What To Look For
When shopping for bait, freshness is your top priority. You wouldn't eat rotten fish, and neither will the fish you want to catch. Baitfish should be firm, not soft or mushy. The eyes should be clear, not thick with a mucous-covered haze. When buying clams for bait, they should be alive or fresh-shucked. Clams rest with their shells partly open. When you tap on a clam's shell, it should close up tight. Fresh-shucked clams are slimy, but do not smell rotten. Sand worms should appear lively to the touch.
First, bait shop owners offer baitfish as fresh to their customers. After a day, the flesh begins to soften and the decomposition process begins. When that happens, many shops freeze the fish and sell it frozen. This bait won't catch fish, and it won't stay on the hook. Clams must be kept damp and cool, but not submerged. Left warm or in still water, clams quickly die. Sand worms are kept in a kelp-filled box, inside a refrigerator. They should be firm and not mushy.
Where To Buy
Bait and tackle shops are the best providers of baitfish and sand worms. Supermarkets often carry chowder clams that can be used for bait, and sometimes offer fresh mackerel, which can be cut into chunk-size baits.
Baitfish vary widely in price. As of 2009, a single menhaden will cost you $1.75 in New York. Sand worms cost $7 per dozen, blood worms $10 per dozen, clams are $4 per quart and squid is $4 per box.
It's important not to skimp when it 's time to buy bait. When you consider the time and effort you spend to go fishing, it doesn't make sense to try and save a few dollars by using sub-standard bait. Bait matters to the fish. Stinky bait means no fish.