My husband and I are really into saltwater fishing. We enjoy freshwater fishing, too, but as far as we’re concerned, angling in lakes, ponds, and rivers just can’t compare to saltwater fishing. One aspect of the sport that we find so exciting is that we’re never quite sure what we might haul in. Even when we’re targeting a specific saltwater fish, we never know what other species might notice our fishing bait and snatch it up. You’d be amazed by some of our surprise catches! In fact, some of the things we caught were totally alien to us, and we had to look them up on the internet. Some of our more familiar catches have included flounder, mackerel, redfish, bluefish, sharks, whiting, black drum, tarpon, pompano, jacks, seatrout, whiting, sea bass, snapper, grouper, wahoo, cobia, and sheepshead. Some of the surprises included toadfish, batfish, octopuses, needlefish, ribbonfish, starfish, sea robins, and giant conches. Saltwater fishing can result in some amazing catches!
In my opinion, choosing the right fishing bait is just about the most important decision you can make for your angling adventures. In most cases, you’ll have numerous choices of fish bait, so deciding isn’t usually easy. Many saltwater fish will respond favorably to a variety of artificial lures, including topwater plugs, spoons, diving baits, stick baits, and soft plastic baits. Some will also hit cut bait, while others might prefer dead shrimp, bloodworms, pieces of squid, pieces of jellyfish, sand fleas, or chunks of blue crab.
And then there’s the live fishing bait. For inshore and nearshore saltwater fishing bait, examples might include finger mullet, shrimp, mud minnows, menhaden, small blue crabs, ladyfish, or fiddler crabs. For larger fish, live fishing baits might include bluefish or whiting. The fish bait you choose, how you fish it, and when and where you fish are all going to have a big influence on what you catch – but it’s never foolproof.
We usually take a variety of fishing baits with us on any given fishing trip. If we’re fishing on a pier, for example, we might use dead shrimp on the bottom for whiting, live finger mullet for flounder and reds, and big pieces of cut fish for sharks. Once those lines have been cast, we might walk the pier, examining the pilings for sheepshead feeding around the wooden structures. Should we see a few, we want to be ready for them, so we’ll usually have some fiddler crabs for bait, too.
Fishing Live Bait
I find that fishing live bait is the most productive fishing method, overall. I’m not claiming that live saltwater fishing bait is always the best choice – it’s not. We’ve had days when the flounder would totally ignore our live finger mullet and live mud minnows, yet they’d gobble up soft plastic jigs. If I take all our fishing experiences over the years, however, fishing live bait has produced more bites and more fish.
There’s a reason many fish prefer live fishing bait. It’s what they naturally feed on. They’re used to hunting and consuming this type of food. Another reason fishing live bait is often productive is because of the natural action. Sure, lots of artificial fishing baits do a good job of mimicking the action of live critters, but sometimes fish are hard to fool. With natural fishing baits, there’s little trickery involved, so you don’t have to worry so much about fooling the fish.
We’ve used fiddler crabs for bait for years. In case you’re not familiar with these little pinchers, fiddler crabs are small crabs that can often be found in marshes, on beaches, and on the banks of tidal creeks and rivers. The shell is sort of square, and the male has one large pincer and one smaller one, which is how the crabs got their name. The females have two small claws. The crabs are usually less than an inch across the back and are a brownish-gray color. Males often have shades of purple or blue on their shells, too.
Fiddler crabs dig underground tunnels, but they spend a lot of time above ground. Because they have gills, they can survive underwater, but they also have lungs that allow them to breathe on land. They often live in huge colonies, surviving by consuming decayed vegetation, decaying fish and animals, algae, and bacteria.
Fiddler Crabs for Bait
If you want to use fiddler crabs for bait, visit a saltwater bait shop. They sometimes offer fiddler crabs for sale. If the bait and tackle shop has fiddler crabs for sale, they most likely will also have small wire containers for keeping the bait in. If not, you can use a cardboard box or any type of bucket.
You can buy fiddler crabs, but they’re fairly easy to catch. Who doesn’t like free fishing bait? First, of course, you have to locate the little crabs. Look in tidal pools, under rocks, around piles of rotting vegetation, and near grassy areas on beaches and on the shores of marshes. At first glance, there might be so many fiddler crabs milling around that catching them is a piece of cake. The problem is that they almost always have a hole nearby that they can use as a quick escape. After a few times of trying to herd the crabs, we finally learned to outsmart them. We place a white sheet on the sand, and in the center of the sheet, we place a dead fish, a fish head, or a piece of bread. Then we step back and wait. Once the crabs are checking out our bait, we quickly gather the four corners of the sheet together, trapping the crabs inside.
You’ll need a smallish hook for fiddler crabs. Before hooking the bait, many anglers prefer to break off the larger pincer on the males. Hook the crab in the underside, and make sure the hook’s point penetrates the top shell. The hook needs to be attached to a wire leader and an egg sinker. Use just enough weight to keep your bait in place.
If you’re not familiar with using fiddler crabs for bait, you’re probably wondering what types of saltwater fish you can catch with this fishing bait. In my opinion, fiddler crabs are the gold standard for sheepshead. Slowly bob the crab around a pier piling or near the rocks of a jetty. Sheepshead have teeth that crush the hard shell of the crab, and their bite is notoriously difficult for the angler to detect. Sometimes, instead of a pull, you might notice that your line slackens a bit. You’ll have to pay very close attention to your line.
Other saltwater fish you might catch while fishing with fiddler crabs include black drum, pompano, and tautog. Flounder will sometimes hit fiddlers, too. Believe it or not, fiddlers make great redfish bait. I heard this a long time ago from an old salt, but I was skeptical, at first. After we caught a big red and found its belly full of fiddlers, we became believers. As redfish bait, we like to fish the crabs on or near the bottom, usually on a fishfinder rig. The last of the incoming and the first of the outgoing tides are the best times to fish for reds. For locations, we fish for redfish in troughs, near creek mouths, and around structures like piers, bridges, docks, oyster beds, and submerged rocks.
Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on September 30, 2012:
Great info! My husband and I prefer Saltwater fishing, too, for the same reason - you never know what you'll catch.
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on September 26, 2012:
I always thought I would like to try fishing, and I have enjoyed it the few times I've been around it. This hub makes me want to give it a go!
Rachel Koski Nielsen from from PA, now homesteading in MN on September 08, 2012:
Cool hub! I miss going fishing. I should probably buy a license next year and get back at it. Pinned this one for reference!
sradie from Palm Coast FL on September 08, 2012:
These are things I need to know having moved to FL two years ago and not having time to learn them. When we go to fish, we need to fish. This will help us gain confidence, catch these elusive baits and more fish to boot. Thanks for a great educational article, I have bookmarked it.
Suzie from Carson City on September 08, 2012:
Habee...well, I enlarged the picture of the fiddler crabs as much as I could....and see that they are not the crabs that my grandsons go "hunting for".....in our creek. Obviously not, since the fiddlers live in "salt water"........So, OK but the kids and I have gone online to learn the names and identity of the dozens of types of CRAB. The ones the kids go "Crabby-Hunting" for, look exactly like teeney ...(less than finger-size) Maine lobsters!
Husband of a friend of mine owns a Bait Shop. I take the boys and their Haul of Crabs (about a bucketful) to see Jerry at the bait shop, and he gives the boys five bucks a piece!! Hardly a profit for Jer. He's just being a cool friend. The boys think this is absolutely AWESOME that they earn money catching bait!!
Grandma here needs to go Information hunting, because my 6 year old buddy asked me the difference between crabs, crayfish and crawfish???? I have my limits.....crabs, I do not know.