Where's the bait?: Scaled sardines, often referred to as whitebait, become scarce every summer. It's as if the huge schools from spring have vanished. Can't find them on the flats, and can't find them at the markers off the beach. Then suddenly, schools of small fries show up. Seems as if the whitebait leave to spawn, then the hatchlings appear. Whatever the case, beggars can't be choosers. Yes, the bait is small, but do you think predators are picky? They're going to eat what's around. And just remember the adage "Match the hatch." Use the live bait that is there or what the fish are feeding on. Smaller sardines might not have the size that you're looking for, but they will work. Recently, Monica and Garth Vernon caught grouper, snapper and flounder on theses small baits. They simply adjusted their tackle to make it work.
Tactics: One adjustment was to downsize the cast net they used to catch the fingerlings. Instead of using a net with a three-eighths-inch mesh, they used one with a quarter-inch mesh. The bait didn't gill or get caught in the net with the smaller mesh. They also fine-tuned their hook size, going from a 1/0 to a No. 2. Remember to select a hook to the size of the bait, not the size of the target species. Smaller hooks will always catch more fish than big hooks. Another trick is to use a little heavier weight or a weighted float to aid in casting these lightweights.
Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 510-4376.