While the predominant advice for sea fishing is to “use what the locals use,” sometimes that is not realistic. During peak striper seasons on the east coast, for example, preferred baits at tackle shops can come at a huge cost or even run out. This makes supermarket sea fishing bait a good option.
The 12 best sea fishing bait from the supermarket are:
- Shrimp or prawns
- Raw fish with the skin on
- Peeler crabs
- Crab meat
- Cooked or prepared fish
- Slim Jims
- Chunks of cheese
Your local supermarket is a feast of sea fishing bait options. The question is not whether you will find something that works, but how to prioritize what you do find. Below we discuss some tips for finding the right bait for your fishing trip, plus a rundown of the best baits supermarkets offer.
What Is The Best Bait For Sea Fishing?
Saltwater anglers have been asking this question for as long as fishing has existed. Likely, the first cave people had some form of discussion about what usually worked, what did not, and what baits were sure things. There are a few different reasons this question has vexed so many fishers for so long.
First, the ocean is full of life. It is estimated that there are over 30,000 different types of fish in the ocean, and those are just the fish we know about. According to UNESCO, about 2,000 new species of life are found in the ocean every year. That means fish will want different baits depending on their dietary needs and preferences.
Everyone has food preferences based on where they are from. Fish are no different. A fish that lives off the gulf stream in the Atlantic Ocean will not eat the same stuff as a fish that lives off Japan in the Pacific Ocean. Likewise, fish from New England likely do not like exactly what Gulf of Mexico fish prefer.
It also makes debates about the “best bait” really difficult to pin down. Not only do fish have different preferences, but anglers also have bait preferences as well. Fishing with creepy-crawlies might bother someone used to fishing with chunks of fish flesh. Likewise, someone that has never used live bait before might object to the concept of killing the bait.
No Such Thing As A Sure Thing
No bait always works, and most do not work consistently. There are some all fish prefer, like peeler crab, but there is no way to get them to bite if they are not feeding. Figuring out the best bait for saltwater or freshwater fishing is therefore almost impossible.
The most consistent saltwater bait is probably crab. The most consistent freshwater bait is probably worms. None of that is guaranteed, though.
5 Tips For Choosing The Best Sea Fishing Bait From The Supermarket
1. Learn Your Supermarket Meat Rotation Schedule
Every grocer has a rotation for its stock. This is particularly true for highly perishable foods, like meat. Because most sea fish you will target are meat-eaters, it makes sense to know when your local grocery will have meat in stock and when it will be replaced. This is because contrary to any other shopping advice, you want meat that is close to expiration or even a day or two past.
You want this for two reasons:
- Meat that is close to the end of its shelf life is usually sold for less
- Old meat smells and those smells attract fish
In most cases, if you ask the store butcher for certain meats that are approaching their expiration date, you can get them for a discount. This will save you some money and give you some amazingly odorous bait to attract saltwater fish.
2. You Can Freeze Supermarket Bait
Most bait you buy at the supermarket can be frozen. This comes in handy if you are buying meat for bait that is past its expiration date. Freezing the meat suspends its decay. You do have to remember, however, what meat is for bait and mark it clearly. Shrimp cocktail made from bait shrimp that expired a few weeks ago is not anyone’s idea of fun!
3. Avoid Cooked Food If Possible
The reason for this has nothing to do with its effectiveness as a bait. Cooked food, especially seafood, is difficult to keep hooked. It flakes, shreds and breaks apart. Raw seafood tends to hold up better than the cooked version, both on the hook and in salt water.
4. Keep The Skin On
If you are using any type of fish for supermarket bait, try and get some with the skin still on. Not only does it last longer on a hook, but its natural color will also look more natural to a predator.
5. Mix And Match
This article focuses on baits that are used directly and singularly to catch fish. In many cases, the most effective method is to mix baits with other baits, lures or even flies if you are doing some sea fly fishing. The following are a few suggestions for mixing baits that work very well, with at least one part being a bait you can find in the supermarket:
- Mackerel and clams
- Mussels and jigging spoons
- Live crab and a chunk of raw fish
- Raw fish and a jigging spoon
- Umbrella rig with lures and raw fish for light trolling
- Spoon and raw fish with skin to enhance the flash effect
- Clams and canned fish stored in tomato sauce
The 12 Best Sea Fishing Bait From The Supermarket
Squid is available just about anywhere there is a grocer. Lots of fish species will go after it and a few particularly love it. Squid works very well on winter cod, bluefish and just about all bottom fish. Squid also works exceptionally well as a topper with other baits or lures. Tie a squid streamer onto the end of a jig, spoon or spinner and the fluttering squid can be the difference.
