by Jarrod Day
Bait is a necessary part of fishing, the local tackle shop or service station can provide a good selection of frozen baits. Frozen baits are convenient and work well for all species and are available in a large variety.
Pike are also a good bait when used fresh; they are often caught while trolling for Snook.
However, Western Port is over flowing with a huge array of bread and butter species that make sensational fresh baits for a wide variety of the Ports most highly prized.
Anglers heading out, only need to factor in a few extra hours into their fishing session and can have fresh baits right on tap.
What’s on offer?
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 percent of my fishing trips. This allows me to have the best opportunity at catching my targeted species. If I can’t catch bait, often we don’t fish, but for that little extra effort the dived ends 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 patients 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 one of the best gummy shark baits available. They are high in oil content making them very appealing to most bottom feeding fish.
Salmon can be caught along any Victorian Beach as well as in Western Port. They make great fresh baits for gummy shark.
Salmon, although can be caught year round are larger in size and more in abundance during most of the winter period. Anglers can hit the surf and catch their quarry using them the following day fresh. Alternately, around January, February and March larger schools of salmon enter Western Port.
These can be caught by means of trolling hard-body 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.
Not many anglers know about catching Silver Whiting in Western Port. In actual fact, they are caught in Bass Strait but within two kilometres of both the Eastern and Western Entrances and in depths shallower then 30 meters.
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 longshank rigged on a paternoster rig is 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. When caught, they are best taken over to Port Phillip Bay when the snapper are on the chew. Finicky feeding snapper will respond better to a fresh silver than a frozen one.
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 the 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 setting 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 whereby 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.
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 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 used for bait is a garfishes favourite meal, even more so when dipped in tuna oil.
When in abundance, gathering a handful of garfish is always worthwhile, especially during snapper season.
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 one to six meters 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.
Bass Yabbies are the all time favourite live bait used when targeting King George Whiting although silver trevally are also a fan of these tasty morsels.
Bass yabbies are available throughout the year on the 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 and are mainly found around Warneet, Blind Bight and Jam Jerrup.
There is such a huge variety of baits available throughout Western Port that each is favoured by a particular species. Catching baits yourself is a lot of fun and by taking a little more time to head out to gather them before anchoring at the perfect time can make the difference between catching a fish and not. 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 kiddies gathering some fresh bait for your after hour’s adventures.