February 28, 2020
Create Your Own Backyard Bait Shop
Nothing wrong with buying live bait, but chances are you have access to an endless supply in your backyard; here's what to look for and how to keep populations thriving.
Like most ardent anglers, I’ve invested hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in fishing lures. I have tackle boxes loaded with a bezillion jigs, crankbaits, spoons, topwaters, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and other angling hardware. Almost invariably, though, some type of natural, or live, bait winds up on the end of my line.
Artificials catch countless fish and are less bothersome to gather and use. But natural baits work when all else fails. A bass will eat a real worm before it will a plastic one. If a live cricket is fished beside an imitation, bluegills will recognize and take the live one. A live minnow will be attacked quicker than a look-alike lure. Artificials just can’t truly duplicate the smell, action and texture of the real thing.
That’s why I like to keep plenty of natural baits on hand for all my fishing excursions, and that’s why I’ve created a no-cost backyard bait shop of sorts by encouraging different types of live-bait animals to thrive on the property I own. I can spend more time fishing and less time running to the bait store when the enticements I need to coax a bite can be collected in minutes in the flower beds, woods, grass and other outdoor features surrounding my home. You can do likewise by following these tips.
A sheet of tin can be used to cover your worm bed and keep the soil and worms moist. Burlap and peat also make good covers. (Keith Sutton photo)
Earthworms, night crawlers, garden hackle, red wigglers: whatever you call them, worms are hard to beat for enticing fish. While most live baits attract only a limited variety of fish, these invertebrates will take most anything swimming.
You can keep worms readily available for fishing by making a simple worm bed in your backyard. Start with a three-foot by six-foot shady area of rich, dark soil, in which the soil is loosened to a depth of eight to 10 inches. Add a bag of manure from your farm supply store and thoroughly mix it in.
You can buy worms to stock the bed, or find an area where you would dig for worms and go to work. I gather worms in an area on my property that stays moist and is well covered with decaying leaves.
After gathering 150 to 200 worms, I place them in the bed, cover them with dirt, sprinkle a little cornmeal on top for starter food, mix it into the soil, moisten the area and cover it with a sheet of tin. I’ve found that the best worm food is kitchen garbage. I regularly add fruit peelings; vegetable peelings such as potatoes, squash, cucumbers and bean hulls; and other things you would put in a compost pile. After the initial feeding, I don’t often use cornmeal, because too much can kill the worms. I keep the soil loosened and moist. To maintain even shading, it’s kept covered. I use tin, although burlap or peat would work just as well.
The biggest benefit of having a backyard worm bed is having a ready source of bait anytime you have an urge to go fishing. It takes about 10 minutes to dig enough worms for an entire afternoon of fishing.