All of us that fish have enjoyed a leisurely fishing trip to a local pond at one time or another. And we’ve all heard the story of the Leviathan-sized fish that supposedly lived in the middle of the pond, even though all we ever caught were small to medium-sized denizens. At least for my generation, pond-fishing was an important part of growing up, and helped shape us into what we would become. I could write a book on all the fond memories, funny stories and adventures I’ve had pond fishing as a youth. And my tastes haven’t changed. I still love dropping a line in a nice pond or two.
You may not believe it, but there really are some respectable fish living in some of the smallest, most overgrown ponds you can imagine. And they can be caught with the right techniques. The trick is that ponds require special equipment and tactics to be really successful.
Location Is Everything…
To be successful on a pond, you need to understand the structure and basic ecology of that pond. This is crucial unless you are happy with just a Hit and Miss approach. You need to find where the deepest spots are, inlets, shelves, and potholes. Pay attention to the shoreline structure. And most importantly, be sure the pond is not on private property, and if it is, be sure you have permission from the owner to fish there. Nothing ruins a fishing trip like having to deal with an irritated land-owner, or worse, the police. Also, make sure you have a valid Fishing License. Only landowners and their families are allowed to fish on their own property without a license in most states. And in some states, even they have to have a license to fish on their own property. Don’t take a chance. Fishing Licences are cheaper than the fines for not having one.
The Air That They Breathe…
Oxygen is the key to success. Fish may live in the water but they breathe oxygen just like we do. They just get it in a different manner. All things being equal, a larger body of water should hold more oxygen than a smaller one, but this may not always be the case. Many things can affect the amount of oxygen in the water. The first things to look for are inlets and outlets. These carry fresh oxygen and new food into the pond, keep the water temperature cooler than stagnant water would be, supply a little current, and carry waste materials out. These are vital to a healthy pond economy. Fishing anywhere near the inlets and outlets is always a good strategy.
When Fish Go ‘Green’…
The next thing to look for is what type of vegetation there is. Things like cattails, Hydrilla, duckweed, lily pads, lotus, etc… are all good indications that the pond has plenty of oxygen and a healthy ecosystem. These plants put oxygen into the water by the process of photosynthesis. Large areas of floating, slimy, yucky algae, on the other hand, are indications that the water has a very low oxygen level, and will probably only be able to sustain carp, gar, and a few other less desirable fish (I do like carp and gar, but they have to come from clean water to be really edible……).
Other things to look for are crawfish, turtles, frogs, snakes, salamanders, newts, ducks, nutria, geese, beaver, mink, otters, etc… These are also good indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Watch for dragonflies, damselflies, Water Boatmen, whirly bugs, mayflies, helgramites, nymphs, and mudskippers. Even some land animals like racoons, skunks, bobcats, and bears, depend on ponds for a large part of their well-being. If it’s clean enough for them to drink, it probably has enough oxygen for at least some fish.
I mentioned ducks for a specific reason. If there are ducks in the pond, it’s a good bet someone feeds them from time to time. It is an uncontrollable urge we humans have. I love feeding pigeons and ducks. This is important because fish are very opportunistic, and would rather filch a bite from a ducks’ piece of bread than to go get their own. Larger fish will follow ducks hoping for a stray morsel. Large bass and pike will even eat ducklings, so if you see a small duck disappear in a large splash, break out the heavy gear and be ready to do battle. But don’t use bread balls and minnows for bait near the ducks where they can get to it. Not only does a hook hurt a duck, but a hooked or tangled duck can wreak havoc with your equipment.
Fish in ponds tend to be a lot spookier than in a lake or river. They will almost always be near or in cover of some kind. Look for sunken timber, reeds, overhanging vegetation, lily pads, and rocks. Also search out the inlets and outlets. But remember, if you can see the fish, they can see you, and they will hear you a long time before you get close enough to see them. When walking the shoreline, walk very softly, stay low, and try not to have the sun at your back. Avoid casting a shadow on the water. Wearing camouflage really helps around ponds. It breaks up your silhouette. If you can, try to stay at least 10’ from the waters edge.
Fish also have an incredible sense of smell, and can detect odors even out of the water. Avoid wearing strong aftershaves or cologne, try to avoid smoking, and ease up on the sunscreen and bug repellant. Do not use soap to wash your hands. Just use water. Most pond fish can smell odors as dilute as 1ppm (parts per million), especially anything with amino acids.
How To Tackle A Pond
For most pond fishing, smaller tackle is better. The fish have more time to examine things in a pond, and are a lot more wary. Keep your line small, say 8 lb test or less. You probably won’t need any rod bigger than a medium action, and medium reel. Ultralight rigs are great for catching panfish from ponds. Bluegills and their relatives can really put up a fight on light tackle. Most bass and catfish you’ll find in a pond can be handled with medium gear and lures. ⅛ oz jigs and lures are plenty big enough for ponds. If you fly fish, an 8 wt is the biggest line and rod combo you will need. If you want to really have fun, drop down to a 4 wt. rig. The fun increases exponentially as you drop your equipment size.
If the pond is large enough, kayaks, belly boats and canoes can extend your range. Just try to avoid banging stuff on the bottom. A fish can hear a banging tackle box or paddle all the way across a pond. Try not to splash too much when paddling.
Don’t overlook ponds, no matter how small. You may be missing out on some memorable moments….
Jigs are one of the oldest, and most productive lures ever made. They catch pretty much anything that swims, anywhere it swims, all year long. If you could only have one fishing lure, this would be it. They can be fished vertically, reeled in, fished with a stop-and-go technique, rigged in tandem, or even with other lures.
A jig is just a hook with a weight in the front of it, usually molded to the hook. Modern jigs have the hook eye bent up at a 90° angle so that it is on top of the jig. This lets you fish the jig vertically while it maintains a horizontal attitude. The hook can be dressed with bucktail, or squirrel fur, feathers, a rubber shirt, or any number of various soft plastic bodies. They can even be tipped with minnows, worms, or real grubs. To change jigs, many times it is only necessary to pull the body off the hook, and replace it with a different color or style….less than 10 seconds, tops. In reality, a spinner-bait is just a jig with a wire molded to it to attach a spinner. There are clip-on wires and spinner blades available to instantly convert any jig into a spinner-bait in seconds.
How To Use Jigs
Jigs are the most versatile lure you can use. They can be simply cast out, allowed to sink to the depth you want, and just reeled straight in, or just under the surface. Or you can let them sink and retrieve them in stages by raising your rod tip and reeling in the slack, making the jig ‘hop’ over the bottom. Jigs are very weedless, so they can be cast very near cover and structure.
Another deadly method, particularly in winter when fish are holding in deep water, and don’t want to move very much, is vertical jigging. This can be done from a boat, dock, through ice, or anyplace you can get your rod over where the fish are. Just drop the jig straight down…no casting, flipping or anything fancy. Just hit the line release on your reel and let ‘er drop. Once the jig hits bottom, reel in a crank or two so that is suspended just off the bottom. Now, periodically raise your rod tip 6 inches or so, and then let the jig drop back down. Do this every 30 seconds or so, and keep repeating it until a fish bites. You can move the jig around a bit to locate them, and almost put it right in their mouths.
Jigs can even be rigged under a float, for precise depth control. Just work them in like you would a top-water lure.
In faster water, especially in tail-races below dams, nothing is deadlier on bass and crappie than a double jig rig under a float. You just tie on a yellow jig on top, and a white jig underneath, in tandem, and put on a float. Cast the whole rig upstream and let the current, or wind, carry it down. Then, after it gets downstream a bit, reel it in and start over. Anytime the floats stops, bobs, or goes under, set the hook. It’s not uncommon to hook 2 fish at a time like this.
The Jig & Pig Technique
Another great technique is called the, “Jig & Pig”. Pork strips (available at most tackle shops) are colored and shaped to match many bass foods, such as frogs, crawfish, and so on. Just take one out of the jar, and stick on the hook. Pork strips are made from real pig skin, and bass love them.
The Great Marabou Jig
No article on jigs would be complete without mentioning one of the all-time greatest jigs ever made….the Marabou Jig. They are just like a bucktail jig, only instead of bucktail fur, they are dressed with marabou feathers. If you didn’t know, marabou feathers originally were the soft, downy under-tail feathers of the Marabou Stork. But in modern times, we use the same feathers from commercially produced turkeys.
