If you’ve never tried jump-fishing, you’ve been missing out. It is one of the most exciting kinds of fishing there is, right up there with Big Game Blue-Water fishing. The action is fast and furious.
Most people have heard of a shark Feeding Frenzy, or a Piranha Frenzy. This is where the predator fish are on so much food that they go crazy with bloodlust, even attacking each other in their madness. But what a lot of people don’t know is that any predator fish species that schools at least some of the time can be subject to this rage. Striped Bass. hybrids, White Bass, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, and even trout gather to feed on large schools of hapless baitfish, usually shad. In coastal waters, bluefish and dorados gang up to slash schools of herring, menhaden, etc… The water literally boils, with baitfish being thrown completely into the air, only to be gobbled by another fish before they can hit the water again. Even the air is in chaos with birds wheeling and diving like the world’s craziest dogfight, trying to get in on the action.
When this happens, fish strike at anything within range with total abandon. This makes for some fast and exciting fishing. The frenzy will usually last anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour or more. Then the action will stop for a bit, only to reappear 20, 30, or maybe even 50 yards away, and the whole thing starts over. If you can keep up, it is possible to stay on a particular school until you get tired of catching them, or they retire for the day.
Jump-fishing is usually associated with power boats with large motors, who zip around from school to school. Lucky for kayak anglers, it is very possible to find these schools and stay in contact with them in any kayak. You just need to use the right tactics and gear.
Gearing Up For Jump Fishing
You can jump-fish in any kayak, whether it is a SOT, or SIK. Since most of the frenzy action takes place on larger bodies of water, and usually open water, I recommend a fast touring, or coastal yak if you have a choice. You will want to be able to cover water quickly to stay in contact with the schools, and may be doing a lot of paddling. It needs to be equipped with the ability to hold at least one extra rigged rod. Two or three extras are even better. The fishing is so fast that if a lure malfunctions, or the line gets snagged, instead of wasting time trying to fix it, just grab another rod and keep casting. You can fix the other one when the action cools down.
You need a couple of rigged rods and reels ready to go. Bait them with different lures or jigs, so if one color or size is not working so good, grab the other rod and try that one. Once you find the right combination and the action slows down, rig the others with that lure. The rods should be medium action with 8 to 10 lb. test line. You won’t be doing any finesse fighting here, just raw cranking power, so I usually use baitcasting reels. Ambassadeur reels are my favorite, but Penn reels also work very well for this. You can use any rod and reel combo you feel comfortable with. I actually use at least one 8-9 wt fly rod with Shooting Taper or Weight Forward line. My favorite fly patterns (which I tie myself) are the Puglisi Shad, and the Clouser Minnow in Fire Tiger colors. For spinning and casting, nothing beats a Mister Twister Sassy Shad, or the Creme Lil Fishie in ¼ oz to ½ oz. sizes. Daredevel type spoons in the traditional red and white colors, and large Mepps spinners are also deadly. My best crankbaits for this are the Bayou Boogie in larger sizes, or a Bagleys Big O in shad colors. Topwater lures like the Smithwick Devil’s Horse, Heddon Lucky 13, and just about any other Heddon or Rapala popper are fantastic.
The only other thing you really need it a good set of binoculars. These are a must.
Kayak Jump Fishing Tactics
Feeding frenzies happen all year long, but the best times are summer and fall in most places. I live in the deep south, so I really like jump fishing in winter when nothing much else is active besides trout. Striped bass in the local lakes love it when it gets cool and are very active all year. Shad are also more prone to migrate in winter here.
Frenzies happen all day and at night (it is is very hard to find them at night), but the best times are early morning and evening. In the middle of the day, look for them more out to the middle of the lake in deeper water.
The best places to search for schools are off of sandy points, along channel drop-offs, flats surrounded by drop-offs, cove inlets, river inlets, rip raps, and dams. The schools will follow the baitfish, who will follow the lines of structure along the bottom, so when you find a school, follow the bottom contours to stay in contact with them.
A few things to keep in mind before entering the arena:
You are not the only one looking for schools, and most of the others will be in power boats that make big wakes. When they see the school they will power up to it, and maybe not pay that much attention to you, so always be prepared to quickly pivot bow-on to their wakes. These boat wakes can capsize you. It’s aggravating. But unavoidable.
For the same reasons mentioned above, try to make yourself as visible as possible, and have a loud horn or whistle available to warn boats if they get too close, or appear to be on a collision course. According to the Rules of the Road, as an unpowered craft, you have the Right of Way, but not everyone pays attention to that.
To jump fish, simply paddle out to a likely area and scan with your eyes and binoculars. You are looking for flocks of diving birds, surface commotion, or maybe even a lot of boats heading for a particular area. One drawback is that in a kayak, you may be able to see the telltale signs of a frenzie, but they may be a mile or more away. You will probably not be able to catch that school. But it never hurts to try, and the exercise is good for you…
When you locate a school, quickly paddle towards it. Fish are not particularly concerned about kayaks and you can paddle right up to the school without spooking it (power boats…well, they usually motor in too close and spook the school. Then you may have to wait 30 minutes or so and see where they come back up). When you get within casting distance, you will easily see the water churning with crazed fish. Just cast beyond them and retrieve through the school. It’s not uncommon to get a fish on every cast while they are up. When the school goes down, switch to a rod with a diving lure, or fish your jig deeper to stay in contact. Whenever you make 5-10 casts with no strike, the school has moved. Take a break, organize your equipment, grab the binoculars and search again. It may take 30 minutes or more for them to come back up, and they may be 100-200 yards away. Paddle over to them as quickly as you can, and start over. Using these tactics, you can stay in contact with a school until they quit for the day, or you get tired of reeling in fish. I’ve caught so many like this that the next day, my arms felt like sore rubber bands. But it’s a lot more fun than lifting weights.
Always be sure to obey all local laws, and have a fishing license. If you keep any to eat, follow all creel limits. Most of all, there may be a lot of other anglers doing the same thing as you. Be considerate and courteous. I promise you, there are more than enough fish to go around.
1949 was a very important year for bass fisherman. The Soviet Union tested its first nuclear bomb, China became a communist country, the first Polaroid cameras hit the market, and in a humble basement in Akron, Ohio, Nick and Cosma Creme experimented cooking up vinyl, oils and pigments to use in making soft, pliable, life-like artificial worms to catch bass with.
Word of the new lures spread, and the ‘rubber’ worm was soon declared to be the #1, absolute best lure for bass, ever (and it still is….). The Cremes began selling their creations by mail order in 1951 (6 for $1.00), but the demand quickly outpaced the supply. They formed the Creme Lure Company, and established a manufacturing facility in Akron, Oh.
In the late 1950s, numerous reservoirs had been completed in the south, especially Texas and Oklahoma, and were gaining reputations as hot bass spots. The Cremes moved their plant to Tyler, Texas, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Other companies soon began producing these squiggly pieces of bass heaven, and different designs were offered. Wayne Kent began experimenting with tube worm designs, and formed the Knight Lure Company in 1965. In 1989, Knight and Creme merged to become the largest producers of soft-plastic baits in the world.
The Evolution of Plastic Worms
In 1977, a game machine technician named Ed Chambers began pouring custom plastic baits. He, and his friend Ed Wortham made unique shapes that resembled crawfish, minnows, and some things that only exist in nightmares. The young man who made the molds for them was named Zimmerman, and was nicknamed, “Zoom”. When people would ask, “Who made this?”, they would say, “those were made by Zoom”. The company was eventually called Zoom.
