Everyone who fishes with live bait knows that the guys with the most lively, durable baits usually end up catching the most fish. And the best way to ensure that your baits are hardy and ready for action is to catch them a couple of weeks ahead of time and keep them well fed and healthy in a bait pen. Sure, you can buy some live baits as you leave the inlet, but they usually end up costing an arm and a leg and you never know how long they will last in your livewell. And during tournament time, with some boats buying several hundred at a time, availability becomes a crapshoot. So do yourself and your wallet a favor and start catching and penning your own.
When penning baits for long periods of time, you’re going to have to keep them well fed; if you don’t, they are going to weaken and start nipping at each other. Some crews choose to hang a chum bag right inside their bait pen, but if the pen sits in any kind of current, most of the food gets washed out of the pen before your baitfish can eat the chum. Also, if the pen is even slightly crowded, the baits can damage themselves by rubbing up against the hanging chum bag. To ensure that all baits remain healthy and well fed, I install a wire mesh chum cage to the inside center of the bait pen’s door. I attach it with four or five zip ties. The larger mesh releases a steady stream of food and doesn’t take off any scales or snag the baits. The chum cage also makes feeding baits much easier, since you don’t have to fish out the nasty, twisted cotton chum bags to refill it every other day.
Capt. Jason “Tiny” Walcott
West Palm Beach, Florida