Marabou is like no other material in the world. When it is in the water, it moves like it is alive. Nothing else on the planet mimics the sensuous movement of marabou in the water. Marabou jigs look so good submerged that sometimes I want to bite them myself…… Marabou jigs in the smaller sizes are the textbook crappie lure. In larger sizes, 1/4 oz and up, they work so good for bass at times, that it almost feels like cheating.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on jigs. Entire books could be (and have been) written about fishing with them. The only limit to how you can fish with jigs is your imagination. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and if it works, please share it with the rest of us…
It doesn’t take a genius to catch crappie, nor does it take a lot of expensive equipment and gear. It can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. A lot of reasons that people have trouble catching any fish is because they usually try to overthink it. Crappie, especially, are only looking for three things:
Suitable environmental conditions
Shelter from predators
That’s really all there is to it. Meet those three conditions and you will catch crappie. For a lot of this, you will need to do research and learn how crappie act, what they are looking for, and where they may be. To aid in this search, your choice of gear is quite large. Let’s start with rods..
Go into any sporting goods shop and look at the available rods. They are made of all kinds of space-age materials, from simple fiberglass, to boron, graphite, and other exotic polymers. Some are just about indestructible. You can almost tie a knot in them without breaking them. Others are so sensitive that you can feel a mosquito land on the tip. Then there are some that are so expensive that you need to take out a second mortgage to afford one. At the bottom end of the scale is the ubiquitous cane pole, and its modern synthetic counterparts.
Poles For Crappie
First, let me raise the ire of all tackle manufacturers and retailers by making a simple statement. In my opinion, anyone can fish from now until the day they die with nothing more than a cane pole, and catch all the fish you want, and then some. You can feed yourself from now on with a simple cane pole. You don’t need complicated rod/reel combos, or any other expensive gear to catch fish. This is fishing in one of its purest forms, and is the original fly rod from the time of the Macedonians. The term ‘Angling’ originally referred to this type of fishing when using lures, hence the term ‘Angler’.
The difference between a pole and a rod is that a pole does not have a mechanical reel.
The simplest type of pole is made from bamboo. You can purchase one already made at any sporting goods or department store for a very modest cost, usually under $10.00, already rigged with a hook, sinker, bobber and line. All you have to do is bait the hook and start fishing. Alternatively, if you really want to have a sense of accomplishment, you can easily make your own.
DIY Cane Pole
There are two types of bamboo: Giant, and Switch, also called River and Hill Cane depending on where you are. They are both found in bottomlands all over the world. Only Switch Cane varieties are native to the U.S. The rest are all native to Asia. There is bamboo growing somewhere near you, unless you live in the arctic tundra or the middle of a desert. Giant bamboo grows up to 30-40′ high and 4 inches or more in diameter. Only the smaller specimens of this variety are of interest to anglers. Switch bamboo is identical, except that it only grow to 10-15′ tall and 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. This is about perfect for making a fishing pole.
To make a cane pole, find a stand of bamboo and select a dozen or more green, straight stalks around 10-15 feet long and 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. A machete or saw is better for cutting than an axe. Bamboo is very tough. Cut the canes at their base, trim the leaves and shoots, and take them home. Try to cut poles at a joint to where the end is closed, and no hollow space is visible at the end. The best length, in my opinion is 12-13 feet, but you can adjust them to whatever is most comfortable for you. I would not recommend going much less than 10 feet, or you won’t have very much reach.
The next step is curing them. Hang them up by the tips and let them dangle just above ground. The eaves of your house, or a handy tree works just fine for this. Allow them to hang until they turn a tan color, usually after several weeks, or months. Do not rush them, or they can become brittle. When they are cured, test them by holding the butts and whipping the tips back and forth a few times. If any cracks appear, the pole had weak spots. Discard the cracked ones. Now you should have around 7 or 8 good straight poles. Run your hands over them and sand any rough spots down smooth. You can now use them as-is, but I prefer to coat them with a few layers of varnish. Coating them with varnish makes them almost weatherproof. Another advantage is that if you drop your pole in the water, it will float indefinitely. If transporting 10-15 foot poles is a problem, you can cut them in half at a joint and glue rod –joining ferrules to each end to make two-piece rods.
Now, all you have to do is rig the poles up, and catch fish. Do not make the mistake of tying your line to the tip. If a large fish breaks the pole, you have lost it. Tie the line around the butt end of the pole. Then cover it with duct-tape (1000 mile per hour tape is magic!). Run the line along the length of the pole, taping it in several places, to the tip. Wrap 10′ or more of the line around the tip and anchor with an overhand knot, and cover it with tape. You can now adjust the line length simply by unraveling what you need. You ideally want about 2 feet more line out than the length of the pole. If you want a bit more high-tech in your pole, I usually glue and tie a rod tip-top eyelet to the tip of the pole, and duct-tape a plastic line-winder about ¼ of the way up from the butt. You can easily make a line winder by taping a kite string holder to the pole with electricians or duct tape. You can also make on just by clipping to clothes pins to the rod about halfway down.
Why Use A Pole?
The advantages of poles are numerous. They are inexpensive. They are simple to use. They can be used to catch fish in cover so dense as to be impossible to fish with conventional equipment. The only disadvantage I can think of is that you are limited as to the depth you can fish. Anything deeper than 10-15 feet requires a rod/reel combo.
If you need a more high-tech approach, the next step up is a synthetic pole. These are made of graphite and are very sensitive. Price-wise, they are not too bad. You can expect to spend anywhere from $11.00 to $25.00 for a good one. They are usually in two or more pieces, or telescoping-type poles and come with a carrying case. Other than being very nice-looking, and a bit lighter, they work exactly the same as cane poles. There are some that have line guides and a reel seat for mounting a small reel. These are great for catching fish in heavy cover, and for vertical jigging.
There is something very satisfying about nailing crappie with a simple pole. Try it sometime, but I warn you, the fish may not be the only thing that gets hooked….
There are many types of spinners and spoons that can be productive, especially in places where crappie are in open water. They can be cast, jigged, or trolled. There are three types of spinners. Of these, two are of special interest to crappie anglers.
The first type is called the ‘French’ spinner (image above). It is by far the most common. It is a treble hook, dressed with feathers, or not, fastened to a wire shaft, which has a weighted body threaded onto it, and a small spoon, or ‘spinner’ attached on a clevis behind the hook eye. As it is reeled in through the water, the spinner creates sound and vibration, similar to a swimming baitfish, that fish can hear and feel for surprisingly long distances . There are many brands on the market, but the most famous, and popular are made by Mepps, Worden’s Rooster Tail, and Blue Fox. Rooster Tails come in the widest variety of colors. Mepps are the oldest and most proven, and Blue Foxes are….just plain cool. I use Blue Foxes most of the time when I need a ‘go to’ French Spinner, but that’s just my preference,
The second type is the ‘In-Line’ spinner. They are just like French spinners, except that the spinner is attached directly to the wire shaft, with no clevis. The spinner simply has a small hole drilled in it for the shaft to run through. Like French Spinners, they come both ‘dressed’ and ‘undressed’. These are touted as putting out more vibration, more noise and allows the spinner to spin at even slow retrieves. The main manufacture of these types is Panther Martin.
I use Panther Martins a lot. I can’t say that they are better than French Spinners, because some days one works better, other days it’s the others turn to work. They are all great at different times. I keep a large selection of both types, and never go to the water without them (unless I am fly-fishing, but that’s a whole ‘nother subject….).
The last type is usually used on bass, but in the smaller sizes, I have found them to be very effective on crappie, at times. This type is called a ‘Spinner-Bait’. It is simply a wire bent at somewhere near 90 degrees and attached to a jighead at one end, and a spoon at the other. They can be rigged with soft jig bodies or tied with marabou, or rubber skirts. They can be cast, jigged, flipped and trolled, and are very weed-resistant in heavy cover.
You’ll want these no larger than 1/8th oz. for crappie. These are deadly during the spawn, reeled slowly through the beds just under the surface, where the spoon makes a surface disturbance. If all you have are regular jigs, there are attachable “safety-pin’ spinners that you can just on through the hook eye. Then you tie your line on at the bend of the wire, They are fantastic in 1/8 and 1/16 oz sizes.
