With schools of bait starting to arrive and mackerel and kingfish likely close behind, now is the time to gather the tools to get the job done. Live bait will be key and a cast net is the quickest way to catch the most. There are a variety of cast nets to choose from and the water depth, size and species of bait you are targeting will dictate the mesh size.
Personal preference will determine the net's length. Anglers in small boats with comparable baitwells can catch their limit with a 6-footer. Tournament anglers who need enough bait to last all day will likely need a 10 to 12-foot net. A 1/4-inch mesh works best for small whitebait on the flats.
A 3/8-inch mesh works best on midsize baits when in deeper water such as Pass-A-Grille sea buoy or the Sunshine Skyway bridge. The most used cast net in my arsenal is the 1-inch mesh. It sinks fast enough to catch ladyfish or shad at the Skyway or Bellair Causeway without gilling them. Although you won't want to throw it on a school of juveniles, it's ideal for adult whitebait, sardines or greenbacks.
A 1 1/4-inch mesh net is better suited for catching large greenbacks in deeper water off the beaches. The larger mesh will sink faster before the speedy baits can swim out from under it in open water. If I'm targeting shad, I'll use a 2-inch mesh net. The net's heavier material won't tear if you throw on a school. It'll also allow smaller bycatch to escape through the mesh.
A 2- or 3-inch mesh is best for mullet. The weights of your cast net will vary, but the quality ones will average about 1 1/3 to 1 1/2-pounds per foot.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.