How to Catch Herring: The Top Methods Guides Use

July 20, 2021

Herring are one of the most commonly used baitfish. It’s the bait of choice for pretty much all species of salmon (chinook, coho, pink, and even chum salmon) as well as many other saltwater predatory fish. We’ve had success using it for striped bass, tarpon, and many other species. But do you have to buy herring in order to use it? Do you know how to catch herring?

You will soon! In this article, we are going to show you how to catch herring in several different ways. If you fish as much as we do, you’ll want to start catching herring as opposed to always buying it. It’s a great way to save some money, and depending on the technique you use it can actually be pretty fun.

If you have some younger anglers with you who simply want to catch fish, it can be a great way to get some action while preparing for larger fish.

Let’s go over the top ways how to catching herring.

How to Catch Herring by Jigging

Probably the most common way to catch herring is to jig for them. All you need to do is find a ball of herring near a dock or if you have a boat with a fish finder simply go to where a bait ball is. Let’s go over what you’ll need to jig for herring.

Equipment

  • Saltwater rod and reel (size doesn’t really matter since herring are small. You can use a large rod or ultra-light, either will be fine)
  • Herring rig with beads or corn as bait
  • 3 to 5 oz ball or pyramid weight

Instructions

  1. Tie your herring rig onto your mainline. Then tie your weight onto the other end of the herring rig. If the herring rig has beads on the hooks, you’re ready to go! If not, we like to use corn as bait – preferable white shoepeg corn.
  2. Next, drop your rig into the water and lower it until it is right in the middle of school of herring. Do this by either sight fishing for where the herring are, or referring to your fish finder if you are on boat. It might initially scare them away, so wait for them to swim back to your before you begin jigging. 
  3. Pull your rod up quickly to drag the rig through the school of herring. Hungry herring will see the beads and think they are krill or other small crustaceans they like to eat.
  4. Keep repeating the above movement until your feel any resistance on your line. If you feel a bite, simply reel in your rig and chek your line for herring!
  5. Depending on if you plan to use the herring live (like for tarpon or other southern fish) or dead you can store them in a live well or put them on ice. 
  6. That’s it! Keep repeating until you catch as many as you want.

How to Catch Herring with Nets

Another simple way to catch herring is using a throw net. As the name suggests, you simply throw the net above a bait ball of herring then pull it in. Any herring that are unlucky enough to get in the way will get caught.

Using a throw net is a great way to catch a lot of herring quickly if they are near the surface. Typically you can only use a throw net when you are trying to catch herring from a boat, as herring schools near docks are too skittish to be close enough to use a net.

If you’re lucky enough to find a school of herring near the surface, we recommend using a net over the other two methods. It’s the most efficient technique that allows you to catch the most herring the fastest.

How to Catch Herring with Baitfish Traps

The last technique we wanted to cover is how to catch herring using a baitfish trap. Baitfish traps can also be a very effective way to catch herring if you have the time to let the trap sit and the fish to come to it. 

We recommend using one of the baitfish traps we review in our baitfish trap guide. Simply place the trap in the water and tie it down to either a pier or other nearby structure. We like to hang them off of our boat when it’s moored and wait overnight. For bait we like to use dried fish food or white shoepeg corn. You can cut a couple of holes in the can and let the corn slowly seep out of i.

If a nearby herring school decides to explore the trap when you aren’t there, you’ll almost always get a herring or two by the next morning. It’s a great passive way to catch herring that requires very little effort on your part. You can then store them in a livewell.

Catching Herring FAQs

What is the Best Bait for Herring? 

As we mentioned above, we like using shoepeg corn both when jigging for herring as well as in our traps. Another lure that works really well for herring are small-sized bucktail jigs and flies. Make sure they are small enough for a herring to bite, and you’ll be good to go!

Another thing to note – if you find a school of herring that is feeding, you might not even need any bait on your rig! We’ve caught herring simply by jigging several small hooks through the water. If the herring are hungry enough, they will strike the naked hooks thinking they are krill or plankton.

Where Do You Catch Herring At?

Also as we mentioned before, we like to fish for herring in estuaries or slightly offshore from a boat. You can fish for herring from a dock if you find a school of them, but the inshore schools tend to be much more fearful of predators and less likely to bite. 

Schools of herring in the ocean, on the other hand, are typically much larger and much more aggressive. This is where we’ve caught herring by simply jigging plain hooks through the water.

Can You Eat the Herring You Catch?

The short answer is yes, you can absolutely eat the herring you catch as bait! There are many different ways you can prepare herring. We’ve eaten it pickled, grilled, and even raw (as a dare from a fellow fisherman). We recommend eating it grilled. 

Something your should note, however – herring have many small sharp bones in them. So be careful if you do decide to eat some of the herring you catch. Most of these small bones won’t harm you but some of the larger bones in the spine and back could potentially hurt you.

Are Herring Bottom Feeders?

Herring are not bottom feeders. While it isn’t obvious what herring eat, they enjoy eating small plankton and other crustaceans that live in the upper water columns. Herring typically never go near the bottom, as that is where many of their natural predators (like salmon) patrol.

If you see herring swimming near the surface, they are most likely feeding on the zooplankton that live there. Or they may be trying to avoid getting eaten by a king salmon! If that is the case, ditch your herring rig and get out your salmon rod for even more fun.

Should You Brine the Herring You Catch?

Depending on what you plan to use the herring for, we definitely think brining it is a good idea. If plan on mooching or trolling for salmon with plug-cut herring, then you should absolutely brine your herring. Check out our write-up on how to brine herring to learn more.

If you plan on eating the herring that you catch, we recommend cooking it in traditional ways as opposed to brining it.

Parting Thoughts

Learning how to catch herring is an important skill to have if you are an avid salmon fisherman. You’ll save a decent penny catching your herring as opposed to buying it – which we think is half the fun of fishing anyways. 

If you have any questions on how to catch herring or if any of this does not make sense to you, please shoot us a note below and we will do our best to help you. As we mentioned above, catching herring can be a ton of fun for the younger anglers in your life – especially if the last few times you have been out you haven’t caught anything.

Good luck catching herring and happy hunting!

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