Bass taken with live bait, unlike commonly believed, are seldom deep-hooked or fatally injured. Live release is usually an option for any live-bait-caught largemouth not intended as table fare.
The buzzbaits, frog lures, and weedless mouse imitations just weren’t cutting it. It was mid-morning and nearly three hours of topwater fishing had so far produced only a couple of 8-inch bass and one vicious little warmouth whose eyes were bigger than its stomach.
I was frustrated, reluctantly ready to “try anything,” even a bass fishing tactic I was not at all certain I thought was “kosher.”
I had scoffed at my angling partner earlier that day when he purchased the two dozen 4-inch shiners that were swimming lazily around in the minnow bucket. Real bass fishing, I’ve always pretty much believed, is something best done with artificial baits. My attitude as a rule is one of “fool ‘em, don’t feed ‘em.”
My buddy, fortunately, felt no such qualms. At his direction, I removed the topwater offering from my line and rigged up for a try at live-bait bassing. I threaded the 14-pound test monofilament through an oversized cork bobber and adjusted the float approximately two feet from the end of the line.
Tying on a 2/0 worm hook (the old style with the “safety-pin” weed guard), I was ready. I was still a bit disdainful when I was next instructed to stick one of the shiners through the “nose” and toss it “out there amongst the lily pads.”
Swallowing my pride, I complied.
“Now what?” I sarcastically asked.
“Just sit back and wait,” I was told. “Let the bait do the work. Just don’t let him swim too far back in the pads. He’ll tangle you up.”
I relaxed and watched the float run and dance on the surface of the pond. The impaled baitfish, unable to sink the big bobber, swam erratically beneath it. Each time the shiner made a run for the perceived safety of the thick lily pads, I gently tugged the float back toward the edge of the mass of thick-stemmed vegetation.
After about 10 minutes, the lime-green ball on my friend’s line began acting “funny.”
“Something’s up,” he said. “Bait’s getting nervous.”
Seconds later, the bobber stopped twitching and jerking and made what can best be described as a flat-out run across the water’s surface, making for the interior of the lily pad patch. My partner reeled slack from the line, set the hook, and grunted audibly. Soon, a 4-pound largemouth was brought to hand, reluctant and ferocious. In that instant, I developed a whole new attitude toward live-bait bass fishing.
We wound up boating seven bass between 9 a.m. and noon that day. Five were released and two were invited home for lunch. All could have been returned to the water with no ill effects, which dispelled the greatest fear I harbored about bait fishing. Contrary to what many believe, few bass are deep-hooked and killed when caught on live bait.
Of course, I did not return home and donate my plugs and plastic worms to my next door neighbor’s garage sale. I remain an avid lure-chunker and it shall always be my favorite method of tempting wary largemouths. What the above experience did, however, was re-introduce me to a bass-catching technique that can many times succeed where others fail, especially when the fish are holding fast in green, floating cover in spring, late summer, and fall.
It is hard to beat the feeling that comes when an aggressive bass inhales a live baitfish and beats a hasty retreat for the nearest hideaway. Add to that the suspense brought on by waiting, knowing at any moment havoc may break loose at the end of your line.
The use of live bait for bass is nothing new, having been popular for years in certain areas where waterways feature an abundance of surface and subsurface vegetation. To be simplistic, it is really little more than basic, old-time fishing: a hank of line, a baited hook, and a fisherman who does not mind waiting for a bite. For some, the waiting is boredom. For others, it is relaxation.
Live bait bass anglers need a stout rod, a good baitcasting reel and strong line. A large round or elongated float, a good weedless worm hook, and a species of the largemouth’s natural prey round out the bill of materials. As a rule, match the bait to whatever appears naturally in the body of water you are fishing.
The tackle is rigged as earlier described and the bait, without added weight, should move freely and be positioned in or near bass-holding structure, making sure it is hooked in a manner that will keep it alive and active as long as possible. Fish the outside edges of vegetation with thick, bottom-rooted stems. Baits can easily be fished anywhere in floating flora not rooted to the bottom.
There are a number of good live baits for bass. Hellgrammites (Dobson fly larvae), frogs, crayfish, and shiners are among the most popular. Shiners are likely the best all-around, based on year-round availability.
It is, of course, an undeniable fact that live-bait bass fishing does not set well with many anglers. Carried out properly, however, it is not the resource-debilitating activity some would have us believe. Besides, It is also a whole lot of fun.
Sometimes almost as much fun as running a buzzbait across your favorite shallow slough early in the morning.
Really. I promise.