Ontario Fishing Network - Fishing Lodges - Fishing Tackle - Fishing Gear

Ontario Fishing Network

Volume 6,  Issue 10 - Oct. 2006


Live-Bait and Hook-Selection Primer
   by Justin Hoffman

Deep Water Jigging for Smallmouth Bass
Tim Allard

Pike and Muskie - Try Open Water
  by J.P. Bushey

  Column by Sandy Turk

Be Alert - Arrive Alive
  by John Marshe

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Live-Bait and Hook-Selection Primer
By Justin Hoffman

Since the inception of angling, live bait has been a hands-down winner. No matter what lure or fly you tie on your line, duplicating nature is a formidable task. Although an artificial lure might resemble and even act like the true prey of fish, the texture, taste, and movement of real food
can seldom be beat.

We've been bombarded with knowledge of the live baits that are available. We know night crawlers, minnows, crayfish, frogs, and leeches are the most widely used. But, with many anglers now using artificials for most of their fishing, when the chips are down and the real deal seems the way to go, knowing the appropriate bait, hook, and rigging to choose, depending on the fish species being targeted, is a must.

Minnows can be rigged various ways, depending on the style of fishing and type of fish you are chasing

Largemouth Bass
Bucketmouths have healthy appetites and readily accept many types of offerings that swim by or are tossed their way. Top choices include minnows, frogs, crayfish, and whole night crawlers. Due to the largemouth's yap, Leopard frogs can be deadly on bass - but only if you can get past the "cuteness" factorrelying on above-average-size bait is recommended for lunkers. Frogs work wonders in shallow areas, especially when worked on the surface, whereas crayfish excel when fished slowly over rocky points and breaklines. Three to six-inch minnows excel in most situations.

Smallmouth Bass
Crayfish, especially those that are four to five-inches, reign supreme for bronzebacks, with minnows and leeches following closely behind. Lively craws, especially soft shells, worked across rocky shoals and sandbars drive these fish crazy. When using leeches, choose the biggest you can get your hands on. Three or four-inch minnows are standard for smallmouth, but increase the size used as the season progresses and prey size increases. Keep in mind leeches are usually a poor bet when water temperature drops below 50s F., as they ball up on the hook, refusing to uncoil and swim naturally.

Bluegill and Sunfish
These small-mouthed pannies are the heroes of childhood fishing memories. A small portion of worm is the easiest and most convenient bait to throw their way, resulting in many hookups and fast action. Other tidbits such as maggots and waxworms also get the nod from serious bluegill anglers, especially in winter.

Catfish Family
When chasing after bullhead and channel cats, a big mass of worm balled on a hook routinely gets the nod. Sitting on or just above bottom will be your best bet.  Although live minnows will take fish, the reliance on dead stink baits will up your odds. Lifeless chub, sucker or sardine will always arouse the attention of a cat, as will any of the various farm-animal livers found on your grocers shelf. The more stink to the bait, the better the results.

One-and-half to two-inch minnows are tops for these oversized panfish, especially in cold water. Small portions of worms also work as the water warms. Despite the crappie's relatively large mouth, keep baits small, although you can increase size in warmer weather to catch lunkers.

Yellow Perch
Much like crappie, perch are suckers for small minnows, but worms and small crayfish also turn their crank. Minnows, especially pinhead emerald shiners, are standards among perch anglers from fall through spring, with worms getting the nod once the water warms. Leeches will also produce perch, but can be expensive to use when the bite is on. While pinhead minnows are the norm to use for perch, adjust the size of the bait to the perch you hope to catch. In areas harbouring jumbos over 12 inches, even a 3-inch minnow isn't too large.

Pike and Muskie
Large minnows get the nod when chasing pike or muskie, with live and dead varieties both working well. Oversized chubs, suckers or smelt, ranging between five and ten-inches long are the norm, and can be suspended under a float or drift fished near bottom. Big, robust leopard frogs also make an ideal bait for pike or muskie, and can definitely get the heart pounding when fished on the surface.

Live bait seems to work best during the warm summer months, with dead bait shining early and late in the season. These predators are at the top of the food chain, so don't be shy when tossing them an offering to chow down on.

Nightcrawlers can be a dynamite bait for most fish, especially walleye.Minnows, leeches, and night crawlers are all capable of catching finicky walleye, although each seems best at certain times of the year. While night crawlers produce throughout the open-water season, minnows are best at the start and tail end of it. Leeches and night crawlers are go-to summer baits. Minnows in the 3- to 4-inch range work for most walleye applications, but as fall approaches and golden lunkers start pack on the feedbag before winter hits, use baitfish as large as 6 inches. Shiners, suckers, and chub lead the preyfish pack for walleye.


