Livebaiting is a consistent method of catching large fish in the seaway, this Ultimate Edition will cover absolutely everything to know about livebaiting in the seaway and keep it in one place as an easy reference guide. Some parts have already been listed as separate articles but I have updated and integrated each one to reflect the latest information.
Livebaiting gear doesn't need to be fancy or expensive, all you are doing is dropping baits to the bottom and fighting the fish up to the boat. Most reasonable 4000 size spinning reels will do the job, just make sure it has a decent drag and can fit about 300m of line on it, the penn spinfisher line is affordable and reliable. You can also use overhead reels as well, I use a Daiwa LD50H overhead for my heavy livebaiting duties. You can go as heavy or as light as you want on the line but sooner or later you are going to hook a fish that will bust you off in the rocks and you are going to want heavier gear. I use 30lb for small livies like herring and go up to 50lb for big livebaits like tailor and pike, even on this gear some fish still make it back to the rocks or back to the pipe. As for rods, keep it short 6ft is ideal but you can go up to 7ft without too many problems. There is no need for high modulus (IM8+rods) in livebaiting, IM6 or even fibreglass rods will do the job. You might want to make sure you have a rod with a bit of backbone though as hooking large Whitespot Shovelnose and bull sharks is common and these require a rod with some power down low. Medium Heavy rated rods are ideal.
Good quality live baits are often harder to catch than the bigger fish and it can take hours to catch enough for a couple of hours fishing. This part will detail most of the livebaits that can be used, how to catch them and where you might find them. Livebaits are like any fish, they come and they go so numbers are constantly fluctuating. Always have a backup plan if you can't find any of your chosen livebait.
My favourite livebait and one of the biggest livebaits with an average size around 30cm. Size can be an issue, 40cm plus models are usually only taken by big fish such as metre long kingies and mulloway. Smaller fish such as Tailor and Trevally prefer the smaller models around 30cm. Pike can be caught around any of the weedbeds of the broadwater, particularly the weedbeds around Wavebreak and Crab island and the weedbeds at the mouth of Loder’s Creek & western side of South Stradbroke Island. Unfortunately between May and September these weedbeds are netted on a weekly basis by the mullet netters and pike are rare during this time. You can catch them on small minnows (rapala XR6 & XR4) & small plastics (2 inch curl tails or paddle tails)on light jigheads. Try trolling a minnow around until you find the school, then throw plastics at them. The top half of the tide is the best time to get them. Pike can be caught around bridges and lighted jetties at night using small minnows or plastics but its not something you can rely on unless you find a decent sized school that stays in the same area. Good places to look are The Broadwater Parklands Jetty, The Grand Hotel Ramp, Marina Mirage Refueling Station and Sunrise Bridge. If all else fails, trolling through the canal estates around runaway bay or around Marina Mirage with a shallow running minnow such as an Rapala XR6 can pick up a couple of large ones.
Pike can also be caught offshore on the shallow bait reefs, sometimes during the day but more often at night. You can get them on 3" Gulp minnows on 1/2 oz jigheads, small minnows attached to trolling sinkers, or large profile bait jigs. You can also catch them on any flesh baits or white pilchards. They are a different species but the fish still like them just as much, getting small ones can be a challenge though, the average size can be around 45cm. The offshore pike also require alot of water changes as the water fouls quickly so keep an eye on them to make sure you don’t lose your hard earned baits.
Yellowtail & Slimy Mackerel
Yellowtail & Slimies are usually only found offshore on the shallow bait reefs but sometimes you can get them around the ends of the walls. Usually caught on the 6 hook bait jigs, they can also be caught on baits of peeled prawn and any fish flesh. They are much easier to catch at dawn than during the day or at night. Most fish will eat a yellowtail or slimy mackerel and GT’s in particular have a big liking for them. Weather permitting Yellowtail are probably the easiest of the livebaits to catch, slimies are alot harder to catch and not something you can rely on. Look for the other boats east of the sand pumping jetty in 20-24m of water to find the shallow bait reefs. GPS Coordinates for the best bait reef section I know is as follows: S 27. 57 .013 E 153. 27. 000. Do a drift around that area and you will find the bait.
