If you’re an avid angler or beginner fishing on the southeast coast of the United States, it is essential to understand the top saltwater baits. Significantly, bait can be fished either dead or alive. The type of bait and method it is rigged is highly dependent on the species you are targeting and where you are fishing. Whether you are trolling, pier fishing, or reef fishing, here are the best saltwater baits.

Why Selecting The Correct Bait Is Important

Selecting the correct bait depending on where you are saltwater fishing is essential. What might be effective offshore trolling many not be equally as effective from a fishing pier. 

In addition to casting what the fish you’re targeting would most likely eat, it is presenting the bait most naturally. 

I have an extensive amount of fishing experience, trolling, pier fishing, and reef fishing. For this reason, I can tell you exactly what to use for all of those, as mentioned earlier. 

Best Saltwater Baits For Trolling

Without a doubt, when it comes to saltwater fishing, trolling tops the list for me. I have worked aboard private sportfishing vessels as a captain and owning a center console. The vast majority of my time was spent offshore trolling. Here are the best baits for trolling.


Fortunately, large schools of ballyhoo are found in offshore waters, which is why they are ambushed by preferred gamefish. Bluewater gamefish include wahoo, tuna, dolphin, sailfish, marlin, and more.

I have caught live ballyhoo by rod and reel for bait and also purchased from local tackle shops. Unquestionably, fresh ballyhoo is the most effective, but either option will work. 

Ballyhoo are rigged on trolling skirts or fished naked behind a boat, moving at a speed of around 8 knots. Often, you will find short strikes occurring which is the ballyhoo being bit behind the hook thus chopping the bait in half. 

Bonita Strips

One of my all-time favorites is fishing Bonita strips. I found the most success dragging bonita strips in comparison to ballyhoo. 

Similar to ballyhoo, bonita strips can be fresh or purchased frozen. Of course, when comparing catching ballyhoo to catching a bonita, belly skin needs to be cut into strips. Whereas the ballyhoo is ready to rig the way it is. 

I have caught many fish on strips, including wahoo, tuna, and dolphin. When possible, mix up the offerings between ballyhoo and strips. 

Pier Fishing

I’ll admit I am least experienced at fishing piers compared to trolling or bottom fishing. However, I have spent plenty of time on piers. Select from these top baits when fishing from piers on the Southeast coast. 


First, I’ll start out by saying don’t expect to catch fresh squid from the pier. Squid must be purchased from a tackle shop, or the bait stand on the pier if available. It should be noted that it is sold in frozen blocks. The bait must be thawed to slice and hook. 

Making squid a top pick will make avid anglers angry, but it serves a purpose, especially for those just getting into fishing. 

I selected squid because it is challenging for fish to pick free from the hook, and it has a strong scent. The scent will attract fish from afar, and the durability will allow a new angler to miss a bite before all of the bait is pulled free. 

When fishing with squid, I suggest using a lead weight and hook so that you can fish on the bottom. 


Mullet, especially during the mullet run through the summer in coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, is an excellent choice. 

During the mullet run, they gather in large schools and can be caught with a cast net and fished live. 

Live mullet can be fished in many ways, but I suggest dropping one to the bottom or freelining on the surface. 

When sportfish are near, you will see the mullet shower through the sky as they are attacked from below. Chances are they will pounce on your hooked mullet, showing distress. 

Bottom Fishing 

My second favorite type of fishing, second to trolling, is bottom fishing. I enjoy dropping lines on reefs and wrecks. Here Are the best saltwater baits for bottom fishing on the southeast coast. 

Live Pogies

One of the best deep water reef and wreck bait is live pogies. This is especially the case when targeting red snapper. 

If you’re fishing with live pogies offshore, make sure that you bring plenty along with you. The run time is long, so falling short will be a disappointing end to the day. 

The best method for hooking live pogies is through the mouth with a circle hook. Add enough weight to hold the bottom before a six-foot monofilament leader. 

Fiddler Crabs

When fishing shallow wrecks near the coast, the best bait is fiddler crabs. Fiddler crabs are a top choice because sheepheads love to eat them. Sheepshead are found in abundance on nearshore structures. 

However, fiddler crabs are good for more than just sheepshead but also sheepshead and black seabass. 

Importantly, you’re going to want to fish with small hooks. Small hooks prevent splitting the crab in half and increase the number of hookups. Lastly, always fish the bottom with fiddler crabs. 

Pick The Best Saltwater Baits Based On Where You’re Fishing

Again, the best bait is highly subjective to where you are fishing. However, this is a guide to help you choose the correct option. Making the right decision first will put you on the fish sooner rather than later. I have fished trolled, bottom fished reefs and wrecks, and casted lines from piers. Therefore, all of these bait options have been tested.