Favorite baits? What's your favorite?

Ken Jones

Staff member
Although a great topic, the problem today is that some of the best baits are hard to come by, especially during certain seasons of the year.
What bait should I use is one of the most frequently asked questions by newbies on the board. The two threads below should answer that question—at least for fishin’ the California piers.

Date: June 8, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: StinkyFingers

Subject: Survey of FAVORITE BAITS

Just wanted to take a quick sample here: What's everybody's "go-to" bait for their local, common species?
The following is "my guess"...
Striper: Bullhead
Sturgeon: Ghost shrimp
Shark: Squid
Ray: Squid
Crabs: Squid
Lobster: Squid
Halibut: Anchovy
Salmon: Anchovy
Rockfish: Anchovy
Perch: Pile worms
Eels: Shrimps (ya know, I've never caught an eel!)
What do yo all think?

Posted by mola joe

Corbina: Softshell sandcrabs
Barred Perch: 3-inch motor oil grub
Piling and Rubberlip Perch: Live Sidewinder Crabs
Pier Halibut: Live Smelt, Live 7-11 Perch
Beach Halibut: 4 inch Curly Tail Grub on 1/2 ounce Head
Sharks: Fresh, bloody, mackerel chunk
Shovelnose Shark: Bring Baitfish (Adam) to catch them
Night Time Calicos: 6-inch baby octopus, 5-inch dark colored swimbait
Harbor Bonita: Live Anchovies,
Pier Bonita (if they ever show again), Chrome Diamond Jig
Ray: Fresh Mackerel Fillet
Sand Bass: 3 to 4 inch Worm King Plastics, Anchovy Color
Lobster: American Express at Captain Kidd’s Fish Market
Not seeing my wife for weeks on end during corbina season: 3 dinners, 2 car washings, 1 movie, and a "I love you" everyday before leaving for work. (That I love you stuff is a killer, sometimes can milk this one into bonito season)

Posted by gyozadude

Similar to what I use, except, shrimp for rockfish and cabz.

Posted by neptune1234

I normally use squid for sharks and rays but blood worms are my favorite. Anchovies tend to be my fav for Bay Area fish and rockfish and halis up here in Bodega. I pitch plastics for stripers and halibuts quite often too. Of course shrimp and worms for perch and smelt. One long stem red rose for the honies. T bone steak for dogs. 3 beers to catch a buzz. Ummmm.... Hour late home from the fishing trip to catch flack.... Mitt to catch a baseball......Life’s short fish on!

Posted by Surfan

By the way, I've already printed Mola's list, lol. I'd also add to the list for:
Perch: lugworms, bloodworms.
Sharks: live smelt, live sardine and live macks, if you can get them.
Eels: (although I haven't targeted them) with live smelt I've caught a monkeyface prickleback eel in the sandy surf of Newport.
Lobster: fresh tuna heads, fresh whole macks.

Posted by Sinker

Mola, Your last one is the best by far. A true classic.

Posted by Shark Assassin

(In order of, best bait first) —
Sharks: Live Mackerel, Live Squid, Live Big Sardines, Mackerel Fillet with dead squid combo
Halibut: Live Squid, Live Tiny Sardines, Live Greenback 'chovies, Live Smelt
Rays: Squid, Sardines, Anchovies
Croaker: Lugworms, Any various Shrimp, Small Live 'chovies
Spotted Bay Bass: 3-4" Brownbait color Big Hammer, Live Anchovies, Live Sardines
Sand Bass: 4-6" Halloween color (I believe that's the name) Big Hammer, Live Squid, Live Small Sardines, Live Anchovies
Calico Bass: 4-6" Brownbait color Big Hammer, Squid, Sardines, Anchovies
Perch: Lugworms, Super small live 'chovies

Posted by mola joe

I agree about the live squid for halibut. I was trying to think more along the lines of baits I would use from the pier for each fish. No question it's the first bait I would buy out of the receiver if I'm fishing outside the harbor for halibut, especially deeper water fish. Inside the harbors, I do better on large anchovies than sardines. Same goes for sharks. Live baits are by far better when drifting offshore. Off the pier, usually it's a nice fillet that gets bit the best. Except when fishing threshers, a nice 6-inch live mack slid down the line is the way to go. It seems I'm the only one who likes a fresh mackerel fillet when it comes to rays. Back in my ray days, my friends and I would do a lot of experimenting with baits for rays. Twenty + rods out for our group with squid, bonito fillets, sardines, whole macks, chunk macks, and mackerel fillets. I have to give it to mackeral fillets for getting bit the best. Taking two 6-inch fillets and butterflying them with the meat out, skin facing each other accounted for most of our big fish. Spanish mackerel was our favorite when we could get them.

