With open water fishing season kicking into high gear across the country, a great deal of attention is being given to the best tactics to put fish in the boat. With all due respect to those anglers who have dedicated themselves to using artificial baits, we have found that in the early season live bait is king. This holds true at other times of the season as well. Offering up a tasty morsel of something that is, or is very close to what they are naturally feeding on day in and day out, is often the most effective way to bring success to your day on the water.
Of course, live bait brings its share of challenges that are not present when pulling an artificial lure out of your tackle box. Finding, transporting and keeping live bait alive is not always as easy as we might think it should be. Add to that the laws that have been implemented in recent years pertaining to draining all water from watercraft before leaving the access, and we have a bit of a challenge that requires some planning and preparation. For the thoughtful angler, that preparation doesn’t have to mean inconvenience. The right tools are always beneficial to making this task easier. There are several coolers on the market right now that provide a self contained bait life support system. Engel Coolers is one of the brands that we particularly like and is available at SCHEELS. Fill the cooler with water from home or the bait store and leave it in the truck while you are fishing to transfer your bait into when leaving the water, if you want to keep your bait for another day. Excel-Outdoors Bucket Caddy also provides a way to have non-lake water available to transport live bait away from the lake or river.
Once we have our bait management plan in place, consider which live bait presentation will be best for your day on the water. Here are some thoughts on a few of the most popular presentations.
Slip Sinker Live Bait Rig
A traditional stand-by, the slip sinker rig, or “Lindy Rig” as it has commonly been known, is an incredibly effective way to present any live bait in its most natural form. Consisting of a slip sinker on the main line, a swivel with a leader and hook, it allows a minnow or leech to freely swim about and entice the predator fish with an easy meal.
Helpful tips for slip sinker rigs:
As you search depth ranges for active fish, the proper sized sinker can make the difference in landing a few extra fish throughout the day. We like to use Wing-It Fishing Tackle’s Quick Swap sinkers, which allow the angler to quickly and easily change the size of the weight without re-tying.
Consider using a lighter test weight line for the leader material than your main line. If you “snag up” the leader can easily be broken off requiring only that a new hook be tied on as opposed to a whole new rig. We prefer to use Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon for leader line.
Few lures have put more fish in the boat than a jig and minnow combination. It is one of the easiest presentations to fish with literally hundreds of subtle adjustments that can be made. They can be pitched out and retrieved in a steady fashion, hopped back across the bottom or snapped erratically. Some anglers prefer to troll jigs to cover an area and others take the approach of anchoring, or spot-locking, in a particular location and fishing the bait vertically. Some anglers trade the minnow for a leech or add live bait on top of a plastic body. All of these approaches are extremely effective in catching fish in different circumstances.
Helpful tips for jig fishing:
Use the lightest jig possible while still maintaining control of the bait. When the fish attacks its prey, it opens its mouth causing a vacuum and sucking the prey into their mouth. Lighter jigs will definitely be easier to inhale, causing a higher hook up percentage and fewer missed strikes. Go as light as possible while still being able to maintain bottom contact, or control the lure at the depth that you are targeting. We like to tie a small swivel in the line a foot or two above the jig to prevent line twist. Even in vertical jigging situations, it is easy for a small amount of current or a struggling minnow to twist your line.
As the season progresses and the water warms, many anglers find that a higher speed presentation covers more water and puts more fish in the boat. This is most often done with a bottom bouncer weight and a spinner or “slow death” presentation. The most popular bait to pair with a spinner rig is a nightcrawler, although leeches and/or minnows work well too. Slow Death rigs are extremely simple and effective. They consist of a slow death (oddly bent) hook that’s attached to the bottom bouncer with a 2-3’ piece of fluorocarbon line. When half of a crawler is threaded onto the hook it will corkscrew-spin through the water like a wounded, dying minnow. It is almost impossible for any predator fish to pass this presentation up.
Helpful tips for trolling presentations:
Quick change clevises allow for quick and easy changes of spinner blades. Have a selection of colors, shapes, sizes and finishes (the color of the back of the blade) and try different combinations to find the most productive one for that day and body of water.
We prefer to use 10 lb test Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon line for leader material on our slow death rigs. We tie in two swivels; one about 2-3′ from the slow death hook and the other about 2-3′ from the bottom bouncer. The heavier line and additional swivel effectively eliminate line twist, one of the challenges of fishing slow death rigs. Less time untwisting line means more time with the bait in the water catching fish!
Bobbers give the angler the ultimate in stealth and control of where their bait is presented. It not only controls where the bait is dropped from the surface of the water, but also how far below the float it will hang. When we know that there are fish near by, few other presentations are as effective as a bobber and live bait. It is a game of waiting for them to bite, which often doesn’t take long. Paired early in the season with a shiner or minnow, and later on with a leech, the bobber rig takes us back to how many of us learned to fish (with a bobber and a piece of worm at the end of a dock waiting for sunfish to take the bait).
Helpful tips for bobber rigs:
Although bobber fishing can be a relaxing activity, fishing them effectively takes skill and constant attention. We like to use 7’ medium fast action rods for bobber fishing. The extra length and backbone give us the necessary leverage needed to take up slack line and secure a strong hook set. We rig them with Trilene Braid or other super line and set the slip bobber above the swivel tied to the braid. Then we will attach a leader of lighter test weight monofilament line with the hook and bait. Again, like with the slip sinker rig, when snagged up we can easily break the leader off and retain our bobber without the need to retie and reset the bobber stop.
When bobber fishing dirty, dark or stained water, consider replacing the plain hook with a small 1/16 to 1/8 oz colored jig. The extra color attractant may bring a few extra fish to the boat during the day.
The next time you’re at SCHEELS stock up on minnows, leeches or nightcrawlers. Even though in most instances artificials try to mimic live bait, it’s hard to beat the real thing.