6. Pacific Sardine (Southern California)
In Southern California, anglers usually buy rather than catch their own liveys. The hottest bait depends primarily on what's available and closest to port. Year-round, that's the Pacific sardine. Virtually all local gamesters - yellowtail, calico bass, halibut, rockfish, dorado and several tuna species - eat sardines. Squid and anchovies also rank high, but squid are only available in commercial quantities from October to May.
Find/Catch: Commercial bait operators purse-seine schools of Pacific sardines and sell them from bait barges in nearly every SoCal harbor. So the trick here involves locating good-quality bait and treating it properly, says Mark Wisch from Pacific Edge Tackle in Huntington Beach (www.pacificedgetackle.com).
"If the sardine feels slippery and slimy, is bright-eyed, has all its scales and no red spots, that's good-quality bait," Wisch says. "When it feels dry, is missing scales and looks beat up, load your well very lightly and take it easy."
Average cost: $30 to $35 per scoop with a braille net, which nearly fills a 25-gallon bait tank, says Sport Fishing contributor Ron Eldridge.
Keep: Wisch, whose company also makes bait tanks, says most SoCal fin baits are reasonably hardy. In summer, however, the water warms and red tides erupt, and because those are prime months for fishing, baits don't spend much time in the commercial pens (storage in the pens toughens the baits).
Wisch advises anglers not to overload their wells, especially in summer, though the tendency may be to overbuy before heading well offshore for albacore.
Rig/Deploy: Depending on the target species, anglers fly-line (free-line), slow-troll or drop sardines to the bottom. A typical slow-troll or fly-line rig starts with 50-pound Spectra main line joined with a back-to-back nail or uni-knot to a fluorocarbon top shot (see illustration). Cap that with a 1/0 to 2/0 ringed Owner Mutu circle hook. Nose-hook the bait, or pin it side to side just behind the hard spot on its head (above the edge of the gill flap). The latter method helps keep the hook from turning back in the bait.
A typical bottom rig begins with the same main line attached to a slightly heavier mono or fluorocarbon top shot. Wisch ties a 2-foot surgeon's loop at the end of the fluoro and then cuts it so one leg is a foot long and the other measures 3 feet. For halibut, he ties a torpedo sinker to the short line; for other species such as sea bass, he ties the sinker on the longer line. To the remaining line, he ties a 2/0 to 4/0 Owner Flyliner J hook. Hook the sardine side to side through the nose or up through the lower and upper jaws for deeper drops.