- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 29, 2004

I visited a little strip mall store the other day that sells fishing bait in hopes of finding decently priced minnows because they can be so very effective when going after the season’s first yellow perch.

Yes, on occasion I use live bait, although I’d much rather stick to artificial grubs, tubes and tiny shad darts that the local perch population will sample when all goes right. Artificials are not as messy and you don’t have to keep them aerated, but there are times when you must use baitfish, especially the tough, long-lived tidal water bull minnows, also known as mummichogs.

My stay in the store was of short duration when I saw the cost for the bait. I nearly fainted. The minnows ran to nearly $3 a dozen. And here I wanted at least five dozen of the wriggly things. It would have been outrageous to pay almost $15.

One dozen minnows, each roughly the size of a little finger, would last maybe an hour or two in Potomac River’s Charles or Prince William counties’ feeder creeks whether the fish are biting or not. You’d lose a fair share of the bait pretty fast to bottom snags, barnacles, miscasts, and predator species who can steal a minnow without getting hooked.

So now it was time to put Plan B into effect. I dug through a ton of keepsakes (my wife calls it junk) in the backyard shed, found my old cylindrical minnow trap, dusted it off, took some white bread from the kitchen, wadded several slices of it into a loose ball and stuck it inside the wire mesh contraption.

The minnow trap consists of two halves that are held together with built-in hooks and a clip to which I attach a 4-ounce sinker, along with 10 or 12 feet of crab line to make sure the trap doesn’t float away. I put on my waterproof hip waders and climb into the nearest tidal creek, find a little rill that empties into it and deposit the trap at the entrance of the rivulet. Then I tie the end of the line to bunched-up marsh grass or little shrubs, whatever is available.

When the tide recedes, the minnows that have been roaming about the flooded marsh seeking microscopic food particles will flee. They’d better, because if they don’t quickly seek deeper water they could become stranded on soon-to-be moist, marshy flats.

As they leave their former sanctuary, the minnows are attracted by the scent of the bread (or a stale doughnut, fried chicken, and whatever else you care to stick in it). They’ll enter the tiny opening on each side of the wire cylinder. Once inside, they appear to be incapable of escaping the trap. Bingo! Free bait.

Two pals who fish for every species that swims in our local rivers and creeks, Pat Capps and Ed Meadows, also ignore stores that demand high prices for bait minnows and instead use seines and traps baited with chunks of hardshell crab they’ve saved for this purpose since last summer. They can easily boast of a supply of baitfish that could rival that of some stores.

As I mentioned earlier, you do not need a live minnow to entice the yellow perch. But while they’re actively feeding, waiting for their spawning chores to begin, live bait is tough to beat. Then when the run starts, many hookups with perch come more from them being agitated than hungry. That’s when we use yellow or chartreuse plastic grubs on a ⅛-ounce jig hook.

Scent-filled artificials, such as the new 2-inch Gulp! grub from Berkley can also do a dynamite job. Yet when local yellow and white perch, crappies, pickerel, catfish and bass develop a bad case of lockjaw, there’s nothing like a juicy tidewater bull minnow to get them to open their mouths.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washington times.com.

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