Before getting to the main part of this week’s column, a bit of clarification is, I believe, in order. My recent column regarding older folks and the outdoors was in no means intended to suggest that us geezers should stop our activities. We just have to modify it a bit. If you can’t climb up and down a steep bank, fish from a level area. If you can no longer play eighteen holes of golf, play nine. If you can’t do what you once did, do what you can do now.
A while back, we focused on the nightcrawler and its usefulness as fishing bait. This time around, let’s look at minnows, more popularly known in these parts as “minnies.” These probably fall right behind worms on the popularity scale and are, in fact, the bait of choice for some species, such as musky, northern pike, and flathead catfish.
There are a number of ways to catch a batch of minnows. Most folks find it easier to catch them in tributary streams than in a river or lake itself. There are several ways to approach this endeavor. The first is through the use of a seine. This is a net with two long handles. You walk upstream with the net in front of you, lifting it from time to time to check for minnows. Sometimes, you can get a whole day’s supply of bait on the first try. If you have someone to help you by turning over rocks and stirring things up, a seine is also good for catching crayfish, nymphs, hellgrammites, etc. As kids, my friends and I sometimes made seines from two broom handles or other long sticks and some window screen. As surprising as it might seem, they actually worked quite well.
Nowadays, I use a minnow trap, when I don’t just go to the bait store and buy some minnows. We’re all familiar with these. They’re round and made of mesh, with a hole in each end. There’s a funnel-shaped structure to lead the unsuspecting minnows in. Once in, they actually can get back out, but they’re usually not smart enough to figure out how to do it. To entice them, you bait the trap with bread or dry dog food. Don’t overdo it on this, though. If you do, the fish will actually stuff themselves to death.
Years ago, I once pulled my trap in to discover a gruesome scene. A big water snake had somehow forced his way through the hole and into the trap. He apparently was unable to get back out. There he was, dead as a doornail, with part of a minnow sticking out of his mouth. Given his distended appearance, he probably had wolfed down a couple of dozen of my prospective bait fish, then drowned.
After you get your minnows, (adhering to all legal requirements) you’ve got to find a way to keep them alive until you are ready to use them. One way is to fashion a mesh cage and leave it in the creek. This can be risky, as a variety of critters, especially raccoons, can sometimes find their way to a free meal on you.
A lot of people feel that the best way to store minnows is in an aquarium, complete with a filter and aerator. Early on, I heard that those taken from streams do not do very well in tap water. Perhaps chlorine is the culprit. There are, of course, chemicals to deal with that, but getting some creek water would probably be best.
There’s some debate among anglers as to whether “caught” or “bought” minnows are the best. Personally, I don’t really see much difference. I’ve done about equally well on both types. Minnows from a bait store are, however, a bit easier to keep alive. There is one exception that I have noted. Old Bub and I do much better with “crick minnies” when fishing in the Allegheny River.