• Fishing with Bait

    Competitive bass anglers are not allowed to use live bait so naturally they would love to do so. The ones I know claim that fishing live bait or “meat” as they call it, provides a definite advantage to any angler. There are quite a variety of live baits available for anglers and live bait is used successfully for pan-fish, game-fish and rough fish, in rivers and lakes, through the ice, from boats or shore.

    The best known of all baits is undoubtedly the earthworm. There are dew worms, also called night-crawlers, little red manure worms and the leaf worms you find under last year’s dead leaves and in your compost heap. All worms will catch fish. In certain applications at certain times of the year, worms will catch almost any fish that swims. The easiest source for dew worms is along the sidewalk or road after a heavy rain. Next best is on the grounds of a lawn bowling club or golf course after a rain or heavy dew on a warm evening. Digging them up is hardest of all unless you have access to a well-rotted manure pile or compost heap. They are of limited value through the ice but work fine the rest of the year. You can fish worms by bottom bouncing or drifting them along the bottom of a river or stream, run them under a float or use them stationary with slip-sinkers after injecting them with a bubble of air.

    Maggots of various types are used a lot for panfish, also mealworms and waxworms. Perch love these baits and so do most trout species. Because of their fragility and cost, some anglers tie them on their hooks with Spiderthread ™ or stick them to their hooks with some type of instant glue. They can be used on jigs to add smell and taste or on a bare hook or fly. I tried meal worms last winter for rainbows with poor success, but this year I found that waxworms worked fairly well under a float in slow-moving but clear water. The waxies are a bit expensive in Grey-Bruce so far because of little demand but in some situations they produce when nothing else seems to work.

    Crickets and grasshoppers have been used for bait for hundreds of years but few anglers use them for catching trout. Pet stores often sell them as food for salamanders, turtles or other reptiles but fish like them too. The trick to handling crickets is to put them in a container with an old nylon scarf, pantyhose or nylon stocking so they become tangled and don’t jump out when you open the lid. Fished under a float in the spring they can catch spooky fish that won’t touch any ordinary bait.

    When I was a young boy I found that big bass like frogs but anything that grabs your hook and tries to remove it is too human-like for me to use comfortably. Besides, frogs are disappearing world-wide and need all the help they can get so they are not on my list of approved baits.

    Minnows can be dead or alive, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference to catching big fish. Sometimes though, especially with bass, you must strike before a big fish decides it isn’t fresh enough. More and more Ontario anglers are using baitfish fillets to make their lures more attractive to salmon and trout now, a method used for decades out west.

    Lake trout especially like sucker fillets or skin trolled on a spoon as well as minnows on a live bait harness. At one time minnows were easy to catch but restrictions on bait licenses and the laws controlling capturing your own have made minnows less popular.

    Smallmouth bass feed on crayfish much of the time, especially in Lakes Erie and Simcoe. The Saugeen and Sauble Rivers as well as Owen Sound Bay are also home to large populations of crayfish-eating smallies, although bass are rarely fished for in these locations. If you run a net through shoreline weeds in August you can often catch a hundred or so soft-shelled crayfish in twenty minutes or less. They keep well in refrigerated wet moss and will out-fish many baits, even live minnows much of the time. Occasionally they work under a float for rainbow trout but brown trout especially love them.

    Leeches I left for the last as I really don’t like to handle them, especially the big northern leeches that eat fish. The South Saugeen and some other warm or cool but not cold water streams have enormous numbers of leeches which can be captured by lifting rocks along the river’s edge. Even wary smallmouth cannot resist a swimming leech but handling the little bloodsuckers and carrying them is quite a challenge as they are capable of squeezing through almost any small space. Brook trout and browns love leeches also. They are so tough that you can catch quite a few fish with the same leech and even though they appear lifeless they will usually begin to swim for cover when they hit the water.

    Like all living things, they should be treated with care and respect and any unused live bait should either be returned to where you got it or dispatched, not released into a different body of water.

    Grant Ferris
    Grey/Bruce Outdoors