The first thing to remember with sea mullet is that they do have a size limit of 30cm so don’t keep any small sea mullet in your livewell. You can use small yellow eye or sand mullet though, if you can’t tell the difference better not to use them at all. Mullet are very hardy and will last forever in your livewell, they aren’t quite as good a livie as the first two but better than nothing. Mulloway and cod will still happily take a live mullet of any size, but will hold them in the mouth for a while to descale them before swallowing, the fish spitting the bait is common. For this reason, Mullet are usually a last option for me. The best chance of getting live mullet is in a cast net, try in any of the canal estates close to the seaway. You can catch sand mullet on a hook baited with bread, just berley them up in places like Loder's Creek and Biggera Creek and use a size 12 hook with a small bit of bread under a float.
Herring can be caught around jetties and bridges, cast nets are preferred but they can also be berleyed up with bread and caught on bait jigs. Herring are probably the most used livebait in the seaway but they do attract bream all the time which is annoying. They do catch good fish though; Tailor, Trevally and Jewies will happily eat them. Useful if you can’t catch anything else and still better than mullet. The best places to find herring are Biggera Creek Bridge, Sunrise Bridge, Sovereign and Ephraim Bridges, Occasionally in the eddies around the Wavebreak rock walls, Grand Hotel Ramp and the pontoon at The Seaworld Ramp.
Hardyheads, White pilchards & Frogmouth Pilchards
These small baitfish have limited uses in the seaway but can be useful for catching tarpon, trevally or tailor. Numbers of these fish are seasonal and tend to hang around different places every year so its pretty much as case of catch them when you find them. Most of these fish can only be caught with a cast net, but hardyheads can be berleyed up with bread and caught on bait jigs.
Squid are an ideal livie and you can catch them around lighted areas at night particularly if there is a bit of weed and rubbly bottom, such as the Broadwater Parklands Jetty, the Grand Hotel Jetty and the lighted area's near Ephraim Island. The only problem is they wont last in a livewell and die quickly so use them quick if you get them. Even as a dead bait they are pretty good though. Kingfish will rarely refuse a live squid.
Tailor are useful as a livie for big Mulloway, Kingfish and Sharks but make sure you use its over the legal size of 35cm, check the Tailor fishing article for more hints on those.
Decent sized Prawns are a good livie as well, but there’s nowhere near the seaway you can catch them regularly. Occasionally they will show up just at the end of the north wall at night on a runout tide and you can use a net to scoop them up. Using a red light will help you see the eyes of the prawn without spooking them. Most fish will hit a prawn but Jewies seem to particularly like them.
Silverbiddies also have a good reputation, cast netting around sandbanks are the main way of catching them, but the bigger models can be caught on peeled prawns and small hooks.
Garfish are also a very good bait, and Kingfish love them almost as much as they do pike. You can catch them around the weedbeds on the western side of the broadwater, around Runaway Bay and put down some bread or bran berley with some tuna oil and fish with small no. 12 hooks baited with prawn or squid under a float. They will also sit in large schools on the North Wall Flats on run out tides at night if the swell isn't too big. You can cast net them if they are thick.
With a long livebait like pike two hooks are essential, the top hook goes through the top and bottom of the mouth and the bottom hook goes above the backbone along the back ensuring the line between the two hooks is loose enough for the pike to swim naturally. Hook sizes range from 6/0 for small pike up to 30cm to 8/0 for the 45cm plus versions.
Mullet have a very hard top of the mouth and a very soft bottom of the mouth so you can hook them through the top of the mouth if you can work your hook through the bone. You can also hook them just behind the head and down near the tail above the backbone. Hook sizes range from 6/0 for small mullet up to 20cm to 9/0 for 40cm+ mullet.