One of the best things about squid is that it is less expensive than a lot of sea baits and tough as nails when it comes to clinging to a hook. You can buy it cooked or not, rings or whole, fresh, canned or frozen. The only downside is that squid does go bad quickly, so if you are using it for fishing, keep it cold until you attach it to a hook.
Mussels are a great bait that are fairly inexpensive. They are not a “go-to” all around bait, but in specific conditions, mussels are difficult to beat. The best way to fish mussels is to pair it with another lure or bait. It is even a good idea to bring some along when you are using live bait. Pair them with a peeler crab or even a minnow and you have a tasty meal most fish cannot resist.
Mussels are available in most supermarket seafood sections. You can also buy them canned, cooked, raw and frozen. The downside with mussels is that they are a chore to get on a hook and very fragile, so you want to affix them to a hook with a band if possible.
3. Shrimp Or Prawns
A lot of people confuse shrimp and prawns. This is not the article to point out the differences as both, when used correctly, are killer sea fish bait. You should buy either shrimp or prawns (or both) raw and unshelled, if possible. But if not, just raw is fine. Both forms of bait work well with just about every type of fish out there except for larger predators.
The upside to either is that they are available just about anywhere and in just about any form you can imagine. In some supermarkets, you can even buy them live. The downsides are as follows:
- Both tend to be on the pricy side
- Both are fragile, so you will go through them unless secured to the hook with a band
- They do not have much scent, so are good for short bursts before needing replacement
4. Raw Fish With The Skin On
A sliver of raw fish on a hook, left to drift or dangled just above the bottom of a bay or the ocean is an unexpected treat for most sea fish. Leave the skin on because it looks more natural, and many fish have skins that flash silver when yanked. Use raw fish whenever possible and let it soak so its scent permeates the water around it.
You can find raw fish with the skin on in most supermarkets. They can be frozen, fresh or canned. If you cannot find fish with skin, fileted raw fish works almost as well, as it just lacks a little flash. Additionally, the oilier or smellier the fish the better as it leaves a scent in the water around it that attracts predators.
The best way to choose the type of raw fish you will use when sea fishing is price. You can find fish that are really inexpensive like catfish or, depending on where you live, flounder. Or you can go really expensive, like salmon or trout. Don’t worry too much about the type of fish. Focus on price followed by texture. You want a bait that will stay on the hook and not separate too easily.
The cost of raw fish is a bit of a downside, and some do not work well as other baits. Using salmon as bait, for example, can get expensive as it does not stay on hooks particularly well.
5. Peeler Crabs
Technically, peeler crabs are any type of crab that is shedding its shell, but for this article, “peeler” refers to any type of live crab. They are probably the best supermarket bait for all around fishing as so many species love them. The short list of fish that will forsake other baits for peeler crabs include:
- Sand shark
Part of the alure of peeler crabs is the scent. They leave a lot of it, and it is unmistakable to fish. If you are using live crabs, the scent of its trail will attract every fish in the immediate vicinity. Even if you are using dead or cooked crab, it is still a powerful bait. The trick with peelers is finding them, because most grocers do not sell live crab.
Apart from being irresistible to most fish, peelers are not messy. They do not leave stains or much scent on your hands. They will also not usually be targeted by other crabs.
The primary downside to peeler crabs is the cost. They are expensive! They can also be difficult to find at grocery stores or bait shops. Finally, you do not want to use larger crabs as bait, but that is exactly what most customers want to buy from the supermarket, so you must be selective when purchasing live crabs.
6. Crab Meat
If live crabs are not available, crab meat is usually in abundance at most supermarkets. The trick to using supermarket crab meat as bait is finding some that is stable enough to affix to a hook. Options for supermarket crab meat include canned, fresh and frozen, and it is almost always cooked.
The scent of crab meat is not as powerful as a live crab, but it is not far off. In fact, in the right circumstances, crab meat can be almost as effective. For example, site-feeders like mackerel will not usually go after living crabs. Mackerel will go after crab meat, though, and if you use the crab meat as a streamer on another lure, the presentation is almost irresistible.
In terms of how to fish crab meat, jigging it off the side of a boat, pier or bridge or using a drop shot style rig works best. As mentioned, it is also a killer addition to spoons, streamers, jigs, spinners or other baits.
The downside to using crab meat as bait is two-fold. First, you must make sure that what you are buying is genuine crab meat. Crab meat substitutes do not work as well. Second, crab meat is not inexpensive. While not as expensive as live crabs or other baits, you can end up paying a lot of cash for enough crab meat to last a day’s worth of fishing.
Much like mussels, clams can be highly effective with saltwater fish. The challenge is extracting them from their shell. You must pry them open or break the shell and pull the meat out. Raw clams are effective because they have a pungent scent. They can be jigged or added to a fishing lure.