The last big player in the worm industry arrived in 1972. In a small Louisiana town, a few people began using pressure cookers to melt the plastic, allowing them to make thinner extrusions, resulting in the birth of the curly-tail worm, and the Mr. Twister Bait Company was born. In 1982, they became part of the Mepps Lure Company. These are the Big Three in plastic worms.
Today, any tackle shop you go into is likely to have an entire wall filled with nothing but soft plastic baits. They are the #1 bass bait you can buy, even surpassing live bait. They are also one of the least expensive lures you can buy. More bass tournaments have been won with plastic worms than with any other lure. They are as close to a guarantee as you can get. They can be fished deep, or shallow. They can be used in open water, or right in the middle of dense cover. They work in all seasons, in all waters…anywhere bass live. Why? Because there is nothing a bass loves better than a large, squishy, meaty mouthful of annelid. A hapless nightcrawler that finds itself in the water with a bass is a free meal. It can’t get away, and it can’t fight back.
There are three ways to rig a plastic worm. The Texas Rig is the most common, and is 100% weedless. The only way to hang this rig up is by wrapping it around something like a tree limb. A special worm hook, with an extra-large hook gap is usually used, but you can use a standard Carlisle or Aberdeen hook as well. The hook is inserted into the ‘head’ of the worm, threaded to the ‘collar, then the point is pushed out of the body. The hook is then rotated 180° and the point is buried back into the body of the worm, so that the worm swims straight. A cone-shaped ‘worm’ sinker is threaded on the line above the hook and allowed to slide all the way down, forming another worm ‘head’.
The Texas Rig
These are usually fished in heavy cover, with stiff rods, and heavy line, so you can get an instant hook set, and drag the bass from cover before it can wrap the line around something. You cast it directly into cover and fish it very S-L-O-W-L-Y, as slow as you can stand it. Just raise the rod tip slowly every so often, and crawl the worm across the bottom. When a bass picks up the worm, the weight slides, so the bass does not feel the weight. Anytime you feel a ‘peck-peck’, you need to set the hook just a shade faster than instantly, and hard. When the hook is set, the point of the hook drives through the worm body, and into the bass’s mouth. Then the fight is on. You need to use a strong reel with heavy gears so you can drag the bass from it’s cover immediately. Bait-casting reels are preferred.
The Carolina Rig is similar to the Texas Rig, except the weight is rigged above a swivel that keeps it 12” to 18” away from the worm. This allows the worm to ‘swim’ rather than crawl, like the Texas Rig. This rig can be fished a little faster, but still slow compared to other lures. You just cast out, and retrieve by raising your rod tip to the 12 o’clock position, then reeling in slack as you lower the rod tip. Wait a bit, then repeat. Set the hook anytime you feel resistance.
The Carolina Rig
Which one is better? It depends. The Carolina Rig allows you to cast farther, and work more area quicker. But, the Carolina Rig is not as weedless, and can’t be used in very dense cover. It also doesn’t sink as fast, so it is not as good for working ledges and drop-offs. This is where the Texas Rig shines. It allows you to crawl the worm across the bottom, into every nook, cranny and hole.
The third way to rig a plastic worm is Wacky Worm style. Just stick a hook through the middle of the worm. It is fished with very light weights, such as split-shots, or with no weight at all. You just cast it out, and allow it to slowly sink, twitching the rod tip gently every so often. This makes the worm spasm, and will drive fish crazy at times. This rig is best in smaller streams and rivers, rock piles and overhangs. The worm will be shallow enough for you to see it, so when a bass takes it, you will know it.
As for colors, many will tell you to use bright colors in dark, or stained water, and dark colors in clear water. My advice is any color is fine…as long as it is purple. Most other old-timers will tell you the same. It may be that purple works so good because it is one of the last colors to disappear as the worm sinks. Purple also radiates in the ultraviolet range, so a bass may see it differently than humans. This is just speculation on my part. I have never seen a live purple worm, but that is the color to use if you want to catch bass consistently, in my opinion.
If you are serious about catching bass, there is no better way to start than by learning to use plastic worms. Give it a try sometime.
Kayak fishing is great. I love easy paddling on a beautiful stream or river, and being able to surgically target likely places to catch fish. I’ve been doing it for over 40 years, long before it became popular. Needless to say, until recently, I never read much about kayak fishing, and when I did, I was a bit taken aback. Apparently, everything I have been doing for over half a century has been wrong.
It is not my intention to be argumentative, or make any assumptions about anyone’s opinions. But I feel that information on a lot of stuff nowadays is geared more towards selling merchandise rather than providing real information. My goal is to try to put things in perspective, at least as far as kayaks are concerned.
D0 I Need A Specific Kayak Type to go Fishing?
According to all the hype, in order to fish from a kayak, you need a special yak, most likely a Sit On Top (SOT) style, equipped with a pedal-drive, pontoons, battery-powered SONAR, etc…. Kayak Fishing Gurus (whatever the heck that is…other than people I’ve never heard of before…) tout techniques and equipment that would make a Bass Tournament addict salivate.
I have enough experience to say with complete confidence that you do not have to have a special kayak to fish. Any kayak that floats, even a whitewater model, will work for fishing. SOTs are not my favorite model, but they do work. I never heard of an SOT until the 1980s, after rotomolding was perfected. I personally do not consider an SOT a kayak, because you can’t do half of things you can do in a Sit Inside Kayak (SIK). All the ones I have paddled seemed slow, unstable with a higher center of gravity, and they maneuvered like a pregnant manatee. SOTs were developed from paddleboards, which were just the old-style long surfboards that people stood on and paddled. Rotomolding allowed manufacturers to make them with an integrated seat and footrests. But again, if you like them, by all means, go out and catch some fish in one. I’ve used them a few times. They do offer a little less cluttered ride than a cockpit, but it comes at the expense of protection from some of the elements, the ability to roll, and a few other maneuvers. Again, any kayak that floats can be used for fishing. All you really need to fish is something to hold a hook, bait or a lure (and yes, I have used cane poles and tight-lined from a kayak), and a paddle. So when you are looking for a kayak to fish from, pick the yak you feel the best in, and don’t worry about the accessories. You can add those yourself, later, if you feel they are needed. Put your money into the boat, not the accessories. Don’t buy a $200.00 yak with $500.00 worth of accessories on it, unless you really want it.
Can A Big Fish Drag My Kayak Away While Fishing?
I have actually read articles about kayak fishing that claim you have to compensate for ‘lure drag’ on the retrieve, especially when using lures with extreme action, like crankbaits. Huh? When I first read it, I thought it was satire, but no, the people were supposed to be ‘Professional Kayak Tournament’ anglers. I didn’t even know they had ‘Kayak Fishing’ Tournaments. But, sure enough, I’ve seen the same claims on dozens of websites. What are they using for lures, mini-submarines????
In all my decades of kayak fishing (none of it in tournaments), I have never had a lure move my yak towards it, no matter how hard I reeled. The nose may pivot slightly, but no ‘drag’. The pivot is mostly from shifting my weight from casting to reeling. I mostly use 4-8 lb. fishing line. Any force strong enough to pull my yak would break the line, and probably my rod as well. The reels drag would kick in way before that point, if it was set properly. But we’ll get more into this in a minute.
