Live Bait Bosses: The Cigar Aficionado

The Cigar Aficionado
Paul Baker / Pace, Florida

Baker stows the cast net and breaks out sabiki rigs when baitfish ball up in deep water. Photographs by Matthew Coughlin

It’s 2 a.m. in Pace, Florida, a small community on the outskirts of Pensacola. Except for a police officer or two, Paul Baker has the road, and the boat launch on Pensacola Bay, to himself. He operates The Bait Boat, a floating source for area anglers who fish out of Pensacola Pass. (He also provides forage fish to 30 bait shops from Gulf Shores, Alabama, to Panama City.) Unlike many live-bait suppliers, Baker catches his fish the morning before they are to be sold.

“I moved here from Missouri 12 years ago and fell in love with saltwater fishing. I taught myself how to catch bait and became infatuated with making it easier, doing it better. Eventually, the locals started coming to me for bait, and The Bait Boat was born.”

Baker developed a special chum mixture that cigar minnows can’t seem to resist. Still, his system requires crazy hours and a dedication that not many have.

“I want to be on the water around 2 a.m., ideally on a slack tide. I’ll anchor up on the outside of the pass and drop down a frozen block of my chum, as well as two underwater lights. Then, I simply wait until daylight.”

Once there is enough light for him to see the baitfish circling his boat, he starts throwing a Super Spreader cast net to the schools of fish.

“After a couple of casts, the cigar minnows will become wary and dive lower in the water column. Once this happens, I’ll start throwing some floating chum on the surface of the water, and the action starts all over again.”

Weather permitting, Baker is on the water every day of the week, save Sunday, spring through fall. During the winter months, you can find his boat anchored outside the pass Thursday through Sunday.

“I have five children and a beautiful wife, and this business has not only allowed me to provide for them, but also allows me to teach my children how the business works.”

Oftentimes his kids will be on the boat repairing nets, sorting bait, or helping drive-up customers with orders. Plus, much of the leftover cigar minnows are vacuum-sealed and iced for transport to the many bait stores he supplies.

“I find it an honor to be a local family with a local business offering local bait. I just had my engine serviced and it had 1,300 hours on it just from last year. I don’t regret a single minute of it. Some days are good and some days are great. But it’s a blessing to provide a service that brings families together in the outdoors.”

Baker's Buster

Catch 'Em Up
"Net color matters. When you're casting a net in winter, use the standard clear netting. But in spring, when there is more algae in the water, you'll catch a lot more with a teal-colored net. In fall, I go to a red net. For deep netting, put tape around the edges to keep it open as it sinks."

Rig 'Em Up
"I like to chum with cut-up cigar minnows over wrecks. A lot of times, the bigger fish will come up in the water column. Then, I'll free-line a 'livie' on a circle hook, running the point through the lower lip or eyes. If fish are deep, I use 1 ounce of weight per 10 feet down."

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