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Bait Preservation


Many request have come through to FSA highlighting the need for information on preserving baits.

Cockles - Storage

Cockles are very common, and are distributed on surf beaches from southern Queensland to the Eyre Peninsula in great old SA. Although they are only found in the surf, they are also good bait for some fish that are caught off the rocks. A bait of cockles will take drummer, bream, flathead, whiting and Trevally.

Cockles collected for immediate use, or being carried on a fishing trip need only be kept cool in a cool box with a couple of ice packs on top, but these need to be insulated from direct contact with the shells.

Longer storage is easy and only needs the cockles to be put in a bucket of fresh sea water. A normal builders bucket can be used to store up to 50 cockles. Better still are flat trays with sides 3-4" deep in which the cockles can be layed out individually. But take the following precautions.

After collection, rinse the cockles in seawater to cleanse them of any clinging mud and sand which quickly contaminates the water if left on. If you store the cockles in brackish estuary water, you'll find that they don't live as long as if you take the trouble to secure water directly off an open beach which is purer.

You need to change this water at least every two days. Make sure that the fresh water has been allowed to stand in the same air temperature as that in which the cockles are stored. This prevents the occasional casualty which can occur when cockles are instantly immersed in water with a wide temperature difference from that which they are used to.

Suitable places to house the bucket or trays are in a cool shadowy shed or garage in the cooler months, and in a fridge during the heat of summer.

Fresh bait is a big advantage and is essential for achieving the very best catches. Nobody doubts that, but it's wrong to assume that all areas have adequate bait supplies and that there are good tackle shops within sensible travelling range that stock quality bait.

Many areas have limited natural bait beds and a lack of good tackle shops, often these shops stock only a limited variety of baits, with no guarantee as to their freshness. Serious anglers are left out on a limb.

With all this in mind then, what's the quality of frozen bait available, does it catch fish in it's own right, and just how much of a disadvantage is it if you need to rely on frozen bait ?

Gents - Buying, Storing & Cleaning

Gents aren't cheap but, with care, the standard variety from tackle stores can be kept in good condition for two or three weeks.

Fresh Gents are lively and soft to the touch, not leathery. Tough, old Gents are only good in very cold water, which makes fresh Gents stretch and die.

They are best kept in purpose-made plastic bait containers with perforated lids that let the Gents breathe. Keep the boxes clean and dry and the holes in the lids unclogged. To prevent spillage, the boxes should ideally only be filled halfway.

The best place for storing Gents is a fridge. Failing that, choose a cool, dark, well ventilated place such as a garage floor, but bear in mind that they won't keep as long only a week at most in summer, a bit longer in winter.

Frozen Bait - What to look for when buying

The effectiveness and quality of any bought frozen bait is governed by how quick after capture it was frozen down. Get a mackerel, for instance, into the blast frozen process within the hour maximum and you've got a good bait with no evidence of excessive blood weeping from the eyes and gills. Leave it longer and the flesh has started to deteriorate and discolour with blood, and when the fish is thawed it will be soft fleshed and difficult to cut and present on the hook.

Another little known factor that effects the quality of frozen mackerel is the depth at which it was caught. If mackerel are deep and in colder water when caught they freeze better than when working shallow in the height of the summer. Logical when you think about it !

When buying any frozen bait, first check that the eyes are clear and are not badly stained with blood around the eye sockets. Another bad sign is a quantity of blood in the gill area. The flesh should retain some of the it's natural colouring, though inevitably, this is bound to fade somewhat after death. With some species, the belly should be stark white and not be carrying a yellow tinge to it.

With Squid, check that it is white fleshed and not pink. Also, any sign of a dark liquid present suggests that the time lapse between its catch and the freezer was too long and that the bait is past it's best.

Fresh mussel, when frozen, should be a dull orange to yellow colour. If the flesh has started to grey, then it's a sign that the mussel was in a poor state when finally frozen.

Crabs in general are alive when frozen, so should be good bait if frozen by a proper company and carrying a branded name. However, some unscrupulous individuals may try to freeze down already dead crabs and suspect shellfish of dubious vintage. This is more likely to happen in a tackle shop where an amount of bait may go off at times of slow demand and the owner cuts his losses by freezing the residue.

Some tackle shops do stock Pilchards netted for them and brought directly to their premises for freezing in a domestic type chest freezer. This is okay and will catch you fish providing the time between sea and freezing point was not too long. However hard you try, the time it takes for a chest freezer to freeze a bulk of Pilchards fully can take well over 12 hours and some breakdown of flesh composition is inevitable. A blast frozen system sees the fish rock hard within 1 hour for smaller packaged bait like Whitebait, but can take up to 4 hours for a 1kg bag of Pilchards to be fully frozen through to the inner body cavity.

Also remember that a whole block of Pilchards dumped in a freezer at once, as is the case with most tackle shops, sees those on the outside insulating the ones in the middle, further enhancing breakdown time. This also applies to anglers trying to freeze their own bait.

Carrying and Storing Frozen Bait

Once the bait is bought, the onus is on you to keep it fully frozen. No point in getting good bait then allowing it to thaw out on a two hour trip to your fishing spot.

When you buy frozen bait, it should be taken straight out of the tackle shop freezer and put into a cool box carried into the shop with you. Put the bait at the bottom of the box and pack at least three frozen ice packs on top. Too many anglers put the packs in the bottom, but remember that cold air falls so the best place for the packs is on the top.

Try to fill the box to the top, either with bait, or with packs. Empty areas will increase the thawing effect. Also use the cool box in this way to transport bought frozen bait for long term home storage in the freezer. This applies to the domestic freezer too, with empty room in the freezer allowing in too much warm air which makes the freezer work extra hard to cool things down again and increasing overall freezing time.


Using frozen bait does put you at a disadvantage against someone using fresh bait, but that disadvantage is not as great as some would have us believe.

It is however the answer to going fishing at a moments notice and confidence soon comes in it's effectiveness. It's other use is that it can catch the smaller species that are the quick route to specimen predatory fish. Not an end in itself, but definitely a means to an end !

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Comments to: Copyright © 1996-2007 Disclaimer Page last modified: 7th of July 2002.