Sourcing cheap bait

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THE cost of a fishing trip can quickly add up. Fuel, drinks, ice, food and bait all help nudge up the cost of a day’s fishing. If you’re on a budget and want to save some money, there are a number of ways to source cheap bait that will help keep your wallet in check and might even help you to catch more fish!

Collecting your own bait is cost effective and fresh, meaning you save money and catch more fish. Image: Patrick Linehan

Getting it yourself
One of the cheapest ways to obtain some fresh bait is to go out there and gather it for yourself. If you factor a few hours extra into a fishing trip you’ll be able to dedicate the start of your trip to collecting enough bait for your session. Not only will the bait be cheaply sourced, it’ll be alive or freshly caught and will probably be the best bait you’ve ever used if you’ve only ever purchased bait from a tackle shop or servo. You can berley baitfish like yellowtail and slimey mackerel using old leftover bread mixed in with frozen pillies or prawns from previous trips or by using a tin of cheap cat food from the supermarket. Those pillies and prawns can be used as bait on a small hook or better still a reusable sabiki rig often requires no bait at all. Pumping nippers, digging worms, collecting crabs and pippies or grabbing a few handfuls of cabbage from the ocean rocks are all activities that aren’t beyond most anglers. Make the effort to collect your own bait and you’ll not only save money but you’ll catch more fish!

Reusable bait rigs often require no bait at all to catch baitfish like slimy mackerel and yellowtail scad. 

Vacuum sealing and freezing
Frozen baits can work exceptionally well if the bait is caught fresh then treated with a little care and taking the time to prepare it for future use. I freeze bait opportunistically; if I’m out squidding and catch a stack of squid then I’ll freeze a few for upcoming mulloway and snapper trips. If I’m out fishing and happen across some mullet, garfish or even schools of slimey mackerel and striped tuna outside then I’ll often keep enough for future bait and berley sessions. The key with freezing baits is to freeze them in optimal condition. That means keeping the bait alive or iced down then preparing, packing and freezing as soon as practical. You can buy a vacuum sealing machine pretty cheaply nowadays and it’ll last for years. Alternatively, a trick I was shown many years back is to use a zip lock bag and a bucket of water. Place your baits in the bag then close the bag most of the way and slowly dunk it into the water stopping before you get to the top of the bag. You then close off the rest of the bag and take it out of the water. The water pressure forces most of the air out and acts as a cheap vacuum sealer.

Buying in bulk
Pilchard blocks are generally snap frozen in a block of seawater immediately after capture on board the boats that net them. They make great bait and a block of frozen pillies can last indefinitely. Bulk buying a box of blocks will significantly decrease the cost per block and in some cases each block might cost you half what it would if buying individually. Similarly, you can buy a box of packet prawns and boxes of frozen squid much more cost effectively than you would buying them individually or by the kilo. All you need to do is ask your local tackle store to see what the box quantities and costs are. This is where it pays to have a good relationship with your tackle shop along with a bunch of mates that are willing to split the costs and share the bounty. A spare freezer that can be bought cheaply second hand is a great investment and will save you from having to load up the kitchen freezer with smelly fish bait and getting in strife!

Freshly caught squid makes for excellent bait. Image: Sami Omari

Visiting a fishmonger
During peak holiday season you’ll often pay a premium for bait. Last year I was fishing in a popular holiday destination over summer and paid more than double a standard packet of prawns, it was basic supply and demand economics and I copped it a couple of times from the only tackle shop in the area. Venturing to the local shopping centre saw mullet, yakkas and slimey mackerel at pretty low prices; not being fantastic table fare means that most bait species are generally cheap. I bought a few mullet and slimeys, had them filleted (which was a bonus) then had the fishmonger to bag them into bags for individual sessions. You can also try asking your fish monger to source fresh sashimi grade squid if you want to buy freshly caught squid at reasonable prices.

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