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Bait vs Lures

Have you ever considered what style of fishing is cheaper? There are so many variables to consider when pricing up the true cost of a day out on the water. With more commentary from anglers and industry about the most cost effective way to go fishing, experienced saltwater angler, Jeremy Troup decided to have a deeper look at the options and the costs.


Whether you’re an avid magazine reader, or you get your information from social media platforms like Facebook or YouTube, you’ll often see discussions about the pros and cons of bait fishing over lure fishing.

There is no doubt that social media has become a popular information source for many anglers. Not only can you discover fishing spots here, but you can also find all sorts of information on techniques, the latest technology, and popular trends. There are a wide range of anglers discussing all things fishing, from novices through to experts. Pictures and videos often accompany posts and discussions to further support to the subject at hand.

It’s up to you as to how much you believe what’s in front of you given the knowledge you have built up through experience, both on and off the water, as well as the social channels you follow.

Note too that tackle suppliers, who sell products to fishing shops, communicate through and follow social media channels. Some more than others. The channels are used to help promote their products providing a win-win for all – themselves, their retailers and of course, the anglers. Some wholesalers have developed quite a following by engaging with their customers, several times a day in some cases.

Every now and then on these channels, a subject comes up that makes you think, “really, is that right? Never heard that one before. I’ll have to look into it a bit further.” This is simply doing your own research, something the switched-on angler does without question.

I happened on a feed recently which did just that to me. It questioned my knowledge and principles of fishing. The subject being “lure fishing is CHEAPER than bait fishing”. To be fair, the company promoting this message sells only lures and lure fishing accessories. But it did make me think about what I was doing, what I see others doing and just why people even go fishing.

Increasingly as I travel around the country, I meet a newer breed of angler - the angler who doesn’t eat fish. This angler is more interested in the hunt and perhaps the fight of the fish, but not so fazed as to the eating qualities of their prey. Maybe they have allergies, or they simply don’t eat fish. Or maybe they have no family and therefore return their catch to the sea. This angler is certainly the minority with most anglers preferring to catch a feed for either themselves, or their family and friends. Sometimes the anglers are fishing to feed wider groups like church groups, tangis or weddings. Mostly though, anglers are fishing for food and while doing so, they’re having a lot of fun at the same time.

In the end though, when you decide to head out on the water, consideration is required on how much money we spend on fishing, particularly if you are on a limited budget. The bigger the budget, the bigger the arsenal of techniques that can be employed, potentially improving your chances of catching your prey. A small budget on the other hand means that you have to really think about how best to go about things.

So, let’s look at both types of fishing and what you need to do and buy to increase your chances of success.

For the purposes of this article, let’s just look at boat fishing. We’ll stick with saltwater table fish where the greatest number anglers are involved.

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Fish eat amongst other things kina, shellfish, worms, cephalopods and other fish. This has been their natural food source for thousands of years before man turned up.

Most middle aged and older anglers can recount countless bait collection stories. Catch your bait and then use it to target your quarry.

For me, it started early, from about the age of four or five – a bit hard to tell with old photos from 50 years ago. It entailed digging for pipis at Mangawhai Heads and I can tell you now, they aren’t at the same spot anymore, but they are in the vicinity. Threaded on to a hook, I was able to catch mao mao and snapper off the point on a green stringed hand line. When my parents put the tea towel out the window (signal to come home), I simply threw whatever pipis I had left in my little bucket back into the sea and headed back up the house. Fewer creeps around back then to harass a young nipper! Whatever I caught, mum would cook it up or we’d feed it to the cat – mouths were always fed.

That green stringed handline gave me hours of fun and caught us loads of meals, all for the paltry spend of around $5 I’d estimate, with the bait being fun to dig for, not to mention free.

A couple of years later saw me out fishing with my dad in his boat. This would entail trolling around Head Rock until we caught a Kingfish. This was our bait. No limits on size back then, and rat kings were everywhere. A handline was again all that was needed but this one was on a spool and much stronger nylon was used with a Smiths jig on the end to entice the bait to bite. My dad preferred the oiliness of kingfish to kahawai, so the kahawai were tossed back. Sometimes it was instantaneous other times it may have taken 10 mins to secure a king, but I can always remember the hard pull, when they hooked up, being both exhilarating and painful on my young underdeveloped hands. Then we’d motor to our spots and deploy strips of kīngi until they were used up, and we’d return home with whatever we caught. Of course, they were much bigger fish than what I could get off the point a couple of years earlier, and there was enough to feed our neighbours too on many occasions.

