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Into The Outdoors: Live Bait

Can you believe how fast the summer is flying by? It’s my favorite season, and it seems to be slipping through my fingers. It will seem like no time until the leaves start to turn.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy it. This is a great time for fishing, and there are few better fish than the smallmouths of the Allegheny. They are amazing fighters. Even if you hook a tiny one, it will jump and dance across the surface of the water.

Some may scoff at this, but I use live bait almost exclusively when pursuing bronzebacks. I have a number of reasons for this. First of all, it works really well. Secondly, the river, at least in the areas I fish, is full of snags. Given the cost of lures, the bill can add up pretty quickly. If you are an artificial lure purist, and have the money, more power to you. Based on years, and I mean many years, of experience, I am going to focus on live bait.

Live minnows are almost impossible to beat when it comes to bait for smallmouths. The store bought ones will work, but you can’t beat those caught from the river itself or tributary streams. Around here, we call them “crick minnies.” There are different ways to put them on your hook. Some hook them under the top fin. Others even hook them through the tail. Personally, I hook mine through the lips. This has worked well for me over the course of many years. The best thing is just to do what works best for you.

Never underestimate the old faithful nightcrawler when it comes to bass bait. This old time bait will often come through when nothing else will. If you consider all species, I have probably caught more fish on crawlers than any other bait. There was a time when I would catch my own, but now I just buy them. Thanks a lot, Father Time!

Next up, we have crayfish. Around here, we call them crabs. Many anglers would argue that there is no better bass bait than soft-shelled crabs. This is the time between when they shed their old shell and grow a new one. Some issues, however, come to mind. First of all, they are hard to find, and, when you do find them, the price is pretty high. Also, lots of different species of fish like them, even carp. It’s sort of depressing to spend that kind of money on bait just to feed bluegills and others. Here is something I find to be puzzling. Over the years, I have caught countless smallmouths with hard shelled crabs, complete with pincers, in their stomachs. That leads to the inescapable conclusion that they do indeed eat them. Even so, I have never once caught a bass with a hard shelled crab as bait. Odd.

Hellgrammites, or Dobson fly larvae, are a favorite with many anglers. Again, they are hard to find and expensive. Besides that, they are downright ugly and disgusting to handle. When I was a kid, they were easier to come by. My dad would bait my hook for me.

As stated earlier, I am an unashamed live bait angler, although I have no quarrel with those who aren’t. This week, we have focused solely on baits for smallmouth bass. There are lots of other live baits for targeting other species. We will look at some of them, and the fish they are good for, in the future.


Chris Henderson email:

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