Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Survival Fishing: 5: Catching Fish

Common names for fishes can be vague and confusing. The word ''sunfish,'' for example, is applied to so many fishes that it is somewhat meaningless. As used below, though, the word ''sunfish'' applies to species in the genus Lepomis. The scientific (basically Latin) names for fish are more precise and definitely worth learning.

The usual common names, and the corresponding scientific names, of a few important species for ''survival fishing'' in northeastern North America are as follows (and see the illustrations at the end of this section):

Common Carp – Cyprinus carpio
White Sucker – Catostomus commersoni
Brown Bullhead – Ictalurus nebulosus
Black Crappie – Pomoxis nigromaculatus
White Crappie – Pomoxis annularis
Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupetris
Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmonides
Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus
Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus
Yellow Perch – Perca flavescens


Carp are bottom feeders, found in lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers, preferably warm water. They grow to more than 70 pounds and are tough fighters. They feed on everything from insects to crustaceans and mollusks. The best fishing method is bottom fishing with dough balls, worms, canned corn, cheese, cereal balls, or pieces of boiled potato. Fishing with treble hooks often works best to keep the bait from falling off during casting.

To prepare carp for cooking, skin them rather than scaling them. Then take large pinches of the flesh, tearing it from the bones. The muddy flavor is eliminated by avoiding the skin and the large bones.


Like carp, white suckers are bottom feeders. Although they are common, they are very wary fish, but they can be caught on 4- to 6-pound mono with a size-8 hook, and a worm hooked several times to hide it. Add a sinker 4 inches above the hook. Let the worm drift along the bottom with the current.


Slow-moving rivers or shallow lakes or ponds are the best places to find bullheads. The best time for catching them is late spring and summer, after the water temperature has reached at least 60 degrees F. Bullheads may feed at any time, but they become more active in the evening, when they head for the shallows to look for insect larvae, snails, worms, fish eggs, and small fish. Bullheads also eat various aquatic plants. They rely largely on smell and taste to find food, which is why they can easily find food after dark. As summer approaches and the water warms, the flesh of bullheads may develop a muddy taste.

Attach a long-shank hook, size 6 or 8, either single or treble, to a 6-pound mono line. The long hook is useful in removing the barb from a bullhead's mouth. Hook on 2 or more worms, and add a sinker about 12 inches above the bait. Attach a small sinker, and fish the worms on the bottom. Or add a bobber, and dangle the bait slightly above the bottom.

Be careful when handling bullheads, because their pectoral spines can inflict a painful wound. Always grab a bullhead by the belly, with your fingers holding down the pectoral and dorsal fins.


Crappies and rock bass are fond of worms and small minnows, and insect larvae can also be effective. Crappie anglers rely heavily on minnows and lures that resemble them. Large fish will take a minnow up to 3 inches in length, but in most cases a 1 1/2- to 2-inch minnow works best.

Lure choice depends on the depth of the fish. In shallow water, you can use small spinnerbaits, minnow plugs, or spoons. Jigs (or jig-and-minnow combinations) and small deep-diving plugs are best in water more than 10 feet. In general, try a slow, erratic retrieve.

With live bait, set a bobber so the bait floats just above the weeds, and let the bobber drift. A strong wind, however, might lift the bait too far above the weeds, and you must then add more weight, or you can lower the bait by readjusting the bobber.

When the shallows warm up in spring, minnows move into bays and shorelines, and the crappies and rock bass are not far behind. Most shore anglers then use bobbers and minnows, or jig-minnow combinations.

Large fish move out to deeper cover later in summer, often hanging around mid-lake rock piles, sunken islands, or submerged brush. During the day, they may swim in deep water away from cover.


Largemouth bass, found in rivers and lakes throughout North America, take live baits such as minnows, worms, and insects, though crayfish are their favorite food. Jumbo grasshoppers may work well in summer, with a long-shank size 4 or 6 hook and a small bobber, but anglers rarely use other insects. Largemouth bass will also strike artificial baits, including crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs, spoons, and soft plastics. In fact, soft plastics take more bass than any other type of artificial lure.

The most important consideration in lure selection is cover type. In snag-free water, lures with open hooks are better because they hook more of the fish that bite. If you're fishing in dense weeds or brush, though, you need a lure that won't snag readily, such as a weedless jig or spinnerbait. As will be discussed in Section 7, ''Advanced Techniques,'' a Texas rig or a Carolina rig can also prevent snagging, with the point of the hook buried in the lure.