The challenge with clams is three-fold:
- They are expensive to use for bait, although can be highly effective
- They can be difficult to affix to a hook
- They tend to lose their scent quickly
One way of making the process of getting the clam ready for the hook is to cook them first. Bake them until their shells open. Let them cool and pull the cooked meat, belly and all, off the shell. Store the pulled clams on ice as they go bad very quickly.
8. Cooked Or Prepared Fish
This type of fish bait is available in just about every supermarket. From mackerel steaks to anchovies or sardines, if you fish them correctly, cooked fish can be a very effective, affordable and easy to find bait. There are a few important factors to consider, however.
Prepared fish meat tends to be soft, flaky and fragile. You want to use fish that is tougher and not prone to falling apart. You’ll also struggle to cast when fishing with prepared fish meat, as it will come off very easily. You will need to drop the fish over the side of a boat, pier or bridge and jig it.
Not every prepared fish meat will make a good bait. Some you think might are actually awful, while others you think will be awful are pretty effective. If you can, test your prepared fish meat before heading out on any big trip. Also, you may not want to use prepared fish meat as your only bait. Have some squid or shrimp along with you in case what you bought is not working.
For example, you would think canned sardines make great sea fishing bait, and they can, but not if they are packed in oil. For some reason, the oil mixture makes them very smelly and very flaky. They fall apart almost as soon as they hit the water. Conversely, some fried fish is amazingly effective and will stay on a hook for quite a while. Some pre-cooked fish filets work well as bait too.
It Is Expensive With Low ROI
Fresh fish meat is really expensive, but in the right scenario, can yield a fishing bonanza. Cooked or prepared fish meat can be very productive if you have the right rigging and the right fish in proximity, but it also can be as disaster. If the fish is prepared differently, it can fall apart or even turn away other fish.
While seafood is usually the go-to bait when it comes to supermarket baits, sea fish like other types of meat as well. Liver is a great fresh or saltwater bait. It is effective because it gives off the odor of meat and blood, which attracts just about every type of fish in existence.
The best way to fish liver is by jigging it or suspending it close to the bottom. It will last a long time, which is why many catfishing anglers use liver on a hook overnight.
One drawback to liver is that, while it has a very strong odor, it tends to dissipate quickly. This means you will end up hauling in your bait and swapping it out more often, which if you are fishing deep water, can be a hassle. It also means you will go through a lot of bait fairly quickly, so buying a pound of liver per person per day is not a bad idea.
10. Slim Jims
Slim Jims give off a very strong aroma and leave an oily residue that tends to spread around the bait. They will last fairly long on a hook and fish seem to like them.
A downside to using Slim Jims is the cost. They are an expensive bait that will yield results, but if you are just fishing for sport, they’re probably not worth the investment. The good part of using Slim Jims as sea fishing bait is that you have a snack if the fishing is really slow!
Most fish like pork, and while some have a few ideas why, no one is really sure. Many have surmised that pork is popular with sea fish because it tends to have a strong odor.
Regardless, just about every fish will go after pork if it gets the chance. It also is resilient and will remain “fresh” on a hook for a fair amount of time. Depending on the type of pork you use, you can fish it in chunks, cubes, strips and even as a floating bait if you rig it that way. Casting pork is possible, but you must be careful.
The only downside to using pork as a bait is its effectiveness. It seems like pork as a bait runs hot and cold, depending on the fish. Additionally, depending on the presentation, sight predator fish will not have much to fixate on. Finally, pork does lose its scent after a while and there is no predicting when that will happen, so you must check it frequently.
12. Chunks Of Cheese
Cheese is not recommended for open water, deep sea fishing, but if you are drift fishing in a bay or fishing off a bridge or pier, aged cheddar cheese can be very effective. It is known as a freshwater bait that some fish like catfish or carp adore, but it can also be highly effective with bottom fish in the bay or ocean.
To fish with cheese effectively, it must be aged and smelly. Its scent is what attracts fish. Affix it to a hook the same way you would with dough if you were carp fishing. The best method to fish it is by jigging it, although you can cast it a little distance if your chunk is not too large.
The downside to cheese as a saltwater bait is that it dissipates quickly. You end up having to swap it out for fresh cheese frequently. It is also expensive, but if you are in a pinch, can be effective. The fish that will go after cheese are flounder, croaker, occasionally cod and others that are carnivorous, but not voracious predators.
The best sea fishing bait you can buy from the supermarket varies depending on where you’re fishing and what you’re fishing. In general, chunks of raw fish, peeler crab, and even pork are great options, but it’s a wise idea to mix and match to boost your chances of a successful fishing trip.