Fishing live bait or cut bait sometimes gets a bad rap (including from otherwise-informed outdoor writers). The frequent perception is that all it involves is a cricket under a cork, or a freelined shiner, and that it’s the next best thing to cheating. I’ve never gone that far, but I’ve been shamed as a friend and I flipped up a bunch of one- and two-pounders on an Okeechobee bank, and then found out that an anchored shiner guide on that same bank had already caught five fish over six pounds.
Bait may tip the scale a little bit, but it’s not a cure-all. I found that out fishing for payara in Brazil. Our group caught a few on artificials, but most of the big ones came fishing the real stuff. That doesn’t mean it was easy. On the contrary, our averages sucked. I’d guesstimate that for every 10 bites, we’d hook two and land one.
It didn’t matter what we did, the averages remained the same. We tried setting the hook immediately upon feeling the bite, we tried feeding them line to let them swallow it, and everything in between. We’d jig the bait, crawl it on bottom, even let it sit in a rod holder. Same results. They’d literally be pulling the rod tip down to the water’s surface, and when you’d pull back….nada. We tried all manner of hook sets, too, as well as different terminal tackle and stinger hooks. Nothing made a difference. Those bony-mouthed bastards just wouldn’t allow themselves to get hooked consistently – and when you did hook one they’d sometimes come unbuttoned when they bulldogged or skyrocketed completely out of the water.
My best afternoon I caught six of them, while getting at least one bite on nearly every cast, and my partner landed one, even though we were doing exactly the same things with the same gear. Just good luck, I suppose. That’s why each landed fish elicited high fives, fist bumps and screams. We’d earned them.
Payara Pro Tip: When the fish won’t hold onto a piece of cut bait or a whole baitfish, try the double prehistoric leech rig.