The secret weapon to catching summertime bass, panfish, and catfish? A float tube.
Fishing from a float tube under the summer stars puts you on the water when the fish are most active and your competition is tucked safely in the sack. But float smart. Stick to waters that are closed to boat traffic, or familiar waters where you know few motorboaters venture after nightfall. Carry at least two headlamps or flashlights—one with a dimmable colored light to preserve your night vision, and one white safety light. And night anglers should always wear a life jacket.
If you think you’ll freak out every time you brush against a weed patch, then wear lightweight breathable waders. Otherwise, pull on a pair of synthetic long pants, strap on float-tubing fins, and resist the temptation to launch right at sunset. Give the fish an hour or two to adjust to the changing light and move into a blackout feeding pattern—then target these three areas on the water.
1. Get in the Weeds
At night, float-tubers have a leg up—or maybe down—with their stealthy approach to fallen trees, weedlines, and other natural structures. Once you’re in casting range, let the ripples dissipate to put fish at ease, then cast into the structure. Use swimming buzzbaits or spinnerbaits with a water-gurgling Colorado blade at a slow and steady rate to give fish a chance to strike. Don’t be afraid to go deep. Bigger fish will move off their daytime sanctuaries to prowl sloping bottoms and channels near grass beds and timbered shores.
2. Rock On
Riprap is ideal nighttime fishing structure because it is full of prey species that come out after dark. Once the sun sets, minnows and crayfish slip out of their rocky nooks and crannies, and predators such as bass and whopper panfish cruise the riprap for a late-night meal. Start by hanging back from the shoreline and pounding the rocks with crayfish-colored jigs. Then belly-boat all the way up to the riprap to fire crankbaits and spinnerbaits parallel to the structure, giving fish a second chance to make your night.
3. Light It Up
Any well-lit dock, bridge, or pier is a night angler’s dream, but you can’t just barrel in to pound the brightest spot. Light travels through the water in the shape of an inverted cone, so be aware of the illuminated water that extends out beyond the lit surface. Position yourself well away from that area to dredge midcolumn depths first, casting large streamers or jerkbaits with erratic movements. Once you’ve picked off the subsurface feeders, it’s time to froth the top with buzzbaits, walking baits, and chuggers.
Written by T. Edward Nickens for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Whether in fresh or saltwater, rare are the days when artificial lures will take more or bigger fish than live bait. For many, however, the big issue with live bait is cost and the ability to keep it alive from the point of purchase to the location of use. There’s nothing worse than spending your hard-earned cash on a dozen shiners, for example, only to have them go belly-up before you ever put them on a hook. There is another simpler option, and that is to catch your own.
Quality live baits can be caught almost everywhere. Moreover, with just a little effort, baits can be kept fresh and alive throughout a day of fishing and beyond, which is sure to increase your success over the long haul.
Here are some choice natural baits for freshwater fishing, with tips on how to catch them and keep them lively until it’s time to use them.
Let’s start with the basics. Worms are, without a doubt, the most-used bait, and for good reason. They will help you catch everything from sunfish to catfish.
Earthworm varieties range widely from finger-thick Canadian crawlers used for walleyes and bass; to tiny red wigglers perfectly suited for panfish; to neon-green, glow-in-the-dark worms that can work on basically everything.
There are numerous ways to catch worms, including fiddling for them by rubbing an axe blade across a buried stake, electro-shocking likely soil areas, and even baiting the ground with uncooked pork (this also attracts ants and other crawly critters like cockroaches). All of these tactics work, but there are even simpler methods as well.
For example, oversized nightcrawlers can be snatched up at night by simply spraying the backyard lawn with water just before dark and stalking the blades of grass while wearing a red-tinted headlamp. Overturning the rich dirt in leafy flower beds with a rake or shovel, or flipping stones along a streamside will also work, often resulting in enough worms for a morning’s worth of family fishing.
Need more volume? Soak the soil with plain dish soap and water. If that doesn’t work, add a half-cup of bleach to a bucket of water, set your garden hose on trickle, and put it in the bucket. Then place the bucket on your lawn as it overflows. Within minutes, worms will wriggle to the surface. Grab them, rinse them off, and toss them into a container.
Soak as many areas as necessary, but know that both soap and bleach will eventually kill the worms, so it’s best to only grab enough for one day’s use. Briefly storing them in a container filled with rich soil or worm bedding will keep them wriggling for several hours.
A hot worm-hunting location that you might not have thought of is your local parking lot. Check the pavement after a warm spring or summer rain, and you’ll collect enough worms for a week’s worth of fishing.
