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Using Live Bait for Crappie

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"Although it's an arguable matter whether live bait catches more fish than artificials, it's something to consider when the most successful guides won't leave the dock without it. This is because they realize that live bait attracts more and bigger fish, which in turn draws more customers.  Whether you are an amateur angler or a professional fisherman, the type of bait you use can mean the difference between fishing success and failure. Live bait often works when nothing else will.  There are some tips and techniques that can help the average angler use and keep live bait more effectively which includes minnows, wax worms, crickets, hellgrammites, mealworms, spikes, maggots, and grubs." 

Finding & Keeping Live Bait

   Basically, there are several ways to obtain live bait.  You can catch your own, or you can purchase them from a bait shop.  Personally, I've found that catching my own bait is time consuming and hard to find enough bait to last me a while.  With the exception of minnows, I have been getting my baits from Grubco Baits.  Grubco is a mail-order bait company and they guarantee the best quality and service in North America.  You get enough bait for the money to last a few trips.  They've got what crappie and bluegills love; waxworms, crickets, mealworms, spikes, & more.  Also be sure to read their instructions for proper care help keep your bait alive for a much longer period of time.

   For minnows, I transport and keep minnows alive and kicking in the new patented "Dry Hands Minnow Bucket".  This incredible minnow bucket not only keeps your hands dry especially in cold weather, but to keep the minnows healthy with a built-on aerator and a insulated liner which keeps the water at a constant temperature longer on a very cold or warm day.

   Keeping minnows at home is as simple as having pet fish, as long as you have the basic equipment. I keep my bait in an old aquarium in my basement. The area is cool, which helps keep bait comfortable. I use an aquarium filter to keep the water clean and oxygenated. I also have an air stone and electric pump to add additional oxygen if I have a lot of bait in the tank. When keeping minnows for a long period of time (several weeks for example), resist the urge to feed them too much. You can pick up some generic fish food at a pet store, and a few flakes now a then will keep them healthy. Like pet fish, feed minnows just enough food for them to eat in a few minutes. If food is floating on the surface after five, you've fed them too much. It's also important to change the water occasionally by replacing no more than a quarter or a third of the tank at a time. This reduces the temperature or PH from changing too much and shocking the fish. Also ensure the water isn't chlorinated. Finally, keep your aquarium completely covered. I use a mesh, screen fixed to a square of wood that sits directly over the tank top.

Tips & Techniques

Hook Size:   While fishing with live bait, you want your hooks to be as small as possible. Remember, we want our bait to look natural.  For most baits such as wax worms, and spikes, use a #10 baitholder hook.  For bigger bait profile such as minnows and mealworms, use a #2 or 4 hook.  This includes the jig size should you fish with a jig/live bait combination.  The bottom line is that when fishing with live bait you want your hook or hooks to be as small as possible so they are less visible.  **Tip**  On sunny days, use a brass hook for flash.  On dark days, use a black hook for contrast.  I've found that a BloodRed colored Tru-Turn hook will work in any condition.

Rigging:   There are several ways to rig live bait with or without a jig.  When I fish with a jig, I hook the waxworm from head to tail for a reason, and its not just to keep the bluegills from stealing my bait.  One of the keys to the effectiveness of waxworms is scent, but most people don't realize this. Waxworms have a tiny scent sack at the blunt end, near their eyes. If you lightly hook them through that bulge, the sack will burst and release this scent. It really triggers panfish, especially during the mid-day hours when they're usually not feeding actively. 

   Without a jig or fishing for bluegills, I rig the worms in the middle or on the tail for life-like action to trigger strikes.  For spikes, always hook them to the tail not on the head.

   The most common way of fishing with crickets is with a float or bobber. I use a #8 or #10 hook. Add a split shot about 6 inches above the hook. Use as little weight as possible. This will make the cricket fall through the water at a more natural weight. Insert the hook right behind the head of the cricket and let the barb of the hook exit the middle of the back. A pencil style float is a good choice for panfish. Start with the bait set a 3 feet below the surface. If you do not start getting strikes within a few minutes, raise or lower the bait until you start getting strikes.

There are 3 basic ways to bait the hook with a minnow:

1. If you are taking the boat out and trolling, or doing a lot of casting and reeling in, you should hook the minnow through both the upper and lower lips, going through the lower lip first and ending with the point of the hook facing up.  This way the minnow will remain in an upright position instead of looking as if it’s swimming sideways or backwards.

2. If you plan on fishing with a float, and a weight, the best way to hook the minnow would be through the back, but be very careful not to hook the spine and paralyze the minnow, you want it swimming around, not just laying there.  This allows the minnow to, once again, remain in a position that is natural and will be more likely to attract the attention of the game fish.

3. You may also want to forego the float and weight and just let the minnow swim around naturally. For this type of fishing, it’s best to hook your minnow through the tail. This gives the minnow the freedom to move as it would if it were not attached to a hook. Just remember to keep the minnow in the most natural position possible, depending on your method of fishing, and that will be the best way to bait your hook.

Natural Presentation:   When fishing with live bait, natural presentation is a key. You want your bait to look as natural as possible in the water.  For example: if you fish with a plain minnow hooked through the lips under a cork, the minnow will look like its swimming naturally with its tail. I just add a BB-sized split shot 6" above the minnow to keep it down to the proper depth. The bottom line is that if the live bait doesn't look like what the fish is used to eating, it will affect your catch; it's as simple as that.

   Fishing with live bait is a fun and effective way to fish, and can be taken more seriously than a twelve year old at the Bluegill pond.


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