Hooks to Look For
The live-bait angler can get by with a few tried-and-true choices that cover the spectrum of rigging options. Since packaging and catalogue terminology is inconsistent, here are hooks with their common names. The Aberdeen hook is noteworthy for its elongated shank and wide gap. Mostly
used with worms, minnows, and larva baits, the Aberdeen allows for easy removal from a fish, as the shank is always visible for easy access. This hook is popular for small-mouthed panfish. If you're introducing a child to angling, an Aberdeen is a perfect hook to start with. The long shank will help kids get a safer feel for unhooking fish and baiting up will be easier than if using short-shank hooks.

From Left to Right:  Aberdeen, Baitholder, Octopus and Circle.

Bait-holder hooks are recognizable by a series of two or more barbs on the shank. They're standards with many anglers who fish with night crawlers, to help hold them on the shank. This improves bait longevity and limits nibbling from small fry that commonly occurs when fishing crawlers. Don't get me wrong, even big fish will nibble, but they don't have to always steal
your bait.

Octopus-style bait hooks are popular with walleye and bass anglers, and might well be the freshwater industry standard for everything from minnows and leeches to roe bags. They have a wide gap and a short shank that can accommodate a range of baits. The round shape of the Octopus also offers good hook-sets and, because most are made with thin material, they minimize
damage to bait. Styles with turned-up eyes also allow for easy snelling, which many walleye anglers rely on for bottom-bouncing and harness rigs. Circle hooks, first used by commercial tuna catchers, are making inroads with freshwater live-bait anglers. For those who catch and release most of their fish, the circle hook seems the way to go. Similar in appearance to the octopus style, the circle hook has a round bend in the gap, ending with a hook point that swings in towards the shank. At first glance, most people wonder how the angle of the point could ever hook a fish, but herein lies the secret. Unlike most fishing hooks, where it takes the force of a hook-set to stick a fish, circle hooks work on a different principal. When a fish inhales a bait and begins to swim away, the line will become taut. This allows the hook to be pulled from inside the fish's throat and to the corner of the mouth. Don't set the hook. When you apply pressure with the rod and line tension continues to increase, the hook rotates and pierces the cartilage of the fish's lip. Due to the style of the hook, once a fish is pegged, it rarely comes unhooked. As gut-hooking is greatly reduced, though, unhooking and releasing fish are easier, and mortality rates are lower.

Bait-Hooking Strategies
When it comes to night crawlers, the relationship between bait and hook comes down to the targeted species. For panfish, threading the worm or portions of one along the shank of the hook, or impaling it two or three times, is preferred. Leave the ends dangling slightly for added action. Since these fish have small mouths, a 1- to 2-inch piece of worm works best. If you're dealing continuously with nibblers, your presentation is too large.  For bigger prey, such as bass and walleye, hook the worm once through the collar, directly through the middle (wacky-worm style), or through the fat end, depending on how you're fishing it. Up-front hooking is best for fishing a worm on a moving presentation, such as a trolled harness or a drifting rig. Larger fish will inhale a whole night crawler, so don't worry that excess worm is away from the hook, as this adds to a realistic presentation.

Hooking a leech once through the larger suction cup allows it to swim in an enticing manner. When a fish strikes, a leech often rolls up in a ball, wrapping around the hook and making a hook-set difficult. When using larger leeches, a bigger hook can help to combat this predicament. There are many hooking approaches with minnows. Two popular methods are hooking them upwards through both lips or by impaling the hook just below the dorsal fin, being careful not to nick the spine and kill the bait. Back hooking allows the minnow freedom to move and, if done correctly, it will last longer. Back hooking is best suited to still-fishing with a float, whereas lip-hooked minnows work best for trolling or rigging.

When chasing pike or muskie, a quick-strike rig gets the nod, especially when using oversized suckers or chubs. You can buy these rigs, but they're easy to make. For rigging, pierce a single hook up through the snout of the bait, with a wire-leader-rigged treble hooked lightly through the back or side section of the baitfish.  Whether free-lining or rigging, hooking a crayfish upwards through the tail section is standard. Depending on the size of the crayfish, a half or a full inch from the end of the tail is sufficient. This allows the bait to move naturally. If float fishing is more your style, hooking through the top of the shell is better.

Depending on the amount of vegetation or structure, removing the claws will prevent crayfish from grabbing onto debris and escaping the hook. Another trick is to remove only one claw, giving the crustacean the appearance of an injured and accessible meal.

Although less popular today, frogs can be a great bait for bass, walleye, pike, and muskie. For those who can get past the cuteness factor, frogs can be tremendous baits. Hook the amphibian through both lips, coming up from the bottom, which allows the frog to swim in a natural manner. Live bait will always be effective for catching fish. By using the right bait and hook for your targeted specie, your success rate at catching fish will increase. And let's face it, that's what every angler strives for when plying their favourite honey holes.