Go Natural with Fish Baits
Dr. John Woods 04.27.15
Fishing with live baits is a natural thing. I have no clue who decided a worm on a hook could catch fish, but it was certainly a timeless discovery. Every kid that grew up fishing that pond in the back forty or that slough ditch behind the house knew to take a shovel for digging some worms. All you needed was a cane pole, some kite string, a hook, sinker, and a bobber, and an old Maxwell House coffee can.
Even today with hordes of plastic, rubber, metallic, and fabricated fishing baits on the market, nothing outdoes a good minnow, worm, cricket, or other natural bait. One would assume two things about fish’s attraction to live bait. First, I would have to think there’s something about live movement that catches the eye of a crappie, bass, or catfish to the hook.
Then, I guess it could either be the natural scent dispersed in the water by a natural bait and/or the taste of the morsel. Just try that with a rubber worm or a plastic crawfish without spraying it down with some scent attractant. Think of the concept of smelling someone in the neighborhood grilling steaks outside and the scent wafting all over up and down the street. Bet you can conjure that up immediately. Maybe fish react the same way?
Worms are one of the most favored natural baits used by anglers. These slimy wonders can either be dug up along fishing water banks in moist soil or purchased commercially at most bait shops or fishing supply outlets.
I just stopped into a big box store over lunch and found containers of Canadian Nightcrawlers and Big Red fishing worms. These were kept in a small refrigerator in the fishing supply section. I was amazed to discover that about 36 worms (wonder who counts them?) in a small box costs less than $3. That’s pretty good deal.
Worms are easy to fish with. Just thread them on a hook all the way up to the line eyelet and let them dangle. Or the worm can be wrapped around the hook and speared on the tip of the hook. It is a bit slimy to work with, so have a wet washrag in the boat and some hand sanitizer close by.
Crickets are another great natural fishing bait. Go to your bait supplier with a cricket box or buy one there. It is usually a round cylinder paperboard container with a pull off top that rotates once in place. Mine has a hole in the side of the top to match the cylinder. Twist the top until the holes line up and wait for a cricket to find its way out. It does not take long.
Again, spear the cricket on a hook and you’re ready to go. Small panfish like bream, bluegill, and crappie love crickets. You can either tight line fish them or rig up a lead sinker with a floating bobber or other float to signal a bite. This is ole time classic fishing at its best.
A seasonal fishing bait in the south is the catalpa worm that appears on trees by the same name with somewhat unlikely seasonal irregularity. Some years they appear, and some years they never do. Last year was a good catalpa worm year. These are big yellow/green/black juicy (some say nasty) worms that have to be succulent to a fish.
They are hooked through the center of the worm to allow both ends to wiggle in the water. This live action is keenly observed by fish in the area drawing them in for the catch. As with fishing with any natural bait, the angler has to be quick and “Johnny on the spot” to watch and feel the line/pole for fish bites. The second the float goes under the fisherman has to quickly set the hook or the bait is easily stolen. Such fishing gets better with practice.
Live minnows are another good natural bait. For fishing, ideal minnows are usually silver shiners or goldfish. I prefer the shiners in a small size. Often they can be found at bait shops in live water tanks in more than one size. Typically you buy them by the dozen. Always get at least three dozen as they expire often and hooks have to be baited again.
You’ll need a good insulated minnow bucket or a fancy one for in the boat that has a battery powered aerator on top to keep fresh oxygen circulating in the bucket. This prolongs the life of the minnows greatly. Never fish with a minnow that has already expired. They will be floating on the top in the bucket. You’ll need a dipping net, too, to retrieve the minnows from the bucket.
Shiners swim, move, and flex on the hook. This is done either through the mouth or through the center of the back under the upper fin. With light gear, the minnow moves around and thus becomes a prime meal for a fish.
Here in the Heart of the South, we have some of the best known white and black crappie or perch fishing lakes in the nation. Minnows are a prime choice for fishing baits. Really serious crappie anglers rig up as many as six fishing rods at one time and use a bracket to fan the rods out in the front of the boat. If fishing is really good, this set up becomes a workout to keep all the hooks baited between multiple catches.
Other natural fishing baits include homemade dough balls made of cornmeal for catfishing; whole kernel corn soaked in beer works great on trout; and squid, octopus, shrimp, and other natural baits are used regularly for all kinds of fishing. For big river salmon in Alaska, they use balls of fish eggs molded around a hook. Smaller fish cut into chunks can be used for saltwater species and larger freshwater fish alike. I suspect that anything natural, living, or once alive maybe could be fashioned into a fish bait.
So, you can shop the aisles for all the artificial, synthetic, fake fishing baits that are available (they work, too), or you can get a shovel and dig some worms. Natural baits have caught fish since the beginning of time, and I guess they will continue to do so until it all ends.