Pick any body of water, fresh or salt, and a vast array of baitfish become available to target gamefish species ranging from snook to largemouth bass. You name the bait fish - bunker, sardines, herring, shiners, goggle-eyes, scads, sunfish - you get the idea – but the key is knowing how to decipher conditions to hook and fish whole live bait fish properly and effectively.
First things first, the key to live bait success is ironically, keeping them alive. Be sure you have a reliable baitwell with enough circulation or even a large cooler fixed a bubbler with fresh batteries to keep bait properly aerated and lively. Nothing is worse than having a bubbler run out of juice and watching dead floating baits in a livewell when the bite is hot. Hooking baits properly is dependent on the conditions you are fishing, starting with all hooks scaled according to the size of bait and size of fish you are targeting i.e a #8 Octopus hook using shiners for largemouth bass or a size 4/0 Circle hook sending a pilchard down for snook.
When fishing fast water like stream outflows, inlets, strong tidal flows and currents, pierce the hook through baitfish lips or nostrils to present a bait that looks as it is naturally swimming with the tide as you drift. When there is slack water or a dead tide, hook baits right behind the dorsal fin which will allow for the bait to swim freely without going broadside against a current. The further back you plant the hook in the dorsal, the more downward the bait will swim as the angle of the hook placement will naturally guide the fish to drop down and swim toward the bottom. To get a hooked baitfish to swim up toward the surface to flitter about on top attracting a topwater strike, plant the hook underneath near the anal fin on the belly, which cajoles them to swim frantically upward off the bottom.
In any live-baiting scenario, conventional reels are preferred as line can be fed back to the fish with a simple push of the button, liquid smooth and with minimal resistance, then the reel is engaged flawlessly for the hookset. Pay attention to how you hook your live baits during particular conditions and you will see your catches increase dramatically.