For special situations, it’s hard to beat the true Spoons. There are many on the market with names like Dardevil, Silver Minnow, Kastmaster, and the Little Cleo.
Spoons are usually trolled, cast, or jigged. The hooks can be dressed or tipped with live bait or soft jig bodies. The treble hooks can be replaced with singles. I use spoons when I am trying to locate schools of crappie in relatively open water, or when they’ve gone deep and are suspending over bottom structure. Under these conditions, spoons are deadly. Be aware that spoons will hang up fairly easily, so they are not recommended for heavy cover fishing. It’s worth keeping a few in your box for special situations.
Crank Baits and others
Our final discussion will concern true ‘lures’. These are crafted out of balsa wood, other woods, and hard plastic. They can have various fittings attached such as metal or plastic ‘lips’ to make them dive, ‘pop’, gurgle, swim, or have jointed bodies. They can have anywhere from 1 to 4 or more sets of treble hooks, almost putting them in the ‘weapon’ category. They are more popular with bass and bigger game anglers, but in the smaller sizes, I have caught respectable numbers of crappie on them. The drawbacks to these are that they are expensive compared to the other types of lures. An average lure can run anywhere from $3.00 each to $10.00, and more! I’ve stocked an entire tackle box with jigs for less than that. I seldom use them, but they do catch crappie at times. If you like them, use them. They almost all work the same way. Either troll them, or cast them out, and use a straight reel-in, or ‘pop’ them in with short hard jerks of your rod tip. That’s it….. The main good thing I can say about them is that it is a good way to cover a lot of water, fast. The smaller sizes are made by Rebel, Yo-Zuri, Bomber, Heddon, Rapala, and Cotton-Cordell, to name a few.
I won’t go into much detail here because fly-fishing and fly tying is a subject unto itself, and way beyond the scope of this article. It is a way of life. It is piscatorial Tai Chi. I would advise anyone to try it. If you wish to explore the world of true angling, get a good book, of which there are many, study, and find thyself a teacher if possible. It can change your life.
It is sufficient to note here that when crappie are in pre-spawn and spawn mode, they are in easy reach of even the most novice fly caster. You can also forgo the fly rod (pardon my tears), and use a fly on a leader below a casting bubble or ordinary float. It will aggravate purists like myself to no end, and drive us to drink, but it works…., very, very well. I did it for years before I finally learned how to fly fish. The original fly rod was simply a pole (probably cane) with a fly attached to the end of the horse-hair line, and just dappled in the water in a likely fish-holding spot. The ancient Macedonians knew what they were doing!
There are probably hundreds of fly patterns that will take crappie consistently. Pretty much anything that resembles the local minnow populations should work. I will list a few of my favorites here.
These are just a few of the thousands of wonderful patterns that will devastate crappie. And, if you learn to tie your own, the possibilities are endless.
Live bait and jigs are still the most popular method for taking crappie, but spoons, spinners, and lures take a good share of fish every year. Don’t overlook them.
Even though there are all kinds of fishing you can do, nothing seems to have the soul cleansing mojo that trout fishing does. I’m not sure why. Trout aren’t that big, and while they do put up a good fight, it is short-lived. They are great table-fare, but not any more than other fish. Maybe it is the settings. Or maybe it is the degree of concentration required. Whatever it is, there is nothing quite like trout fishing.
Most people associate trout with fly fishing, but that is much too broad a subject to cover here. I could write several books on fly fishing, and not even scratch the surface. I love fly fishing for almost all species of fish. But here, I am just going to talk about fishing with normal equipment. I have known some people that have foregone trout because they thought it requires you to fly fish, which has a learning curve to it, or that the required equipment is very expensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have caught trout with nothing more than a cane pole and a worm.
It is my intention to dispel a lot of the mis-information surrounding trout, and maybe some will take the opportunity to try the wonderful world of trout fishing. But I will warn you…it can change your life.
Why Fish For Trout?
Trout have a long and impeccable history as one of humankind’s first recognized gamefish. The Roman Claudius Aelianus described fishing for trout with flies as early as 200 AD, and there is good evidence that Greeks were making crude poles to catch trout as early as 41 AD. Before that, we have strong evidence that people attempted to catch trout with minnows, crude lures and handlines. I doubt that this was very successful, but I’m sure they managed to catch a few, even by accident. The reason trout were concentrated on so much back then was that the available equipment could not handle anything much bigger than trout. Even a modest-sized bass would have destroyed the horsehair lines, and thin wooden poles they had to use. There weren’t even any reels to help fight the fish.
Fast forward to 1496 AD. Dame Juliana Berber published the first in-depth study of fishing, “The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle” …for trout of course. In 1653, Izaak Walton penned the classic, “The Compleat Angler”. I am pretty sure every serious trout angler has a copy of both of these books in their collection, or on their computer. They are both available for free online on many websites. Until mechanical reels became available sometime in the mid 19th century, trout and maybe crappie and sunfish were all the equipment could handle, at least in freshwater.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Frenchman Maurice Jacquenim, who invented the world’s first successful spinning reel, the Mitchell 300 (still my favorite) in 1948. This was the birth of modern fishing. Texan R.D. Hull put the icing on the cake when he created the world’s first successful spincasting reel in 1954…the outstanding Zebco 33, (still one of the greatest all-around spincasting reels there is. I have 3 of them at present, some older than you I am betting…). You would be hard-pressed to find any angler today that hasn’t used a Zebco 33 at some point in their lives.
With the advent of the spincasting reel, anyone can fish for trout, bass, or most any other freshwater species they desire. You can teach a small child how to cast with a spincasting reel in under 15 minutes. No matter what your physical or financial station in life, you can fish for trout. It is no longer the exclusive realm of the Elite.
A little Bit Of Troutology
I have been unable to establish how many species of trout there are worldwide, because there is so much disagreement about when a hybrid becomes a new species. Suffice to say there are well over 50 species in the world. I do know that, at present, there are 11 recognized species of trout in North America. But we need concern ourselves here with only two, the Rainbow Trout, and the Brown Trout. The rest have such a limited range (mostly out west) that the majority of us don’t get to fish for them much. If you live in an area that has, say …Dolly Varden Trout, then you probably know more about them than I do.
Trout differ from other fish in that they have no spines in any of their fins. They also have an adipose (fat) fin on their back near their tails. This is indicative of a very primitive fish.
Both Rainbow and Brown trout are stocked just about anywhere they can survive a season. In the continental U.S., wherever you live, there is a good chance that there is a place to fish for trout within a reasonable drive from you. Brown trout are not even native to the U.S. They were brought here from Germany and Scotland in 1883, and 1885, respectively. They probably have the widest range of any U.S. trout due to their ability to withstand warmer water than other species. Browns have been stocked in almost every state in the contenental U.S. Rainbows are native to the western United States, mainly the Pacific Coast Basin from Alaska down to Baja, California, and all the watersheds in between. In the late 19th century they began to be stocked just about everywhere they can survive for one season. Now, you can usually find a place to fish for Rainbows within a day or two drive.
Although Rainbow Trout are often stocked in lakes, they are mainly a stream fish. The majority of Rainbows you will find have been raised in a hatchery. The average size of a stocked rainbow trout will be 2-8 pounds. They are used to humans and being fed pellets, but don’t let that fool you. Once they are released into the wild, their instincts kick in. They are keenly aware of their surroundings at all times, can see like an eagle, can hear the silence, and react just a shade slower than the speed of light. They learn to spook easy, and recognize when something isn’t right. They also learn to be finicky about what they eat at times, and how to take advantage of hatches. It is rare that any Rainbows survive from one season to the next where they are stocked, and even more rare for them to be able to breed. But it does happen in some special locations.
Brown trout are similar to Rainbows in their abilities and behavior, only to a greater extent. Browns that have been born in the stream can theoretically live for 20 years or more and reach weights of over 15 lbs. The average U.S. Brown Trout weight 3-10 pounds. This is because the Browns are very adaptable and can withstand warmer waters than Rainbows. They often are able to breed and establish sustainable populations where they were once stocked, meaning they get big, mean, and super-suspicious. They don’t trust anything, not even themselves.
