Fishing with Live Bait
For most of us, our first fish was caught on live bait. For many hardcore anglers, live bait represents the past or a more simple form of fishing. However, live bait should never be overlooked as a viable way to catch fish. Fishermen all over the world rely on live bait to feed their families on a daily basis.
However, there is definitely a technique for how to make the most of this option. This does not just come down to your rigging or where you cast your line. How you preserve your bait and even how you place it on your hook can drastically affect your success or failure. In this article we will cover some of the most popular types of live bait and how to properly use them.
My earliest fishing experiences were using earthworms, but minnows were introduced at an early age as well. When I first started joining my uncle fishing from his boat on the Eleven Point River, I was thrown into the world of minnows. He would set out a trap, cruise the river for a bit, and then come back to collect his prize.
The easiest way to score some minnows is at the bait shop. From there you can put them in a Styrofoam cooler, add them to the live well on your boat, or use a bait bucket. You can seine for minnows if you want to get more active. This is a net that is dragged through shallow water and then scooped to the surface to remove the minnows. For traps you can add bread, oatmeal, or cat food as bait to draw in the minnows.
It is a fact that almost all big fish like to eat smaller fish. You just have to know how to present minnows in a way that appears natural. To hook minnows, you want to either go through both lips or through the back about half way down the body. There are two primary ways to present the minnow to other fish. One is to add a float to the line and cast near the shore or other debris. The minnow will continue to swim in the area drawing in other fish. The other option is to add weight to the line and cast into current. The minnow will swim near the bottom and allow you to make a jig style retrieval. Minnows are by far the best option when fishing near the shore.
These are a small deep water fish that are better for targeting large fish in open water. This includes striped bass and some varieties of catfish. Shad can be hard to find at bait shops, so a casting net is your best bet. Casting near coves and points is a good idea, or you can use a lantern at night to draw them in.
Shad should be hooked the same way as minnows. To fish shallow water, you can add a float. However, the most popular option is to drift fish the bottom. A swivel and leader are used to keep a weight a few feet from the end of the line. The rig is then cast out in the open, or near a structure.
These tiny catfish are not used as widely, but they should be. They are great for catching monster smallmouth bass in rivers and streams. Madtoms are tough to find in bait stores, so you may be hunting for them yourself. You are best to use a small handheld net like you would use for an aquarium. Find riffling areas in rocky streams and start flipping rocks. It will take several flips to find a madtom, but start scooping them up. They are hearty fish that can survive several strikes, and they normally only attract large fish.
Hook madtoms through both lips and watch out for their spines. They can sting you just like full sized catfish. These fish will head straight for the bottom, so no need for any weight. Target holes, boulders, logjams, and undercut banks by casting up and across your target area. Slowly retrieve your line and give it a little tug if the madtom crawls under a rock. When you set the hook, let it run for a few seconds and then set it hard. This bait should bring in some sizeable fish.
Most people have never heard of this larvae of the Dobson fly, but it works great for catching almost any fish. They are just one to two inches long and can be found under the same rocks where you would hunt for madtoms. They can be caught the same way as well. However, to store them just add a little water to a container with sticks and leaves.
Hook hellgrammites through the back just below the collar. These critters work great with a float or with a weight, so try both and see what is working in your area.
These little crustaceans offer the full package. Their twitchy movement is hard to resist along with their smell and flavor. They can attract pretty much any game fish. Crayfish can be found in ponds and streams under rocks and in the mud. They normally stick to warmer water. Traps or nets can be used, but I have always just grabbed them barehanded. Just watch out for their pinchers. The big ones pack a punch.
Hook crayfish through the tail and cast anywhere you may find cover. This includes boulders, holes, logjams, docks, and points. Typically no weight is needed, but you can add a bit if the crayfish will not stay on the bottom. Cast upstream and across your target area, and slowly retrieve your bait bouncing it across the bottom.
The one cardinal rule for fishing with any live bait is to keep it alive. Pay close attention every time you retrieve your bait, and swap out for fresh bait if it is no longer moving. Remember that the movement created by the bait is the whole reason it works to attract fish. The next time you go fishing, branch out and try some new live bait. It will open up all kinds of new opportunities for your fishing trip.