In my early teens, I discovered the long Orakei wharf. I’d ride my bike 5k to get there and with a set of bait flies, catch sometimes hundreds of little mackerel which I’d then sort into bags for my dad. He’d then load up the bait freezer ready for deployment at a later date when we got to Mangawhai. Free bait…awesome!

Like today, bait was available in the shops back then, but most preferred to catch it fresh. Fast forward 40 something odd years and not much has changed when it comes to bait fishing, bar the myriad of tackle and rod and reel innovations.

There’s still plenty of fish in the sea that can be used to catch other fish and shellfish can still be found at beaches. What has changed a lot is time constraints on anglers. Going out and collecting bait prior to fishing has been largely swapped for buying store bought bait. It’s conveniently packaged, there’s a good selection of different types, and it’s available in many handy outlets. Store bought burley too is a newer innovation sold beside bait. Get some scent in the water and your quarry will come to you. It’s up to the angler how they source bait, but it can be free if you want to put the effort in.

Most anglers have their bait preferences, and they are based on historic use. Some prefer pilchards, some squid, others cut baits/strip baits, and some of course prefer deploying live baits. Same principal though -feeding fish their natural food source albeit differently presented and appealing to their sense of site, smell and taste.

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Mostly bait fishing takes place from an anchored boat. Spots either secret or well-known are chosen based on bottom structure, current, wind direction and fish type. Drifting baits is a technique employed by some but by far the majority of bait fishing boats are anchored.

The principal is simple regardless of depth. Put your bait on a hook and throw it in the water. The depth you fish in will determine the species you will catch. e.g. if targeting snapper, fish your bait nearer the sea floor. Conversely a kahawai can be caught right on the surface.

For bait fishing, your requirements are simple enough. A handline could be used from a boat, but most prefer a rod and reel. Quality varies. A level entry set could be picked up for around $60 while higher end gear will be more like 10 times the price at around $600. Essentially, they are the same – a lever and a winch, but the expensive set will have more qualities to it though and if looked after, it’s likely to last much longer than the cheap set.

On the reel, nylon is mostly used but you can use braid too. It’s a preference thing. A word of caution though. Braid needs to be used with better quality reels as it’s less forgiving than its stretchy nylon counterpart. The breaking strain is matched with both the rod’s and reel’s limits giving a balanced system. It’s important to think about what fish you’re targeting before you make your purchase. e.g. catching a horse snapper with a kingfish set is do-able but catching a horse kingfish with a snapper set is less likely. It’s possible, but a lot needs to go in the anglers favour. A spool of nylon would be about $14 and could fill two reels, so $7 a reel.

At the end of your mainline your terminal rig is attached. Swivel, trace, hook and sinker. Swivels and hooks come in packets, sinkers mostly too and the more you buy, the cheaper these items can be, much like bulk buying at the super market. Quality is evident here too. Cheap swivels and hooks can break. More expensive options are preferred if fishing ‘bear country’. i.e. losing fish to substandard gear is considered almost a crime.

Here’s a quick summary on a basic setup that will do a good job.

  • Rod and reel (with nylon) $150
  • Terminal gear which should last a few trips $40.
  • Bait? Catch it yourself and it’s free or buy it. $20 should see you right and with that you could well catch a kahawai or other fish to give you even more bait for next time.
  • You’ll also need fuel for the boat to get to the spot. This is the “how long is the piece of string” scenario. Keepable fish are caught surprisingly close to your departure point, but a lot of anglers want to be isolated to prevent incidents with other anglers, so travel far and wide. Your knowledge of where fish are comes into play here. Let’s just say $50 for the sake of it.
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So, for around $260, you are sorted to go catch a feed. The rod and reel should last you a while if you look after it, so you’ll get multiple uses out of it and the spend on your terminal gear should also see you right for a few trips. You’ll also be able to fish ANY fresh bait you like with this one set up.