There have been many objections to stocking trout, with claims that they are detrimental to native US species. With a few exceptions, the evidence would seem to indicate that these claims may be somewhat overstated. Granted, when placed in areas that have native trout species, they will compete and may replace the indigenous trout. But most of the places where they are stocked do not have any trout, and native species like smallmouth bass are more than able to defend themselves, even from Browns. Panfish will actually harass and terrorize trout when they find them, and bass have a particular fondness for eating trout that will fit into their bucket-sized mouths. As with most introduced species, when left alone and given enough time, the ecosystem usually adapts to accommodate the newcomers. Most of the places where trout have been stocked appear to have a perfectly healthy ecosystem.
Fishing For Trout: Basic Equipment And Gear
You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment for trout. A good light to medium action spinning or spin casting combo is fine, although on a medium reel, I would replace the 8 lb. line they usually come with. I would re-spool with with 6 lb. test. An ultralight combo is perfect for stream fishing.
If you are fishing in a lake, then this is really all you need. Look for trout (both species) in the cooler parts of the lake, near the thermocline. They will most likely be near cover in the part of the lake with the most oxygen. Both species are fond of jumping and taking insects from the surface film, so watch for ripples and jumping fish to locate them.
In streams and rivers, it’s a little more involved. You’re going to have to get wet, so a good set of waders is almost a must, unless you like being chilled in cold water. I prefer neoprene waders, but latex, and canvas waders work fine. I would also recommend chest waders with stocking feet, unless you know you will never step in water more than mid-thigh depth. Neoprene waders also serve a dual purpose if you kayak in winter. Add a Gortex jacket, and you are pretty much water-resistant from any water getting into the cockpit or missing the sprayskirt. Always get stocking foot waders and a separate pair of wading boots. The ones that come on boot-foot waders do not provide good enough traction, and you are stuck with them. With stocking foot waders, you can change boots any time you want, until you find the ones that are just right. Also, with boot-foot waders, if you tear the waders beyond repair, you lose the boots as well. Waders and boots are not very expensive. It doesn’t take long to suffer from exposure, even at 55⁰F. Use waders, even in summer.
You need a good pair of polarized sunglasses. You will be doing a lot of ”sight-fishing’, meaning you need to be able to see into the water to target individual fish. Polarized sunglasses cut the glare from the surface of the water, and allow you to see through it like glass.
The only other special gear I recommend is a good fishing vest. A fishing vest is basically a wearable tacklebox/creel. When you are wading, you’ll be moving around a lot, and you don’t want to have to figure out how to lug a tacklebox around. Most vests have a built-in creel at the back, but you can always use a shoulder carry creel bag for your catch. They are a lot easier to get into than the back creel on your vest. I use the back creel for flat things I don’t have to get to very often. A vest keeps all of your gear within easy reach, and organized on the water. And, they are not that expensive. You can get perfectly good ones for under $20.00 at places like Walmart, Academy Sports, Cabela’s, etc…
If you want to use live bait, make sure you check the local regulations for where you plan to fish. Many areas are “Artificials Only”. That means no minnows, worms, canned corn, or anything else that was alive at one time. A lot of places also consider salmon eggs, Power Bait, and Trout Nuggets as natural bait, even though they are all artificially manufactured. If live bait is legal, the three best baits are worms, salmon eggs, wax worms, and small minnows. The best prepared baits are Berkleys Power Bait and Trout Nuggets. Canned corn also works very well most of the time, but don’t throw any loose corn in the water. The Game Wardens regard that as “chumming” and it is very illegal to chum for trout. And be sure to take your can with you when you leave. At one of my nearby trout streams, I spend at least 30 minutes of every trip cleaning up peoples empty worm cartons, cans, and other trash. Please help keep the streams clean.
If you really want to enjoy catching trout, lures are the way to go. Great lures for both Rainbows and Browns are the Mepps Aglia, the red and white Daredevel in ultralight size, small Roostertails and Blue Fox spinners, and the outstanding Trout Magnet. I’ve also done well with tiny Lazy Ikes, and miniscule crankbaits like the Yo-Zuri Snap Bean. Soft plastics like the Bassasin and small Sassy Shads work well for Brown Trout. Small crawfish and worm bodies on 1/16th oz. jig heads are great for sulky fish.
Trout Tactics: How To Catch Trout
Before you start, there are a few things to pay close attention to:
Always wade upstream. When you wade downstream, you kick up mud that lets the fish know you are coming. You also want to approach the fish from behind.
Avoid casting a shadow on the water over the fish. If they see it, they will be gone just a bit faster than instantly.
Keep splashing and noise to a minimum when moving. The trout can hear better than you can.
Stay low when possible. The fish are looking up at you, against the skyline. I even wear a camouflage shirt and vest to blend in with the background, and break up my silhouette. It makes a big difference.
Never ‘Line’ any fish. Lining is when you see a nice fish and cast to it, but you didn’t notice the three fish between you and the one you want. When you cast over them and the line touches them, they will disappear faster than a Harry Houdini trick, and so will the one you were casting to.
Do not use soap, aftershaves, or cleaning solvents for at least 4 hours before you go fishing. The smell will get on your equipment, and trout can smell better than a bloodhound.
And lastly, make a trip to the restroom before you put on your chest waders and boots. Trust me on this one….
Finding trout in a lake isn’t very hard. Just look for ripples and jumping fish. They will be in the coolest parts with the most oxygen.
In rivers and streams, trout will hover behind anything the will break the current, and they will face upstream (that’s why you always wade upstream, so you will come up behind them…). They will be looking for anything that looks edible moving downstream, and will dart out to grab it, then return to their ‘lay’. Most streams are clear enough for you to see the fish, especially with the sunglasses you should have with you, so it’s easy to target individuals. You will be stalking the fish, especially Browns, so you need to be as stealthy as possible.
The best places to find trout are at the beginning and end of pools and holes, at the bottom of rapids, rifles, and waterfalls, behind rocks and fallen timber, and any cuts in the bank. On curves, they will usually be on the inside edge on the downstream side, where it creates eddies.
Once you have located fish, pick one fish (preferably the one closest to you), and try to get within casting range, without getting into the trouts peripheral vision. Trout only have two blind spots, directly in front of its nose and behind its tail. This means they have a peripheral vision field of about 160⁰ for each eye, so stay behind that field. For you, that means a bearing of around 45⁰. Once you are in a comfortable range, be sure you are on the other side of the stream from the fish so you don’t cast directly over it. Lining a trout will result in an unsuccessful stalk. Also, try not to splash or make too much commotion in the water. Remember, sound travels much better under water. When you are ready, cast well ahead of the trout so that the lure will drift right by its lay as you retrieve. When the lure gets even with the lay, be prepared for a strike, but don’t anticipate. Wait until the trout has it in its mouth. I’ve yanked a lure away from a trout many times by being too keyed up.
There is a lot more to trout fishing, but this is enough to get you started. The main thing is that trout don’t live in ugly places. It’s not as much about catching trout as it is enjoying the beauty of the stream and the forests, hearing the sounds, and smelling the odors of nature. Try to become One with the environment. Trout fishing is as much meditation as it is a sport. Let it embrace you.
Most hard-core bass anglers would agree that the majority of really big bass are caught in deep water.
While there are several techniques you can use to reach deep-water bass, one of my favorites is a ‘Drop-Shot’ rig. A Drop Shot rig is simply a plastic lure, like a worm, or shad body, or live-bait, fished on a #1 wide-gap hook tied directly to the running line approximately 18 to 24 inches above a 3/16th ounce weight. It looks like this:
The key to remember is that the worm is tied above the hook. This is a type of finesse fishing, meaning the bait can be fished much more precisely. It is similar to vertical fishing, but the depth, and location can be maintained with exact precision, sort of like a surgical strike. It can also be fished directly into the heaviest cover.
How To Set Up a Drop-Shot Rig
There are basically three ways to set this rig up:
Texas Rigged – where the hook point is buried back into the worm to make it weedless. This is the preferred method for fishing structure such as deep timber and logs.
Hooked directly through the tip of the nose, with the hook exposed – This allows more action from the body, and is great for fishing in current, such as in rivers, and below tail-races.
Wacky-Style – where the hook is placed through the center of the worm and left exposed.This provides the most action.
The last two rigging methods are best used in deep, open water where bass are suspended away from structure.
