Contact us at 866-587-2990, For Hobie sales or questions call 562-592-0800

Kayak Fishing with Live Bait - Tips & Tricks

You certainly don't need live bait to fish, you can troll rapalas and swim baits and cast surface iron and yoyo heavy irons and find fish. There is no question that fishing with live bait increases your odds of success.

Here are some notes about catching live bait, as well as keeping it alive and how to use it. Common baits are mackerel, Spanish and greenback, sardines, anchovies, smelt, squid queenfish, lizardfish and various other brown baits. If you are targeting big fish don't be afraid to use big bait. A 12-pound YT can eat a 12-inch mackerel and big WSB will eat an even bigger mackerel, they are known to eat small pencil barracuda. Big baits eliminate unwanted by catch.


Previous days fishing reports will help me decide what I need. If fish are being caught on bait and there seems to be a lot of by catch or sea lion bait stealers, I will put extra effort into getting a full tank of bait. The amount of time I plan to fish is a consideration as well.

If using a bait tank or Kayatank make sure the battery is charged up and check your connections as well as the switch, the switch seems to be my point of failure more than any other. It is much easier to fix a connection on land then on the water, when I remember, I flip the switch prior to launching to test it. Buckets or bait tubes just need to be grabbed and go. The trade-off is simplicity in coming and going or ease and efficiency on the water.

A can of cat food for chumming can really help draw them in or get them in an eating mood. Buy 4 packs of flip top cans for easy o the water access. Pieces of squid on the hook help a lot in low or no light conditions. I have tried buying a pound of squid and cutting it into small pieces and refreezing it in several bags to grab for each outing. That way if it is not necessary I just wasted a small amount and not a whole pound. Cutting up a package of GULP into tiny pieces to place on the sabiki hooks is another way to keep an added attractant without it ever spoiling. Does anything smell worse than a forgotten package of squid?


Buying bait. Most harbor bait receivers have come to accommodate the kayak angler with a small $5 yak scoop of bait, I have found a $2 tip to be responded with :Is that enough bait?” This also makes us as a whole a welcome customer rather than a $5 nuisance. I also usually make a point of saying where I plan to fish and if they have any suggestions, these guys are fishermen and showing respect and friendly behavior seems to get me all the bait I need as well as advice that may aid in my success on the water.

Another way of making bait in the bays is using an umbrella net; breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs suspended above the net draw in smelt, prime halibut bait for the bays. Minnow traps are not a legal method. The most common method of catching bait is done with a sabiki; usually 4-5 hooks in a gangion, some people cut them in half to make things more manageable. I fish them whole and as long as you keep the line tight and wind them in they seldom tangle. If you leave baits hanging, you will likely reel in a tangled mess. A 1-3 oz torpedo sinker is tied to the bottom, the shiny chrome ones add flash. An iron, spoon or swim bait can be used in place of the weight. The look of being pursued can help in enticing a strike

Squid usually appear as thick clouds along the bottom , most commonly around 2 fathoms or 120 feet, they can be caught on the sabiki and sometimes on a yoyo iron, but when  spawning the squid jigs work even better. Simulating free-floating egg sacks that the squid want to grab and secure to the bottom.

Finding bait:

Structure: piers, kelp beds, grass and weed beds, jetties and pilings are visible structure and are safe haven for congregations of bait. Bait visibly feeding on the surface, casting into or beyond visible bit and a slow lifting pumping action works best for me. Smaller sardines and smelt are the exception and can be very difficult to coax into latching on to the sabiki.

When there are current slicks with debris and foam bait will be holding and feeding on the smaller life forms. Vertical presentations along the edges will often produce. Fish finders, most will agree that the biggest benefit of the fish finder is finding bait. Some days when you cannot find it around the usual structure spots and the surface is void of any. The fish finder can save the day. Dropping down on meter marks, scattered marks or clouds. You will often get hit on the drop, if it does not stick, lift and lower the rod tip a couple more times, if nothing let it drop some more. Sometimes I'll drop all the way to the bottom, unless the bait is appearing on my fish finder in the upper water column.

