What Bait to Use for NC Outer Banks Pier Fishing
Let's get this straight from the beginning - I'm suggesting the best bait to use for pier fishing with a bottom rig. I'll probably mention "gotcha plugs" before this hub is over, but the truth is, all I know about, all I've ever really done, is fished with a bottom rig. And I only fish from the end of the pier when the "serious fisherman" are not around. Most of my fishing is between the surf and the middle of the pier.
So, what do I use to catch the spot, croaker, mullet, flounder, trout, puppy drum, black drum, occasional sheep's head, and unfortunate skate from the Outer Banks fishing piers?
My first choice is always shrimp. Some folks think it's quite a waste - throwing away perfectly good shrimp all day without a nary a bite. And it's true - I like a good shrimp dinner as much as the next person, but I also like fishin'. And shrimp is relatively clean to handle (if you don't believe me, wait until I tell you about blood worms!). It's easy to cut into bait-size pieces, and easy to twist onto your hook. But most importantly, fish like it. I've caught more fish using shrimp at the NC Outer Banks than with any other bait.
One of our childhood staples was squid. I never heard a soul complain that we were wasting a good dinner for fish bait when we used squid to fish. But I didn't try my first calamari until I was all grown up. I have to admit that so far, my recommendations for bait sound like a mighty fine seafood dinner.
My grandmother always thought squid were good for flounder. I've caught a few croaker and mullet with squid, but the shrimp usually do better for me.
Next on our list is blood worms. Bet you won't mind leaving those off of your dinner plate.
I was pretty squeamish about using worms for bait until I was an adult. Sometimes, especially when the spot are in, there's just nothing else that works. When everyone else on the pier is catching one after another, and you're not, you learn how to put a worm on your hook.
They don't call 'em blood worms for nothing. They are messy, and they ooze "blood." My hands are always nasty, especially under my nails, after a day of fishing with blood worms. If the spot are not biting, I usually stick with the shrimp. And by the way, blood worms are often even more expensive than shrimp, if you can believe that!
A pretty good substitute for blood worms is the artificial brand, Fish Bites. Fish Bites come in lots of "flavors", including shrimp, but we have only had luck with the blood worm variety. The bait looks like little strips of bubble gum. I haven't tasted it, but the spot do seem to like it okay, just maybe not as good as that messy "live bait". Fish Bites are a lot more economical than blood worms, however. You can reuse the same piece of bait over and over. I've caught plenty of spot using Fish Bites and kept my hands relatively clean.
We've had a few fishing companions that swear by using sections of crab for bait. We've tried it a few times - it's supposed to be excellent for drum - but I've never had much success with it. I also started to worry a bit about using crab that we caught ourselves, because I don't fully understand the fishing regulations regarding crab. And it's kind of tricky getting those crabs off your hook and sliced into pieces without getting pinched.
Another related option is sand fleas. You can dig your own sand fleas right at the surf - I've watched my daughter and stepkids fill up a sand bucket in no time. But I've also recently seen sand fleas for sale at one of myfavorite fishing piers, fresh, frozen and steamed. I'm told that in the winter when the fresh sand fleas are not available, the fish seem to like 'em steamed. Sand fleas are supposed to be great for drum and sheep's head, but I have to admit, I haven't had much luck with them myself...maybe because the kids would cry anytime we tried to use them for bait.
If you are fishing for striper (that's one "p", not two, for you dirty minded guys...some Tarheels also call 'em Rock Fish), then eels are supposed to be a good choice for bait. I've only tried it once. I happened to catch a small eel, and rather than trying to get the dang thing off my hook (they invariably swallow it!), I decided to just throw it back out there and see what happened. Bad idea. That slimey eel twisted my bottom rig into the biggest rat's nest you've ever seen. Other than what the seasoned professionals tell me, I can't give much of a recommendation on eels for bait.
Okay, I told you I would get around to the gotcha plugs.
First, my grandparents taught us to use "live bait." Let me explain, in case you are as confused as I used to be...."live bait" does not mean the poor little sea urchins are actually still alive. It just means they once were. "Live bait" is the opposite of "artificial bait."
My grandfather had a tackle box full of really cool looking artificial lures, but I seldom saw him use them, and I never saw him catch a single fish with one. So I grew up using live bait and didn't bother with artificial lures, ever. Fish Bites just came out a few years ago and represents my first attempt to use artificial bait....unless you count bologna, with all those perservatives and all. We used bologna now and then for pond fishing. But I digress....back to the gotcha plugs.
You will see lots of folks using gotcha plugs to fish for blues on the North Carolina Outer Banks piers. They seem to work, too. But I grew up hearing stories about the blues running - they say you didn't need bait at all, just a shiney hook. Now personally, I don't like the flavor of blue fish, but I understand how it is when nothing else is biting and a fisherman (yes, I said fisherMAN) gets a bit bored. They'll resort to using gotcha plugs to catch a blue or two.
I've never tried it, but I've noticed there's a little flicking motion to the reeling in that I am probably not quite coordinated enough to master. I'll leave that for the guys, and the gals who actually like blue fish. But gotchas are pretty inexpensive if you want to tuck one in your tackle box, just in case.
I almost forgot - the other primary bait that I've actually used and caught fish! "Cut Bait" can be just about any little fish that's really too small to put in the cooler (but of course not restricted by fishing regulations) that happens to be unlucky enough to end up on your hook. I personally do not clean fish, so I only use cut bait when someone else is willing to do the cutting. They just basically fillet the little guy and cut the meat into hook-size pieces. Cut bait is excellent for flounder, drum, and sometimes the usual croaker-mullet-spot fare...if they are tired of the shrimp, that is. Cut bait is a great alternative when the skates are bad - skates love shrimp, and there is really nothing more frustrating to me than the fight to the water's surface to discover a dang'd skate!
No doubt, there are other plentiful baits you can use to fish the North Carolina Outer Banks. Maybe some of those end-of-the-pier spanish mackeral, cobia and shark conquerers will chime in under the Comments section. But if you just want to catch some decent (and delicious) pan-sized (or a little better) fish, this article has you covered!