Catching Your Own Live Bait

Collecting you own live bait can be a lot of fun and usually a lot cheaper then buying it. By catching it yourself you make sure it is fresh and handled in ways that guarantee it will be more lively. You may need to make an initial investment in a net or trap, but you can use both for many years. Some baitfish can even be caught on rod and reel and put up a good fight just like the game fish you're hoping to catch with them.

How to Catch Freshwater Bait

Digging earthworms is a rite of passage for most kids. All you need is a small trowel, a bucket, and some moist, rich soil. Dig carefully and turn over piles of dirt to find them. Raking leaves around in the woods will uncover swamp crawlers and night crawlers and all you have to do is pick them up. And you can go out after a rain at night with a flashlight and pick up night crawlers off your lawn if you live in the right areas.

Traps work well for crayfish, minnows, and eels. Bait up the traps and leave them in shallow water overnight for a good supply of bait. You can buy traps or make a simple basket out of screen wire or hardware cloth, with a funnel-shaped opening pointing inside at one end. Eel pots set in rivers will collect eels for later use.

A small net with a long handle is good for collecting frogs and small minnows one at a time in shallow water. Turn over rocks in streams or rivers for crayfish, salamanders, and hellgrammites, and catch them in a small net or your hands. A net will also help you catch crickets or grasshoppers in fields, or you can just grab them with your hands. Cast nets and seines work well in fresh water. Throw the cast net over schools of herring or shad and use a seine in the shallows to catch minnows, crayfish, and grass shrimp.

A cast net is a round net with sinkers around the edge and a rope through the middle. The rope pulls cords to draw the net closed after you throw it and it sinks, trapping fish it goes over. A seine is a long net with small mesh that has a stick at each end for a person to hold while pulling it through the water to catch fish. Read more about nets in Chapter 15.

Use a light rod and reel and bait a tiny hook with little dough balls or pieces of worm or shrimp to catch minnows and small bluegill for bait. Shiners will hit dough balls and put up a good fight if they're six inches long or bigger. It helps to bait up an area with meal or fish food to attract schools of minnows, shiners, and little bluegill before fishing for them.

Catching Saltwater Bait

Cast nets work well for mullet, menhaden, and other schooling baitfish. They also work well for shrimp. You can often get dozens of baitfish on one throw of the net. Pulling a long seine on a beach can catch shrimp, minnows, baitfish, and crabs. Although a seine takes two people to pull, it can catch enough bait for a whole trip in just a few minutes.

Traps work well in salt water, too. Baskets and pots will catch minnows, baitfish, crabs, shrimp, and eels if placed in the correct areas. Check them often and empty the bait into a holding tank. This is best done from a boat.

Sabiki rigs are made for catching lots of baitfish quickly. They're rigs made up of tiny flies attached along a line a few feet long. You hook a sinker at the end and jig the line of flies up and down with a rod, and you can often catch several baitfish at a time. It doesn't take long to fill up a bait tank with herring or other small baitfish with one of these rigs.

You can also catch lots of saltwater baitfish on rod and reel. Bait a small hook with pieces of cut bait and fish it in shallow water. Some saltwater baitfish like little pieces of worms, clams, or squid and can put up a good fight when hooked on a light rod and reel. It's legal in some areas to snag baitfish with a weighted treble hook.

What does it mean to “snag” a fish?

This means the fisherman is simply allowing the hook to catch on to any part of the fish that passes by. It's easy to snag a fish in a large school because at least one fish will pass by close enough to get caught someplace on its body. This is illegal in many states. (Read more about illegal hooks in Chapter 17.)

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