I have also read stories of being dragged by fish into unsafe conditions. Now, I will admit that if you have the brass to go ocean fishing in a yak, yes, there are lots of fish than can take you for a ride, which is why I do not recommend it. In fresh water….very unlikely. Maybe a very large Musky, or catfish, gar, or even a husky carp might drag you a little ways if you don’t have your reel drag set correctly, but 95% of the time, this will not be an issue. I put both of these claims into the same category as the, “Huge catfish by the dam that eats divers, so no one will ever dive there….”. Anytime I go to a new area, I have a standing bet with my wife on how long it takes for a local resident to come up and tell me this story about the nearby lakes and rivers.
Safety First: Can it Actually Be Dangerous To Fish From A Kayak?
Let’s examine the previous claims from a scientific point of view. I believe that Newton’s Laws of Motion are pretty well established by now. The First Law states than an object at rest or in motion will continue in that state until outside forces are acted upon it. If the forces are unbalanced, the object will accelerate in the direction of the net, or larger, force.
The Second Law gives us the mathematics for calculating acceleration. It is, “Force = mass x acceleration/s². The Force means the Net Force, which brings us to Newton’s Third Law. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, which are equal in force. This means that Net Force is the sum of the two forces. However, they do not cancel each other out, because the two forces are acting on two different things. The equal reaction is the object itself, and the opposite reaction is the medium the object is moving through, or up against. So, if a force of 10 pounds is exerted in one direction, and equal force of 10 pounds will be exerted in the opposite direction, taking into account the circumstances at the time. We’ll skip that part for now just for simplicity, so the Net Force will only be 5 pounds in this case. Force is measured in Newtons, which is the amount of force it takes to accelerate 1 kg (a little over 2 pounds) at a rate of 1 meter per second, per second, or 1m/s².
When a fish flips its tail to move, only a portion of that force goes to forward motion, with the rest moving water rearward. The same is true for a lure. And actually, it would be even less because the fish also has to overcome the drag of the water, current, etc…
So, let’s say we are fishing with 8 lb. test line, and we just weigh 160 lbs (I wish…. I am trying to give the fish a fair chance…) and our yak weighs 40 pounds… a good average. We will assume calm water, no wind, or any other variables just for the sake of argument. We hook a 10 lb bass that has been eating steroids and is capable of of achieving triple its weight in thrust, which is unlikely, but we will go with that for simplicity. So our bass has poured on the coal and has kicked in all 30 pounds of possible thrust. This calculates out to around 133 Newtons. But wait, according to Newton’s Third Law, only some of this will be forward thrust. For simplicity, we will assume ¾ of this is translated into forward thrust, so now we only have around 44 Newtons available. Our combine Kayak and paddler weight is 200 pounds, which will require a force of 890 Newtons just to match the same acceleration. To move it at all will require a force of at least 400 Newtons. From a mathematical perspective, the absurdity is obvious. A very large carp, say 40 pounds or so, may be able to slowly drag a kayak a few feet, very slowly for a few seconds …hardly a sleigh ride. And, don’t forget, even if we use 10 pound line, it will break at around 40 Newtons, so dragging the boat is really not an issue.
This is not to say a fish could not cause the yak to pivot when pulling at an angle, which would take far less force than dragging it. This could give the fish enough leverage to get into structure, so that may be a concern. But dragging…hardly…. And if a 10 pound bass can’t do it, a ¼ oz., or even 1 oz. lure is not going to do it.
You can prove this to yourself easily. Next time you are out, and you get hung up, try pulling your yak over to it just by pulling with the rod, and see how hard it is, then imagine what kind of fish it would take to do the same thing.
I hope this dispels some of the notions that have been bandied about. I do have an open mind. If anyone has videos, that can be proven not to have been staged or hoaxed, of an average-sized freshwater fish actually towing a kayak at any significant rate, I would really like to see it.
And if you ever actually see the diver-eating catfish…..vids, pleas!
Conclusion: My Experience Fishing From Kayaks
I do not claim to be a ‘Guru’. I just been kayak fishing for over 40 years, mostly in the US, in fresh water. I’ve done some flats and a little coastal fishing, but I do not personally recommend ocean fishing from a kayak. I have a rule when fishing, my boat has to be a little bigger than the fish I am trying to catch, especially if it can eat me. Charter boats are very reasonable and a lot safer. That is just my personal opinion. Sure, primitive people hunt whales in kayaks, but I don’t have to. If you are one of those who like ‘Extreme’ fishing, more power to you.
I started kayak fishing long before it was popular. In the early 1970s, I did a school report on kayaks, and got interested in them. At that time, a company called Folbot was running ads in fishing and outdoor magazines for a folding kayak. I had some money saved up from various odd jobs, so (with my parents’ permission) I ordered one by mail. It was not anything special other than being able to be folded for easy transport. But it was a great all-around kayak in all but the most vicious whitewater, and made a wonderful fishing platform.
Definition: A Jerk on the end of a fishing line, waiting for a jerk on the other end…..
Of all the lures you could use for bass, there are few that can top a jerk bait for consistency. They seem to work at times when nothing else does. And they are very easy to use, and will work with just about any general-use fishing rod and reel combo. They come in all sizes, from ultralight, to ridiculously huge.
So, what is a jerk bait? Basically, it is a longish lure with multiple hooks made to represent an injured bait fish, and has no real action of its own. In other words, any action has to be imparted by the operator. Many do have a small lip to make them dive, but that’s about all you will get without adding your own action to it. Your initial impression may be, “What good is that, when I can buy crank baits that do have action?” Crank baits do have their own action, and lots of it. But they only have the action they are built with. Aside from a few minor adjustments, you only get what you buy, or make. Jerk bait action, on the other hand, can be tailored to individual situations, right there on the water, with no modifications other than how you work them yourself. This makes them extremely versatile, and accounts for their popularity, especially among tournament bass pros. In fact, you don’t have to limit yourself to just largemouth bass. Smallmouths, Striped Bass, White Bass, Yellow Bass, Walleyes, Pike, Muskellunge, and in smaller sizes, even Crappie will attack jerk baits with murderous abandon, at times.
Types Of Jerk Baits
There are 3 main types of jerk baits:
Floating/Diving – these float on the surface. When you pull, or ‘jerk’ on the line, or reel in, they dive several feet below the surface, then float back to the surface when the momentum is dissipated. The depth of the dive can be varied by how hard you jerk, or how long you reel. The frequency of dives can also be controlled by the operator. Many of these are made from balsa wood, due to its high buoyancy.
Suspending – these are designed to have a neutral buoyancy, and hang in the water column at mid-depths, neither sinking, diving, or floating. Action is imparted by ‘jerking’ the rod, or alternating reel-and-pause techniques.
Sinking – these are just the opposite of floating jerk baits. They are designed to sink until action is imparted to them by ‘jerking’ the rod, or reel-and-pause techniques, causing the lure to rise, then sink once the action has stopped.
Within each type, there are 3 basic variations:
Hard-Bodied – No, this doesn’t mean they lift weights…These are made from plastic, polymers or wood. They are very durable.
Soft Baits – these are made from soft plastic, rubber, vinyl, silicon, etc…and have a ‘chewy’ texture, like a real bait fish. The advantage to these is that bass hang on to them a little longer before trying to spit them out, giving you more time for a proper hook-set. The down-side is that they are more easily damaged.
Jointed Baits – these are made in two sections, a front, and rear, joined by a threaded eyelet. These have more movement than the other subtypes, and are sometimes more effective.
