Friday, March 6, 2015

Survival Fishing: 3: Bait


Worms are a good choice for most freshwater fish. The thick end of a worm is the head, the thin end is the tail, and the thick, fleshy part halfway down is the collar. Earthworms are small, they're easy to thread onto a hook, and panfish love them. Nightcrawlers, though, are much longer and thicker, and they're suitable for large fish as well as small.

You can raise worms in a compost heap, dig them from your garden, or buy them from a bait shop or fishing-tackle store. If you're going after panfish, make sure you bury the point of the hook in the worm, so that the fish don't pull the worm off the hook. Leftover live worms can be kept in a refrigerator for next time.

There are 4 common ways to put a nightcrawler on a hook. Be sure to use a hook large enough to hold the bait, but small enough for the fish you're targeting:

1. Push the hook through the collar section of the worm.

2. Put the hook through the top of the worm's head and then out through the collar. It gives the worm better action when you're moving it through the water.

3. Thread as much as possible of nightcrawler onto a hook. The look is less natural, but the scent and taste are the same, and the fish can't easily pull the worm from the hook.

4. As an addition to the preceding method, turn the hook around and bury the point in the collar, so that the worm doesn't snag on weeds or rocks.

The simplest approach to fishing with bait is to use a cane pole, a short length of line, a small hook, and a worm.

In any case, keep your tackle for panfish as simple as possible, trying to make everything look natural. That means using a small, thin hook, a light line, and as little weight as you can get away with. You don't need a steel leader, snaps, swivels, or any other further tackle.

Most likely, for panfish, you'd need to tie a size-10 or -8 hook on 2- to 6-pound mono. Attach a small bobber, perhaps 2 feet above the hook. Add enough split-shot weight about 8 inches above the hook. In general you should hook the worm once only, either through the head or through the collar, don't repeatedly hook it. However, if bait-stealing panfish are a problem, you can put several small worms on the hook, piercing each of them several times but letting the ends dangle. Or thread on a piece of nightcrawler, leaving one end free.

Don't worry about a fish having a difficult time getting the whole worm into its mouth. Even rather small fish are more than capable of swallowing a good-sized worm.

While you're out fishing, you should occasionally drip some cold water onto the worms, but not so much that you drown them.


Insects are a major part of the diet of many kinds of fish. Almost any insect will tempt a fish, whether that insect is in adult form, or in immature form as larva or pupa – or nymph, in the case of insects that don't undergo complete metamorphosis. Anglers most commonly use crickets and grasshoppers. Crickets are excellent baits for panfish such as sunfish and yellow perch. Grasshoppers work only in late summer when huge numbers of these creatures end up in the water.

Both of these insects can be caught by hand or with an insect net. Look for them in tall grass or at night under lights. You can also attract crickets by laying a cloth, towel, cardboard, or newspaper on the grass overnight. You can fish them on the surface, under a float, or on the bottom.

You can buy crickets at most bait shops, but you'll probably have to catch your own grasshoppers. Using a dip net often works. Going out very early in the morning is best, when the low temperature slows grasshoppers. Store them in a jar with some holes in the lid, and add some grass for them to eat.

Crickets and grasshoppers are threaded on hooks of about size 10 to 6 for panfish, but medium-sized hooks (perhaps size 2 or 1) for bass. Hook a cricket through the belly, with the point coming out so that it's towards the head of the cricket. Hook a grasshopper on the back, going through the collar just behind the head, with the point of the hook heading towards the back end of the insect.


The minnow family includes about 250 species, such as shiners, chubs, and dace, but the word ''minnow'' is also commonly applied to many other bait fish, especially their young.

Minnows for perch, crappie, and other small-mouthed fish are usually about 1 or 2 inches in length whereas those for bass might be twice that length.

There are many ways to hook minnows. The most common technique is to impale the minnow through both lips. Other anglers prefer to hook the minnow through the base of the dorsal or anal fin.

Dead minnows (not legal in some places) work almost as well, particularly if you can give them a bit of life by continually twitching the tip of your fishing rod.

Keep minnows in an aerated minnow bucket and don't crowd them. Be sure to change the water often.

It's also possible to use a combination of jig and minnow. Hook a small minnow through the lips on a very small (1/16- or 1/8-ounce) jig tied directly to 4- to 6-pound mono. If you are fishing in heavy weeds or brush, use a bobber to suspend the lure and minnow high enough to prevent snags.

Otherwise, just cast the combination out and let it sink to the bottom. Retrieve it slowly, pulling the jig to create a hopping motion. A fish will normally grab a jig as it is falling, so keep your line tight so you can feel the fish striking.

Some of the most effective species of minnows are not available from bait shops. If you want to use these, you must catch your own by trapping or netting.

The best times to catch minnows are early in the morning or late evening, when they are likely to be in shallow water.

Trapping is an easy way to catch minnows. Use the kind of trap that looks like two buckets fastened together rim-to-rim, though the ''buckets'' are mesh, not solid metal. Bait it with a few pieces of bread or crackers, set it in the shallows of a lake, stream or pond, and pick it up later.

Set the trap in shallow water. Face it downstream to catch minnows moving upstream. If you're setting the trap in muddy water, attach a marker. In a stream, place some rocks in the bottom of the trap so the current will not move it. Leave the trap for several hours or overnight.


Largemouth bass are very much attracted to crayfish, which can be caught in small ponds, roadside ditches, or any place where depressions hold water frequently. After a rain is usually a good time to look.

You can also look for crayfish under flat rocks in the riffles of a stream. Catch them by placing any kind of net, from a small dip net to a large seine net, just downstream from some rocks, and then flipping over the rocks. This will stir up the bottom where the crayfish live, and when the debris floats down to your waiting net, with luck you may have a few crayfish as well. They can also be caught in the same sort of ''bucket'' trap used for minnows, but use some sort of meat or fish as bait. Crayfish keep well in damp moss or oxygenated water.

Hook a crayfish through the underside of the tail so the hook protrudes through the top and points backwards. Fish the crayfish on the bottom of the water, in the type of rocky areas where such creatures live. You may have to give the crayfish a little jerk now and then, because it will try to hide under the rocks. Along the edges of weed beds is another good place to fish with crayfish.

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