Posted by Shark Assassin

I agree, dead baits (as fillets of mackerel and dead squid) seem to work better off piers, but as you said for Threshers—Live mack. That too is also very true. Usually for smaller sharks I'll put a nice strip of fresh mackerel with a longer pair of strips of squid, usually this works excellent for me. (Dogfish, Leopards, Smoothhounds and Shovelnose are the majority of the catch with this combo) As for halibut in bays, anchovies work great for me too, but when I find a baby sardine (2 inches, three max), I almost instantly get hit. (Talking about Newport Bay—I don't know about the rest). For pier halibut, smelt and grubs are my favorites...

"Taking two 6 inch fillets and butterflying them with the meat out, skin facing each other accounted for most of our big fish." - I've never heard of this method, I'm gonna have to try it sometime. I've used mackerel fillets for rays a lot, but the reason why I chose squid was because the mackerel fillets tend to attract too many crabs in the areas that I fish in, and when I wind it up it comes back as bones... **Shark Assassin**

Posted by CaffeineHigh

My teacher: oh mola, I have a lot to learn from u, both fishing and sweet talking wife.

Posted by Scooterfish

Catfish: use fresh Duck Guts...a little tip from the Louisiana oldtimers...Scoot

Posted by Ken Jones

Direct from Mallard Lake...There are a lot of ducks on Mallard Lake where my home is located. They occasionally come up onto my lawn — but not if my dog Jordan sees them. Instead, they like to sit on my neighbor's dock — sometimes upwards of a dozen or more ducklings and adults — 30/40 feet away from my dock. Jordan stands on my dock watching them. Or, they'll swim by the dock, maybe 8 feet or so away as he stands watching them. It's almost like they're teasing him. But he only went in the water once and received a scolding. So he watches. However, the other day when I was in Monterey fishing, Jordan got his chance. The ducks walked up onto the lawn and my wife thought Jordan was in the house. But he, seeing the ducks, went over and slid the screen door open with his nose and was off to get a duck. And he nabbed one and had it in his mouth when my wife got there. She yelled and he let the duck go so that all remained to see were a bunch of duck feathers on the lawn — and a wounded duck scampering across the water. Since most of the neighbors are pro duck I'm hoping they didn't see it and that the duck is o.k. but I don't blame Jordan, I think he was just trying to protect the home. Right? Now if I'd known duck guts were good catfish bait there might have been a different ending.

Posted by Scooterfish

Perch: Live grass shrimp

Posted by Anthony

Here's mine.
Shark: Fresh Mackerel
Rays: Squid
Corbina: Softshell Sandcrabs
Halibut: Live smelt & 3'' clear/w red flake BH, pepper rainbow trout BH
Spotted bay bass: 3'' Kalin clear/ w red flake grub
Barred perch: Blood or lug worms & 1.5'' Kalin motor oil/w red flake grub
Sand Bass: 3'' Kalin chartreuse grub
Croaker: clam & mussel

Posted by salty nick

I like most of your selections, Stinky, but would add:
SHARKS: Anchovy/Sardines
RAYS: Anchovy/Sardines
HALIBUT: Live Smelt
CRABS: Mackerel
PERCH: Shrimp (Pileworms are best, but shrimps are second)
LINGCOD: Anchovy

Posted by eelmaster

rays: squid
sharks: squid
cabs: shrimp
eels: shrimp
rockfish: shrimp/chovies
lings: plastics
perch: shrimp

Posted by pierangler8787

These are my personal favorites from my experiences. I still have yet to try other baits. I.E. Sardines for Bat Rays.
Bat Rays: Squid
Leopard Shark: Squid
White Croaker: Squid, Anchovies, Sabiki
Barred Perch: Bloodworms, Soft Shell Sand Crabs
Corbina: Soft Shell Sand Crabs
Crabs: Chicken Legs
Yellowfin Croaker: Mussels, Bloodworms, Anchovies
Striped Seaperch: Mussels
Calico Bass: Anchovies
Rock Bass: Mussels, Squid
Sand Bass: Anchovies
Shovelnose Guitarfish: Anchovies
Smoothhound Shark: Squid
Blue Rock Bass: Squid, Mussels
Cabezon: Anchovies, Squid
Jacksmelt: Sabiki
Sardines: Sabiki
Mackerel: Anchovies
Thresher Sharks: Live Mackerel
Other Perch: Mussel
Rockfish: Squid, Mussel
Opaleye: Mussel
Starfish: Lead Sinkers
Halibut: Anchovies, Jacksmelt, Squid (on the boat, in deep waters)

Posted by martyborboa

Croakers, perch - ghost shrimp
Halibut - grunion
Spotted Bay Bass - smelt
Spotted Sand Bass - smelt
Barracudas - sardines
Yellowtail - small mackerel
White Sea Bass - live squid
Calico Bass - anchovies
Bonito - anchovies
Mackerel - squid strips
Corbina - soft-shelled sand crabs
Sculpin/Rockfish - fresh mussels
Opaleye - peas
Bonefish - ghost shrimp
Turbot - ghost shrimp
Shortfin Corvina - anchovies
Catfish - Bonito
Florida Largemouth Bass - Shiner minnows
Corvina (Salton Sea) - small tilapia
Crappie - mealworms
Blue Gill - red worms
This is pretty much what I target each year with the changing seasons. In some cases I actually prefer lures but you asked for bait preferences. Hope this helps, Marty B.