Out of all the kinds of live bait, Worms are probably the easiest to store. The old go-to metal coffee can works as well today as it did for your grandfather. To access the worms quickly, flip the can and grab the worms that have gravitated toward the bottom. You can store them overnight or longer in the refrigerator, but tell the family first.
There is really no need to feed the wrigglers unless you don’t plan on fishing for a month.
Big fish eat small fish, and there is likely no more effective bait than a small baitfish on a hook.
Generally, baitfish selection should vary according to what species you’re using them for. However, the hardiest baitfish are most desirable. Madtoms, suckers, and mud minnows, for example, are so resilient that they almost defy death both while on the hook or in a livewell.
Other baitfish, such as shad and shiners, might need greater care (like extremely clean and well-aerated water) to ensure their survival while being transported, as well as on the boat during a day of fishing.
There are many ways to catch baitfish. Small cylindrical mesh traps baited with bread, cat food, or oatmeal then placed in rivers, creeks, lakes, or ponds, are extremely effective at collecting an assortment of live baitfish like madtoms, dace, shiners, and small sunfish. Using a commercially-available mesh seine is also a good and quick way to catch baitfish from shallow lakes, rivers, and streams. Two people can often seine enough baitfish in a very short time for a full day of fishing.
Umbrella lift-style nets work well on a variety of baitfish, too. Use lift-nets at night around bridge and dock lights, or near submerged lights used specifically for attracting fish. You can also bait tiny hooks (size 10 or 12) with bread and fish for small sunfish and wild shiners in shallow water. This might take a bit longer than other methods, but it is a proven tactic. A cast-net is another efficient tool to catch a lot of baitfish (especially shad and shiners) in short order, but it takes a bit of practice.
Regardless of the method, it is critical to check your location’s fishing regulations concerning baitfish collection and use. In some places, introducing a non-native species of baitfish into a particular body of water might be considered illegal. In others, there might be limits to the number of live baits you are permitted to keep.
While baitfish can be caught almost anywhere, it’s best to target places where they are most likely to concentrate, particularly in spots where waterways are constricted or blocked. In streams, pools, and run-outs just below shallow stretches can be prime places for baitfish to stack. Likewise, below dams (even small ones) and downstream of culverts are also baitfish hangouts.
Crawfish are abundant in most bodies of freshwater throughout America, and except in winter, they are easy to locate, catch, and keep alive for a wide variety of fishing. They are great baits for black bass (all species), as well as catfish. Small crawfish baits sometimes tempt walleyes, sauger, pike, and even trout—though the softshell variety is usually preferred by these species.
Crawfish can be caught several ways, with commercially-made wire mesh traps being perhaps the best and most effective method. Bait traps with meat such as chicken necks, wings, or liver, and place them in lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers, ditches, and backwater bayous. Simply tying a hunk of bait to a line will also draw crawfish. They will typically hang onto the bait long enough for you to net them.
If you prefer some hand-to-claw combat, simply wade a rocky-bottomed lake or stream and begin flipping over stones. Allow a moment for the mud cloud to dissipate and look for the brownish craws beneath. It’s best to approach a crawfish slowly from the rear or else you’ll risk having it dart off, tail-first, never to be seen again. It’s a challenging sport if using only your hands, which is why most bait-gatherers prefer small dip nets.
Crawfish can easily be kept lively for many days in a small styrofoam storage container. Be certain to place it in a cool, dry area out of the sun. Use only enough water in the container to half-cover crawfish, and add a few large stones for them to hide under. Change the water periodically and immediately remove any crawfish that die.
For a day of fishing, a small bucket with a bit of water is all crawfish need to survive. They can also be kept in a clean, aerated boat livewell.
Few live baits are more effective in freshwater than leeches. All black bass devour them, and they are especially deadly on smallmouths and walleyes. Sauger, trout, sunfish, and catfish all go wild for leeches, too.
Different species of leeches can be found in almost all freshwaters, from clear western trout streams to swampy dark bass bayous in the deep South.
The time-tested way to catch them is with a small metal container like a soup or coffee can. Bait the inside of the can with chicken gizzards, a fish head, or fish viscera, then squeeze the open end of the tin can nearly closed so that larger fish don’t eat the bait before leeches locate it. Secure the can to a bush, dock, or a rock, and check it in a day or two to collect leeches.
Keeping leeches lively is easy. These baits can survive well in a bucket or small foam container with adequate clean water. Non-chlorinated tap water should be used so that the leeches don’t die. Change the water every day. They store well when refrigerated.
