Hello fellow fishing enthusiasts. When I was about 6 years old, I was at the old Chippewa Lake Park, between rides, having a picnic lunch with my family when I noticed a fish hook tied to a few feet of line lying on the ground. With the help of my grandfather I tied it to a stick; put on a piece of hot dog with another small stick tied on as a bobber, and caught my first fish, a bluegill. That began a lifelong passion, and in my over 60 years of fishing, I have been all over the state chasing everything that swims. Gramps was a live bait guy, hook, sinker, and the old red and white plastic bobber in various sizes most of the time. He had a few plugs and such in his box but I seldom saw him use artificial bait. Back in the day, there wasn’t a bait store on every corner as seems to be the case now, and it was often a chore to find a place to buy a dozen night crawlers or, as gramps called them, “minnies”. So we spent some time gathering our own live bait from under rocks and logs, in the fields, creeks and rivers. Frogs and crayfish were caught by hand on outings that built lasting memories of a loving grandfather teaching about the outdoors to a couple of very eager students in my brother and me.
Gramps was an old fashioned guy of modest means and wasted very little. His methods weren’t always sophisticated, but they were effective. Remember, this was the 1950’s and 1960’s; we didn’t have Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops with dozens of choices of every imaginable accessory, or Amazon and e-Bay to peruse our choices. Uncle Bills and Giant Tiger were that era’s versions of K-Mart and the main places to go. He invented an air pump set-up for the big metal tub he had to keep leftover minnows and crayfish in for use on future outings, and worms were kept in a home-made wooden crate kept in his basement. Crickets and grasshoppers were kept in a box in the garage, grandma reluctantly put up with worms but drew the line bringing insects into her house. She’d pack us a couple sandwiches and off we’d go with gramps in search of critters, a day catching bait resulted in a good supply for several trips.
As I got older, I continued to hone these skills on my own. Most of our time was spent outdoors back then (video games were not even thought of yet). When I wasn’t playing some sort of sports I was could usually be found fishing or hunting. If it fit on a hook, I used it, constantly learning new and better ways to catch stuff to use for bait. I got quite proficient, for several years, a couple of buds and I made good money for 12 year olds, selling squirrel tails and critters to an old timer who ran a small tackle store at the end of my street near the power plant in Avon Lake, close to what is now Erie Outfitters. We always kept enough for our own use; we went fishing almost daily during the summer and as often as possible the rest of the year. In 7 years of living within walking distance of that power plant, I caught about every fish there is to catch in Lake Erie save for a bowfin and a sturgeon, almost all of them caught on some sort of live bait.
Live bait has a lot of advantages over artificial lures, the biggest being it’s what the fish are used to eating. It often works when they won’t even look at an artificial. When you think about it, many lures are enhanced with live bait; you probably wouldn’t think of using a weight forward spinner or a jig without adding a little meat to the presentation. It’s so effective that it’s not allowed in most Bass tournaments. Almost all rigs utilize some kind of bait, and for good reason, the fish love it. It’s easier to just buy it at times, but trying to even find some types of bait can be difficult, especially if you’re going to an area like many of our smaller inland lakes with limited bait store availability. You’re at their mercy regarding availability, quality and size, not to mention the cost. Night crawlers are upwards of $2.50 a dozen, crayfish $6-7 if you can even find them, leeches and minnows can be pricey as well, especially at certain times of the year.
I’m going to share with you some of the tricks and tips for acquiring and storing bait that I’ve picked up in over 6 decades of fishing. Sometimes catching it can be a snap, others you have to work for it, but it was always rewarding catching the bait that catches the fish. You’ll get some fresh air, exercise, time in the great outdoors, and you not only are assured of fresh bait, but you’ll save some money in the process. It’s fun for young and old alike; your fishing kids and grandkids will have a blast catching things.
Once you have gone out and caught it, you’ll need to keep it healthy and lively; that can be a challenge but nothing you can’t handle without too much effort. Many fish usually prefer fresh or at least recently dead bait. Most of the time, lifeless worms that don’t wriggle and those minnows that have been floating for 2 days won’t catch near as much as the ones still swimming. We’ll learn some ways to keep those critters healthy and lively, and even help them grow and get bigger. We’re not going to break the bank doing it; many of these things can be purchased relatively inexpensively online, at any big box outdoor emporium such as Dicks, Bass Pro, Cabelas, Fin and Feather, or most bait stores. With a little creativity, you’ll be able to make some of them yourself even more economically.
We’ll explore finding and gathering all manner of critters that crawl, fly, squirm, hop and swim; places, equipment and techniques to catch them; how to keep them stored and fresh, and rigs to use to fish them. Some of it might be old news, but hopefully you’ll pick up a few things. Our next column will research arguably the best most versatile live bait for freshwater fishing, the lowly worm. If you have any comments, questions, or tips you might like to share, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m an old dog but always interested in learning new tricks as well.
Copyright Jeff Kolman 2017