Part I - Terminal Tackle
Over the course of my fishing life, it has become obvious to me that day in and day out nothing outproduces natural baits. This is especially true when targeting rare native species about which not much is known of their feeding habits. For predatory fish like gar, muskellunge, bowfin and catfish, having a good lively baitfish indigenous to the water you are fishing is by far your best bet for connecting with the species you’d like to catch. I’ve seen just about every species of fish hooked on a nightcrawler at one time or another. A nightcrawler fished on the bottom of many rivers can produce outstanding species tallies, not to mention being your best option for some of our scarcest species like blue suckers, black redhorse, buffalos and sturgeons. Frogs or waterdogs can bring explosive strikes at certain times of the year. Live crayfish are impossible for many species to resist. A working knowledge of various kinds of natural baits and different rigging options for the situation you find yourself in is invaluable to the successful fisherman. This five-part series of articles is meant to be a rudimentary overview of bait-fishing essentials.
These are the nuts and bolts of the whole operation, and all carry great importance in your bait presentation. Having the correct type and weight of sinker for your specific bottom-fishing conditions is of utmost importance. Hooks must be of proper size for your quarry, and be kept honed at all times. Your choice for floats and their rigging also gives you many presentation options.
Here’s a look at some different options for free-sliding bottom-fishing weights. Each has their advantages in different situations. Egg-shaped weights are good for general use, but roll badly in even moderate current. Flattened-type weights or pyramid sinkers hold extremely well in current. Bell and Bank-style weights are other general purpose weights that don’t hold well in current. Use the least amount of weight that you can get away with for the given situation.
These are specialty free-sliding weights specifically designed for bottom-fishing in current. These weights almost never get hung up or snagged on rocks, logs or other cover, actually it’s quite amazing how well these slinkies work. When a bottom-bouncing, drifting bait is needed, the slinky is by far your best option. Also useful for stationary bottom presentations. Slinkies can be made by cutting different lengths of rope or cord and filling them with different amounts of split-shot, then sealing the ends with a flame. Clip a snap-swivel through the cord at one end, and run the line through the swivel above a simple barrel-swivel attatched to your line.
Different types of barrel-swivels, three way swivels and snap-swivels can be utilized in your bait-fishing rigs. They reduce line twist caused by casting, fighting fish or current. I’ll get more into their applications later when various rigs are diagrammed.
Many different types of hooks exist that will all work fairly well for most bait-fishing conditions. I made the switch to circle hooks years ago and have been extremely pleased with the results. A fish hooked with a circle hook is likely to be hooked neatly in the corner of the mouth, causing much less damage to the fish than if taken deep in the throat. They also hold a battling fish extremely well. I am a huge proponent of circle hooks for almost all bait-fishing applications. Correct hook size for the bait you are using is important. Also think about the species you are targeting. Some species like many suckers and carp have very small, fleshy mouths, while others have a big, hard, bony mouth like gar or muskellunge. Take this into consideration when choosing a hook. Check your hook-points often, especially after landing a fish or snagging on bottom rocks or wood. If they are dulled or bent at all, either tie on a new one or take the time to file the point to a perfect point. I’m not a fan of barbless hooks for any of my bait-fishing. I use circle hooks to reduce fish mortality, and it seems that fish have plenty of opportunity to free themselves even with a barbed hook.
Various different floats or “bobbers” can be used in many angling situations. Slip-floats are free-sliding and utilize a check or “bobber stop”, basically a small movable knot tied up your line above the float. These floats allow you to hang baits anywhere in the water column even in very deep water. Fixed-floats are clipped to the line at a specific depth and are useful for shallow-water applications. Avoid spring-type attatchments, as they tend to weaken your line at the point of attatchment. The green float pictured in the center is actually a casting bubble, which acts like a fixed-float but can be partially filled with water to provide additional weight for casting. These can be very useful. When choosing a float for your specific angling situation, always use the smallest one possible for your bait and weight. This will increase sensitivity and fish will feel less resistance when pulling against the float. Lighted floats are extremely useful when night-fishing for species like gar, catfish, eels and bullheads. These utilize some kind of battery -powered light or LED, and are worth the money if you plan on fishing after dark. The small LED can also be taped to your rod-tip for bottom-fishing applications.