Where To Fish Jerk Baits
The type you need to use depends on where the bass are. If you see numerous splashes, then they are attacking food on the surface. You’ll want a floating model. If you are fishing near weed-beds or lily pads, then it will be shallow water. Jerk Baits are not weedless, so you’ll want to keep it out of the weeds, and off the bottom. In this case, you might want to use a suspending model, or a floating model, and just make it dive deeper, so the bass can see it. If you are fishing rocks, structure, or sunken timber, a sinking model is the way to go, so you can get right to where the bass are holding. If you are fishing in current, you’ll want to fish the eddies, whirlpools and breaks (black bass aren’t wild about current), so a suspending model is best. For white, yellow and striped bass, you can fish a sinking model right in the current.
How To Fish A Jerk Bait
There are as many ways to fish a jerk bait as there are anglers. Here are some tips to help you get the most from your jerk baits. The key to catching bass is knowing your quarry. Learn all you can about bass and their habits, then select the best model of jerk bait for the prevailing conditions.
The Spawn of a New Day – from around March through April, bass are looking for places to spawn and guarding nests. In the pre-spawn mode, sometimes as early as late February in the south, when the water temperature reaches 58°F, bass will be holding in cover, 10′-15’deep, right off of suitable spawning sites. As the water temperature approaches 60°, they will move into shallow (12-18” deep) water over a soft bottom so they can dig nests. So, you need to be hitting these shallow areas. Any retrieve works at this time.
Don’t be afraid to try new retrieves– The most common is a twitch-pause-twitch retrieve, but if that is not working, don’t hesitate to try something different. Sometimes working the bait in fast dashes, like an escaping minnow, will trigger strikes. Moving the rod tip from side-to-side as you twitch makes the bait move in different directions, and can sometimes cause bass to attack.
When a cold front hits – Use a suspending jerk bait, and fish it as slow as you can stand it. When the water cools below 70°, bass metabolism slows down, and they are more deliberate when they attack. Give them time to decide whether or not to pounce.
Try Deadsticking for reluctant bass– Deadsticking is just letting the lure set, sometimes for 30-40 seconds. This is effective for cool water. Use a sinking bait, flip it into likely spots, and just let it sink to the bottom, then slowly twitch it in. Be sure to feed it some line on the way down, so that it sinks straight.
The internet is a great place to learn things. Fishing is no exception.But of all the dozens and dozens of websites about fishing, most of them seem to cater to bass, crappie, trout and other major gamefish. But what about the people who just enjoy catching a few sunfish? Information on sunfish secrets is a little sketchy online.
If you are like the rest of us, you probably started learning how to fish by catching the various species of sunfish. They are actually panfish, but usually referred to as sunfish so as not to confuse them with crappie and bass, which are in the same family, Centrarchidae. They are a gregarious species that are very cooperative about taking a bait, of almost anything they can get in their mouths. They also tend to be very pugnacious and will attack anything that invades their space, no matter how large. And the best part of all is that ounce for ounce, they can outfight anything that swims. They usually do not engage in any aerobatics like trout and other gamefish, preferring to slug it out underwater with brute force and leverage. On light gear, they can provide as good a fishing experience as any other fish, and better than a lot of them. And they are everywhere in the US, and in Northern Mexico and Southern Canada. Within their range, it would be hard to find a habitable body of water that doesn’t have some kind of sunfish in it. Streams, Rivers, lakes, ponds, and even bar ditches can contain surprisingly large populations of good-sized sunfish.
Baiting Up For Sunfish
At the risk of starting an argument, I will say without any reservations that the very best bait for sunfish is Red Wiggler worms. Sunfish are accomplished bait-stealers. Red Wigglers are small, and when threaded on the hook properly, are almost impossible to get off with getting hooked. The next best live bait is angleworms. They are a little bigger than Wigglers, and you will lose some, but sunfish attack them with wild abandon, so you will certainly catch the majority of them. Next on the list is plain old earthworms and nightcrawlers. Any worms too long to thread on the hook should be broken in pieces to fit the hook. And make sure you cover the hook point completely, or you will lose a lot of bait. Sunfish are notorious for being able to grab the end of the worm and suck it off the hook like a piece of spaghetti. If they see the hook point, they will grab the other end of the worm, and not get hooked…
Next is crickets and grasshoppers. Sunfish love these, but they will steal a lot of them off the hook, so make sure you have plenty of them. Hook the insects through their collars.
Beyond this, just about any small creatures will work for bait, such as small frogs, tiny lizards and newts, small crawfish, pieces of mussels, small minnows, etc…. The drawback to using minnows is that many times, the sunfish will just peck the eyes out of the minnow without getting hooked. Once the minnow is dead, sunfish won’t touch it. Sunfish will also hit dough bait, and just plain old bread molded into a ball on the hook.
If you really want to have fun, sunfish eagerly hit small jigs, crank baits, spinners and flies. Use ultralite gear and hang on. Some sunfish are total demons on light tackle.
There are around 28 species of sunfish in N. America, but they freely and happily hybridize with each other where their ranges overlap, as well as many that have been created in fish hatcheries, so I will not bother trying to list every species. Here are the most popular:
Bluegills are one of the larger species of sunfish, and one of the most popular. They are also known as ‘bream’, and ‘perch’, although they are actually neither. They average around 6-12 inches long and can weigh around 1 lb. Really large ones can be up to 16 inches and weigh several pounds, but these are rare. They are very aggressive and can be found just about everywhere in the US, and have been transplanted in places like Europe and Africa. They can be found in lakes, rivers, streams, and creeks. They do not like current or direct sunlight, but they do like vegetation and structure, so they will usually be found in shady areas near vegetation, sunken timber, rock piles, bridges, etc…. As table fare, they are one of the best tasting freshwater fishes there are.
The Redear Sunfish, also known as a shellcracker, Georgia Bream,and Chinquipin, resembles a bluegill without the males orange belly, and they grow larger. They average around 12 inches and 1-¼ in weight, and rare individuals can approach 5 pounds, but they are rare. Redears are native to the southeastern US, but due to their love of mussels, they have been stocked everywhere in the US in order to combat the invasive Quagga Mussels. They can be found in lakes, rivers, streams, and reservoirs near underwater structure. They do not like current or moving water at all and will be found in slow backwaters near underwater structure. They are crazy about eating mussels, snails and other mollusks, but will happily munch on worms, jigs, and small crankbaits. Like the Bluegill, they are delicious.
Pumkinseeds are smaller than bluegills and shellcrackers, and more colorful. In fact, in my opinion, they are one of the most beautiful of the sunfishes. They never leave shallow water and love clear water, shade, and vegetation. They eat just about anything small enough to fit into their mouths, including smaller individuals of their own. They happily gobble worms, crickets, mealworms, small jigs, lures, and flies. On the smaller side, pumpkinseeds average around 6-10 inches and ½ to ¾ of a pound. Like the other sunfish, they are delicious.