Your rod needs to be an ultra-sensitive, graphite, medium-action rod. I would recommend a bait-casting reel, but you can use a spinning reel if you prefer, spooled with 6-8 pound test line. Some of the hits on this rig will be very, very light, so you need the sensitivity to detect them. Your regular heavy-action worm rod will not work for this technique.
Using The Drop Shot properly
To use the rig, simply drop the rig to the bottom in 30-50 feet of water, in a suitable location, and gently ‘twitch’ the bait up and down, just a few inches, periodically. It’s like jigging, only more subtle. One company has commercialized this rig, calling it the Banjo Minnow System. The weight on the bottom allows your depth to be maintained an exact distance from the bottom.
A few tips to this rig are:
As a rule, shad don’t suspend around cover. They are an open water fish, and like to mill around and travel freely. So if using Sassy Shads, choose your locations accordingly.
Use your electronics to help you find and stay on the bait-fish if you are “matching the minnow”.
The Drop Shot method is deadly on both active and not so active fish.This rig allows you to drop the worm right in front of its face. Few fish will refuse such an easy meal.
Don’t overpower your finesse baits with rods and line that are too heavy for this Think small.
Watch the birds for feeding action. Keep a casting rod handy, rigged with a surface lure, or a crank-bait when bass hit on the surface.Fish are opportunistic, so there’s no reason for you not to be. Think “adapt, adjust, and persevere…“
Don’t get discouraged if your expectations are not met the first few times you try out this rig. Like anything else worthwhile, there is a learning curve to this technique. The the more you use it, the better you get at it. Soon, you’ll wonder how you got along without it.
It’s All About Structure
Deep-water bass fishing, more than any other situation, will require you to use structure. There is a big difference between ‘structure’ and ‘cover’. ‘Cover’ is a distinct physical object that is not part of the bottom contour. Bass use them, but only temporarily. ‘Structure’ is the actual features that make up the bottom contour, such as ledges, holes, channels, old river-beds, shoals, etc… All fish use these as highways, or trails in their travels. They will use the same ‘trails’ all the time, unless something happens to change them. It’s a lot like hunting, where you need to learn where the regularly traveled trails are. Once you learn these, you can catch just about any kind of fish, all year long. To be successful, your preparations begin long before you ever hit the water. You need to do some homework. Get a contour map of your lake, and study it intensely. You can mark likely areas with color-coded highlighters. Here is what you should look for. The big secret to any fishing is to keep it simple. We can base the entire life cycle of a bass on knowing just two things: Their spawning areas (flats), and their wintering areas (deep-water vertical-break areas). The structure breaks that connect these two areas are their migration trails. All you need to do is figure out where along the trail they are at the time you are fishing.
Bass will winter in the deepest water/vertical break areas available. In the early spring (pre-spawn), bass begin their movements up toward spawning flats, and creeks. They use main creek channels, or the main lake drop as their route. They stop off at points and humps first, then secondary points, on their way to the spawning grounds. When spawning is complete, they head back out the same way, stopping at secondary points, then main points and humps.
Summer bass tend to scatter throughout the system, but most will be along the main deep-water channel areas. In the fall they will again move shallow, using the same points and humps they did before, to gorge-up for winter. Where you find large schools of baitfish along these routes, you will find bass. The rest is just trial-and-error, checking each likely place out. When you find bass, mark it on the chart. They will be there at this time next year.
Many anglers believe that bass like to hang out in deeper water with easy access to the shallows, so they can cruise into them at night to feed. This is only true for smaller bass, most of which are males. The really big fish, which are always female, seldom leave deep water, except to spawn.
There are some general guidelines for deep-water structure. During periods of active feeding, such as low light, rain and wind, the fish generally move shallower and hold less tight to cover. During periods of high-pressure, or under adverse conditions, the bass tend to be a little deeper, and closer to cover.
Structure with hard cover on it is better in the spring and late fall (shell/rock). Structure with soft cover, and current are better in the summer. Structure areas with more vertical breaks, such as ledges, are better during the winter. A thin echo bottom line on your LCD represents a hard bottom. A thick echo represents a softer type bottom. Turning the gain all the way up on your LCD will enable you to find hard bottom/soft bottom areas, and help you locate the thermocline.
Next time you are out bass fishing, give the Drop Shot a try. I am confident you will be glad you did.
Crankbaits are very popular among bass, pike, and walleye fisherman. They work just about anywhere, in any season, and just about any conditions. Crankbaits are usually fished considerably faster than a lot of other lures, allowing you to cover more water, more quickly. This is significant for tournament anglers, and others who only have a limited time to fish. Crankbaits are also very simple to use. There are times when a crankbait will outfish anything else, even live bait. In smaller sizes they are even great for crappie in Spring and Fall.
What Is A Crankbait?
A crankbait is a largish-bodied lure, usually in the shape of a sunfish, shad, or other deep-bodied fish, although some are thinner to represent minnows, made from plastic, or wood. There are some ultralight models available for crappie as well. Most crankbaits have a ‘lip’, in the form of a rudimentary diving plane, that makes the lure dive rapidly, and simultaneously wiggle violently from side-to-side. There are also “lipless” crankbaits that have a slightly different action, but still work the same way. This creates a huge disturbance in the water that fish can feel in their lateral line for quite some distance, making them come to investigate. Oftentimes, rattles are added to enhance the effect. Some are floater/divers, some suspend at depth, and other sink rapidly. Even the floating models can dive to 15′ or more. A basic looks like this:
How Crankbaits Came To Be: Brief History
The first crank-baits were handcrafted by James Heddon in 1898, James was a Dowagiac, Michigan beekeeper looking for a better way to catch fish with the new baitcasting reels, just becoming popular in the U.S. He whittled a frog from an old broom-handle, was unsatisfied with the finished product, and threw it into the millpond, where a large bass immediately attacked it. He experimented with different designs, and in 1902, formed the Heddon Lure Company, and sold the first commercial wooden fishing lures in the world with his Heddon Frog, and Dowagiac Expert (River Runt), both of which are still in production, although in plastic. In 1967, an angler named Fred Young whittled the familiar, “Pregnant Perch” shape from a block of balsa wood, and attached a lip, and two treble hooks to it. It was later marketed (in plastic) by the Cotton Cordell Lure Company as the ‘Big O’, still one of the most popular crank-baits out there. Today, there are hundreds of different crank-bait models to choose from, all based on the simple concepts of Mr. Heddon, and Mr. Young.
Types of Crankbaits
There are three types of crank-baits you can use. The floating models rest on the surface until you start reeling them in. When pulled through the water, the lip makes them dive and wobble frantically. These are usually fished with a stop-and-go method, where you reel for a few seconds, then stop and let the lure surface. After a few seconds, the process is repeated. Oftentimes, the bass will hit while the lure is floating back up.
You can also just pull your rod tip side ways for a few feet, then let it surface. However you do it, it’s best to let the crank-bait rest on the surface for at least 15 seconds before cranking it in again. This imitates the actions of an injured bait-fish. For suspending and sinking crank-baits, it’s the same procedure, except the suspending lure will stay at the same depth, and the sinking one will climb towards the surface, then sink when you stop. And, you can always just cast a crank-bait out, and reel it all the way in. Anyway that legally catches fish is the right way.
While not completely weedless, both the lip, and the head-down swimming action of a crank-bait does a good job of clearing the way for the hooks, so they don’t get snagged as much as you might think. Oftentimes, merely stopping the retrieve so the lure can float back up is enough to free a snag, without digging the hooks in. Crank-baits are excellent for fishing just above bottom structure. In winter, few lures can match the productivity of a sinking crank-bait.
Crank-baits work best with a slow-action rod. A slow action rod will keep you from ripping the lure out a bass’s mouth, and also allow the lure more freedom of movement. A medium-weight rod is about right, unless you are using the small models, in which case a light, or ultralight rod would be great. You can control the depth by adjusting the lip (on models with an adjustable lip), or by the size line you use. Lighter line means deeper diving. Heavier line keeps the lure from diving so deep (due to the resistance of the line through the water….it’s complicated. Just take my word for it, or try it yourself…..). Any medium reel will work with crank-baits, or light and ultralight reels with smaller crankbaits, but you should have one that holds a lot of line, because crank-baits cast a long ways. Also, you may want a reel with a slower retrieve ratio: say 4:1 to slow the lure down a little, and give you more cranking power for reeling in big, mean bass. But if all you have is a Zebco 33 (most of us have, or have had one at some time…..), it will get the job done. In my opinion, the Zebco 33 is one of the greatest fishing reels ever made.
