The thrill among Florida anglers is palpable each spring when the coastal candy known as scaled sardines arrive. Also called pilchards or whitebait, these shimmering baitfish flood the flats, bays and estuaries in voluminous schools that ignite the local fishing scenes.
Livies seldom fail, but like a savvy football coach, smart anglers will balance their game plan with a dependable backup that can step into the starting role at a moment’s notice. Hold onto that thought; we’ll get back to it shortly.
The Grand Production
Capt. Stacy Capps, who guides inshore trips from Sarasota to Tampa Bay, believes that this much-awaited baitfish arrival headlines each year’s performance.
“In my opinion, that’s when fishing starts,” says Capps. “When the bait’s here, the fish start moving. When the water warms into the ‘70s the fish will eat live bait, and that’s when everything starts.
“The middle of March is when it’s in full swing. The fish start moving toward their spawn, they have plenty of food, and they’ll eat a bait if you bring it to them.”
Similar in size and general form to the threadfin herring, greenback sardines are a little taller in profile, they lack the threadfin’s namesake dorsal trailer, and they have distinctly larger eyes. Inshore predators such as snook, speckled trout, redfish, and Spanish mackerel eat both, but sardines are typically a hardier bait that lasts longer in the livewell—and on a hook.
Anglers can expect tremendous results by free lining or floating live sardines over grass flats or along mangrove edges, docks and bars. But what if the bite slows? Maybe the fish are feeling too much pressure and resist close range tactics.
What if you run out of bait or have trouble catching bait? (No shame, it happens.) Realistically, many factors beyond your control may limit the live bait deal and leave you thinking, “What now?”
LIVETARGET answers this question with the ultimate bait-and-switch — a pair of artificial lures with amazingly lifelike features that’ll fool the craftiest predator. Not surprising, as the LIVETARGET Sardine Twitchbait and LIVETARGET Sardine Swimbait were modeled after the real thing.
Straight-up sardine imposters, these baits offer solid backup options for live baiters while providing precision tools for the artificial purists who enjoy the challenge and appreciate the no-fuss benefits of lure fishing.
Designed to Impress
Here’s a player profile for each of these incredibly lifelike baits.
Sardine Twitchbait: Designed to mimic the appearance and action of an injured sardine, this suspending bait leverages the Match-the-Hatch™ detail common to all LIVETARGET products with an exacting profile and fish-tempting colors. Exemplifying LIVETARGET’s commitment to realism, this bait features a scale pattern that mirrors the real thing — the pattern even includes missing scales to create realistic flash as the bait moves.
Preserving the authentic baitfish profile, LIVETARGET engineered the Scaled Sardine Twitchbait for enticing movements, like lateral rolling, while with its razor-like belly erratically cuts through the water. With two sizes, 3- and 3 1/2-inch, and four colors — Natural Metallic, Silver Green, Ghost Amber and Ghost Natural — the Scaled Sardine Twitchbait attracts attention, whether it’s moving or paused.
Sardine Swimbait: This soft-plastic bait carries on the design criteria of its hard bait predecessor, with an exact realistic profile that defines Match-the-Hatch™. This true-to-life replica complements its natural appearance with a convincing swimming motion that sells this presentation.
With its body accurately matched and anatomically scaled, the LIVETARGET Sardine Swimbait features a tail design that is precisely fitted with a strategically engineered oscillator, which generates a side-to-side tail motion specifically matched to a live baitfish. Manufactured with the hook, weight, and soft plastic PVC body molded together, this swimbait is ready to fish right out of the package.
The bait’s dorsal fin acts as a shield to protect the hook from grass and debris, without impeding hook ups. The extra-strong forged wide-gap hook’s low profile position ensures big hook-up power, while a ventral accessory pin accommodates an additional hook or a willow blade for more flash. Available in 3 1/2- and 4 1/2-inch models, the Scaled Sardine Swimbait comes in Silver Green and Silver Bronze color options.
Why They Work
Created with stunning visual appeal, LIVETARGET’s sardine baits boast an array of practical features that endear them to anglers. Foundational is their castability.
“I like this bait when I’m fishing in the wind,” says Capps. “That Sardine Twitchbait is great because you can fire it against the wind or with a side wind; you can cast it where you can’t cast a live bait. It’s pretty effective; we’ve caught some big fish doing that.
