Bait Fishing Justified: Part 3/3

Reality vs. Theory


Today's urban and suburban fisherman can use live bait to take a variety of game fish near home to save on transit costs, and more important time.. Invest in a five-foot ultra light rig and neighborhood panfish your challenge skills. Consider a simple cane pole for the small fry; add a bobber, small hook and a lively worm and you eliminate tackle hassle. Fishing with live bait can be simple. If should be cheap, because terminal tackle costs little. You can save even more if you make your own bobbers, cast your own weights and wrap your own rods to spread the attractions of the sports to bad weather months. . Don't buy the "dumb bait type" bit either! Bait fishing need not be a "no brainer" method. It can be the most complex form of fishing available in fresh water!

Consider the options! There are over 1,000 different live baits possible if you add up the species of minnows, baitfish, worms, leeches, frogs, toads, salamanders, crayfish, shrimp, aquatic insects, terrestrial insects and larvae. Compound this with double rigs that let you offer two, or more baits at a time. Consider the complications of hook choices to suit the variety of live bait sizes and types, the addition of dead or preserved baits, and the host of bobbers designed for different techniques in still and moving waters. Compound the many bobbers, sinkers and lure/bait combinations possible and it's very clear that mastery of live bait fishing in all its aspects is as likely as winning the state lottery. Fortunately, one need not master everything to catch fish first time out, but it's comforting to know the challenge never ends. 


It's vital to understand bait-fishing costs less. Decent line, an assortment of bobbers, weights and hooks and some bait put you in business. You can make bobbers, cast weights, wrap rods and snell your own hooks at considerable savings too. It's a nice diversion during fall's NFL games. You don't need expensive tackle. A rod and reel suited to your quarry and techniques and you're equipped. Separate the nice from the necessary. Mid-range tackle works nicely. If, for example, you fish with bobbers and vision is the key to connecting with fish, you don't need the graphite rod that can improve results when bottom bouncing bait. On some species you can take more fish with the simple cane pole that remains the best way to start small fry in pursuits piscatorial.

Don't buy premium items unless you must. Some items, like fancy bait holders aren't always needed. A tin can holds worms. A KISS approach -- keep it simple, stupid! -- that stresses the techniques you'll learn here, and the fine points you can perfect on your own, will maximize results and minimize expenses.


In most jurisdictions the second thing fish and game does to limit the take is ban bait. They usually cut limits first. The former on the rather lame theory that bait fishing always kills more fish than lures or flies. Such need not be the case with reasonable care. Skilled bait fishermen with sophisticated gear can set barbless and conventional hooks just as fast as anyone else, and a bait hook need not be any larger, or do more damage, than a fly hook. Barbless bait hooks work very well too. You don't, except for a few specialized pike rigs, need treble hooks either, as is the case on most bass lures.

Okay, some fish will, if you're inattentive or unlucky, swallow a baited hook. That's not fatal. Clip off the leader and leave the hook in place. Steel hooks will rust out fast, and you're out only the modest cost. This isn't, as some fly fishermen assert, mere theory. In England, where fish like mirror carp, trench, zander(a sort of walleye) and other species are so prized that catch and release is the rule, only "specimen fish" are kept,. Everything else goes back after, in the case of tournaments, a short stay in a massive live net enclosure.

So extensive literature supports decent survival rates on a release with hook in place. It's also worth noting that the British use special woven landing nets to minimize scale damage due to the usual knots. Incidentally, in many waters, they ban lead weights on the same theory we ban lead shot for waterfowl.

However, it's absolutely critical to realize that there is a mortality factor with all catch and release. Most experts agree this runs 5 to 10 percent overall. A skilled release with minimum handling keeps the fish in the water and improves survival. If needed, some piscatorial "artificial respiration" by moving the fish so water movement on gills oxygenates its blood all helps.

It's also clear that playing a fish on appropriate tackle so it's not overly stressed and immediately releasing it seems less likely to damage it than toting it around in a live tank until the "ego releases" at the dock or boat ramp.

Even allowing for the NIMBY factor -- "not in my back yard" -- that suggests others bear the burden for the pressure on today's fisheries, consider stricter options than catch and release. The easiest is a move to a species, or situation, where your catch, and in some cases, keep can help the fishery. All fisheries experts agree that catching, and keeping, stunted bluegills, yellow perch or brook trout can help in most waters. So can a shot at non-game fish like carp, or even suckers.

Carp, were they not such unlovely looking fish, could be considered "freshwater bonefish." On appropriate tackle their long runs can challenge any fishermen. Suckers eat game fish -- in Washington they now pay $3 for suckers over 12 inches in length to help salmon and steelhead smolts make it back to salt water. Dead suckers buried deep under plants mean prize winning tomatoes; shallow burial means nocturnal cat caterwauling. Most important of all, while the history of bait fishing demonstrates it's the most effective way to take fish, only your restraint determine if fishing has a future. For most, as expertise and access grows and larger takes become possible, only the parallel appreciation of the opportunity, the joy of fishing and the desire to allow those who come after to share the sport, limit the take. Why keep, tote and clean more fish than you need. Anyone who cleans and brings home limits for friends and neighbors these days may, in fact, seem as dim as Parmis, the son of the Roman Emperor Callignotus who died when he tried to hold a fish in his mouth while changing his lure. The fish convulsed, went down Parmis' throat and choked him to death. Served the fellow right for not using bait!


Kids have the right idea about fishing. They look for action and don't mind dangling a worm. Until infected by adults, they like to catch small fish with simple tackle close to home with minimum time spent in transit, and maximum effort and spend more time watching bugs, checking the scenery or skipping stones. Fun keys kid's fishing, adults who don't have to prove anything to anyone on or at the water share this happy approach. Given the serious state of world politics, our economy, AIDS, over-population and the other worries faced by all it might be useful to remember John Gay, a happy fisherman who wrote, among other things THE BEGGARS OPERA. His Epithet reads, Live is a jest, And all things show it; I thought so once, And now I know it.