The design and tech that go into making artificial lures look realistic are amazing. There are a lot of very convincing baitfish mimics on the market now. But while these lures might do a pretty good job of looking like a minnow or a worm, they will never be the same as live bait. As mom and pop tackle shops are replaced by retail chains, it’s getting harder and harder to buy live bait. Thankfully, the pinfish exists in abundance and isn’t too tricky to catch.
Using Live Bait
Using live bait is a very effective way to catch fish. First, these are fish your target catch is already eating. So, it’s not an unusual object that you have to convince it to strike on. Live bait doesn’t rely on the angler to give it realistic motion. If you’ve rigged it right, it should swim or wriggle naturally on its own with very little contribution from the rod and the line. Finally, they’re basically free if you catch them yourself.
Fish like walleyes take advantage of the nighttime hours to hunt. Live bait excels in muddy water or when night fishing. Because the fish can’t see as well in these conditions, it uses its other senses to find its prey. A live baitfish will give off natural aromas and vibrations that draw in night feeding game fish. There are all sorts of other signals a baitfish gives off that probably drift below most people’s radar, like chemicals and hormones that are released by the distressed minnow or pinfish.
Although baitfish are great to fish with, they do have their disadvantages, the number one being that to fish with live bait, you have to keep the bait alive. Baitwells, bait sleds, and baitfish bags all exist to serve this purpose. Depending on how long you wait between when you catch the bait and when you intend to use it, setting up a simple home system might be necessary.
How to Catch Pinfish
If you want to use live pinfish as bait, you’ll more than likely need to catch them yourself. To do that, it pays to know a little bit about them. Luckily for anglers, these little fish have a wide distribution. They live along the East coast from Canada, down past Florida and in the Gulf. So basically anywhere the United States touches the Atlantic Ocean. On a smaller scale, good places to look for them are near structures like channel markers or wrecks. Pinfish also like to hang out in bunches of seagrass. This vegetation houses all kinds of small prey for the pinfish that they can hang out and snack on.
There are several different ways to catch pinfish. One tactic is to use a sabiki rig. This is a series of small lures all connected to one line. In the water, they look like a school of little fish. They’re great for catching multiple fish at a time. If you lay a chum slick where you suspect pinfish are it should bring them out in no time. When they start nibbling, drop your sabiki rig down there and use a “jerk, jerk, drop” movement to entice them.
Another way to grab them is with a cast net. Pick an area at the edge of some seagrass. Poles, channel markers, and buoys will get in the way of your net. Lay a little bit of chum in the water and wait. Before long, you should have drawn a bunch of pins out of hiding to feed. Just toss your cast net over them and bring them in. This is probably the fastest and easiest way to get a lot of pinfish.
For more pinfish fishing tactics, check out this article from Bullbuster.
3 Ways to Rig Pinfish
Now for the part you’ve been waiting for – how to rig that pinfish. There are three simple ways you can rig your bait so that it’s free to move around naturally. You can’t just hook the fish anywhere or you might kill or immobilize it. A dead or limp fish isn’t very appetizing to most game fish.
1. Hook it through the nose. If you’re going to be leading your pinfish through the water, it’ll swim best with the line in front. Just take the hook and put it in one nostril and bring it out the other. The disadvantage of this method is that this area of the fish isn’t strong. The hook might pull out if the pinfish is grabbed by the tail and tugged.
2. Hook it through the mouth. This is a little stronger option that will still allow you to lead the pinfish from the front. Put the point of the hook up through the fish’s bottom jaw and out through the nostril. It will effectively close the fish’s mouth, but won’t affect the way it swims.
3. Hook it through the head. Going through the head will normally cause the pinfish to swim downward, which can be good if you’re after a fish like a grouper. Careful not to hook the fish in the brain. That will kill it right away and it won’t make for very attractive bait. If you feel the fish’s head, there should be a soft area a little behind the eye in the flesh between its dorsal edge and the skull. Don’t go into the skull.
That should be enough to get you started with pinfish bait. Just remember not to keep the fish out of water for too long while you’re hooking it and don’t handle it with dry hands. The “pin” in their name comes from the sharp dorsal spines they have. Be aware of these as well when you’re handling the fish or you could end up with punctured fingers. Other than that, these little fish are easy to get ahold of and very effective bait for all kinds of gamefish.