The warmouth looks like a cross between sunfish and bass (even though both are in the same family…Surprise! Black bass aren’t really bass. They are big sunfish…). They are one of the larger species, averaging around 12-14 inches and ¾ to 1-½ lbs. Really big ones can go to almost 2 lbs. They have a larger mouth than most other sunfishes, more closely resembling that of a smallmouth bass. Their original range is throughout the Mississippi River Basin, but like most other sunfish, their range has been greatly expanded due to stocking programs. They can survive in rivers, lakes, ponds, and creeks with low oxygen levels and high levels of pollutants, where other species cannot. Like most other sunfish, they like slow water, shade, and vegetation. They are very vicious and will streak 20 feet or more to bite a Clouser Minnow fly. They happily smash jigs, small spinners, crankbaits and plastic worms in the smaller sizes. They will eat minnows, crayfish, frogs, lizards, leeches, and nightcrawlers. On light tackle and fly rods, they are a pleasure to fish for.
The habits of all the species of sunfish (there are over 28…) are very similar. Some of the more common species are Bluegill, Redear, Rock Bass, Warmouth, Redbreast, Pumpkinseed and Green Sunfish. The individual species are native to certain areas, but due to the popularity of fishing for them, and their excellent suitability as a forage fish, they have been stocked just about everywhere they can live. Some are more prevalent in streams and rivers, and others prefer lakes and ponds. But wherever you fish, it’s almost a certainty there are plenty of sunfish around.
Sunfish are very prolific, and start spawning early, when the water temperature approaches 65⁰F. Some biologists speculate that females in some areas can spawn as much as 9 times a year. This kind of enthusiasm ensures that we will always have lots of sunfish to catch. It also means that you don’t have to feel guilty about taking some home to eat. In fact, harvesting them makes the entire population stronger, because without a certain amount of attrition, sunfish can quickly overpopulate a body of water, causing the fish to become stunted. And sunfish are some of the best-tasting freshwater fish there is.
Only a few species of sunfish are nocturnal, but all of them can be caught year-around, even through the ice. And they can all be caught on even the most modest of equipment. A cane pole with a worm is just about as basic as it gets for these little fighters. I’ve probably caught several hundreds of sunfish with nothing more than a homemade cane pole and earthworms.
In early spring, sunfish will begin to stage on 6-10 feet of water when it approaches 60⁰F, usually in some offshore cover with good access to the shallows. They will follow creek beds, channels, weedbeds, and rock piles to and from the spawning grounds. And they will use the same trail every year, so where you found them this year, they will be there next year unless something drastic changes. Males will come in first and build nests in flat sandy or rocky places in as little a 1 foot of water. Females will come in when the water approaches 65⁰F, select a male, lay eggs, and leave. The males stay to protect the nest and small fry. And they will do so viciously, attacking anything coming near the nest. This is the hottest fishing of the year for sunfish.
After the eggs hatch, the males will head for deeper water along structure lines, and will hang around suitable structure in 5-15 feet of water. But if you missed the spawn, don’t worry. In some places, sunfish will keep spawning as long as the water stays in the suitable range. But in late spring and summer, sunfish can usually be found near under hanging vegetation, sunken timber, weedbeds, rock piles, etc…. In rivers and streams, they will be on the down-current side of any structure. As a rule. Almost all sunfish prefer to hang-out about 1 to 2 feet above the bottom. They will stay there until the water temperature drops into the 60s.
In winter, sunfish will suspend in deeper water, 10-15 feet deep, near cover, and not move around much. But they can still be caught, even through the ice. You just need to use small baits, and drop it very near where they are. Down south, sunfish habits don’t change much in winter at all. As long as the water doesn’t get colder than the upper 50s, they will still actively feed.
These are the most significant species to anglers, although there are at least 28 recognized species, and due to their habit of freely interbreeding where habitats overlap, there are lots of hybrids. But all of them have very similar habits. Wherever you live, with the exceptions of Alaska and Hawaii, it’s a good bet there are some great sunfish spots very near you.
When the temperatures drop, many people hang up their fishing rods and mope until spring. This would be a mistake. Winter crappie fishing can be some of the most fun of the year. You simply have to adjust your techniques slightly. It is more than worth it to brave the cold and come home with your limit of slabs. It’s not that hard to learn and can be as simple, or complicated as you want it to be. Winter crappie can be caught with a basic cane pole, ultra-light rigs, from shore, in a boat, from a dock, or even through the ice.
One advantage to fishing for crappie in the winter is you will have a lot less competition from other anglers, especially down South. A lot of people think crappie hibernate or are inactive in winter. You will not have to deal with skiers, jet skiers, or most other things that can interfere with fishing (except maybe for the real hard-core water-lovers…). Also, the water always seems a little clearer and cleaner when it’s cold. And it has been my experience that fish taken from cold water seem to have a better texture and flavor than when taken from warm water. It could be just subjective, but there is no question that winter crappie fishing can be very rewarding.
To be successful, you just need to do a little preparation and keep a few things in mind. Most importantly, make sure you have plenty of suitable warm clothing. Keep a lot of towels with you because you are probably going to get a little wet, and will need to dry off to prevent hypothermia. It’s always best to dress in layers, so if you get too warm, you can take some off, and put it back on if it gets colder. A thermos of hot coffee or tea is always a treat when engaged in cold weather outdoor activities. Other than that, you can just relax and enjoy the experience.
In the following sections, I will explain how crappie act in winter, where to find them, suitable equipment and bait to catch them with, and lots of great tips. Crappie may be a warm-water species, but nobody ever told them that. They just change up their behavior when the water gets into the 50s, and below, mostly to drive people crazy. Anyone who doesn’t believe crappie have a sense of humor has never tried fishing for them in the middle of summer when they suspend in open water and refuse to hit anything unless it is almost placed in their mouths. Post-Solstice sac-a-lait are considerably more cooperative. When you are finished with this article, you will know how to put papermouths in the creel all winter long.
With that said, let’s get into some frosty fishing…
Coldwater Crappie Habits
Most crappie anglers already know that both Pomoxis species act differently during each season of the year. But, as I said in the introduction, a lot of anglers have the mistaken idea that crappie(as well as many other “warm water” species)become dormant or lethargic, and feed very little until the water temperature gets back into the 60s. This is way wrong. Crappie feed quite a lot in winter, and continue to move around, but their eating habits vary somewhat, as do their movement destinations. They may not viciously strike at a 2-1/2″ minnow in winter, but they will happily nibble a 1″ jig (minnows don’t move a lot in cold water, but jigs do…).
For a winter crappie rig, think small and slow. The smaller, the better. Crappie like much smaller bites in winter, and won’t move very far to get them. They also bite a lot more gentle, so much so that you may not detect them on a light-action rod, or larger. But, there is a fix for that I will go into later. For now, just think ultra-light rods, 4-lb line or less, and jigs no larger than 1/16 oz. Minnows need to be as close to 1″ as possible. Your hooks can be scaled back to #6, or even #8 light wire Aberdeen Long Shanks. The long shank makes it easier to remove the hook from the crappie’s mouth when your hands are cold (and they will be…). The light wire will kill fewer minnows. I will go into more detail about actual mechanics later.