Use a container of water, livewell, or bait bucket to keep leeches lively while fishing. Bait containers should be small so the leeches are easier to grab.
Not all states allow the use of live frogs as bait, so check your local regulations. But live frogs are deadly for bass, pike, pickerel, walleyes, muskies, catfish, and even large trout.
Catching frogs can be a messy business. Many people wade in shallow water or muddy vegetation and simply catch them by hand or with a fine mesh net.
One of the most effective ways to catch live frogs is with a fishing rod. Tie a small size 8 or 10 brightly-colored fly or tiny bream popper to a length of 15-pound-test monofilament. Frogs are voracious predators, and almost every one of them will leap quickly to gulp a bright fly or popper. This is an effective way to catch frogs day or night, and it’s fun to do, too.
Keeping frogs lively for fishing isn’t difficult. Use a standard minnow-style bait container to hold them. Just be sure to keep the bucket out of direct sunlight for long periods of time.
If stowing frogs for several days, use a very clean bucket with holes or a laundry basket. Anchor the container with rocks in the shallows of a small stream or pond, so just a few inches of water is inside. Use some sticks and weeds for cover inside the container and a lid of some type to keep raccoons and other predators out of the container.
6. Crickets & Grasshoppers
Crickets and grasshoppers are superb panfish and trout baits, and they're easy to catch and keep for fishing.
Homemade cricket traps made from plastic water or soda bottles work well. Cut off the top quarter of the bottle and invert it into the bottom. This forms a funnel trap for crickets to enter. Once inside, they cannot escape. Bait the trap with small pieces of over-ripe fruit like peaches, pears, or strawberries, and place alongside barn floors (inside or outside), in garages, or near light sources at night. You’ll usually catch crickets in short order.
If you’re more into hunting them down, grab a small tight-mesh net on a long handle (like a butterfly net) and catch crickets and grasshoppers in farm fields and buildings.
A large blanket made of wool or any fuzzy material is also helpful when catching crickets and hoppers. Simply lay it on the ground in a field on a sunny summer’s day and walk around it to drive the insects onto the blanket. The bugs get their legs caught in the blanket long enough to be captured easily.
If that doesn’t work, a small battery-operated vacuum will also do the trick. Fields, garages, old buildings, and farm structures are usually loaded with crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects. A few swipes with the vacuum will usually catch all the live bugs required for a day of trout or panfishing.
Keep crickets and grasshoppers in a small coffee can with holes punched in the lid for airflow. Place grass, cardboard pieces, a few sticks, and some fruit in the container and your baits will be happy for a long time if they’re kept in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
7. Hellgrammites & Nymphs
Hellgrammites and large nymphs are superb baits for smallmouth bass, walleyes, and trout. They’re most efficiently caught using seines in the shallows of rocky rivers and streams. Hold your seine downstream while another angler shuffles around rocks, logs, and other bottom debris a few feet upstream. Hellgrammites and nymphs living under the rocks and debris will dislodge and tumble with the current downstream to the seine.
The seine should be checked regularly for captured baits. Toss them into a minnow-style bait bucket or container with holes.
Baits can be kept for several days, especially hellgrammites, which are hardier than standard nymph species. Stow baits in a minnow-type bucket in flowing creek water.
Written by Bob Mcnally for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hook and land bronzebacks on the fly with these Wild West lessons
I live in one of the most trout-rich states. Idaho is chock-full of blue-ribbon waters, and fly anglers descend upon them every spring. I like to target trout as much as the next guy, but I can only dodge drift boats and outrun wading anglers for so long. That’s why I love smallmouths.
Because so many cold-water trout-fishing opportunities exist in the West, smallmouths are one of the most undervalued fly-rod gamefish here. This is ironic. If you look at the drainages of the largest Rocky Mountain trout rivers, the lower half is almost always prime bronzeback habitat, replete with a pebble rock and silt streambed, moderate water temperatures, and a big food supply.
For the past few years, I’ve had some of the finest smallmouth sight-fishing trips on water that’s barely 30 minutes from my front door, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons. With so many anglers tossing spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and live bait, I’ve had to figure out ways to make flies stand out. To help you catch more smallies on the fly wherever you live, here are three concepts to remember.
Keep it Simple
I love fishing new flies, especially those loaded with modern materials designed to produce extremely lifelike action. I often reach for those patterns first, thinking they’ll be something the bass haven’t seen yet. Inevitably, after a hundred casts with maybe a few chases and a strike or two, I throw in the towel and reach for a Clouser Minnow.
