The best bait for the trophy cats is fresh skip jack herring and shad but at times these bait fish can be hard to get and you’ll spend more time and energy in trying to catch the bait as you do actually catfishing.
Big trophy catfish require big fresh baits, just using an easy to get tub of night crawlers or chicken livers just won’t cut it if you’re looking for the big boys.
This is why this spring time bait run is an important time for catfisherman. It means, great trophy cattin and the abundance of bait that is easy to catch!
The cycle of fish/bait movement or migration happens generally twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall. Both of these windows of opportunity allows me to collect and preserve some natural bait for later use.
In the spring from April to June the skip jack will start migration to the tail waters to initially feed and stay to spawn and during this time frame, they are schooling by the thousands and this is the easiest time for a catfisherman to collect some bait. When they’re running good it’s not uncommon to catch 2 or 4 every cast.
I like to take a couple of days to catch a few hundred for stocking my freezer with bait for the coming season when the skip jack get scarce in the hot months. Packed in 2 gallon Zip lock bags the fresh frozen bait will generally last me until the fall when the skip jack return to the tail waters in the fall to feed.
HOW TO- The Skip Jack Rig
To catch skip jack you’ll need a med action rod with a spin casting reel spooled with some 14 lb mono.
Tie a barrel swivel to the 14 lb main line and tie a 3 foot piece of 20 lb mono leader to the other end of the barrel swivel. Now you will need to tie a marabou jig or other types of jigs on the leader about a foot below your swivel leaving a 2 foot piece of leader exposed, now come down anther foot and tie another marabou jig below the last jig leaving 1 foot of leader exposed and once again tie one more jig at the end of your leader completing the skip jack rig.
Look for skipjack along the faster current seams running close to the bank along rocky shores or rip rap. Cast your rig out and retrieve in quickly and steady the jacks will smash it. If quick and steady isn’t working, try to pop it and drop it. If the jacks are in there you will just have to find that patter or retrieve they want.
These fast action, hard fighting, acrobatic bait fish are an average weight of a pound and a half but it’s not uncommon to catch loads of 2-4 lbers in the spring.
Freezing/Preserving baitfish for catfishing
Some will disagree and say freezing bait will make the mushy and fall of the hook to easy. I can agree to that if the freezing process is not done properly. Frozen bait is only as good what you put into it and the process should be started as soon as you catch it, If not the bait will start to decompose very quickly, causing it to become soft and mushy.
The key to this freezing process is being able to drop the baits core body temperature quickly, as soon as it’s taken off the hook or out of the net. This will preserve the bait better as the decomposing process will be postponed immediately due to being exposed the sudden cold temperature. I never let my bait sit in a bucket for any length of time before I put ice to it.
My procedure for preserving bait is a little more involved than just catching it, putting it in bags and freezing it. It takes a bit more time but I think it well worth the time spent to have the freshest frozen bait possible.
2 large coolers –
Cooler #1=brine solution
Zip lock bags (1 gal bags for shad and 2 gallon bags for skipjack)
10 lb. Granular 100 % pure rock salt
A little preparation goes a long way in this process.
The key like I stated above is, dropping the baits Core body temperature quickly to postpone the decomposition cycle and this process should be started as soon as the bait is caught I do this by preparing a brine solution of super chilled ice water in one of the large coolers I’ve provided to immediately put the bait in after it is caught. . It doesn’t matter what type of bait you’re catching, shad, skip jack or other, this super chilled brine solution will work for all bait types.
Mixing the solution.
I will put one a large bag of crushed or cubed ice in the cooler and spread 2-3 handfuls of rock salt on top of the ice and repeat the process with another bag of ice on top of the first layer. Now I will pour water in the ice to make a slushy type ice mixture. Adding salt to the ice water changes the melting point of ice therefore making the solution colder preserving the bait better.
To be honest I’m not really sure about the physics of this process of changing molecules and equilibriums. So I’m not going to try to explain it, as I’m a catfisheman and not a scientist, I just know it works and take full advantage of this phenomenon, however if you want to know how it works, here is a link to the topic I found on the subject. http://www.worsleyschool.net/science/files/saltandfreezing/ofwater.html
Once you’ve prepared the ice brine solution your ready to put the bait in it as it’s caught, always push the bait down into the solution allowing it to super chill never leave it on top exposed to air for any length of time.. The idea is to postpone the decomposition process as bait fish are very quick to decompose. You will have to add more crushed ice to the solution as you add more bait.
Now that you’ve caught enough bait to last several trips, it’s time to bag it out. I will always wait until I get home to do this so I will always top off my brine solution with more crushed ice and another handful of salt for the ride home keeping the bait super chilled until bagging time as I don’t ever want to give the bait time to warm up before I freeze it. I prefer to take it straight from the super chilled cooler to the bag and in the freezer within minutes. The salt based super chilled ice brine that the your bait is soaking in, is an old school preservative that has proven to be effective over the centuries in keeping human food fresh, it’s just as effective in keeping the bait in perfect condition for future use.
Bagging the bait for the freezer
Now it’s time to bag your bait for future fishing trips. Depending on the baits size I will fill each bag with a certain number of pieces to know what I will have for each trip.
For instance, if I’m bagging out 6-8 inch shad, I’ll use the 1 gallon bags and put 2 dozen pieces per bag but if I’m bagging 12-15 inch skip jack I will use the 2 gallon bags and only put one dozen pieces per bag.
As I’m bagging I will add more rock salt to the bait in layers so that all the bait has been touched by the salt. Put half of the bait in the bag and then a hand full of salt on it, then the other half of the bait and another handful of salt and seal the bag with the air in it and begin to tumble or mix the bait and salt thoroughly. Now open the bag and remove all the air from it and reseal the bag for the final freeze. This will preserve the bait in the best condition possible. Be careful not to get salt in the zip lock grooves and only fill the bag half way with bait; leave a little room in the top so it’s easy to close.
Some anglers choose to vacuum seal their bags of bait but I find it unnecessary for me personally as I use my bait a bit quicker than most so it really don’t have time to freezer burn but if you will not be using your bait on a weekly basis I would suggest you go through the same preserving process and vacuum seal for freshness.
Keep repeating this process until you’ve packed out all your bait.
Now lay the bags out and spread the bait flat within the bag and put it in the freezer so they all freeze quickly and evenly. You’re now all set with excellent bait for your next fishing trip. Just grab the number of bags that you’ll need, put them in a cooler with some ice and go fishing.
If you happen to take too much bait not to worry, by leaving it in the cooler on ice you can refreeze it when you get home and use the rest on your next fishing trip. The salt you used when packing it out will keep the bait in good shape even though you thawed it out some.