Fresh-Water Bait
By: Gary Buchannan Posted On: 2009-01-24


These are the baits most popular among anglers of all ages and only a few fish species will pass them by. There are two ways of baiting an earthworm on a hook: (1) put the point into the worm near its head and thread it on, letting the tail hang loose to squirm, or (2) pass the point entirely through the worm behind its head, skip an inch of worm and pass the point through again, and continue until it hangs on the hook in loops. The advantage of the first method is that when the fish grabs the worm, he's sure to take the hook also. In the second method he can nibble off the free loops without touching the hook, but a looped worm has more action and will attract more fish. Keep worms in a well-ventilated container of earth or grass, and remove dead ones immediately. When casting a worm on a hook, use a smooth motion of your rod because a sudden snap can also snap off most of the worm. This is good advice for casting any bait.


These are giant worms, half a foot long and as thick as a pencil, and they are also steady favorites of almost all fresh-water fish. Catching nightcrawlers can be almost as much fun as fishing. You can't dig them like earthworms because they live too deep and they crawl through their tunnels too fast, and so you must collect them at night when they come to the surface to breed. Since they like wet earth, go out in the afternoon and prepare a section of lawn, or any spot where the grass is short, by soaking it well with water. (After a rain, of course, is a perfect time to go nightcrawler gathering.) Then return to your prepared spot at about midnight, and take along a flashlight. A light will make a nightcrawler pull back into the earth with incredible speed—seldom will you find one that doesn't have his tail anchored in his burrow—but red cellophane over the flashlight's lens seems to make him less wary. When you grab for him, grab near the end that's closest to the hole and hold firmly until he squirms himself loose from the earth. For big fish, loop (don't thread) an entire nightcrawler on a hook and let him wriggle. For smaller panfish, cut the nightcrawler into inch-long pieces and thread one on a small hook. It will make excellent bait for Bass, but it's not very attractive to members of the Pike family.


Crawfish look like baby lobsters, 1 to 3 inches long. They are especially tempting to Bass. You can find them under the rocks in the shallow water. Hook a crawfish through the tail and always fish him with a bobber to keep him off the bottom where he'll crawl under a rock and hide. Don't be too quick to hook a Bass when he takes a crawfish. First your bobber will disappear under water as the Bass runs away with the bait. Then it will bob back to the surface as he spits out the bait to turn it around so he can swallow it headfirst. When the bobber goes under the second time, he has it and that's the time to strike.


This is a 2-inch long underwater insect that is the larva of the Dobson fly. Find him under the same rocks as the crawfish. Run the hook under the "collar" just in back of his head, but be careful of his pincers—they nip painfully. He's a special favorite of Bass and large Trout. Fish him with a bobber to keep him off the rocks, and when the bobber goes down, strike immediately—a Bass doesn't worry about which end of a hellgrammite he swallows first.

Grasshoppers and Crickets

These insects are good panfish and Trout baits, but they're fragile and won't stay on a hook very long. Keep them in a jar with a screw-cap in which you've punched a number of holes for ventilation. If you must keep them for several days, put them in the refrigerator where the cold will keep them quiet; heat will quickly revive them again. For longer periods, they'll be content to live in a loaf of bread in a large covered cardboard carton. To bait a hook with a cricket, run the point under the "collar" behind its head. For a grasshopper, run the point through the stomach so it comes out the back. With both, use very gentle casts or they'll fall off. And when a fish bites, strike immediately.


Frogs are sure lures for the Pike family as well as Bass. The best way to catch them is with a landing net (like the one you use for fish) in which you've substituted mosquito netting for the large-holed fish netting. And carry them in a bag made of the same mosquito netting with a drawstring opening so you can insert your hand to get one without having all the others jump out. Don't use a bobber with a frog. Hook him through the upper lip only (he'll drown if you hook him through both lips), lower him into the water and let him swim off. When the fish runs off with him, give him line and wait. When the line begins to run out again, that's the time to strike because the fish has turned the frog around and has swallowed it.


This is a name that includes all small fish, even little panfish, but more often they're called "live bait" in the angler's language. Other baits may be just as much alive, but the term is used only for minnows. They are undoubtedly the best of the natural baits for any fresh-water fish large enough to get one into his mouth. Shiners are the best-known minnows. Catch them in a minnow trap you can buy at your tackle store, or sometimes you can buy the shiners themselves from some enterprising farmer near your lake or river. If they are to remain fresh, you must keep them in cool, ventilated water. A special minnow bucket you can buy holds them in an inside compartment that you can immerse in the lake while you're fishing. But don't change them from the bucket water to the lake water too suddenly. A quick change of temperature will kill them more quickly than suffocation. Mix the waters first so the minnows can adjust slowly and without harm.

To bait a minnow, hook it lightly just under the tough skin alongside its dorsal fin, and if it's an especially lively minnow, fish it without a bobber. Let it swim away with your line until a big fish finds it. Then wait until the fish swallows it (as with crawfish and frogs) before setting the hook.

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