I forgot how to bait fish
Like just about everyone else, much of my younger fishing days (way back in the early 2000s) included fishing with bait. I just wanted to catch fish, and if putting a night crawler under a bobber was the best way to do it, then that was good enough for me. Bluegill, trout and bass all seemed to appreciate this offering, and I was happy to indulge them.
As I got a little older and started to mainly target bass, I stopped using any kind of live bait altogether. Even when I might be fishing for trout and everyone around me is waiting for their bobber to go under or their rod to start jumping, I stay committed to casting and retrieving my spinner or some other artificial lure. Luckily I usually hold my own, so I don’t end up with bait envy. The only exception to the “no bait” rule in recent years is when I use meal or wax worms for ice fishing.
Last week my dad and I volunteered for the Catch a Special Thrill (C.A.S.T.) event at Horsetooth. C.A.S.T is an organization that provides special needs children with the opportunity to enjoy the outdoor experience of fishing from a boat. As part of the program, C.A.S.T. sponsors provide the children with a new rod and reel and tackle box with various hooks and such – all for them to keep after the event. C.A.S.T. also provides bait if wanted. When we did the event a couple of years ago, our guest wasn’t really able to fish himself, so I would just hook the fish and give the rod to him to reel in. He was happy, so we considered it a success.
This year, we had a 14 year-old boy and his younger sister. They were both excited to do their own fishing and had their worms ready. And why not? Worms are the secret weapon of fishing. If you dangle one in front of any self-respecting gilled creature, it has to bite. That’s how God made them, right? Well, that’s what we thought anyway.
When we got out on the water, we got our two new friends set up. There were Eagle Claw snelled hooks in their tackle boxes, so we tied those on to the end of the line. A Palomar knot is appropriate for that, right? They also had those little Pac-Man looking lead weights. So we pinched a couple of those on the line. Then we added the red and white bobber that would be letting them know when they had a fish on. We went to a spot sure to have plenty of hungry smallies and set the anxious anglers to work. A short cast out and then the waiting began. “Watch those bobbers closely because there’s about to be a feeding frenzy.”
After a few minutes of not getting what we expected, we moved down the bank a little bit to where the fish had to be. Wait. Wait. Wait. “We didn’t lose the bait already, did we?” We had them reel in, check the bait, and sure enough it was still there. So we casted out just over some submerged rocks and waited for the inevitable.
Okay. The kid said that he didn’t catch anything last year and we promised him we would get him on some fish. We were getting a little uncomfortable. We only had a couple of hours with them, so we needed to pick up the pace.
“Maybe we don’t have the bobber up high enough.” They reeled in and we set the bobber a few feet above the hook. “That should do it.” So we casted back out and waited some more. Nothing. We know that Horsetooth has tons of eager smallmouth all over the place, so my dad and I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
I couldn’t stand it anymore. I grabbed one of my St. Croixs and casted out my go-to smallmouth bait – a 2 ½ inch tube. Second cast and “fish on”. So at least we knew there were still fish in the lake.
Now, how were we going to help them start catching some themselves? Fishing with a tube over rock rubble takes a bit of practice, so that didn’t seem like the best option. So we got them throwing Gulp Minnows and spinners. There was some success with these, but they still kept wanting to go back to the magical worms. So we continued to tweak the presentation but got no different results. As I got the chance, I showed him some of the finer points of lure fishing.
When our time was up, our guests had caught 11 smallies, two over 14 inches, none of them on worms. We were very happy to have helped these two have a fun day, it just wasn’t in the way we had expected. We have obviously forgotten how to use the most basic bait of all. It seems so simple to hang a worm under a bobber and have fish jump all over it, but we just couldn’t remember how to do it. Maybe I’ll need to pay more attention to those “bait dunkers” next time I’m throwing a lure next to them.