It’s old fashioned, it’s frowned upon by purists and it can be messy – but live bait is still the best fish-catchin’ thing you can put on the end of your line!
Live bait has been the standard way to catch fish for decades, probably millenniums. I’m sure if someone were to investigate, artifacts and carbon dating will reveal the earliest hunters and gatherers threaded a worm on some sort of hook. And do you know what? We really haven’t invented anything better since.
Currently in the age of spectacular advances in technology, the newest, most expensive fishing lures will not catch more fish than live bait – in the long run. There may be momentary times when synthetic lures seem to out perform live bait, but these are quite rare.
Think about it, very little about an artificial lure actually imitates the real thing. Crank baits may be shaped and wiggle like a minnow, and metal spoons may flash like something good to eat, but they still come far from tasting, smelling and truly looking like the genuine article.
Let’s examine one of Minnesota’s favorite fish – the crappie. These speckled delectable fish can be very aggressive in their feeding and will bite readily on a simple feathered or plastic jig. When crappies are really biting, adding a live minnow to a jig will still get you a few more bites. It’s just that taking the extra time to hook on a live minnow may seem like it’s cutting back on the number of strikes you get.
Now consider when these crappies are a little fussy – which seems to be more often the case. The number of strikes on a bare jig vs. one tipped with a minnow will be dramatic. With any specie, when the fish takes its time to look over your offering rather than strike at anything that moves, live bait will make a significant difference.
Another example is when I’ve taken trips a few trips to the western states to fish high altitude trout. The first time I was committed to fishing with dry flies and spinners. After a morning of fruitless follows by finicky rainbows I knew I had to change the presentation. I tore the feathers off from an expensive Royal Coachman and tied a No. 14 hook to my line. Then found grasshoppers in a nearby mountain meadow and hooked one on. I added a couple of split shots to the line and casted it out. Within 20 minutes I caught six trout for our meal!
This past summer I fished for cutthroat trout in Montana. Some snickered when I put a container of nightcrawlers in a side pouch of my pack. Those cutthroat have probably never viewed a nightcrawler before, but they gobbled them up as though they were candy. After harvesting enough trout for one meal, I continued fishing with only dry flies (which were great too) but the other guys went to the crawlers. They were dicing up the crawler remains into tiny pieces because spinners and artificial trout bait just wouldn’t catch fish.
I adhere to the standard that one should do whatever it legally takes to catch the most fish – as long as we’re responsible with what we catch and decide to release or harvest. Almost always, the best choice will be live bait!