When the water temperature begins to drop below 55°F, crappie will begin to slow down on their voracious eating and begin moving to deeper water and suitable structure. They will move along channels, rip-raps, submerged creek beds, and will suspend in medium to large schools, usually near the thermocline, which can be anywhere from 20 to 50′ deep. Since they will be in schools, it is not that hard to find them with a SONAR unit. Where you catch one, you will catch many. Once the temperature gets into the 40s, they will slow down their traveling, and stay in the immediate area unless disturbed by something like large predators, change in temperature, or if their food source moves. They will almost always be found near schools of minnows and shad. When you find schools of minnows and shad, crappie will not be far away (neither will striped and white bass…). During the day, the north shore warms up quicker on most lakes, so crappie my migrate to that side as the day goes on. They also like confined waters, so channels, drop-offs, river mouths, and coves are good places to search. As night approaches, they will often move to shallower water in search of prey. In the early morning, they will move back out, along lines of structure, usually following bait-fish. The best times for catching crappie are in the early mornings, but they will bite all day and all night, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Bear in mind that none of this is written in stone. Each body of water is unique and crappie may act differently in each location. A good example is lakes that have steam plants for generating electricity. The waters near these are almost always 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding water, so crappie and other warm-water fish will naturally congregate to these locations, and maybe more active. Some lakes are shallow, other very deep. All of these factors will affect crappie behavior. This is why when you look up crappie tips, you get all kinds of contradictory information because they know how crappie act in their water. Local bait shops are a gold mine for information. Don’t be afraid to ask local anglers about the lakes in the area. It will save you a lot of time.
Size Really Does Matter…
In winter, crappie do not want a big mouth-full. They prefer to leisurely nibble. And they will nibble very gently. So you will need a very sensitive rod, very small baits, hooks, sinkers, etc… and have to pay close attention to your line. Sometimes, the only indication you will get of a bite is that the line will move ever so gently to one side.
Let’s start with rods. If you don’t already own an ultra-light rig, you should get one. They are invaluable for all kinds of situations and can be inexpensive. You don’t need a high-end set-up for crappie. An ultralight rod is one made to handle line less than 6 lbs. test, and cast lure less than 1/8 oz. They are usually on the short side, around 5′. Ultralight reels are designed to handle line weights less than 6 lbs and can be either spinning or spin-casting reels. If you like both, some companies even make an under-spin reel, which is (they say) the best of both worlds. Whichever set-up you choose, you will be using 2-4 lbs test line, and baits of 1/8 oz. and less (I prefer 1/16, and even 1/32 oz., but I tie my own jigs, so it’s not a problem…). Small jigs can be hard to find sometimes, but specialty stores like Cabelas, Academy Sporting Goods, and even Walmart usually have some smaller jigs. A plain old bucktail jig, like a Flefly, or small marabou jig is perfect. You can also tip a jighead with a small plastic minnow, or shad bodies. Bassassins in small sizes, as well as Lil Fishies are exceptionally good for winter crappie.
Light action rods are not really sensitive enough to detect very light bites. You can get around this by making a Strike Indicator for one with an old Low E guitar string. Just cut off a piece of the string approximately 4″ long. Bend the last inch at a 45-degree angle. Using a good thread, wrap the short end of the string to the rod so that the end of the long side is even with the rod tip, and above the last rod eye. Use needle-nose pliers to make a small ring eye at the end of the guitar string for the line to go through. Now, just whip finish and coat the wraps with some clear nail polish, and you now have a strike indicator that will let you know if a crappie even breathes on your bait. Just run your monofilament through the guitar string eye before going through the rod tip eye. This is the most sensitive strike indicator you will ever see.
Here is a secret that I seldom tell anyone about. I am a fly fisherman and have several fly rods. Need a very sensitive, but long rod to vertical jig around cover? You can go out and buy one of those expensive ‘noodle’ rods, or just remove the reel (with the fly line) from your fly rod, and simply attach an ultralight spinning reel to the locking reel seat, spooled with 2, or 4 lb. Trilene or Stren line. You now have an 8-foot ultralight rod that will hurl a 1/32 oz. lure 40 yards or more, and detect a crappie’s sneeze from 10 feet away. I’ve had the best luck with my old Mitchel 300 reel, but you can use whatever your favorite ultralight reel is.
In winter, crappie bite small jigs better than minnows. No one really knows why…, but most savvy crappie aficionados agree that in winter, jigs are the way to go. Whatever you use, remember, the crappie will not move very far to bite, so you need to place the bait as close as you can to the fish, with minimal movement. This is where vertical jigging really shines. Just drop the jig straight down and let it sit at the proper depth. Every few minutes, just give it a very gentle raise, for about an inch or two, then let it settle back to the original depth. If you don’t get a bite in 15 minutes or so, move the jig to a new location, a few feet to one side or the other. Repeat this procedure until you start getting hits. When you catch a crappie, stay there. There are a lot more where that one came from.
In winter crappie fishing, 75% of the job is finding the fish. Use your SONAR to locate the schools, or even better, large schools of bait-fish. If you fish from shore, consider using a slip-bobber for precise depth control. If you are catching crappie at 15 feet deep, chances are, they will be at that depth everywhere in that lake on that day. Don’t ignore brush piles, sunken timber, and docks. Winter crappie like to congregate around these types of structures.
I hope you find this information helpful Be sure to check back often for more great information.
Most anglers will agree that there are many lures that just about revolutionized fishing, and are still top lures today. These are my picks for the all-time greatest fishing lures ever made. They are not in any particular order. I used various criteria, such as longevity, popularity, success-rate, and availability. You may not agree with my choices, but you are certainly free to comment and add your own picks.
So, here they are: The BEST Fishing Lures! (in my opinion)
10. The Strike King
Started in 1966 by Charles Spence, in Collierville, Tennessee, Strike King quickly gained a reputation for making tournament-winning spinnerbaits. The spinnerbait has been around since the late 1800s, but the design has been greatly refined over the years, and Strike King seems to have brought it to its ultimate expression, so much so that even though the company now makes many types of lures, their name has become synonymous with ‘spinnerbait’. They make many different models, but they mainly just differ in size, type of blades, and colors. The blades (or buzzers in some models) work flawlessly, and they can be fished shallow, deep, or anywhere in between. They can be reeled in straight, jigged, fished vertically, trolled, or any combination. Strike King spinnerbaits consistently place in the Top 10 in most bass tournaments.
9. The Lazy Ike
There have been many ‘flatfish’-type lures made over the years, but none have matched the success and legendary status of the venerable Lazy Ike. Hand carved by Newel Daniels of Fort Dodge, Iowa in the 1930s, it is still catching fish over 80 years later. The secret to this lures success is its wild, insane ‘X’ pattern retrieve, weaving violently from side-to-side, first one way, then another, like a terrified baitfish. Bass, walleye, crappie, and even trout are unable to resist the urge to attack this lure. Everyone who fishes needs to have a few of these in their tackle box.
8. The Dardevle Spoon
There are hundreds of types, sizes and colors of spoons, but there is only one Dardevle. Lou Eppinger probably had no idea he was making fishing history when he hammered out the first Dardevle by hand in 1906. The secret to the Dardevle is that it is thinner in the middle, and thicker on the edges, causing it to twirl back and forth on the retrieve, but always coming back level between each cycle. In addition, it has an insane side-to-side wobble that drives fish crazy. The Dardevle catches every species of fish that swims, anywhere in the world. Salmon, trout, grayling, lake trout, large and smallmouth bass, striped bass, white bass, crappie, pike, musky, walleyes, large sunfish….Heck, I’ve even caught carp and catfish on them. The Dardevle has caught more World-Record fish than any other bait in history. If you could only have one lure, this would be it. The Dardevle is available in a myriad of color combinations, but it’s been my experience that any color is good as long as it is the original red with the white center stripe…
7. The Heddon Crazy Crawler
Heddon introduced the Crazy Crawler in 1940, after acquiring the patent rights from the Donaly Lure Company, which in turn had developed this lure from a much older design. The exact origin of the lure may be lost to history, but one thing that isn’t a mystery is how good this lure works. The tiny side wings make it do the Australian Crawl like Johnny Weissmuller ( one of the best Tarzans, for those too young to remember…) being chased by a crocodile. Some say it imitates the struggles of a bird that has accidentally tried to be a seaplane, but I have never seen any bird move like the Crazy Crawler. It raises a commotion on the water than can be heard for yards, especially at night. It is also one of the most idiot-proof lures ever made. Just cast it out and reel it in, just fast enough for it to swim. Bass attack this lure with murderous abandon. After 70 years, this lure is still a top producer.
