by Jeff Samsel
Ripples around your bobber transform you into a bird dog on point. Something tugged on your bait, and chances are good that the float is about to disappear. You've been catching bream all morning, and the cricket cage is nearly empty. Still, every fish is as fun as each one before.
Few things scream effective fish catching quite like dangling live bait for bluegills, redears and other kinds of bream. The tackle and tactics are elementary, and the early summer action is often red hot!
BREAM BAIT VARIETIES
Although a host of natural offerings can be used to fool bream, the two most popular varieties are crickets and worms. Crickets are probably the most effective overall baits for bluegills, while worms get the upper hand for redear sunfish, also called shellcrackers. Both are highly effective for all sunfish species, though, and an extra good strategy is to carry both.
Virtually all freshwater-oriented bait shops sell crickets during the warm months, as do many rural grocery and convenient stores. Grasshoppers make similarly good bait, and young anglers find catching 'hoppers from the bank great fun. However, buying crickets allows you to spend more time fishing.
Some stores offer crickets in disposable containers, but a better long-term plan is to buy a cricket bucket- or tube-style cage. The buckets hold more crickets and keep them alive longer, and you just reach inside the open top to get bait. The tubes are portable and are sealed so you can carry them at any angle. That means you can attach one to your belt if you are walking the bank.
A long-shanked No. 8 or 10 light-wire hook works well for crickets. Insert the hook point under the insect's chin, and run the hook through the center of the body and out the tail. String the bait onto the hook so it hangs straight and upright.
Worms come in several varieties, with major obvious differences being size and color. Night crawlers are generally the largest, and a typical whole "crawler" is a tad big for most bream fishing. The major problem with having too large a worm is that the fish tug at the end without getting the hook. Somewhat smaller varieties such as redworms generally work better when fished whole. That said, at times big bream favor a thicker piece of bait, making half a crawler potentially more effective than a whole smaller worm of the same length.
The stores that sell crickets also sell worms, usually in resealable containers and housed in rich soil. If you do a little digging around in your yard, though, chances are good that you can find your own worms. Look under leaves or other mulch-type materials in the richest soil you can find.
The best way to hook a worm depends on the mood of the fish. If the bream aren't at all fussy, thread the worm onto your hook from end to end. A worm hooked this way is tough for fish to steal, and in fact you often catch several fish using the same bait. A worm strung on a hook lacks wiggle and a natural appearance though, so you might have to leave part of the worm hanging free. Or, instead hook the worm by piercing it in two or three places to create a wiggling "glob."
The most natural way to present a worm is to hook it once, usually through the collar, leaving the rest of the worm free. This works well with small worms, which bream often take in whole anyway.
Waxworms and mealworms, which actually are not worms but the larvae of certain moths and beetles, respectively, also make excellent bream bait. If your local bait shop doesn't carry these, check pet stores, which sell them as food for birds and reptiles, or shop online. Usually less than an inch long, waxworms and mealworms lend themselves nicely to tipping small jigs, but they also can be fished on bare hooks.
Bream bait usually stays fresh through a day of fishing as long as it doesn't get too hot. Leave your bait container in the sunniest spot in the boat, though, and your bait won't stay alive very long. While you can catch bream on dead bait, it truly does not attract fish as well, and it soon gets mushy and hard to keep on a hook.
LIVE BAIT RIG
By far the most popular way to present a live cricket or worm is with a basic float rig, and for spring and early summer bream fishing this type of set up is pretty tough to beat. The basic rig consists of only three elements: a hook, a split shot and a float, and the approach is as simple as the rig. Bait your hook, cast your rig close to cover that's likely to hold bream and watch the float.
Hook size can vary a bit according to the size of your bait and of the fish, but something in the No. 6 to No. 10 range tends to do the job. Longer shanks provide more hook to put bait on and make it easier to unhook bream, which have very small mouths. Use a minimalist approach when adding split shot to the line, adding only as much weight as is necessary to keep the bait directly beneath the float.
Regarding floats, use the most sensitive one you can keep afloat. You want the float to transmit everything going on beneath the surface because some fish never pull a float under. They just move sideways.
The one time you might opt to shed the float is when you are specifically targeting redears. These fish tend to stay close to the bottom, and sometimes the best approach for them is to fish a worm on a split shot rig, either cast and left on the bottom or fished with a tight line, straight below the boat.
Any light spinning or spincasting combination work for most float fishing. However, if the fish are tight to brush, in holes in weeds or in other dense cover, an extra long rod provides great benefit. With a long rod you can work from a rod's length out and accurately place your rig in tight spots.
Staying mobile is an important aspect of all live bait fishing for bream. If the bream are home, they won't spend much time pondering whether to eat a live cricket. If your bait appears to be a in a good spot and the float doesn't do any dancing within a few minutes, either move it a few feet or reel it in and make another cast. That said, when you do catch a fish, or even just miss a bite, always make another cast to the same spot and thoroughly probe the surrounding area. Where there is one bream, there usually are more. And sometimes there are many more!