In my experience, bass in moving water couldn’t care less about a fake minnow that moves exactly like a real minnow. Silhouette and motion trump realism and natural color patterns. That’s why a Clouser is my No. 1 fly. It’s inexpensive, simple to tie, and easy to see when sight-fishing in crystal-clear water. Want to simplify things further? Don’t get carried away with too many color combinations. Yellow over chartreuse kills it for me in a wide range of conditions.
Slow Your Roll
Many of the people I take smallmouth fishing for the first time strip flies at Daytona 500 speeds and get frustrated when a bass follows but never commits. If you think about it, bass see all sorts of fast-moving spinners and lipped crankbaits. Hard baits can appear unnatural, and fish can eventually become conditioned to refuse them. When you make a similarly speedy retrieve with a fly, expect the same reaction from the fish.
Train yourself to slow your strip speed. If it helps, use less weight on your flies to decrease the sink rate. My smallmouth buddies and I see so many fish strike on the drop that we’ve learned to occasionally stop moving the fly during a retrieve, especially if there’s a fish following close behind. Just let the fly (slowly) sink. Bass can hit before the fly meets the streambed, or when it’s motionless on the gravel for a moment or two. Make the fly behave like scared prey that knows death is imminent, and more bronzebacks will commit.
Catch the Early Bug
What many anglers don’t realize is a lot of slow, warm, shallow smallmouth rivers host the same sought-after hatches that get trout anglers jacked up in the wee hours of the morning. Even early in the season, you can encounter many of the same caddis and mayflies in the smallmouth stretches, particularly Hendricksons. As the spring sun heats the water, do yourself a favor and don’t sleep in. Grab a coffee, enjoy the fact that you’re the only trailer on the boat ramp, and spend the next few hours headhunting bass dimpling the surface. Even the slightest rings can be produced by heavy fish, and there’s no greater challenge than landing a 3- or 4-pounder on light tippet and a size 16 dry fly. I’ve caught some amazingly large bass targeting unbelievably small rise forms. If you’re not getting risers to eat, try working a small popper around the sippers, pausing often. You can also try swinging a Clouser through them.
Written by Ben Romans for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Because the intricacies of a stream can tell you more that just where the fish are
Clapotis. That is the word I’ve been trying to scrape off the tip of my tongue for an hour, and it comes back to me as I cast a Purple Haze dry fly along a rock-walled stretch of Montana’s Spotted Bear River. The wall gives out where a boulder squats on the shoreline, pushing a bulge of clear flow into the middle of the channel, and it’s about the troutiest-looking 20 feet of creek I’ve ever seen. The leader straightens, the fly drops, and I ready myself for what will surely be the jolting strike of a serious cutthroat trout. Only a big fish could manage life in the clapotis.
The word comes from a French phrase meaning “lapping of water,” and it describes a standing wave train that neither moves nor breaks, created by waves that bounce off a hard surface—like a rock face—and stack up against more incoming waves. I mend the fly line to keep it out of the tall whipped-frosting waves, giving the parachute fly a drag-free drift in the slick between the rock and the chop. When the big cutthroat slashes, I am so smug and proud of myself for sticking the fly in its face that I miss the strike entirely.
Which, of course, is not the point. The point is that I figured out ahead of time where a trout might live in this stretch of water, so I could drift a fly to its precise location in the current. Trout tend to feed in narrow lanes, unwilling to expend the energy to move out of their comfort zone no matter how tempting the fly. When you miss a fish in a tough lie like that one, you tell yourself that the important thing isn’t that you screwed up the strike. It’s that you were smart enough to read the water.
Like the act of fly-casting itself, reading trout water has taken on near-mystical associations. The practice of carefully studying the flow of water in a trout stream, and divining the most likely spots where trout hold, has been likened to some sort of performance art. But at its core, it’s nothing more than a studied understanding of how water reacts to stuff like gravel bottoms and weedlines and rocks—and how water that has reacted to that kind of stuff is going to affect the fish, fly line, and fly. You don’t need to know what a clapotis is to catch a trout. You just need to know that a fish is likely to be in the calm lane of water between the rock and the choppy place.
Reading trout water isn’t voodoo. It’s a skill. And like any skill, it takes a while to get really good at it. Like a lifetime.
Putting the Pieces Together
The Southern Appalachian streams of my native North Carolina have been my longtime trout-water-reading class, and there’s hardly a better laboratory. These creeks might be 3 feet wide or 30, but they’re rocky, steep, and twisty—and all small enough that the various sorts of trout water are right there at your feet: pools, glides, runs, riffles, pocket water, holding water, current seams, eddies. Clapotis galore.
