After decades of being bombarded with information about the deadly effectiveness of artificial fishing lures (and of course buying enough of them to blanket several barn doors), a recent incident at a farm pond convinced me that there’s nothing wrong with going the Huckleberry Finn route — using live bait when nothing else works.
It began with Mike Guy, who is the youngest of Guy Brothers business enterprises and helps operate a boat and outboard motor store with his sibling Francis and father Al. Mike also runs a separate lawn mower shop in this rural St. Mary’s County settlement. Lazy he is not, but give him an opening and he’ll sneak away to fish for an hour or so.
When I complained that the bass in the Guy family pond weren’t interested Mike asked all the typical questions. Did you use junebug color worms? How about a Rat-L-Trap or Sugar Shad? Did you try a spinnerbait?
I answered in the affirmative, but the bass still weren’t willing to chase after a lure or pick up a scented plastic worm.
“Francis,” he suddenly shouted, “I’m going up to the pond for a half hour to show this poor fellow how to catch a bass when artificial lures don’t do the job.”
His older brother probably wanted to remind him that there was work to do, but before he could say anything Mike was gone, a minnow trap, a rod and reel in his hands.
By the pond’s shore Mike baited the small wire trap with a piece of stale bread and threw the trap into less than three feet of water. He pulled it back out in less than three minutes with the trap containing a half dozen 2-inch-long bluegills and a couple of skinny minnows.
Mike ran a standard No. 2 snelled hook through one of the young sunfish, the hook entering the fleshy area just under the dorsal fin. Two feet above the wriggling bait he snapped a plastic bobber the size of a golf ball to the line and cast the baited hook into shady water at the edge of a large mat of water weeds.
“Fish on!” he said with a laugh and, sure enough, the bobber went under almost immediately. Mike set the hook. It was a fair 2-pound largemouth bass. That bass was followed by what appeared to be a 3-pounder.
Just like that.
He put on a fresh baby sunfish when the first one was torn from the hook. The new bait attracted a fat bluegill that somehow got the bait and hook into its small mouth.
Then another bass struck, and after releasing it Mike said, “Well, there you go. That’s how it’s done. The bass cannot turn down a juicy bluegill as long as that bluegill isn’t too big. You’re on your own. I have to get back and do some work.”
Mike Guy’s wonderfully effective way with a live baitfish brought back memories of getting my first rod and reel when I arrived in America — a Shakespeare Wonder Rod and a Mitchell 300 spinning reel loaded with 6-pound monofilament line.
My soon-to-be brother-in-law and I would wade in the Potomac River up around the Dickerson area, carrying cigar box-sized wading buckets that hung from our shoulders. The little containers were filled with bull minnows and water and we’d stick a fresh minnow to a snelled hook, then pinched a piece of split shot to the line about two feet above the baitfish whose lips were pinned together by the hook. Casts were made toward sunken rock beds and the bait was allowed to get to the bottom and find its own way. Normally, the minnow wouldn’t last five minutes before a smallmouth bass would find it.
Better yet, if we could get a stonecat, a 3-inch-long native catfish from the Conococheague Creek in Washington County that a friend supplied us, the bigger smallmouths seemed to go after them. If you can find stonecats, be sure to use a nail clipper to trim off its sharp barbs on the sides of its head. It’ll make it easier to bait the hook.
The point here is that we shouldn’t be snobbish to people who are experts with live baits. It requires knowledge and plenty of patience to be consistently successful. Good bait users also know when to set a hook as the fish inhales the minnow (or whatever bait you use). You don’t want the hook to be deeply embedded because it would be impossible to release your catch.
Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: email@example.com.