Varying technique is sometimes all it takes to get the bait to bite. Dead sticking with swell naturally moving the sabiki or twitching the tip like when drop shotting a plastic, long sweeps of the rod. Sometimes they will only it hit it on the fall. Some days casting out and winding it across the upper column is what it takes. On extremely tough days trolling the sabiki will at least get me started with one or 2 baits. Some bait is hardier than others. If a mackerel flops on the deck I don't really worry, but with a sardine I will make sure I wet my hand before grabbing it and Ideally putting it in the tank with out touching it would be best. I usually put sardines right on the hook to keep them their healthiest.

Keeping it:

Some days you only need one or two baits and you could just catch it on one rod and pin it on another. This is the guy that likes to keep it as simple as possible. That is me sometimes. I have been accused of wearing pocket Ts to hold all my tackle. Sometimes the by catch of bonito, barracuda and bass can deplete a stock of a dozen baits in under and hour, that or a relentless sea lion. This is when a bait tank, Kayatank, Plano bucket or bait tube comes in handy. This also gives you the option of pulling in bait when a sea lion is making a b line. You can put the bait still on the hook in the tank and wait it out.

Previous days fishing reports will help me decide what I need, I will still leave the bait tank at home unless I think I need a lot of bait, when my bait tank is full of water it is an additional 30-35 pounds. That is a noticeable load when covering a lot of water. The Plano is not a good option unless you plan on soaking bait or drifting for halibut. The Plano creates way too much drag to slow troll for very long. You are left having to dunk it every few minutes to keep the bait somewhat healthy. Using a bait tube is an option, as you will barely notice the amount of drag. The downside is that you are limited to only a few baits. Great when you are only fishing for a short period.

To catch a full days bait or to buy from a receiver the bait tank or Kayatank makes the best sense. Most bait tanks are from 2-5 gallons. I have seen homemade tanks made from Tupperware, coolers, 5 gallon buckets as well as some more creative, like a custom clear Plexiglas one. I have used several sizes and shapes and have come to like a round one the best. The main reason is that I don't like using a net to get the bait out and the round one is easiest to corral that last few baits in there.

When purchasing a tank you have two options regarding the pump style, an in line aerator pump that sits above the water and needs to be primed to get water flowing and a bilge pump that is placed over the side in the water, no priming needed. Both of these pumps have pros and cons and I don't think one or the other will catch you more fish. The pump over the side does create drag, especially if there is a lot of grass and flotsam hanging up on it and generally cost more than the in line variety, the built in screen does keep anything from entering and slowing down flow The in line pumps biggest drawback is the need to prime it and grass does get sucked in without a screen. I have come up with a primer bulb that can be removed when I don't want it restricting water flow. I have to think that me hearing the pump above the water is better than the actual pump being in the water as sound waves travels very far in water

Batteries are the sealed gel variety. The pumps are designed for 12-volt systems, but will run with 6-volt batteries. The reason I use a 6-volt battery is that you can use a smaller battery as well as the pump running at ½ speed is noticeably quieter. These pumps are designed for much larger capacity tanks than we use so cutting the flow in half is not only not a problem but less likely to wear out the bait. Most pumps draw between 1.2-1.5 amps, a 12 volt 10 amph battery with a 1.5 amp pump should last just about 6.5 hours That last hour will slowing dramatically.

Using the bait:

If I could catch all the fish I wanted on fly lined bait I would. Most summertime yellowtail are caught on this simple set up.  What could be simpler than nothing but a hook on the end of your line? One connection and the most natural presentation you could make. Nose hooking the bait keeps it healthy and active for the whole morning if you choose, although changing out tired bait will sometimes evoke a strike; so if it looks like you may be releasing a tank full change them out.

Unfortunately halibut rarely will eat fly lined bait, so some lead is added and another connection. My favorite halibut rig is a Carolina rig with main line to a sliding sinker, above a swivel and 2-3 feet of leader with a snelled hook and treble trap. The amount of lead varies with the wind, current and depth from 1 oz to 8 for drifting. Most white seabass are caught with a Carolina rigged bait, but slow trolling with 1-3 oz putting it in the mid column.

Hook sizes and styles are somewhat a personal preference but a good rule of thumb is that the hook should be the width of the baits head, when nose hooking. I rarely hook bait otherwise. You can pin the hook through the back of its head to make it swim a little deeper when trolling without lead, or when soaking a bait you can butt hook it through the area of the anal fin, this is also where I hook the trap treble for halibut and lingcod.

A palomar knot is the strongest and easiest knot to tie. Knowing this I still tie an improved clinch knot because growing up it was the only fishing knot that I knew.