Crank-baits can put bass on your stringer. With a little practice, you’ll be using them like a pro. Every bass angler should have a few of these in their arsenal.
Bass fishing is a multi-million dollar industry in the United States. Bass are the second-most popular fish sought after by US Anglers (it’s close relative, the Crappie, is #1) in terms of numbers people who fish for them, and #1 in terms of how much money is spent on equipment for them. More types of equipment is made for catching bass than for any other fish. It can make it difficult to select the best bass fishing gear and lures, especially for a beginner.
What Are Bass?
Bass are divided into two classes; the ‘True” basses, which includes white, yellow and striped bass, and the ‘Black’ basses, including Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Kentucky Bass, Florida Bass, Peacock Bass, and Spotted Bass. The Black Basses are not really basses at all, but members of the sunfish family, which also includes crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseeds, redears, and other panfish. When we speak of bass fishing, as a rule, we are referring to fishing for the Black Basses.
Why is this so important to know? Because the best bass fishing lures differ for each type of bass. True basses and black basses have a different anatomy, different habitats, and different habits. While there may be some slight overlaps on what may constitute the best bass fishing lures for each, they are two distinctly different families of fish. True basses are open-water fish that travel in large schools and actively chase baitfish.
Black Basses are more solitary, relate to structure, and prefer to ambush their prey from cover. They seldom travel in schools once they are grown. They also prefer warmer water than the true basses.
Keeping these differences in mind will help you locate black bass, and select the best bass fishing lures lures.
Catching Fish, Not Fishermen…
I want to help you wade through the myriad of bass lures, and select the best bass fishing lures for the type of bass fishing you want to do. It is not my intention to favor any particular brand, or type of lure (although we all have our favorites…), and I am not selling any lures. I just want to help you catch bass.
This information is aimed at the novice, newcomer, occasional bass angler, or those who would just like to know a little more about bass lures. I feel that these are the groups most in need of this information, and are often overlooked. Most bass sites seem to be aimed more at the wannabe tournament anglers, or are more interested in selling their particular line of lures rather than helping you find the best bass fishing lures for you (just my opinion, for what it is worth…). And there is nothing wrong with that, but it does make it difficult for a tyro to get any straight information. My goal is to provide unbiased information on bass lures and equipment, from an experienced angler who is not tournament pro, and has often had to get by with less…a lot less.
Best Gear To Catch Bass
There are thousands of different lures on the market specifically designed for bass fishing. The ads say they are all the best bass fishing lures there is. A lot of them are designed more to catch bass anglers, rather than any ambition to be crowned the best bass fishing lures.
One of the attractions of bass fishing is that it can be as modest, or complicated as you want it to be. It is definitely possible to successfully catch bass with nothing more than a cane pole and live-bait from the shore. Or, you can mortgage your house and buy a $30,000.00+ specialty bass boat with enough electronics in it to chase submarines with, $500.00 custom-made bass rods, and use $200.00 bass lures. But a big price tag doesn’t mean you’ve bought the best bass fishing lures.
Great lures come in all price ranges, and under the right conditions, they are all the best bass fishing lures. Most of us are in-between these two extremes. Bass can be caught from a kayak, canoe, row boat, raft, inflatable boat, a float tube, wading, or right from the shore or dock. Sometimes, the best bass fishing lures are the ones you are using at the time. Other times, the best bass fishing lures may be the ones you didn’t use. And the best bass fishing lures can be the exact same ones in either case. Such is the nature of bass….
Bassology 101: Key Factors To Catch Bass
There are really only two main considerations, other than blind luck, which does happen occasionally, that will determine your success at catching bass.
The first is knowledge of your quarry. There are people who have spent a lifetime learning about bass, their habits, and such…and they still don’t know everything. But the more you know, the better basser you will be. You’ll need to learn where they go in each season and type of water, habitats they prefer, how they spawn, when and what they like to eat, and more…. There are hundreds of websites with information on bass, and I highly recommend checking them out. Here is a quick rundown:
Bass like cover, also called ‘structure’. This is anything a bass can hide in or around, and pounce on unsuspecting prey when it comes near enough, and also to provide protection from even bigger predators. It can be submerged vegetation, timber, rocks, drop-offs, creek mouths, channel ledges, etc… You will seldom ever find bass in open water.
Once bass reach breeding age, they seldom school, except maybe briefly to attack large schools of baitfish. When you’ve caught a bass from a particular spot, there is no need to cast back to the same spot until another bass moves in (which may not take long…competition for good spots is intense at times).
Bass aren’t usually very picky, and once you find them, they are pretty cooperative about lures. However, it’s been my experience that one almost “can’t fail” bass lure is a plastic worm, and purple is the best color by far. If I could only have one bass lure, this would be it.
In Spring, and morning, evening, and night in Summer, bass will usually be shallow, 2-15 feet deep. In Fall they maybe either deep or shallow depending on the local geography. In Winter, they will be deeper, but come in shallow to feed during the warmest parts of the day.
The second factor is lure selection. This is where it gets intense. Most lures will catch bass sometimes… some more than others. The trick is to figure out which lures will entice the most bass at that particular time and place. This takes research and experience.
For beginners, I highly recommend French and Inline spinners to start out with. They are easy to use, relatively inexpensive, and work in a lot of situations. I can’t think of too many times I have used them and not caught something. My favorites are the Mepps Aglia and the Roostertail in Fire Tiger colors.
I strongly suggest starting out with a medium action spin casting combo, preferably one of the rod and reel packages available in a lot of stores, even Walmart. They are already matched and balanced for each other and are ready to fish right out of the package. Spin Casting reels are easy to use and will let you concentrate on learning to fish rather than fooling with equipment. One of the best all-around combos is the Zebco 33. It’s been around for over 63 years and still going strong, so they must be doing something right. I still fish with a 40-year old Zebco 33.
Here is my suggestion for starting out lure fishing for bass. You need:
A good tackle box. Starting out, I recommend one of the excellent tackle boxes from Plano or Flambeau, and get one larger than you think you will need. Soft tackle boxes are more trouble and will work better for you once your learn what you like to fish with. Plano and Flambeau make a tackle box that will fit any budget, from just a few dollars for one that will hold over a dozen medium lures, to over $50.00 for one that can hold half of a tackle store. You really only need a dozen or so lures starting out.
My Beginner’s Bass Lure Selection
With these lures, if you find bass anywhere, one of these will catch them. These are just suggestions and any similar lures will accomplish the same purpose. These will catch bass from the surface all the way to the bottom in deep water.
One package of purple Zoom or Culprit worms, in purple, and maybe black. You will also need some ¼ oz cone sinkers, and 1/0 worm hooks to rig these worms. I would suggest using the Texas Rig. You can find out how to do this on several websites. Just Google it.
A couple of Mepps and Roostertail French Spinners, and maybe one or two Panther-Martins or Blue Fox inline spinners.
A couple of spoons, at least one of which needs to be the Daredevil in red and white.
A Heddon Chugger, a Bagleys Big O, a black Jitterbug, and a Lazy Ike.
Six or so marabou jigs in black, red and white, and chartreuse.
You will need to learn how to tie a basic knot, the Improved Clinch Knot. Just Google it and you will get dozens of results. I would suggest looking on YouTube for a concise set of instructions. This is really the only knot you need starting out with lures. Other than that, you need a set of line clippers (any old nail clipper will work just fine…), maybe a hook remover, although bass are not very prone to swallowing the hook that deep, a set of needle-nose pliers to remove hooks from fish mouths without getting stabbed in your hand, and a fillet knife and stringer or creel if you plan to dine on your catch. Otherwise, release them gently and quickly so you and others can catch them again at a later date.
BTW, there is nothing wrong with taking a few home to eat as long as you follow the local Creel and Possession limits. It does not hurt the ecosystem at all. You simply become part of the Food Chain.
Sometimes it helps to keep a fishing diary. It helps you to spot patterns in your local waters. Every body of water is different, and what workled good in Carters Lake may be a total flop in Lake Murray.
