Anglers might brag about using only dry flies for trout, or having several tackle boxes filled with various lures, but when all else fails it’s time to try live bait.
The most famous live bait is, of course, the worm. You can use night crawlers, garden worms or red wigglers. It all depends on which fish you hope to tempt. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the fish, the bigger the worm.
Night crawlers are big and juicy and are the best choice for larger fish. While purist bass anglers might look down their noses at anyone catching bass on night crawlers there can be no doubt that they work. Back in the days before bass became so supreme that actually eating one was considered sacrilege, I caught more than a few using night crawlers. My method was to use my flyrod or spinning rod with no weight except for the crawler. The presentation was so natural that a bass seldom passed up the offering.
Today I practice catch and release on bass and use night crawlers for catfish and walleyes. Night crawler harnesses consist of spinners, beads and one or more hooks to hold the crawler. The best method of fishing these rigs is to troll, and this works on smaller lakes as well as Lake Erie. The spinners and beads are the attractant and a fat crawler is the final temptation.
There was a time when I caught my night crawlers by crouching over a flashlight beam. Today I catch them using dollar bills as bait because at my age a crouch could become permanent. The cost of a couple dozen worms is less than a chiropractor visit.
The smaller worms, such as garden worms and red wigglers, are my first choice for bluegills. If you use night crawlers on these fish you are likely to just lose a piece of worm without hooking a fish. Bluegills have small mouths.
Weight forward spinners such as the Erie Dearie can also be tipped with a crawler. I trolled this combination on Atwood Lake and caught everything from saugeyes to white bass and a Fish Ohio eligible channel catfish.
For catfish and bullheads, I sometimes enjoy the relaxation of letting my crawler lie on the bottom with my rod propped in a forked stick. This is especially fun at night with a small bonfire and a lantern for light and warmth. Check with local regulations before starting a fire and make sure it is cold and cleaned up before you leave.
Minnows make terrific bait and I have caught many different species using them as bait.
For crappies I like a slip bobber so I can set the depth, as crappies are particular about depth. A crappie will come up for bait, but will seldom go down. I generally add a small split shot above the hook to keep the minnow from swimming to the surface. Always use a light hook to keep the action natural.
Leeches make excellent bait for saugeye and most other species. Today I buy them, but there was a time when I would wade the creek between East Palestine and Negley and catch leeches by turning over rocks.
An effective leech rig for bottom feeders like saugeyes is to use a sliding sinker above a swivel. Tie about a 14-inch leader to the swivel and then tie a floating jig to the leader’s tip. The sinker will keep the leech near the bottom and the floating jig will keep it from dragging right on the bottom.
This rig will work by trolling slowly, especially with an electric motor. It also can be used while drifting. In addition to leeches you might have good results using minnows or worms. I sometimes use this rig while still fishing as it keeps the bait in a fish’s area of eyesight.
Other types of live bait are hellgrammites, wax worms and maggots. Crayfish are deadly on smallmouth bass, and if you can find the soft shell variety, you have a goldmine of bait.
I still use artificial lures more than live bait, probably because they are less trouble and less messy, but when the goal is to catch fish, live bait can be the way to go.