Herring & Silverbiddies
Herring are best hooked with a single hook through the nose. With very large herring you can go to a double hook rig, once through the nose and the other just in front of the tail. Hook sizes range from 2/0 for small herring around 6cm long up to 4/0 for very large herring 10cm+
Yellowtail & Slimy Mackerel
Yellowtail and slimies can be used with a single or double hook rig, with a single hook it should be placed in the nose if you are fishing in high tidal flow or just below the dorsal fin if fishing in an eddy. With a double hook rig, the top hook goes in the nose, the bottom hook goes just before the tail above the backbone. Ideal hook sizes are 3/0- 5/0 for Yellowtail and 6/0 for Slimy Mackerel
As a long bait and prone to attacks by tailor, the two hook north wall trace is recommended. Break the beak off and place the top hook through the start of the beak and the second hook through the back above the backbone. I deal hook sizes for garfish are 6/0-7/0.
Tailor are best fished with a two hook rig, the bottom hook goes just before the tail, make sure it is above the lateral line, the top hook goes just behind the head. I recommend trimming the tail to slow the fish down a bit. I reccomend 8/0 minimum hook sizes for Tailor.
Squid are best hooked using a 2 hook rig similar to pike. The bottom hook goes through the skin between the eyes and the top hook goes into the top of the cape near the point. Hook sizes in the 7/0 to 8/0 range depending on the size of the Squid.
Prawns are best hooked using a single 2/0 or 3/0 suicide hook in the second to last segment near the tail. This allows the prawn to flick around unhindered. Hook sizes 2/0- 3/0
Big deadbaits are rarely used in the seaway, apart from the odd person using a fillet of something or pilchards. Pilchards however are too small and are more likely to hook Shovelnose Rays and the like. Using a fillet can be maddening with the amount of bream around, they will soon strip the bait of all flesh. The best deadbaits to use are Tailor and Pike and the best method of presenting them is to half butterfly the whole fish. Basically this means to cut off the tail and cut a fillet down one side but leave it attached to waft around. Mulloway and big Tailor in particular love this type of bait presentation but most decent fish will have a go. You can fish them on both the standard running sinker rig and the north wall rig. A slow lift and drop that keeps the sinker just off the bottom works best, just drop your bait to the bottom, then lift and drop it. You may have to release line if the current flow is fast to make sure your bait stays near the bottom.
I use a modular rigging system when livebaiting. This ensures that I can change sinker weights and fishing styles without having to retie knots every time you fish a different area. You can go from the north wall rig to the standard rig to an unweighted rig in seconds. There are a number of things you need to be able to do this. One is pre-tied traces, those with wire between the hooks and those without in a number of hook sizes. Secondly you need a number of Klik Sinkers in different sizes, these enable you to add and subtract weight depending on the area you are fishing when using the standard rig. The modular rig also ensures I can change a trace in seconds if it gets damaged by fish or rocks. The important end of a modular rig is 5 metres of 30-50lb mono then a 5mm bead(any craft supply shop will have these), then a heavy duty clip. The bead is necessary to stop the clip from the north wall sinker rig tangling with the snap clip, so don't forget it if you intend on using that rig.
You will need a number of different traces for livebaiting the seaway with a mix of line strengths, hook sizes and number of hooks. Trace strength should not be below 30lb and for large baits should be between 50 & 100lb. Traces will need to be changed frequently due to banging around in the rocks and damage from fish so make sure you carry enough for a session. Ideally you should match hook size to bait size, you don't want to be using too large or too small a hook on a bait. Here are the hook sizes I use for certain baits:
In my opinion hook styles don't really matter, use whatever you want. I use Gamakatsu Octopus Black in sizes 2/0 - 9/0 for all my livebaiting they are super sharp and the hookup rate is excellent. Circle hooks work but depend on how you like to fish, I would only recommend them for those who like to anchor as the sit and forget style works alot better with these hooks. What matters most is that the hook be appropriate in size for the bait you are using which I have covered above. All of the hooks shown in the picture below are Gamakatsu Octopus style.
