Natural Baits Part III - Rods, Reels And Lines

Part 3 - Rods, Reels, and Lines

Andrew Geving

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.



Rods, Reels, and Lines

While the rig is the part of your tackle that faces your quarry, the rod, reel, and line are the part that you manipulate while fishing. The rod and reel allow you to store and deploy the line, which connects you to your bait and hopefully to the fish.


I’m not going to tell you that to fish with natural baits you need to go out and buy three new rods . Any rod and reel will work. However, certain features can make baitfishing easier and more productive. For rods, one at least 6'0" for light and medium applications and 7' and over for heavier fishing are about right. The added length keeps more of your line off the water which keeps it out of the current and waves, making bite detection easier. It’s also easier to steer baits and floats around structure, and controlling a battling fish. Casting distance also increases. A fairly soft, flexible tip will show light bites and getting good solid hooksets with circle hooks is much easier. However, a solid backbone is still necessary. Rods with lengthy cork handles are preferred. When propped in a forked stick, it keeps your reel out of the sand and waves, and aid in casting as well.


Any good quality reel will work for fishing with natural baits. Stay away from closed-face spincast reels, though, as they will always fail when stressed by a large fish making fast runs. A good drag is essential for all roughfishing, as many fish will test your tackle. High line capacity is also a very valuable feature of any reel for baitfishing. One reel design that is absolutely brilliant for stationary bait-fishing is the clicker or baitrunner feature. These allow for the angler to have a separate, extremely sensitive free-spool drag setting with an audible line-out, so a fish can take line with little or no resistance and you will hear it from a distance. Before setting the hook the reel can be engaged and will function normally. Baitcasting reels with this feature have been available for a long time(clickers), and a few spinning reel models(baitrunners) are now on the market. I highly recommend them. Other methods of bite detection include electronic devices that beep when line is taken out, or simple bells hung on the rod tip.


I’ve come to the conclusion that “superlines” or fused braids are not very good for baitfishing applications. I experimented with them for years, but once I began using circle hooks exclusively the no-stretch qualities of these braids showed negative results. Hooksets are much better with monofilament. Also, when battling a large fish with a single hook a no-stretch line has absolutely no give and when a fish shakes it’s head or leaps slack can be created, giving it an opportunity to free itself. Monofilament is much better in my opinion. Put fresh line on every so often, once a year or so or whenever you start to get low. A full spool will increase casting distance as well. My light combos are spooled with 4 or 6 pound, medium 8 or 10, and heavy 20 to 40. Check the last few feet of your line for abrasions often and re-tie as necessary. And learn how to tie good knots as well. All you really need is the improved clinch knot for monofilament, so make sure you can tie a solid one.  If you are using a braided line, the Trilene knot is the best knot in my opinion.  Clinch knots will not work with braids.

Wire Bite Guards

If you are targeting Muskellunge, Northern Pike or Bowfin, you will need to employ some kind of bite-guard or the fish will slice through your line with their razor-sharp teeth. The use of circle-hooks will also reduce the number of bite-offs, since fish are generally hooked in the corner of the mouth and their teeth don’t make contact with your line. Some anglers prefer a hard, stiff monofilament bite-guard, but in my experience a large specimen will be able to slice through 40-pound test mono with ease. Especially Bowfin. So you can either buy pre-made wire leaders at the tackle shop, or make your own. Pre-made wire leaders are usually quite bulky, more suited for artificial lures. Sevenstrand wire works well and is relatively thin for it’s strength. Attatch a swivel to one end and your hook to the other, making the leader 6-15" long. To attatch these, either use crimps(connector sleeves) or leave a 2" tag and grab it with a forceps. Swing the forceps around the main wire fast, and it will wrap itself tightly and make a pretty solid knot of sorts. This seems to work quite well with 17-30 pound sevenstrand wire. Another option is the knottable coated wire you can purchase in small spools. Ordinary knots can be tied with this wonderful wire, and I generally prefer it to sevenstrand for its’ knot-holding strength. The only drawback is it’s high price tag.

Rod Holders, etc. Gear

There are a few other things you may need for baitfishing, like a decent folding chair and some type of rodholders. Metal rod-holding devices which can be stuck in the ground are available at tackle shops, or you could make some yourself. A simple one can be made with a piece of re-bar glued to a piece of PVC. I prefer cutting some good forked-sticks for my fishing. Before I begin casting my baits out to my chosen spots, I will make sure I have enough sticks for as many rods as I will be using. For Baitrunners and Clickers, use two short forked sticks and lay your rod in this horizontally. This allows the fish to take line with no rod resistance. A needle-nose pliers or big forceps are also a necessary tool for extracting the hook from fish. If a fish has swallowed the bait just clip the line as close to the mouth as possible. I also recommend a good-sized soft-mesh landing net. It will make landing the fish much easier, with much less harm to the fish as well. Don’t let a fish you intend to release flop around in the sand or mud, it’s really not good for them. Lastly, bring a digital camera along. A good photo makes the catch last a lot longer.







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