like the bait moved, and use the correct term We killed that school. Harsh maybe but here is what I know.


In 1968 Zapata Foods did a fly over South west Florida, Mike Mack Sr. flew the plane, The report was that there was a School of bait not different school, but one unbroken school of bait from Naples to St. Pete never less than 1/4 mile wide and in place over a mile wide granted that was almost 50 years ago. lets jump ahead to the 1980’s which is  40+ years ago when I was first throwing a net for bait.

The thread fin would come into Charlotte Harbor and cover the whole of the River from the 41 bridges to marker 2 and 300 feet from the shore on both sides of the river. Green backs were thick from Ponce park, which was my favorite place to catch bait, all the way to two pines. I would just cruise along and watch when I saw them as they say one & done.

A single cast of a 10 foot net would get more bait than I needed. Now just 10 years ago I knew the white bait was in trouble when we started selling more 1/4 inch mesh than 3/8, the meaning behind this is that people were starting to throw on smaller bait with their cast nets.

The common phrase’s were the bait moved or not coming in, again these are the problem phrase’s and in my opinion the problem, If we would start saying “we killed that school” instead of they moved, I believe by simply admitting the truth, we would start to fix this problem. A hard Scaled sardine or green back needs
6 months to reach sexual maturity, or be big enough to spawn make babies.

We kill them before they ever have a chance to spawn, this is not they or them, this is us, you & me, we are the problem, this is time to take responsibility for what we are doing, and I am not talking about not having bait to fish with, I am talking about the food for fish like Snook, Tarpon, and the others who rely on these bait fish for the oils they need to spawn properly, over eons of time fish have developed a need for oily bait fish when it comes to breeding, not to mention a fish will grow much faster if that fish has enough food, In truth it is hard to starve a fish they can live on very little food, but they grow much slower and do not have viable eggs when they spawn. So lets take using bait for fishing off the table and just look at the fact that we are taking away the nourishment needed by the fish to survive properly. So we have all but wiped out the bait fish. Not just here all along the coast, you with your cast net, & me with mine,

People at the end of their trip do not even put the bait back n the water, they pull the trailer up onto the ramp and toss the bait onto the concrete to die. We have to start thinking differently and never say again the bait moved, once we under stand that we killed that school and for every two that die next year there is 500 that wont be here, we will finally be able to address this problem. What is the answer. Only take what you need, not what you want, do not squeeze the bait when you use the for chum. release everything in your well long before you get to the ramp, when the day is over release the bait alive. this will help, How ever the truth is we might need to ban all cast netting in the Harbor during the months of April, May, June, July & august to let any bait grow big enough to spawn. this may be the only way to bring the bait fish schools back in numbers which will allow us bait to use and food for the fish. 

 It is not a bad thing to cast net bait fish they only live 1 1/2 to 2 years, the primary purpose of their being is to be food for something, The problem is the have to be able to get big enough to spawn and make more of their little selves. think of it this way if 100 boats go out and get 50 pieces of bait each, that is 5000 pieces a day. 5000 a day which means 1,850,000 pieces a bait a year should be real estimate the real number would be much higher or lower.

Now here is the kicker to this story, everything I wrote here may be B.S. and not true at all, this is what I would call a Frankisum, The weather cold water or just a bad year for bait could be causing this. I really believe the the truth lies some where in the middle,

Yes the weather, pollution and other factors are contributing, I would say we are only 95% responsible, Sorry but this is just the way I see it, and the sooner we take that to heart the sooner things will get better.

A case in Point for bait to more catchable size fish is Texas, Texas was having a problem with find legal size Grouper or snapper big enough to keep, They found there was just not enough food for the fish, So they put a ban on Shrimping until the shrimp were big enough to have spawned once, Now the fishing in Texas is getting better by the year. after Texas put a stop to year around shrimping many of the boats came to Florida where there are no restrictions. and any night from Oct to February, when the wind picks up, you will see anywhere from 2 to 20 boats shrimping the Harbor. Because this happens at night and no ones sees it, did it really happen, the answer is Yes. Haven’t you ever wondered why the bottom of Charlotte Harbor is so flat with no features, it is dragged flat, Shrimp is the most prolific creature each pair making thousands of eggs, and they reproduce faster than almost any other critter, but we still have to be careful as we can kill faster than anything can grow, except maybe Ants. The good thing is there are quite good supplies of shrimp here in Florida, and we are in no danger of running out, but this year presents a problem, with no bait fish anglers are more reliant on Shrimp for bait, and Shrimp only hatch once a year and we are this month going to get to the time of year called PEE-Wee season, which the adult shrimp have left the shallow water for the deep water of the Gulf where they live out their lives, never to return again. The ones that are here after June are the ones which hatched this year. As in tiny shrimp or Pee-Wee. Fun Fact shrimp die if you net them in more than 10 feet of water they die quickly so as the adults move to deep water they are unreachable for bait

White bait, is the subject. there are really quite a few different types of bait here in Charlotte Harbor, Squid yes Charlotte Harbor right now has thousands if not millions of small Squid, which will stay until the rains come. Bumper or Menhaden, Butter fish, Bally–hoo Yes we have a lot of bally-hoo here but unlike the keys almost nothing eats them here. That is quite the puzzle, Why are Bally-hoo such good bait in the keys but not here. Skip-jacks / Yellow jackets which have fins on their belly and back which if they poke you burn. They are not dangerous unless you are allergic to bee stings, then I have heard of people being bothered by them, but for the vast majority of us they are just painful/annoying. The
bait as a whole is subject to water temps, water pollution and there may be nothing we can do to bring the bait back. But one thing is sure this is not good, and this needs to be looked at to see if we are just catching too much as I suspect or if there may be a more wide spread problem maybe a virus or a contaminate in the waters. At this point the easy thing is t say we catch too many before they spawn, and this is the easiest to fix. I only hope this is the problem.