6. The Jig
No discussion of fishing lures would be complete without discussing the most versatile, and one of the oldest lures ever made. Although the jig may be scoffed at by some, it is still one of the most consistent fish-catchers you can use. A jig is basically just a weight molded to the front of a hook…that’s it. Since the weight is all forward, when pulled, the head will rise and the tail will drop. When pressure on the line is relaxed, the head falls and the tail rises, giving it a seductive swish. The secret to jigs is that they can be ‘tipped’ with all kinds of tails; soft plastic grubs, minnow bodies, bucktail, a rubber skirt, marabou, or even a dead minnow or worm. In fact, a spinnerbait is basically just a jig with an added blade. They can be reeled straight in for a swimming motion, or hopped in with raises of the rod tip. They can be fished vertically, on a drop-shot rig, singly, in tandem, under a bobber, in fast water, slow water, and are very weedless. They can be made even more weedless by the simple addition of a weed-guard. They catch just about any fish there is in both fresh and saltwater. Best of all, they are about as cheap as lures can get. We don’t know the exact origin of jigs, but copper and bronze versions have been found dating back as far as 2000 years ago. One thing is for certain; they are still one of the best ways to fill a creel.
5. The Smithwick Devil’s Horse
In 1947, Jack Smithwick was a business machine salesman. He also made fishing lures as a hobby. Jack began whittling long minnow-shaped floating lures from old broom handles, then attached propellers to the front and rear so they would make more noise. He gave the new lures to his regular customers as gifts. By 1949, his lure had proved so successful that he went into lure-making full-time. He called the new lure the Devil’s Horse, most likely due to the holding ability of the three (count em-3) treble hooks. Devil’s Horse is a nickname for the praying mantis, and, like its arachnid namesake, once anything is trapped in its clutches, there is no escape. Still in production, even after all these years, the Devil’s Horse it still a top-seller, and a top fish-catcher. It catches largemouth and smallmouth bass, white bass, striped bass, pike, musky, and it’s not unheard of for an occasional large Brown Trout to attack them.
4. The Mepps Agilia
When French Engineer Andre Meulnart, designed the first French Spinner in 1938, he knew he was on to something different. He knew fish were attracted to vibrations and flash, and this lure was like nothing that had been previously designed. He thought it looked like a butterfly, so he called it the Aglia, (Latin for “Butterfly”). Meulnart formed a company to mass produce his creation, Manufacturier D’Engins De Precision Pour Peches Sportives (English: Precision Equipment for Sport Fishing), and later shortened it to the mnemonic MEPPS. The lure enjoyed some success locally, but it would take a weird series of events to bring it onto the world stage.
Europe in 1938 had other concerns besides fishing. Hitler’s NAZIs were becoming a real threat, and the next year, the situation imploded when the NAZIs overran Poland. Most of the rest of Europe soon followed. It required hundreds of thousands of troops from Great Britain, the United States, Canada, and other countries to defeat the German War Machine, at a terrible cost in lives and property on all sides. Many of these foreign troops ran across MEPPS lures while in France, and brought them home after the war.
In 1951, Todd Sheldon had a very successful fishing tackle store in Antigo, Wisconsin. One day, he was having a rough time fishing on the Wolf River, but was not about to give up and go home empty-handed. He tied on a MEPPS Aglia that a friend, Frank Velek had brought back with him from Europe years earlier. In 2 hours, with the Aglia, Todd had caught 4 trout, weighing a total of over 12 pounds…good in anyone’s book. He was sold on the new lure, and soon looked for ways to get it into his store. The demand was always greater than the supply, and Sheldon tried all kinds of ways to keep them in stock, even bribing a French woman with stockings to get her to send the lures to him. Unfortunately, the lures sold much faster than she could wear out her stockings. Eventually, Todd was able to work out a deal with MEPPS to get them directly from the manufacturer.
Demand skyrocketed, and after 1960, Todd broke the 3 million mark for annual sales, something no other fishing lure had ever done before. Sheldon closed his store and created Sheldon’s Inc., specifically to import MEPPS lures into the US. Today, you can find MEPPS lures just about anywhere tackle is sold. The Aglia is the standard by which all other spinners are judged. It catches most species of fish in freshwater, and it is almost fool-proof. Just cast it out, let it sink a bit, and reel in. It can be fished, deep, shallow, and in tandem behind a topwater. It works in fast water, slow water, and everything in-between. Lakes, streams, ponds…it doesn’t matter. The Aglia just works.
3. Rapala Floating/Diving Minnow
In the 1930s, Lauri Rapala was a poor Finnish fishermen trying to eke out a living on Lake Paijanne. But he had a keen sense of observation, and as he sat in his modest rowboat, noticed that predator fish would zoom through a school and single out the fish that were swimming erratically, with a side wobble. He reasoned that if he could craft a lure that did this, he could quit wasting time baiting all those hooks.
He whittled, sanded, and eventually came up with a cork design that swam like he wanted. The addition of a ‘lip’ to the front made the lure both wiggle, and dive. When the retrieve was stopped, it floated slowly back up, guaranteed to drive fish crazy. He covered it with foil from a candy wrapper to give it some flash, and protected the foil by melting photographic negatives and coating the entire lure with it.
The lure was a wild success, and he soon gave up fishing to make lures for others full time. By 1936, Rapala lures had gained a loyal following. Lauri hand-tuned each lure to make sure it ran true right out of the box. It wasn’t the fastest way to make lures, but Rapala quickly gained the trust of fellow anglers all over the world, and to this day, every Rapala lure is still hand-tuned so that it runs perfectly right from the start.
The Rapala Floating minnow is the industry standard for catching really big fish, in fresh or saltwater. For striped bass, white bass, largemouth bass, walleyes, and other large freshwater fish, the Rapala is the lure to use. In fact, any lure used for these fish is often referred to simply as a “Rapala”. In salt water, the Rapala accounts for more trophy fish than any other lure. You can hardly argue with over 80 years of success.
2. The Arbogast Jitterbug
In 1928, Fred Arbogast worked for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber company. He whittled lures on the side. Some of his creations became so popular that he quit Goodyear, and made lures for tackle shops full-time. They were all highly successful. He soon outgrew the local market and formed a company to mass produce his lures.
In 1938, he introduced a new design that mimicked the frantic actions of a large bug that had fallen into the water. It quickly became (and still is) the #1 night-time lure for large bass. It works great in daylight as well. The large lip makes a huge commotion in the water, as well as supplying enticing action to the lure. There are few lure anglers over the age of 30 who have never fished with a jitterbug. It remains one of the top lures of all time.
