One of my favorite baits is the Scaled Sardine (Harengula Jaguana). On the west coast of Florida, we call them whitebait. In other areas there could be many other names. They are distinguished by their sharply pointed, keeled belly. Scaled sardines grow to an average of six inches and are great baits no matter what size you catch for almost all species of fish. You have to catch them yourself since they are not available in bait stores and the simplest way is with a cast net. You need a very good live well with a great turnover of fresh sea water in order to keep them alive, particularly in the summertime when the water warms up. I usually anchor up in an area where my fish finder is showing bait and begin to chum behind the boat with a mixture of canned sardines and whole wheat bread. When I can see the whitebait in the chum, I simply cover them with my net and put them in the live well. Sounds easy, huh? Sometimes it is, and sometimes not. If you cannot find them in water that is shallow enough for the cast net, then gold hook (Sabiki) rigs are called for. Simply drop your bait rigs to the depth that your fish finder indicates and gently jig it until you feel them hooked. Many times you can fill your well just as fast in this manner as with a cast net when the bait is hard to find.
Whitebait is great for almost every fishing method. When trolling, hook them through the nose. Do not go through the eye socket, they will come off the hook. If you look closely, you will see a small "V" shaped area in front of the eyes - the hook should go through this area. If it is hard to insert the hook, then you know this is the right spot. Whitebait will stay alive for a long time when trolling and even longer if you are fishing at anchor on the surface. Be sure when trolling any bait that you go as slowly as you can make your boat run. On many inboards and larger outboards, you will have to actually bump in and out of gear to troll slowly enough. If your bait is spinning on the surface, you are going too fast. The bait should be able to swim on his own and will keep up with the boat for quite a long time if you troll slowly enough. If you check your bait and find he has a red eye, red nose or any thing else that is out of the ordinary, change to a fresh bait. If there is a lot of grass on the surface, you will have to reel in and check for grass on the hook frequently and you should check your bait at the same time.
When bottom fishing, you can hook the bait through the nose in the same place as trolling, particularly if there is a strong current running. If there is no current or it is light you can hook the white bait through the area where the pelvic fin is attached to the body. This makes the bait spin like mad on the bottom and will frequently trigger a feeding frenzy when dropped into lethargic fish that are not feeding well. Scaled sardines make fair frozen bait when cut diagonally and dropped to the bottom and they are great chum when cut into very small pieces and dropped overboard into the current or dropped to the bottom in a chum basket.