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Live bait works for bass fishing

By DICK MARTIN • Jul 21, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Most fishing readers would like to catch a serious largemouth bass, a 3-pounder, 4- or, even (dare we hope) 5-pounder. But probably well over half don't know how to go about it. They read about crankbaits, spinnerbaits, pig and jigs, structure, wood, and other mystic words thrown around by veteran bass hunters and haven't the faintest idea what they mean. But they’d still like to catch a nice bass.

If that's your situation, I have an answer, the simplest possible — seek them with live bait.

One of my first experiences at catching largemouths with live bait came many years ago on a trip to Kentucky's Lake Cumberland. I went out the first morning with an old time guide named Ernie who said "Leave your rods and tackle in the cabin. I have everything we need."

This surprised me a little because the only thing in his 14-foot pram was a pair of long cane poles and a little box of whatever. We motored down lake, headed into a backwater with high rising stone walls, stopped, and he proceeded to rig the cane poles.

The poles had floats about five foot up, a one ounce sinker, and a good sized hook which he proceeded to fill with five or six plastic worms hooked through the middle. Then he added half a dozen live nightcrawlers also hooked through the middle. I thought he was pulling this Yankee's leg, but he said "Work the ball of worms along the shore next to the ledges. Let the ball sink, then lift it and let it drop again so the tails flutter out. They're laying along these ledges now, and we should catch some."

I felt a little dumb, but he was the guide so I started fluttering the bait, and in less than two minutes the float sank and I was into a dandy bass. With no reel on the pole, it was root hog or die, but eventually I got him aboard in a shower of water. A very nice five pounder. We caught over a dozen fish that morning, and I became a believer in live bait.

On another outing I was fishing a lake in northcentral Ohio and spending more time watching another old timer than fishing. He had a small boat and cane pole too, and he was working a thick weedbed of mixed lily pads, spadderdock and coontail. The old boy had caught some leopard frogs, wrapped a rubber band around their middle, slipped a hook under the band on their backs and was dipping one very quietly and gently in every hole and opening as he moved along, letting the frog kick a bit in each spot. I watched him catch five bass before I moved on to other parts, and why not? Bass grow up feeding on small frogs and other tidbits, and no lure can imitate them perfectly.

More than once when I needed a nice bass in a hurry for photos I've gone to a local farm pond that I knew held good fish, and relaxed along the shallower half of the little lake with a dozen four inch or so seine caught creek chubs swimming in a bucket. I used two rods, lip hooked the little fish, then gently tossed them out and just let the minnows swim.

The rods held a pencil float, splitshot and No. 2 hook and once the bait was out there moving about, I just lay back and relaxed, watching redwings balance on cattails and a passing muskrat. It didn't take long for a float to submerge and give me the bass I needed, and little longer for the other to slip under and give me a second. Readers who want to catch a nice fish will find this method easiest of all. No need to know basser jargon, just a rod or two and some bait.

There are other offerings you can use to try for bass, live crayfish hooked through their tails, leeches if you can find some, even very small bluegills again lip hooked though minnows are better. Avoid nightcrawlers if possible, because though they'll catch bass, bluegills will pound them unmercifully. Whatever your choice, if you want to land a high jumping, hard fighter and don't know how, turn to something alive. They definitely work.

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Hooks & bullets

• Recently, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and others joined to introduce a bipartisan bill to rebuild America's National Parks. The proposed bill would use up to $18 billion in revenue derived from energy produced on federal lands and waters to establish a special fund for park infrastructure. Zinke said, "We need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitor centers." He noted that not all visitors to our parks have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness. The new infrastructure would aid families with young kids, elderly grandparents or persons with disabilities to enjoy the parks too.

• Twenty-four Ohio communities will receive a total of $565,085 from the ODNR to support local marine patrol units. Provided by the Division of Parks and Watercraft, these assistance funds represent a continuing effort to keep Ohio waterways safe and enhance recreational boating experience. In 2017, Ohio had a record 542,602 registered recreational watercraft, a growth of almost 82,000 in three years. And over the last decade, there has been a 192-percent increase in kayak and canoe registration. Obviously, the funds are needed.

• Readers looking for a more exotic out-of-state vacation might consider Minnesota. In a recent news release the state invited Ohio tourists to enjoy lake life, which is boating, fishing, paddling, watersports and more in their "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Visitors can also explore parks, trails and forests in one of the nation's greatest state park systems, featuring 227,000 acres. Plus golfing, sightseeing and more. For details, visit Explore Minnesota.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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