The best anglers deconstruct the creeks for long, quiet moments before even thinking about a cast. They watch bubble lines to learn where swifts seam into calmer water. They push polarized glasses up to get a better sense of what stream glare suggests about surface flow. Before they ever look for fish, they look for the places where they should look for fish. You work the problem backward: If I think a fish is there, I’ll need to drop my fly to the right of the foam so the force from the riffles pushes the fly into the throat of the current seam. And more likely than not, the place where it seems simply impossible to put a fly is the place where I’d live if I were the boss trout of the pool. That brings on more study. More calculation. Can I sidearm skip a fly under the branches if I crawl out onto the gravel bar? Could I worm through the rhododendrons and dapple the fly along the undercut bank old-school style? Maybe the best cast is no cast at all.
All trout anglers have tied themselves up inside these Gordian knots of fishing strategy. It’s one of the things that makes trout fishing so much fun. But in untying these knots, water pulsing around my legs, fish just waiting to be caught, I’ve found a surprising benefit—one of the other reasons that make trout fishing such a surprising pleasure. I bet any trout angler—or every angler, for that matter—has experienced this. It’s often said that we fish to escape the real world, with its tangled webs of responsibility and challenge. But more often than forgetting about reality, this is what happens to me: I step into a stream with a head full of stress—what to do about two family cars with the CHECK ENGINE lights blinking, how to win the next round of Deadline Whack-A-Mole—and hours later, on the trail back to the truck, solutions begin to bubble up in my mind. By focusing so tightly, time and again, on the riddle of where a fish holds in a single seam of current, my brain seems to break free of all the torque that’s locked up the gears.
This might seem like dime-store philosophy, the sort of grist you’d pick up in a self-help book, but I guess I’ve been fishing—and living—long enough to look at the upstream reaches of my life and recognize that there’s just about always a way to float a solution down into the sweet spot.
But first you must ask yourself: What are the pieces? How do the parts fit together? Solve the little puzzle inside the larger one, and watch what happens. The sweetest moments of life aren’t necessarily void of turbulence. They’re just holding in the calm places on the edge of the riffles. The ones you can’t see until you step into the river.
Written by T. Edward Nickens for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to take your fly-fishing to a new level? How about hopping on a seaplane, flying down to the South Sound, and chasing sea run cutthroat? Orvis offers monthly floatplane fly-fishing trips. It’s a unique experience offering anglers a “trip of a lifetime in a single day.” The plane can take them to areas that are too far to drive or totally inaccessible by car.
Expert guide Leland Miyawaki says the plane reaches secluded beaches that contain fish that may never have seen an artificial fly. “I am there to show anglers how to read and approach the water and present their fly correctly,” Miyawaki says. “If they hook a fish, I help them land it quickly, take a photo and make sure we release it safely. I hope they come away with a deeper appreciation of one of our most beautiful wild native trout caught on our most beautiful beaches.”
On the last trip it poured rain but the anglers still had a blast. “Three out of the eight people had never caught a sea run cutthroat. They were really excited,” says Miyawaki. “It rained hard, in fact, the heavens opened up. But we laughed our way through it all including a shoreline lunch out in the open with no shelter.”
It’s a relatively new program that’s had a great response. Orvis’s Bellevue store manager Reggie Harris says, “You don’t have to go to Alaska for this experience, it’s literally right here in your back yard. We have this beautiful pristine fishery right here.”
Participants get remote enough to encounter wildlife fascinated by their presence. “As we were fishing one of these very remote beaches that you can only access by plane, a seal popped up and looked at me, down at my fly and just stared at me for 3-4 minutes or so. Then he went down the beach and did the same thing with another angler, just seeing what the hell we were doing there in the first place because he probably had never seen anyone. We also had a couple of eagles fly around us watching to see if we caught anything,” says Harris.
The anglers practice catch and release and a keen respect for nature. “We have to practice good conservation because otherwise there wouldn’t be any fish,” says Harris. “Were’ struggling to get our populations back. If there are no fish, there’s no fly-fishing. It’s such a gift of nature to have the fish in the water and be able to go out and enjoy them.”
Orvis will be offering approximately one floatplane trip per month. Find out more on their Facebook Page , and call 425-452-9138 to register. Call early because there is often a waiting list. In June, they are offering a new option with a bass fishing trip to Eastern Washington to fish the Pot Holes.
Bring waders, fly rod, and reel. Orvis provides the flies and a box lunch that includes a sandwich, chips and fresh fruit.
Written by Leah DeAngelis for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.