“That’s where we use this bait mostly when we’re using live bait — for those fish that are upwind or upcurrent. When the wind is blowing pretty good, you can get the fish that are on the end of the oyster bar popping baitfish. If you can’t get a live bait there, you can usually pick up a LIVETARGET Sardine Twitchbait and catch him.”
Jason South, the Southwest Florida-based host of Florida Adventure Quest and Boat Junkie Lifestyle, said he’s a firm believer in LIVETARGET baits. He’s personally nabbed trout up to 31 inches on the LIVETARGET Sardine Twitchbait and snook to 38 on the LIVETARGET Sardine Swimbait.
“I’ve used the twitchbait for 10 years,” says South. “The reason it’s such an exceptional bait, especially in Southwest Florida, is because we have a lot of very shallow water. It’s typically very clear water with a thick turtle grass bottom. You can’t get a bait into that grass or it hangs up and fouls.
“That’s the beauty of the suspending twitchbait; I can work this thing as shallow as a foot deep and I’m able to keep the bait just above the grass. It’s difficult to find a bait I can work effectively because I like to work my bait with an aggressive snap-snap-twitch and a lot of baits get down too deep, or they don’t get down at all. That’s where the twitchbait really shines.”
Noting that the LIVETARGET Sardine Twitchbait often complements a topwater bait when fish shy away from the surface bite, South said he’s also very comfortable with the LIVETARGET Sardine Swimbait. This action-heavy bait serves him well in chocolatey turbid waters like those of the 10,000 Islands region.
“That bait puts out a lot of vibration and that’s how those fish are feeding,” says South. “They’re laying on the bottom in that murky water, you’re rolling that bait by them and they push over and eat it. They can’t see the bait, but they feel the vibration and they ease over there to see what’s going on, then they bite the bait.
“It’s the right vibration so those big fish know it’s the right size bait. LIVETARGET has done a good job of creating the right tail pattern. Too much or too fast turns them off or it feels like it’s a bigger bait than they want to eat.”
Most anywhere along Florida’s Central to Southwest Coast, live bait fishing is the name of the game and local guides who need to keep charter clients happy follow the path of least resistance. However, when angler skill and awareness allow for more precise methods, Capps knows the LIVETARGET Sardine baits can deliver rewarding results.
“As a guide, I’m mostly a live bait fisherman, just because of competition, but that Sardine Twitchbait is the one artificial bait I always have tied on during the springtime,” says Capps. “With my more experienced anglers, I’ll sprinkle the chum out there and we’ll fish with lures just because it’s more fun to catch fish on a lure.
Other scenarios where LIVETARGET Sardine baits deliver include:
Recon Patrol: “When you’re trout fishing and you have scattered fish, it’s hard to get them pinned down with live bait and this is a great lure to locate those fish when they’re feeding. It’s a great tool for locating fish.”
Trolling: Knowing how much the toothy predators love their scaled sardines, South often deploys a couple of LIVETARGET Sardines Twitchbaits behind his boat for mackerel and Kingfish. A slow trolled presentation presents the appearance of vulnerable baitfish that have become separated from the school.
Sight Casting: When he’s anchored over a reef or rock pile, South always has a LIVETARGET Sardine Swimbait rigged and ready for the cobia that often rise to investigate a parked boat. Casting past the fish and burning the bait past its face usually does the trick.
Having provided his insights during the LIVETARGET Sardine Twitchbait design process, Capps said he’s fully confident in the lure’s ability to deliver big results. The appeal, he says, comes down to LIVETARGET’s perfectionist pursuit of match-the-hatch.
“A lot of lures have these cool colors and different profiles and I think a lot of them are designed to catch the fisherman in the store, but I have that lure on because it catches fish,” Capps said. “It’s my go-to lure for bait-and-switching on the flats with chummers or search fishing.
“I’m not going to say an artificial lure will out fish a live bait, but in the right situation, it can be just as effective.”
South agrees and points out that often finds LIVETARGET’s A-team artificials in high demand — often by some of Southwest Florida’s top guides.
“I’ve had guys call me and say ‘Hey, do you have some of those LIVETARGET swimbaits? I ran out of live bait. I had some of your LIVETARGET baits tied on and we nailed the snook on them.’ These are top-end guides and they go through a bunch of them.”
Mustad has led the global hook market since 1877. Mustad’s mission is to create a comprehensive multi-brand company that leads the fishing tackle industry, while focusing on innovation, employee and customer satisfaction, and sustainability. With the addition of TUF-LINE and LIVETARGET, Mustad continues to solidify its position as a complete sports fishing brand family.