Perhaps you use a lot of peeler crab for your cod fishing, or are prone to lashing on great offerings of mackerel to the hook in the hunt for a big, sulking conger eel. Below are some of the baits I tend to use for the majority of my fishing.
Unless you have access to "fresh off the boat" mackerel, then it is essential to use the best quality blast frozen stuff you can lay your hands on; in my book that is Ammo mackerel. I always have some of their packets of two and three in my freezer, ready for use.
I have recently started to fish for tope from the shore and my favourite bait is now the head and first third of the body, pennel rigged on a couple of 6/0 Mustad BLNs and obligatory wire trace. For conger I am happy to use whole or flappered mackerel, but only if there is not to much crab trouble around; it is a relatively soft bait and can be quite quickly ripped to pieces by marauding packs of hungry crabs. I do not actually use mackerel for bull huss that much, but some anglers I know swear by it and prefer neatly cut fillets tightly bound to their pennel rig. Small strips can also be great for tipping off worm and crab baits, or for fishing under floats for pollack, mackerel and garfish.
It is important to look after the bait en route to, and whilst, fishing, so use a coolbag/coolbox and some ice packs to keep the mackerel in pristine condition; there is nothing worse than letting it all go soft and mushy, thus rendering it useless.
In my neck of the woods this must be one of the most popular baits there is, but although lots of fish are keen to feed on juicy peeler baits, part of the reason must be that we have fairly good access to crab all the year round. It's even better if you have your own crab traps and do not have to pay the high prices!
There are not many fish that will not take crab at various times of the year but don't fall into the trap of thinking it is some wonder bait; yes, it does catch fish, but not always. If only it did!
I am not keen on these tiny little half-crab baits for mini species, so on my hooks usually go at least two big peeled crabs. These are then bound on with fine elastic. This is a perfect bait for winter cod and thornback ray, although obviously if you go flounder fishing then those smaller offerings are what is required. Wrasse love peelers, softies and hardbacks. Peeler tends to catch whatever is there, whereas using hardback crabs tends to sort out the bigger specimen wrasse. The wait will often be longer though.
I keep my crabs in the fridge at normal food storage temperatures (I have a very understanding wife, well used to crabby rustlings next to her tomatoes!) and give them a drink of clean sea water every couple of days. What I am trying to do essentially is grade and sort the crabs so I always have some ready for use and others just coming to the correct stage of peeling. In winter, when I do a lot of cod fishing, this becomes almost a kind of religion, for I am always going collecting crabs, cleaning them, sorting them out and then using them, all in a continual cycle.
The only squid I use is that blast frozen calamari that you can buy from good tackle shops or direct from the quay; I have a freezer stacked full of those 1lb boxes.
Just make sure that the squid is nice and fresh looking (skin and flesh needs to be white). I now use squid a lot more than I use mackerel, for it is a deadly huss bait as well as being very effective for species such as cod, conger, thornbacks, and obviously for tipping purposes. It is a fairly tough bait that resists crab attention for longer than mackerel.
My best bait for huss is one normal sized calamari squid, tightly bound to a short pennel rig consisting of a pair of 4/0 or 6/0 Mustad Vikings and 100lb mono; I don't take the skin off, I just tuck the head back up the side of the body and bind it all on. I often fish one squid bait and one crab bait side by side when targeting cod and thornbacks up on the murky waters of the Bristol Channel and quite often the plain old squid bait will produce the better stamp of fish. You can also floatfish strips of the white flesh for mackerel, as well as using it for spinning purposes.
Many anglers like to tip off small worm and crab baits with thin strips of squid for whiting, dabs, plaice and such fish, especially when match fishing, so I suppose versatility is the keyword for squid. Some people donít mind refreezing it, but I don't like doing that; I firmly believe in fresh, good quality baits and its fairly cheap stuff anyway.
I am not sure how much live prawn is used as a bait. I have a feeling that it may be a fairly localised thing down here in the south west, but if more anglers used it, then I am sure they would switch on to how deadly it can be.
To use live prawn, you have no choice really but to set up a live-tank in your shed or garage and go out and collect your own; we either drop or push net for them in the warmer months when swarms of them are right tight in to the shore line. They like to hang around big clumps of weeded structures and you will often find hordes of Plymouth anglers out at night over the high water with their drop nets and bits of bait, gathering this deadly bait. We tend to use prawn for thornback rays in the River Tamar, Dart and the Kingsbridge Estuary; odd rays come to crab throughout the year, but come June and onwards you have to really use prawn. I wish I knew why, but for some reason they become preoccupied with prawn and seem reluctant to pick up anything else. We take some prawn in a bucket of sea water plus the essential aerator.
Now, by the time a couple of prawns are threaded onto the trace, they are actually dead, but this does not matter one bit. Behind an Impact Shield they withstand hard casting fairly well and really we are only ever lobbing baits out perhaps within 100 yards. Prawn is also used by some anglers for wrasse, bass and pollack, although for this it is better to hook the prawn through the base of the tail so that it stays alive and gives off those required signals to hungry fish.
I would hazard a guess that lugworm is the most popular bait in this country for shore fishing, for it takes a huge number of popular species, including fish like bass, plaice, flounder, dabs, dogfish, cod, pouting, whiting etc. There are many places you can go and dig all you need, but lots of anglers just buy all they need from their local tackle shops. Wrapped up in newspaper they are fine for taking fishing straight away if kept cool and out of direct sunlight; if you want to keep them for longer periods, put them in the fridge and maybe change the newspaper every day, discarding any dead worms. Some people keep them in shallow trays of sea water in the bottom of a bait fridge and this is very effective for keeping them for long periods, although you will have to keep checking them and change the water when it becomes discoloured.
Some people use huge lug baits for cod and bass, whereas others may present small baits for dabs and whiting, but whatever you do, just make sure you keep changing baits and renewing worms. It is a very soft bait that releases a good scent trail out into the tide, but only if you keep reeling in and redoing things. Lug gets washed out pretty quickly and then sits there relatively uselessly. I often see cod anglers up on the Bristol Channel forever winding in and changing baits and it is more often than not those people who catch the most fish.
Worms can work out relatively expensive if you use a lot of them, but there is no point trying to catch quality fish if you donít put maximum effort into it. The rewards come to those who work the hardest.