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Over the years, another method has developed in fishing and that is the use of lures. These are made out of all manner of materials. You can add sprays, scents and noise contraptions. They can vary in cost from a few dollars to a couple of hundred dollars. Trickery is the object of the game here – enticing your quarry to eat something that imitates bait or at least may behave like a wounded baitfish. It is a more active way of fishing as you have to impart movement into the lure to trick the fish to bite. This suits some anglers and doesn’t suit others.

There are hundreds if not thousands of lures to consider for your fishing. On any day, some will work better than others and again, time on the water will help your selection process. Be careful though about what you read on the internet or social media channels you may follow. What worked for someone on a given day may not be the flavour of the day when you go out. It’s helpful if you can trust the source of the post to ensure you’re getting unbiased information.

With lure fishing, more specific equipment is required for different lure types. Because trickery is involved, the equipment used is designed to accentuate the presentation of the lure being used. For example, a softbait rod relies on some stiffness at some point along its length to help set the jig head into the fish’s mouth. On the other hand, a slow jig rod would tend to use a very bendy rod to impart more action into the lure’s flowing skirts. The hooks are small and sharp enough to dig in when the rod slowly loads up.

A noticeable difference between lure and bait fishing is almost all lure fishing is done from a drifting boat. The angler simply finds a fishy area through all manner of ways and then repeatedly drifts through the area. Care needs to be taken in terms of being aware of other boats in the vicinity, the directional flow of both wind and tide, and your drift speed needs to be monitored, and sometimes altered. You can do this by either using a drogue or a more expensive electric motor option. Sea state is a big factor too. Particularly from a smaller craft. Drifting side on in a messy sea is not only undesirable to most in terms of comfort, but it can simply be dangerous if done incorrectly. i.e. waves coming in over the side.

Lure fishing is often talked about as being a cleaner form of fishing – no messy bait smells or mess to handle. You will however have to handle and dispatch any fish you catch, so don’t think that you’ll be getting away without a bit of blood and smelly hands!

Lure fishing can also require your to add sauces and scents to your chosen lure to increase the appeal. Without it, you’re only appealing to a fish's sense of sight.

Bait fishing has the advantage of smell and taste already built into the cost. These sauces are generally oily and smelly. Care needs to be taken with their storage and application. They are also costly.

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Another difference between the two forms is the line on the reel. Braid is best for all lure fishing as it's a non-stretch material. This is required not only to firmly set the hook into a fishes mouth but being thinner than normal nylon, it allows the lure to descend down the water column at a faster rate, particularly in deeper water. Fluorocarbon leaders too are non-stretch and have less visibility to them which is an important factor in getting your lure to appear as ‘natural’ as possible. These are important factors to consider, but they do come with a higher cost than the nylon mainline and mono leader used in bait fishing.

The rods and reels for this form of fishing vary greatly. Where you could find a cheap set for $60 to do the bait fishing, the lure angler needs to at least double this and at the top end, the expensive one can be well in excess of $1000. 

At the time of writing, fuel was up thanks to the economy and the war in Europe. This is also a consideration for lure anglers. Because you need to drift to get your lures working effectively, fishing close to the ramp in high traffic areas is not advised, so you may need to go further afield. Then there is the need at times to repeat drifts or simply find fish willing to eat your lure of choice. The fuel burn when lure fishing is often a vastly underestimated expense.

It is however the lures themselves that provide the significant cost. Presenting them with the lightest gear possible improves your hook uprate, but it does tend to mean you lose a few, both to harder fighting fish and the sea floor. It is possible on the other hand to catch many multiples of fish on the one lure, a luck vs skill argument here. You will however need a few different types of lures as some days the trickery you attempt simply won't work and you'll need to make regular lure changes. Bait fishing too sometimes gets this but at the end of the day, if the fish won't take a pilchard offering, hoping they take a piece of plastic may also be a bridge too far.

So, a quick sum up on a lure fishing outing could look somethinglike this.

·        Rod and reel average set $200

·        A spool of braid $35

·        Lures, fluorocarbon leader and jigheads $50

·        Fuel $70

That’s just over $350 to see you right for fishing one type of lure – without sauce or scent. You may still be able to use different lures on this rod and reel, but it will not fish them ALL to their full potential. As I mentioned, certain lures work better with different rods and reels. Bank on another set if you want to achieve success on a different lure type e.g. softbait set up vs slow jig set up. 

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