It’s Just The Beginning…
This is just a very basic introduction to bass fishing to get you started. There is a lot of information on bass online, some good, some…well, you just have to evaluate it for yourself. Before you dive headfirst into the plethora of Bassology, I recommend just getting out and doing a little fishing first…get your feet wet, so to speak. Once you get comfortable with the basics, then you can get into more detailed things, like fishing deep structure, drop shot fishing, vertical jigging, etc…
The main thing is to be sure and follow all the laws in your location, such as creel and size limits, and have a valid fishing license. Most of all …have fun.
Carp fishing? Why would anyone want to purposely fish for those nasty, invasive species? Known in some areas as “Sewer Bass”, these large members of the minnow family happily stir up the silt in search for, well….anything they can eat, which is considerable. The fact is that carp are an outstanding fish, both for flavor, and for fighting ability. They’ve been raised in Europe and Asia for food and pets for several thousands of years. Here is a shocker for you, Those beautiful goldfish and koi you see in the pet stores are just selectively bred carp. If you’ve ever eaten real gefilte fish, you’ve eaten carp.
Carp are complete demons on a line, with blistering long, powerful runs. They fight to the very end. On a fly rod, they are great practice for Flats Fishing on the coast. Think of it this way. Most of us do not get a chance to hook into 10+ lb bass very often. Losing one is a disgrace. But 10+ lb. carp are very common, and if you lose a carp, who cares? Just rig up and get another one. It’s the best way to learn how to fight large, pugilistic fish.
What Are Carp?
Carp are large members of the minnow family (Cyprinidae), which also includes shiners, mosquito fish, fatheads, etc… Native to Europe and Asia, they have been domesticated and raised commercially for over 2400 years. Prized as a food fish as well as for aquatic vegetation control, carp were introduced everywhere in Eurasia. Common carp were purposely brought to the US in the mid 1800s as a food fish, to help reduce overfishing of native species.
There are really only 2 species of carp in the US that you need to be concerned with: Common Carp, and Bighead Carp. Other carp species in the US, such as Mirror Carp, and Leather Carp, are just variations of common carp. Grass Carp are protected in some areas in the US, so it is best to release them unharmed if you catch one. Although good to eat, they are used mainly for vegetation control.
From an initial modest stock of common carp from Germany, carp proved they were both prolific, and one of the toughest fish there is. They exploded into almost every US body of fresh and brackish water possible, even ones that were so polluted nothing else could live there. Unfortunately, their value as a food fish was not fully realized, and their sheer numbers cast a curtain of disdain on them. It was believed that their habit of stirring up silt and mud in search of food made the waters too dirty for other more desirable fish species to live there. Fact is, the mud quickly settles back down where it came from with no harm done. Bluegills, crappie and bass are more than able to keep carp away from their nests until spawning is over. Crappie actually benefit the waters they are in by helping to keep a healthy ecosystem. They are invaluable in controlling aquatic vegetation like hydrilla, which can choke off water and deplete it of oxygen. They love quagga and zebra mussels, invasive species that are a serious problem in some waters.
But are they really inedible and nasty? Absolutely not. They are only slightly oilier than other freshwater fish, and much less than mackerel, tuna and herring. They are firm, flaky and slightly sweet. Smoked, they are every bit as good as smoked salmon and trout. They are a seriously underused food source in the US.
How To Catch Carp
One of the great things about carp is that they are very accomodating. You can catch them on anything from a high-end rod and reel combo to a simple piece of kite string and a cheap hook. I caught my first carp at the tender age of 5 with just a piece of kite string, a rusty #8 Aberdeen hook, and a wet, mashed up, and compressed piece of hot dog bun. It weighed 23 pounds and felt like it was ripping my toe off. I had wrapped the line around my big toe and settled back for a nap on a dock while my parents were fishing. They were just trying to make me think I was fishing, to keep me out of the way. I guess I showed them. I awoke to the feeling of my toe being wrenched off, grabbed the line and pulled in what seemed to be a behemoth. That was my introduction to fishing, and I have been hooked (er…) ever since.
Carp can be caught on a cane pole, but if you catch one with any size, that can be problematic, since there is no reel. Anything larger than 7 or 8 lbs will probably snap a cane pole. Common carp average over 10 lbs, and 30+ lb. carp are not that uncommon. Just about any light to medium, rod and reel combo will work fine. Heavy rods and reels also work, but may spook some carp. They tend to be a little wary, especially in shallow or clear water.
In Spring and Fall, carp will usually be in the shallows in large groups, nosing up the mud for food. They are active during the day, and at night. They are frisky, and often jump out of the water, making locating them easier. Approach them quietly so as not to spook them and try to stay low. Avoid casting a shadow on the water. Cast ahead of them, be careful not to ‘line’ any fish, meaning do not cast directly over any fish where the line may hit them. If one fish spooks, they all stampede. Carp are available all year long, even through ice.
Bighead carp are a different proposition. They have the strange habit of jumping clear of the water any time a motorboat comes near, often jumping right into the boat. A new sport is Full Contact Fishing. In areas that have bighead carp, people just get bats, nets, and whatever, wear motorcycle or bicycle helmets, and motor through schools of these huge fish. Remember, they can get over 20 lbs., and getting hit in the head by a 20 lb. fish while you are moving at 6 or 7 knots will definitely get your attention. They just try to knock them into the boat as they cruise along, and when the boat is full, they go in and have a fish fry. As you may guess, water and jet skiers consider the fish a major hazard, and people are encouraged to harvest all they want. But you still need a fishing license.
My favorite way to catch carp is on a fly. Carp are definitely Big Game on a fly rod and are great practice for stripers, large bass, and inshore species like snook and bonefish. They are similarly sized, and fight the same way. The best fly patterns I have found are the Coyote Carp Fly, The Carpinator, The Carpoon, BackStabber, and the Scarpoin. These are mostly just variations on the saltwater flats Gotcha and Crazy Charlie patterns.
The very best rig I have ever used is just a slip sinker rig. Slide on a light slip sinker, tie on a swivel, then make a leader of 12” to 15”. Top it off with a small (#8 or #10) bait hook.
The carp can pick up the bait without feeling the weight of the sinker. Also, it transmits the vibration of the pickup directly to you rod, making it more sensitive. This is the rig I use for carp almost all the time.
Another popular rig is the Hair Rig. This is just tying a small leader onto the hook bend and threading corn or boilies onto it. In theory, it lets the carp pick up the bait without feeling the hook. I’ve never noticed an improvement over the slip sinker rig, but that’s just me.
You have to thread the corn or boilies onto the leader with a needle. It’s a lot more work, but lots of people like to use it.
As for bait, carp aren’t that picky. They can be caught on worms, grubs, small crawfish, plain old bread, and various dough baits that can be purchased, or made at home. The best bait I have ever used is just a piece of white bread. Soak it in the water until it gets mushy, then squeeze it onto the hook and make a ball out of it. Instant dough ball….
One of my favorite homemade baits is 1 cup of Wheaties (or any cereal will work), 1 cup flour, ¼ cup honey, and slowly add hot water and mix until you get a thick dough. Store it in a ziplock baggie in the fridge. To use, just pinch off a small piece and mold it around the hook, covering it completely. You can also add some strawberry Kool Aid or vanilla to it for added attraction. I have also caught carp on Gummi Worms and plain old Gum Drops. You can make boilies at home, but it is very involved and time-consuming. It’s easier just to buy Magic Bait Sweet Angie, or similar dough baits. They work every bit as good.
What To Do With Your Catch
Carp are delicious table fare. They are a little more boney than other fish, but it only takes a few minutes more to filet them. Here are the steps:
Scale the fish
Filet them just like you would any other fish.
Cut out the red strip of flesh along the lateral line.
There is a row of ‘Y’ shaped bones along the side. Find the bones and run you knife along the top, freeing the top tenderloin. Set this piece aside.
Run your knife along the bottom of these bones and free the bottom part of the filet. You now have 4 great boneless filets from 1 fish.
Double-check each piece for any bones you may have missed, then rinse them off and store them in ziplock baggies in the fridge until ready to cook.
You can now fry them, bake them, broil them, or my favorite, smoke them over applewood, or mesquite wood. I have also pickled them with onions, and they are absolutely wonderful. Carp have firm flaky flesh that is a little sweet, and not fishy at all. They are just a tad more oily than a trout, but not so that you would really notice. You can also fix this by marinating the filets in milk, or water and lemon juice for 30 minutes before cooking them. This removes most of the oil.
