Everyone has secrets. But good anglers, it seems, keep more than their fair share.
The friendly competitive nature of fishing makes it so. Every fisherman wants to “one-up” his buddies in the catching department, so when a great fish-catching tactic is discovered, the angler keeps it confidential.
My Uncle Guy was one such fisherman. He hung out at the pool hall where the men had a weekly pot for the biggest and most crappie. Often as not, my uncle won that money.
I fished with Uncle Guy many times on the east Arkansas lakes he loved and was surprised one morning when he asked me to take an oath of secrecy.
“I’m going to show you how I catch all those big crappie,” he said. “But you have to swear as long as I’m still breathing you won’t tell another soul.”
His secret was simple, but its effectiveness was astounding.
When he caught the day’s first crappie, he pulled out a dinner spoon and scaled the fish over a coffee can. He then added enough water to keep the scales moist. Ever so often, he’d take a big pinch of scales and toss them near a bush or treetop. Then he’d drop his minnow-baited hook in the spot where he’d pitched the scales.
I can’t say for sure why it worked, but something about those sparkly scales fluttering through the water was irresistible to those crappie. They’d rush straight toward the cloud of scales and gobble up our minnows.
Had my uncle possessed the secret formula for Coca-Cola, he would have shared it quicker than that crappie secret. And true to my word, I never told a soul until after my uncle passed away.
Anglers possess many secrets like that. Everyone has moments of weakness, however, and occasionally someone lets his guard down and spills his guts. Should you desire to hasten the process of revelation, a special gift, cash or a bottle of branch water shared by a campfire work wonders for loosening tongues.
Forthwith, a few fishing secrets thus obtained.
During warm weather, night fishing often produces more bass. And some of the best night-fishing lures are topwater crawlers like the Arbogast Jitterbug and Heddon Crazy Crawler that have been around for decades.
You’ll catch a lot of lunker largemouths by just casting and retrieving a crawler. But you’ll probably miss a lot of fish that swirl at your lure but don’t get hooked.
After swearing me to secrecy, a friend showed me a way to remedy that on a bassing-with-the-bats trip several years ago. He would cast a big Jitterbug and start retrieving. Then on his signal, I would cast my plug behind his and retrieve it just behind the front runner. Every bass that swirled at his front lure and missed struck harder at my second lure and got hooked. Every so often, we rotated positions so both of us enjoyed some of the action.
Here’s something else to remember when bass fishing – spiders make great fishing barometers. If you see spiders sitting close to the water on snags, cypress trees and the like, there’s no need to begin fishing because the bass aren’t biting.
“A spider tastes mighty good to a big bass,” Uncle Guy used to say. “And when Mr. Bass gets hungry, he makes them spiders get high and dry. You’ll know it when the bass begin to strike, ‘cause the spiders will run up the trees and stay there till it’s all over. There ain’t no use to fish when the spiders are low, so we don’t start till they run up the trees.”
An old friend taught me this recipe for a great inexpensive bait that will catch eating-size channel catfish better than almost anything. Buy a package of cheap hot dogs – the cheaper the better. Cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put the pieces in a zip-seal plastic bag. Add two or three heaping tablespoons of minced garlic and one package of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid. Add enough water to cover the hot dogs, zip shut and refrigerate overnight.
For some reason we don’t understand, catfish love the taste and smell of garlic, so the garlic adds an additional flavor/scent trail to that produced by the hot dogs. The Kool-Aid imparts a brilliant red color to the franks – a color catfish see and associate with something wounded and bloody. This, too, makes the bait more attractive.
When you’re ready to fish, put a piece of hot dog on your hook, be sure to leave the hook barb sticking out, then cast and get ready for action. You’ll have cats chasing dogs in no time!
Here’s another catfishing secret Uncle Guy taught me. Go to the feed store and buy a bag of livestock range cubes that ranchers use to supplement cattle feed. When you get to your fishing hole, throw a few handfuls of the range cubes where you plan to fish. They’ll melt in the water, and the scent will attract hungry catfish like kids to an ice-cream truck. Cast any good catfish bait in the vicinity and you’ll have a fish on before you can say “Boo!”
I got this tip from an old gray-headed bream aficionado who always seemed to catch more bluegills than me. When I finally convinced him to share his secret, I thought at first he was joking.
“Add a piece of banana peel to the cage you keep your crickets in,” he said. “This gives the crickets a flavor and aroma that bluegills find irresistible.”
I tried it. It works. Try it yourself and see.
What if you’re fishing a long way from town and run out of crickets or other bait? Here’s what Uncle Guy did.
He’d start wading in the shallows and looking for snails and mussels. Lots of anglers never think about it, but these make great baits for bluegills, redear sunfish and other panfish. Catfish love them, too.
Uncle Guy would look for the shelled creatures buried in the bottom or clinging to plants and rocks. Each he found was placed inside an old coffee can with some water. When fishing with snails, he’d crush them before putting them on a hook. Mussels were opened with a knife and cut into small pieces.
Fish love these baits like a Frenchman loves escargot, so don’t lay your pole down after you cast your bait. It won’t be long before you’re fighting a nice fish.
A friend who owns a trout dock on Arkansas’ Little Red River taught me years ago that some of the best baits for trout are the larvae of bee moths. Fishermen call them wax worms, and they frequently are sold at docks and bait shops.
Impale three or four of these waxy-colored grubs on a fine-wire hook, and leave the ends wiggling enticingly. Then squish a miniature marshmallow on your line just above the hook. The marshmallow serves as a float. The wax worms are now buoyant. Trout can see them. And you’ll catch the trout.
Old timers say crickets and grasshoppers make great trout baits, too, although few of today’s anglers use them. Secure one on a thin-wired hook, then fish it on top like a fly. Use light line and no weight. Pitch it out. Twitch it. Ripple the water. Then hang on. Action won’t be long coming.
When you’re fishing for walleyes, one of the best live baits to use is leeches. Yes, those ugly little bloodsuckers make great fish bait.
You may be wondering, though, how do I get leeches? In some states, you can buy them from bait dealers, but in many areas, you’ll have to collect your own. You can find them in ponds with lots of cattails or lily pads, and you can catch them using this long-forgotten method.
Take a big hunk of fresh beef liver and stuff it in a burlap bag you’ve poked a couple dozen holes in with a knife. Tie off the end of the bag with a piece of rope and toss it into shallow water. Leeches will squirm through the holes and loose fabric to reach the bloody liver, and when you come back and pull it in … bingo! You’ve got fish bait.
Minnow baits will entice almost any fish that swims, from a big ol’ bass or catfish to panfish like perch and crappie.
In my youth, while camped on a river sandbar with Uncle Guy, we realized we had no more minnows for the next day’s crappie fishing. Unperturbed, my uncle strode to the high water line, whacked down a willow bush with his hatchet, dragged it back to the river and tossed it into the shallow water with the trunk protruding over the sandbar.
That night, after readying the minnow buckets within reach, he crept up to the submerged willow and swiftly dragged it out of the water and up the bank in one quick move. In the watery trail of the willow flopped hundreds of native minnows. We filled our buckets that night and our crappie stringers the next morning.