Posted by StinkyFingers

Great feedback. And a heck of a place for a beginner to start, huh?
Seems like we've got the squids, shrimps, and little fishes as the ruling baits of the sea.
Love what I hear about duck guts and cats - keep that in mind for huntin' season.

Posted by Rock Hopper

Definitely cooked shrimp for: greenling, monkeyface eels, rockfish, striped perch. By far plastics for lings.

Posted by pierangler8787

Chicken Legs have produced some of the largest spider crabs to date for me. Has anyone ever tried them? You northern folks may not have as much success with them, but anyone crabbing in the So.Cal area, or at least in Ventura County should try them.

Date: June 21, 2002
To: PFIC Message Board
From: Ken Jones
Subject: If you could only use one bait, what would it be?

I know what I would use but I'll give my answer later.

Posted by bankshot

Live anchovies or live dines'

Posted by prometheus

That’s kind of like asking, "if you could only catch one class of fish, what would it be" I'll go with squid.

Posted by drac0

I'll have to second on the squid. Hey, with squid I can catch more bait!

Posted by 2d

Forgot about squid. I also like the fact that you can cut it into long strips and use it like a lure if needed.

Posted by baitfish

That is a tough question... If I were only fishing here in so Cal, it would probably be sand crabs, but if it were all over the state, I would go with squid. Adam. I fish with my feet on the ground...

Posted by neptune1234

Huh huh huh...You can snip it into strips, chunks, or whole. Just about every fish under the sun eats them. Pretty primo if you ask me. Bat rays and leopards darn near live on them up here in Bodega. Yup, the innkeeper worm would be it for me, aside from good old ‘chovies of course.

Posted by Red Fish

Not just anchovies, "live" anchovies!

Posted by 2d

Shrimp...You can use them anywhere. This goes doubly if all shrimp species are included. If not, then I'd go with "grass shrimp." They're here, in Hawaii, and all around the world, as far as I can tell. Also, they're found in salt, brackish and fresh water, so I could use them anywhere.

Posted by Black Marlin

For the SF Bay...In the East SF bay where I live I'm sure the one all around all year bait I would use is pile worms. Nearly all species I fish for and those in the bay system can be caught on pile worms, barring possibly salmon. Also, it’s easy to get your own at low tide and they stay lively for a long time. Second would be anchovies, with grass shrimp third.

Posted by Songslinger

I'm with Marlin on these baits. Fish Giggle At The Sound Of My Name.

Posted by pescador5312


Posted by eelmaster

Well... I'd go w/ squid. Maybe not the best bait, but very versatile. However if you asked me six months ago I would have said shrimp. Next year it will be something else...so who knows. Lol Monte

Posted by 2d

C’mon, Ken, give it up!! WWJD? (what would Jones do?)

Posted by joe3lee

I guess the most popular among everyone would be either squid, anchovies, or shrimp. I’ll roll with the squid. When are you going to let us in on your choice?

Posted by kaster

Squid...I love the fact that you can cut them in strips. -Kevin

Posted by Rich Reano (webmaster)

Mussels...I'd use mussels if I could only use 1 bait. It seems to catch a variety of different fish and works when other baits don't. I don't use it regularly however because it's such a pain to rig up.

Posted by mola joe

I agree with Rich. If the situation was I had to walk up on a pier and had to catch fish or I wouldn't eat, I would reach for a nice big fresh mussel. For putting fish on the deck quickly, I can't think of a bait that gets bit better than fresh mussel just about anytime of the year, especially winter when nothing else is working. Since the question doesn't give any specifics, I couldn't see throwing out a live ‘chovie in the middle of winter and expect much. Put a fresh hunk of mussel down by the pilings in any season and I'll fill a bucket with something.

Posted by Sinker

Think I will go with squid as it can be used multiple ways and I have caught more species of fish on squid than any other bait, it stays on the hook well and I guess you could always use what you caught as bait if necessary. Yes, SQUID would have to be my choice but don't go limiting it to only being used one way.