The Unweighted Rig
The unweighted rig is rarely used but definitely has a place in a good setup. Its use is situation specific, in other words if you see fish swimming around an unweighted livebait thrown to intercept is often eaten. Kingfish are a classic target for this technique, but it will also work on Giant Trevally and Tailor. Another good use for it is to cast a livebait around the end of the north wall and let it swim around in the eddy on a run in tide. Big tailor who have been ignoring lures will often grab a unweighted live pike thrown in close to the rocks. In the modular system all you do is clip on a premade trace, hook the bait on and you are ready to go.
The Standard Running Sinker Rig
The standard running sinker rig is the most used rig in the seaway for livebaiting. It is effective for all types of fish but care must be taken not to let it roll around on the bottom otherwise you will get snagged alot. Drop it to the bottom, then lift it up a metre. This will let the bait swim around half a metre off the bottom. Care must be taken in strong tidal flows not to let the bait get too far off the bottom so you should drop it to the bottom and wind up once every couple of minutes or so.
The North Wall Livebaiting Setup
I use a different livebaiting setup for the north wall and deep hole area during a run in tide, the reason for that is the high tidal flow and rocky bottom make using the standard running sinker rig very prone to snagging. I sometimes need to go up to a 6oz sinker to hit the bottom on days with very large tides when using large livebaits.
The rig consists of a 5 m long shock leader of 40-50lb mono tied on to the main braided line of 30-50lb. On to the shock leader goes a bead around 5mm in diameter then it is tied to a high quality clip rated 80lb or more. A standard 2 hook rig(Gamakatsu Octopus Black 3/0 – 7/0 depending on bait size and type) with wire between the two hooks on a 50cm 30-50lb trace is clipped onto the clip. Next part is a sinker(1-6 oz depending on tidal flow) on a 1.m long trace of 12lb mono tied to a clip. This clip is then attached above the bead.
Concentration is essential with this rig, as the main idea is to keep the sinker on the bottom and the bait swimming that half metre above the bottom. You manage the rig by holding the sinker once the livie is attached, then swing it over the side and drop it to the bottom. With braided lines you can feel the sinker hit the bottom each time, so very 30 seconds or so lift the sinker off the bottom and set it back down. The sinker is sacrificial and will sometimes get stuck in the rocks but the 12lb leader on the sinker trace will break long before any of the other parts. Simply hop it along in the current until you start feeling some thuds on the line, then set the hook when you think the fish has it.
The Figure 8 Wire Knot and Making a North Wall Livebait Trace
Due to the large amount of Tailor and other toothy fish that hang around the north wall and in the deep hole it is highly advisable to use wire between the first and second hooks when fishing in this area. Its quite simple and very strong to implement this into your rig but there are a few caveats. You must use nylon coated multistrand wire and the strength needs to be 30lb and above, any lighter and it will likely fail. You must also test it by hooking it up to a bar and giving it a hard pull, if the wire was kinked during the knot cinching it will break, otherwise it will be solid as a rock. Its worth noting that all my traces are tested with heavy load prior to bagging, that way you know the trace wont fail when you’ve got a fish on.
Step 1. Tying the figure 8 knot.
Cut about 20cm of wire. Thread the wire through the eye of the hook then bring it back along the incoming wire, loop it around the wire then thread it back through the loop you created close to the eye of the hook. Once you’ve done that it should look like the picture below.
Tighten up the loop by pulling on both the incoming wire and the tag end and it should look like the picture below. Cut the tag end leaving about 3mm of tag. Ensure that you slide the knot down the right hand side as shown in the picture below. This will be the eye the mono gets attached to.
Tie another figure 8 knot to the hook on the other end of the wire. Test both knots by hooking it onto something and giving it hard pull. Once finished it should look like the picture below. That is the wire section completed. Ideally it should be between 10 & 15cm long for pike, 7-10cm for slimies & yellowtail.
Cut about 45cm of 40-50lb mono, using a uni knot attach it to the top hook making sure that it is tied to the left of the wire and tie a swivel on the other end also with a uni knot. Your trace should now be completed, test the trace under load before bagging. Your completed trace should look like the picture below.
