Over the past 15 years, fishing with live bait has become one of the most popular techniques for Key West waters. The careful presentation of a naturally swimming live baitfish draws the attention of many species of fish, and the fishing action is likely to be much faster than it is when trolling dead bait that is rigged to look like it is swimming.
In order to keep live bait in a fresh, lively condition, most captains will catch it on the same day that it is to be used. This is usually done with a cast net or with light hook and line. The live bait is then kept in oxygenated live wells, often separated by species.
Many different fish species are used as live bait depending on the season and the target gamefish. Ballyhoo is one of the most commonly used baitfish as they congregate on the reef in large schools during the fall and winter months and are easily caught. Other live baits include Blue runners, Crabs, Majua, Mullet, Pilchards, Pinfish, and Threadfin Herring.
The idea is to offer the gamefish the bait that they are naturally feeding on. When kept fresh and healthy, live bait can make a major difference in fishing success.