The 3 Best Live Bait Fish For Inshore Fishing In Florida [Gulf Coast]

By: Joseph Simonds on April 17, 2017
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best live bait fish

It’s live bait time!

In today’s live bait discussion, we are going to talk about the top live bait fish (not including shrimp) for catching inshore fish in Florida (such as redfish, snook, trout, tarpon, and cobia).

I will also do my best to clarify some of the confusion on the different types of names people use to refer to live bait here in Florida.

For instance, did you know that if you hear someone talking about pilchards, scaled sardines, or whitebait, they are actually all referring to the exact same bait fish?

Yep. Just depends on where they live and/or who taught them about live bait.

At any rate, let’s dig in.

Here are my top three go-to live bait fish for inshore fishing here in Florida.

1. Whitebait (aka Scaled Sardine or Pilchard)

best live bait fish sardine

Whitebait is my overall #1 pick for inshore live bait.

Here are some facts about whitebait (and why I choose this as my favorite inshore live bait fish):

  • Whitebait (aka pilchard and scaled sardine) are great overall because they last a long time and can catch pretty much any inshore fish you would want to target.
  • You can tell a whitebait from a threadfish by the size of its eye (the whitebait has a much larger eye, and is also much stronger and less scaly than the threadfin).
  • The whitebait is found in the shallow water (although you usually find the big whitebait on deeper flats), and I usually get my whitebait in grass flats that are in 3-5 ft of water.
  • Whitebait is a strong bait and can hold strong overnight if placed in a bait pen.
  • You can chum up whitebait near the boat to throw the cast net (but know that whitebait hug the bottom more than threadfins do – so if you see bait raining all over the surface, it’s most likely threadfins… not whitebait).
  • Whitebait are very shiny (attract predator fish).
  • Approx 2 to 5 inches long.
  • Just about anything you can target inshore (and even offshore) will eat whitebait. We use whitebait to catch our redfish, snook, trout, cobia, tripletail, and even tarpon.

2. Pinfish

live bait pinfish

Pinfish are my second choice in terms of the best live bait.

Here are some facts about pinfish:

  • Pinfish, like whitebait, are also a very hardy bait, so they will not die in the livewell.
    • Note: Do not put your pinfish with your other bait because they are known to eat the eyes out of weaker bait.
  • They have spiky fins (because it feels like you are getting poked by a pin).
  • Approx from 2 to 6 inches
  • Pinfish are usually very plentiful and easy to find on most grass flats.
  • You can catch them using a cast net, pinfish traps, or a small hook and a really small piece of shrimp or Berkley Gulp (watch a cool trick on catching loads of pinfish using old Berkley Gulps here)
  • Redfish, snook, trout, tarpon, grouper, snapper, and pretty much all other predator fish love pinfish
  • Pinfish are also useful as dead bait or cut bait (we’ve caught some monster bull redfish using cut pinfish as bait)

Related: How To Rig A Live Pinfish For Catching Snook, Tarpon, And Grouper [VIDEO]

3. Threadfin Herring (aka Greenback or Greenie)

best live bait greenback

Threadfin, Greenbacks, Greenies.

These scaly bait fish are my third choice due to the following reasons:

  • They have a dark green back, and dark spots along the dorsal ridge, there is also a long thread-like fin on the back.
  • To find threadfins look for those in deeper water, they will show on your fish finder or can see the bubbling on the surface.
  • If you see bait fish “raining” on the surface, it is usually a school of threadfins.
  • You often don’t need to chum for these… usually you can simply find threadfins located around any structure (like Sunshine Skyway fishing piers the Anna Maria Island Pier).
  • You can also use a sabiki rig to catch the threadfins.
  • Threadfins are in high demand during tarpon season, but know that threadfins will not last all night in a bait pen (and in many cases won’t last all day in a livewell).
  • The threadfin’s scales come off easily and make a mess in your livewell.
  • Threadfins work great for cut bait as they release a lot of aromas (excellent for redfish).
  • Approx from 2 to 5 inches
  • Large threadfins can be awesome for big tarpon just offshore
  • Overall, threadfins are not very hardy, they die easily, but they are great and useful as dead bait and cut bait.

Related: How To Make Your Own Sabiki Rig

Best Live Bait Fish [VIDEO]


Not all live baits are created equal…

And although each of these three live baits have their place for inshore fishermen, if I had the choice, I would pick them in this order:

  1. Whitebait
  2. Pinfish
  3. Threadfish

Of course, some days when the bait is tough to get, you’ll take anything you can get your hands on…

Any other live baits that make your top 3?

Let me know your favorite live bait in the comments.

Related Post: Inshore Fishing 101: Your Ultimate Inshore Fishing Resource (click here to see it)

inshore fishing 101 library

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2 Comments on "The 3 Best Live Bait Fish For Inshore Fishing In Florida [Gulf Coast]"

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Joe Estrada

And the infamous CROAKER, no gator trout can resistant croaker high on oxygen.


What about fingerling mullet?