Once completed and tested all my traces are placed into ziplock bags showing hook size, intended bait use, wire and mono strength.
Areas for livebaiting
The North Wall contains 5 distinct areas for livebaiting. They are the Deep Hole, The Runway, The Eddy, The Line and the Front of the wall. Most people only livebait the deep hole but all areas are worth fishing. As part of a livebait run during a run in tide I will fish The Eddy first, then as the tide begins to slow fish the end of the north wall, The Line, the Deep Hole and The Runway in turn. Every species can be caught off the north wall.
The pipeline is easy to fish with livebaits, you can either anchor up and sink your livebaits to the bottom or you can drift over it dropping your livies down right next to the pipe, a good sounder is essential for this. I think that drifting is a better method as you cover alot more ground and are more likely to find fish that aren't sitting on the pipe. Both methods work however, it just depends on how you like to fish. Most species can be caught around the pipe but Tailor seem rare. Giant Trevally and Mulloway are the most common catches.
The Triangle is mostly sand with a few patches of coffee rock here and there. Drifting this area is essential to cover the most ground. Mulloway are the most likely, but Giant Trevally and Kingfish are also possible.
The Northern Y is mostly sand but does have alot of exposed coffee rock formations, schools of fish will often gather over these formations during the night. Mulloway, Trevally of all species, Hairtail, Cod and sharks are all possible especially if there is alot of bait around. Drifting tends to work best but you can anchor off the the eastern side of the channel for decent results.
The Canyon holds Mulloway, Giant Trevally and Kingfish. It is rarely livebaited properly but does contain some very big fish at times. You can anchor off the the sides but drifting works best covering the edges and deeper sections of the canyon on a single drift.
Mulloway or Jewies are the main target species for livebaiters, they will take most baits as long as they are near the bottom. Concentrate your efforts near the top or bottom of the tides just as the flow is speeding up or slowing down. During the middle of the tides concentrate around eddies or in deep holes.
Tailor are mainly caught around the north wall, in the deep hole, in the Eddy or along the runway. They will eat most baits and unless you like losing hooks you should use the north wall rig with wire between the hooks. They will eat at any stage of the tide but the big ones prefer it when the tide slows a bit.
Bigeye Trevally are most commonly caught on live baits of herring but they will take yellowtail and even pike on occasion. They can pretty much be caught anywhere but the Pipeline holds the largest amount of these fish.
Giant Trevally can be caught anywhere but the north wall dropoff, runway and the pipeline hold the most fish. They will eat most baits except live Tailor. Giant Trevally will happily take baits alot further off the bottom than most other fish so if I get snagged with the north wall rig and lose the sinker, I let it drift around unweighted for a while. A GT usually picks up the bait.
Kingfish are a random event, you never know when they will show up or when you will hook them. They love live pike, Squid and Garfish but will have a go at anything fishy. Most kingfish hooked around the pipeline are lost due to bustoffs, hooking them elsewhere gives you a better chance. If you see them feeding on surface throw a unweighted live bait in thier swim direction and you might get lucky.
Sharks will often make themselves known while you are fighting a fish hooked on a livebait, often you will only bring up a head. To target sharks with livebaits you need a wire trace preferably 100lb or heavier a 10/0 hook and a decent livebait like a 40cm Tailor. If they are around they should find the bait fairly quickly. The best area for sharks is the deep hole at the end of the north wall but all locations have sharks at times. Look for areas out of the main tidal flow such as eddies and deep holes.
There are other species that can be caught in the seaway on livebaits, these include various cod species, Trevally species, large Mangrove Jacks, offshore species like Spanish Mackerel, Cobia and Snapper, Whitespot Shovelnose and Stingrays. All these fish are a random event and not something you can plan for but they make livebaiting the seaway an interesting way to spend some time on the water.
If there is anything else you think this article need let me know in the comments section. Some hook placement pictures are missing but I will add them as I can.
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Awesome Craig. Thanks