Bait: How to Keep Sand Fleas Alive

They're the golden nuggets of surf fishing from California, to the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern Atlantic states. Mole crabs, aka "sand fleas" are like M&M's to surf species such as pompano, whiting, redfish, drum, and sheepshead; but the little boogers are delicate to say the least, so keeping them fresh for live presentations takes a thoughtful approach.

Here's a cool method from Florida surf fishing guru, David Gill: Fill a plastic food storage container about halfway with coquina - that compacted mixture of tiny shells and shell fragments characteristic of many Northeast Florida beaches. Place the fleas atop the coquina and let them burrow in as they do at the water's edge. Loosely compacted, the shells filter the sand flea's waste, which accumulates in containers filled with denser beach sand and kills the little crabs.

Dry coquina is essential for absorbing the waste, so use paper towels to pat the shells and minimize moisture. If he plans on using his fleas for multiple fishing days, Gill removes them and dries the coquina after each trip by sticking the container in the microwave for about 20 seconds. (He gives the coquina time to cool before returning the baits.)

Lacking actual coquina, you can usually scrape up enough shell grit from the beach to mix with dry sand for a similar filtering habitat. In a pinch, drop a few handfuls of larger beach shells into a bucket, smash them with a hammer, mix with sand and voila, sand flea condo.