Posted by pierangler8787


Posted by Ken Jones

I think my bait would be a mid-sized ghost shrimp. Used whole they can take a variety of perch, bass, croakers, flatfish and even sharks and rays in the south. In the north you might luck out on a sturgeon or striper. One prerequisite however is that they must be live and fresh. They are not as good for species on the top such as mackerel but will take almost any bottom species. Fresh mussels and pile worms would follow closely.

Posted by calicomen505

Live anchovy

Posted by Corbinaman1

Good Question!
From A Pier/Rocks...Mussel
From the Surf (So. Cal)...Sandcrabs
Central and (No. Cal)...Squid

Posted by Kiyo

I would have to go with the LIVE SMELT. Kiyo, come catch a legal Halibut!

Posted by Mikey

Tough call — the "big three" as far as I'm concerned...Anchovies, Sardines, and Squid. I'll say Anchovies...with Sardine second best all-around. You hafta remember it's for ALL types of fish. Anchovy will catch everything from bass, to halibut, to tuna, and more. Of course for each species, there's a particular bait—you wouldn't use mussel for albacore, etc. So anyway, those are my picks.

Posted by rockfish

Live Anchovies or Live Squid! Anything that swims and is large enough will take a live ‘chovie. Live Squid also are hard to beat.

Posted by bigrich

BigRich would use squid!

Posted by notsosmart

Anchovies will be my choice.

September 9, 2006
Posted by riorust

I've never been skunked with squid, it’s fish crack, You can fish it so many ways. For a few months in the SoCal winter I might pick mussels though.

Posted by mkdinc

I would have to go with ‘chovies; catches most of my fish.

Posted by Clayman

I'll go with the majority and take squid as my only bait, more for its versatility than anything else. You can catch pretty much anything with squid, it stays on the hook well, and it's easy as pie to use. Good thread to bring up!

Posted by Mahigeer

Ghost shrimp and I had not seen Skipper's post when I wrote this post.

Posted by drudown

Anchovie...I catch everything off these popsicles

Posted by tinle

You can catch almost everything in San Pablo Bay with pile worms. That’s where I fish, that’s what I'd chose. Never heard of anyone catching sturgeon on squid, but I'm sure it happens.

Posted by Dan V

Abalone strips/guts...Guess most can figure out my favorite fish by my favorite bait!

Posted by mel

Anchovy. Caught stripers, halibut and sturgeon on them. Also caught sharks and rays on them too.

Posted by FakeFisherman

Ditto. Anchovies.

Posted by P boy

Grass shrimp is my ticket

Posted by tranbaby2

I would have to take anchovies too but I prefer they be live anchovies as opposed to the 'choviesicles. However, a nice frozen anchovy can make casting to the deeper holes a bit easier. I've caught stripers, sharks, rays, all types of perch, smelt, sand dabs, halibut, lings, rockfish, macks and even more anchovies on them.

Posted by Ken Jones

I might change my answer today (from the 2002 response) since I use worms—pile worms, bloodworms and lug worms—as first bait so much of the time and have excellent results with all three. I have caught everything from mackerel on top to halibut on the bottom with worms so you can catch a wide variety of fish. AND, worms can be used with almost any size and type of hook whereas ghost shrimp require a certain size and type hook (Kahle-style hooks as example). I also think the fact that worms are soft helps insure more hook ups when the fish bite. That would also be true with mussels but isn’t as true with ghost shrimp. I still feel ghost shrimp, fresh mussels and worms are hard to beat if you’re a pier fisherman. However, as said by some people, the best approach is to match the bait with the fish you are seeking out. If I was specifically seeking out halibut I would want a live anchovy, smelt or shiner. If I was specifically seeking out sharks/rays I would use a bloody piece of mackerel or squid. The key is to know what baits are best for what species.
I stopped buying bait sometime in the last five years. Sabikis, cast nets, and lures are all I need. As more bait and tackle shops closed or altered their hours, and pile worms, anchovies, and squid rose in price, I've sought independence by doing my own foraging. Live bait fishing (small perch, smelt or herring species), to me, is more productive and more rewarding. Low tides yield ghost shrimp and local worms, which, if you keep them cool and moist, will last days. You can even salt/borax shrimp and freeze it, ready for use whenever you wish. It won't be as good as fresh, but it will catch fish. Most times. I have to say, I've become increasingly more frustrated with the results of fishing ghost shrimp fresh or frozen. It just doesn't seem to be as effective as it once was. This past year, pile worms (and plastic grubs) have out performed shrimp baits for surf perch. Maybe it's the areas I'm fishing?

Ken Jones

Staff member
I too have grabbed live baits at time (especially ghost shrimp with a pump and live smelt/etc. with a drop net). Unfortunately when I am on one of my trips along the coast it is sometiimes difficult to do the first due to time restaints but if I lived anywhere near the water (bay or ocean) I would be getting my own bait).

Interesting what you say about the ghost shrimp. I wonder the cause?