Spring and fall are the best seasons to go after largemouth bass. They are most active when the water temperature is between 68 and 75 degrees F. Look along shorelines, rock piles, and weed beds. In the summer months, look in water 12 to 15 feet deep, near weed beds or lily pads.


The simplest of tackle is all that is needed to catch sunfish. Preferred baits are worms and crickets. Artificial lures include very small spinners, or very small feather or fur jigs. A jig should be 1/64 ounce with a size 10 hook, or 1/32 ounce with a size 8 hook.

Use 2- to 6-pound mono. Add a light bobber, at least a foot above the hook, perhaps even 4 feet. You might add enough of a split-shot sinker that the bobber barely floats, or even avoid sinkers completely. Don't use a swivel on the hook end of the line, because you need to avoid even this tiny weight near the hook.

Normally the bait should be 6 to 8 inches off the bottom. Jiggle the bobber and then let it rest. Most bites come after the bait stops moving.

Sunfish can see an angler on the bank. If you sit still for a while, they will come back to you, but any movement on your part will send them away again.

Your chances of finding heavy concentrations of fish are best early in the spawning season. In muddy water, sunfish may nest as shallow as 6 inches, but in clear lakes sunfish may nest as far as 15 feet down. Big sunfish usually nest deeper than small ones. Some anglers claim they can locate spawning sunfish by smell: the fish are said to emit a musky odor.

When fishing for spawning sunfish, set the hook as soon as you feel a bite. Males instinctively grab any object that invades the nest, and then carry it away. If you wait for them to swallow the bait, it may be too late.

Submerged trees or brush provide excellent sunfish habitat. In spring, sunfish spawn in or near timber and brush in shallow water. Later in the year, they find cover and food around trees and brush in deeper water.

Look for trees that indicate bottom type. Trees and brush near some type of structure generally hold more sunfish than a flat expanse with similar cover. A fallen tree on a point will usually attract more sunfish than a fallen tree along a straight shoreline with uniform depth. Pine trees grow mainly on sandy soil, so they may reveal the locations of spawning areas.

If you snag a branch, don't shake it violently to free the lure. Just break the line, tie on a new hook, and continue fishing.

Weeds are also good sunfish habitat. Small sunfish hide among the leaves to escape predators, and larger fish seek the shade of overhead vegetation. Sunfish also feed on aquatic insects attracted to the weeds.

The best sunfish waters have light to moderate weed growth. If a lake has dense weeds throughout, too many sunfish survive, and as a result they become stunted.

Plants with large leaves offer better cover than weeds with thin leaves. Look for sunfish in shallow weed beds in spring. Smaller fish often remain in these weedy shallows all summer, but larger fish prefer weeds near deep water. Big sunfish usually stay along the edges of weed beds.

In lakes that lack natural cover and structure, try fishing near man-made features such as docks and piers. Other features to try are bridges, submerged roadbeds, riprap banks, and anchored boats.

The biggest sunfish are found where the depth drops rapidly, or where the bottom type suddenly changes. In early morning and late afternoon, sunfish feed in shallows near shoreline breaks and creek channels, or on the tops of points and humps. In midday, they retreat to deeper water.


Yellow perch are most commonly found in clear, northern lakes with moderate weed growth. Most are caught with live bait near the bottom. Put the bait on a size 4 to 6 hook with a split-shot weight, or add the bait to a jig.

Perch foods include immature aquatic insects, crayfish, snails, small fish, and fish eggs. Adult perch do most of their feeding on or near the bottom, and are not as likely to swim as high as sunfish and crappies. Perch have poor vision at night, and therefore they feed only during the day.

Perch prefer water temperatures from the mid-60s to low 70s. But they feed throughout the year, and in winter they are commonly caught through the ice.

The fish move out of deep wintering areas and start their spawning runs in mid-April or early May. They prefer to spawn in sand, gravel, or rocky bottoms with weeds or brush. In most lakes and reservoirs, they spawn in shallow, protected bays in water 5 to 12 feet deep.

After spawning, they remain for several weeks in their spawning areas. Look for the fish then in anywhere from 15 to 35 feet of water. Some remain in these areas all summer unless the water becomes too warm. In fall, perch move into the shallows around rocky shorelines and reefs.

Common Carp – Cyprinus carpio

White Sucker – Catostomus commersoni

Brown Bullhead – Ictalurus nebulosus

Black Crappie -- Pomoxis nigromaculatus

White Crappie – Pomoxis annularis

Rock Bass – Ambloplites rupetris

Largemouth Bass – Micropterus salmonides

Bluegill – Lepomis macrochirus

Pumpkinseed – Lepomis gibbosus

Yellow Perch – Perca flavescens

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