If you haven’t tried carp, you’re missing out. There are plenty of them and they are relatively free for the taking. Enjoy….
There are lots of ways to catch fish, many of which do not involve the use of a rod and reel. After all, people were catching fish long before the invention of rods and reels. In fact, people were catching fish long before we were really people, at least in the modern sense.
What Is Jug Fishing?
Jug fishing really isn’t very ancient, since plastic jugs have only been around since the 1930s. But it has really become popular, especially in the South. The reason is probably because it is so much fun, and it puts a lot of fish in the freezer in a short period of time.
Jug Fishing is just what the name implies. It is the process of suspending a line from a used plastic jug, or similar floatation device, adding a baited hook, and dropping the whole thing in the water. Usually several jug rigs are used simultaneously, as many as 20. When a catfish bites one, the jug takes off on a Nantucket Sleigh Ride, and you chase it down in your boat, pull the fish in, re-bait, reposition the jug, and start over until you get all the catfish you want, or reach the legal limit. That’s all there is to it. Nice low-tech fun.
There are two kinds of fishing, Active and Static. Active means you are seeking the fish. Static is when you want the fish to come to you. A good example of Active fishing is throwing a jig for crappie, Static fishing is when you use a minnow and sit there until a crappie bites. Jug fishing can go either way. Active, or Free-Floating Jug Fishing is when you rig the jugs and just let them drift with the wind or current, keeping an eye on them. Static , or Anchored Jug Fishing is when you put a heavy weight on the bottom, or tie the jugs to a tree or other structure, leave them and check them every so often. Both ways work. It just depends on what you want to do. With Anchored Jug Fishing, you can go off and fish for bass, crappie, or whatever, and then come back in a bit to check the jugs.
How To Rig Jugs
You can, of course, buy pre-rigged jugs, or Noodle Rigs, which are just short pieces of PVC pipe with a foam pool noodle slid on top for floatation (please don’t confuse this with ‘Noodling” which is catching catfish by hand…). Both are very inexpensive, but if you really want to have fun, it is easy to make your own jug or noodle rigs.
To make a jug rig, all you need is some kind of plastic jug, like a milk jug, a quart Clorox bottle, or a 2 liter coke bottle, etc… Just fill the jug about ¼ of the way with gravel, BBs or whatever, then seal the end with the cap (I glue them on just to be sure they are water tight). Now, all you have to do is tie your line to the cap end. Your line really should be braided dacron or Squid Line, because you can hook into some really big bruisers this way. Heavy monofilament, say 30+ lb. test, will work if that’s what you have. Now, just add a dropper loop and attach a 1/0 hook, then put a ½ sinker at the bottom of the line. I would make the line at least 10’ long, depending on the average water depth where you will be fishing. You want it within a few feet of the bottom. If it keeps bottoming out, you can always pull it in and make it shorter. Repeat this process for as many jugs as you want to fish with. Make sure you use a Permanent Marker to number them so you can keep track. You’ll want your name and phone number, and maybe even your address on them as well. In some states, it is a legal requirement.
All that’s left is to hit the water, bait the hook and drop them overboard. Try to space them a few feet apart so they won’t tangle with each other. When lowering them into the water, shake the gravel to the wide end of the jug so that it floats on its side. When a catfish bites, it will pull the other end making the gravel roll to that end, and the jug will float upright. Then you know you’ve had a bite. I’ve even gone so far as to paint the wide end bright orange or red, so I can tell from a distance if something is on it.
To make noodles, all you need is a 2 or 3 foot length of 1” Schedule 40 PVC pipe, 2 end caps for each length of pipe you are going to use, a stainless steel screw-in eye (to tie your line to), a ⅜ oz sinker that fits inside the PVC pipe, and a few 1 foot lengths of foam pool noodles (one for each rig). I recommend getting them in red or orange for high visibility. To assemble, glue an end cap to one end of the PVC pipe. Slide the noodle over the pipe to the top half, stopping at the end cap. Spraying the pipe with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water helps to slide the foam on, if it gets ornery. Now, drop the sinker into the pipe, then glue the other end cap on the open end. Screw the hook eye into the bottom cap, then unscrew it. Dip the end of the screw-eye in 5-minute water-proof epoxy, then screw it back in. Let the epoxy cure for 24 hours before using the rig. Repeat for all the other rigs you want.
Now, when you use the noodle rig, just let the sinker roll to the opposite end from where the line attaches. Attach your line, hook, and ¼ oz. sinker to the line and set the noodle on it’s side in the water. It will float on its side until something pulls on the other end, Then the sinker will roll to that end and it will float standing straight up, letting you know you have a fish.
How To Use Jug and Noodle Rigs
Using these rigs is as simple as it gets. My favorite bait is live bluegills (where legal), or large live minnows, but punch bait, dough bait, or any catfish bait you like will work. If you are going to anchor them, just tie them to a tree, or any other fixed object where you want to fish, although I would avoid tying them to any buoys. The authorities sort of frown on that. You can also just attach an extra line with a heavy weight to go to the bottom, and keep the rigs where you set them. Just lower them into the water, make sure they are floating sideways, then do whatever you want for a bit, and come back and check them. It’s just like fishing with a trot line.
If you are going to float the rigs, bait the hooks on each rig, then just lower them into the water and make sure they float sideways. Keep them a few feet apart to avoid entanglements with each other. Put them upwind from where you want them to drift. Now all you have to do is follow them (not too close…). I try to stay around 10 yards away from them while they are drifting.
If a rig gets stuck on the bottom, just pull it up and reposition it. Anytime a jug or noodle stands on its end, it’s Fish On time. The rig will usually take off and you’ll have to chase it. This is where kayaks and canoes really shine, because nothing is faster to react on the water than a kayak or canoe with a good paddler. Grab the rig, and pull in the fish. Usually while you are doing this, a few other rigs will take off, so someone needs to keep an eye on them until you can get over there.
Numbering the jugs or noodles allows you to use different baits on each rig, and you’ll know what they are hitting. When that happens, pull all the other rigs and re-bait them with what’s working. Floating Jug fishing is a job for two, at least. At times, the action is fast and furious. That’s why I never use more than 10 jugs at a time. I can never keep up with more than that. I’ve gotten my limit on catfish in as little as 1 hour. My freezer at home always has some catfish in it.
The Legal Stuff…
Jug fishing is not legal everywhere, so be sure you check the regulations for the body of water you intend to fish. And, a fishing license is required for jug fishing everywhere. Be sure you have one.
Some places have regulations on the size of the jugs you can use, usually larger than 1 pint, but no more than 1 gallon. I have no idea why….
In some areas, you must number your jugs and have your name and phone number on them. This in case one or two get lost, so the Game Wardens know who to scold…. And, as a good outdoors person, you really should make every effort possible to locate and recover all your rigs. They could conceivably cause some problems for boaters, jet skiers, and water skiers.
There are some people that have attempted to create a controversy over jug fishing, with claims that it over-harvests the catfish and is detrimental to their populations. However, this could not be further from the truth. Fact is, every state sets their creel limits for each species, based on what biologists tell them the population can sustain. And some bodies of water have special limits to further protect the species, These limits apply to everyone, whether you are fishing with rod and reel or jugs. As long as you do not break the law, jug fishing poses no special danger to catfish.
Give jug fishing a try sometime. I am sure you’ll have a blast
We began showing how ingenious we could be as far back as Homo habilis, over 500,000 years ago. Fossil records of fish from that period show evidence of being pounded by stones, squeezed by hand, and even speared. Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalis improved on the techniques, and fish became a staple part of our diet, along with crustaceans and other types of seafood. From 40,000 years ago, there is evidence that people were making fishing hooks and lures from bone. But with the advent of civilization, there was a need to catch more fish faster to feed the masses. Fishing became a profession, and around 4500 BC, the Egyptians invented the net. Since then, many different methods have been tried in order to catch a lot of fish quickly, rather than one at a time. Trotlines were a development from the deep sea fishermen’s long lines. Native Americans in the New World quickly learned to use their bows to skewer fish at greater distances. More methods were tried as new technologies became available.
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