1. The Plastic Worm
No other lure in the entire world works as good for largemouth and smallmouth bass as a purple plastic worm. It has accounted for more bass than any other bait there is including live bait. It catches bass in any kind of water, at any depth, any time of the year. It can be rigged to be totally weedless, and cast directly into the deepest cover, where bass live. It can be rigged Texas-Style, Carolina-Style, Drop-Shotted, jigged vertically, flipped, tossed, rigged ‘Wacky’-style (which causes some particularly violent strikes), and in smaller sizes, works for smallmouth bass, walleyes, trout, and even sunfish. No other lure even closely approaches the success rate of the purple worm. They come in all colors and combinations you can think of, and they are all good…as long as they are purple (did I mention that purple is the best color????)
The plastic worm was born in the basement of an Akron, Ohio home in the late 1940s. Nick and Cosma Creme experimented with various polymers, pigments, and oils in an attempt to mimic the feel, taste, and smell of a live nightcrawler, one of the top live baits ever. Nightcrawlers are a little delicate and hard to keep alive on the water, and can be a little pricey at times. Catching your own takes time, and a considerable effort. The Cremes thought that if a lure could be designed that would approximate the attributes of a live nightcrawler, it would revolutionize bass fishing forever….and they were right.
They started selling the Creme Wiggle Worm by mail-order for $1.00 for a pack of 5 worms. They took some to the Cleveland Sports Show in 1951, and a distributor sold over 9000 packages in just a few days. The demand far outstripped their ability to produce from their kitchen and basement, so they opened a small factory. By the late 1950s, even that factory was unable to keep up with the demand, and the worms popularity exploded in Texas, where the lakes were often full of structure, weed-beds, and other obstacles that made it difficult to target bass where they lived. But a Texas-Rigged Creme Worm could be cast directly into the bass’s lairs, without fear of hang-ups.
The Cremes opened a manufacturing plant in Tyler, Texas, where they remain to this day. Although several other companies now produce plastic worms and other soft-baits, Zoom, in particular, the Creme Worm is still in the hearts of dedicated bass anglers the world over. Knight Manufacturing had invented a revolutionary soft bait called the Tube Worm, another staple in any bass anglers arsenal, and in 1989, the 2 companies merged. Now, the Creme Lure Company offers some of the best lures you can use for all species of bass, walleye, and many others. Their stable includes the original worm, now called the Scoundrel, the Lil Fishie, the Tube Worm, and many other top-producing lures. You’d have a hard time finding any bass fisherman, or fisherwoman that doesn’t have an assortment of plastic worms in their tackle-box…with good reason. They work, and work well.
Extra: Quick History of Fishing Lures
Fishing has been around even longer than humans. There is evidence that Neanderthals speared fish, and Homo Erectus caught them by hand. Hooks were made from bone and shell as early as 23,000 years ago, and the Bronze Age was the birth of bronze hooks, still used today. It didn’t take long for early humans to figure out that luring a fish to bite a hook was a lot easier than clubbing or spearing them. Live bait was the obvious way to trick a fish into biting the hook. And it was very successful. Sometime around 2000 BC, some Asians reasoned that live bait had to be caught, kept alive, or preserved, and really didn’t look all that ‘live’ when impaled on a hook. They experimented with making some artificial lures, most likely from wood, shell, and bone. These ancient lures worked much like modern spoons.
Strangely enough, fishing lures were not produced commercially until the early 1900s. Before that, most fishermen simply made their own, much like modern fly anglers often tie their own flies. It was considered a part of fishing. Anglers shared their favorite designs with each other, and the first commercially available lures were copies of these patterns. The first commercial lure was designed and sold by beekeeper James Heddon of Dowegiac, Mi, in 1902. James had been whittling lures from wood for quite some time, and decided to market them. His first lure, and the very first commercial lure was a wooden topwater lure similar to a Chugger, and was called the Dowegiac Casting Bait. Since that time, there has been thousands of lures marketed to the public, some successful, others….well, let’s just say that they catch anglers better than they catch fish….
Those are my choices for the best fishing lures ever made. Of course, there are many others that have also stood the test of time, but space limits how many we can include here. It was a very tough choice deciding which 10 to use. The many Honorable Mentions go to lures like the Lucky 13, the Billy Bass, the Heddon Popper, the Hula Popper, the Big O, the Sassy Shad, the Beetle Spin, the Heddon Chugger, the Johnson Silver Minnow, the River Runt, the Hellbender, the Little Suzy, the Tiny Torpedo, the Roostertail, the Panther-Martin, etc…. Now you can see what a tough job it was.
Feel free to comment and add your own nominations for all-time best lures, and I’ll try to do some pieces on them later. We love hearing from you. Check back with us often, and thanks for visiting us.
I am often asked if it is possible to bowfish from a kayak. The answer is, yes…and no. Most kayaks do not allow you to safely stand up, and the cramped cockpit and limited space make it difficult to fool with full length arrows and a normal-sized bow, especially if you use inflatable kayaks like I do.. You are sitting right at the water level, so unless you have a very long upper body, it won’t be possible to shoot a normal, or even short bow without dipping the limbs in the water. Some people try to hold the bow horizontally, but this changes the way the arrow behaves, and hinders the accuracy, which is crucial in bow fishing.
There are some workarounds which I will get to in a moment, but first I want to talk about the most important factor in bow fishing …safety. All of the shooting equipment I will be talking about are serious shooting devices. They are not toys by any means, and can be extremely dangerous if care is not taken. Never shoot at shallow angles, or great distances with full-sized arrows because at shallow angles, they can skip like a rock and travel for great distances. Of course, never point any of these devices at anything you do not intend to shoot. Never knock and arrow or dart until you are ready to shoot, and store them safely in your yak, with the points completely covered, or the entire dart or arrow inside a safe container. Always wear a legal PFD when on the water. And lastly, make sure the device you are using is legal where you are fishing.
Kayak Bowfishing Step #1: Outriggers
There are a few companies that make outrigger for kayaks and canoes. These make it perfectly safe to stand up in a hardshell kayak. Some are inflatable, and others are lightweight polymers, or styrofoam, and attach easily to fittings on your hull. The good ones can be raised up out of the water when you are paddling so as not to detract from the handling of your yak. They can be lowered when you get to your fishing spot. Unfortunately, no one makes any that can be retro-fitted to an inflatable, at least not that I am aware of.
As you can see from the illustrations, they are a workable possibility. I have paddled with them and they work great, and are easy to install with minimal modifications to your boat. They only add about 6-7 pounds to your yak, and when in the up position, I never noticed any difference in maneuverability or speed. .When I stood up, the yak was extremely stable. These outriggers would even work for lure fishing. They also made it easier to get in and out of the boat when launching and beaching when they are put in the down position. If you have a hardshell yak, and want to use standard bowfishing equipment, these are definitely a good option.
Kayak Bowfishing Step #2: Slingbows
Possibly one of the best options, slingbows are gaining in popularity. They can be used for both hunting, and bowfishing, are ultra compact, silent, and very effective. They are also easy to learn how to use, and even a novice can become very accurate in a short period of time. Compared to bows, they are very inexpensive.
A slingbow is simply a slingshot that has been modified to be able to shoot arrows or darts. The modifications are minimal and the slingshots can be converted into a standard sling shot quickly and easily. This means you can shoot arrows for big and small game, or shoot regular slingshot ammo for small game and varmints. Add a fishing reel, and you have what may be the ultimate bowfishing tool.
Back in the early 2000s, several enterprising people were pondering whether a slingshot could be used to hunt big game. At that time, good bows were hideously expensive (and still are…). A few people came up with ways to attach an arrow rest (usually a Whisker Biscuit) to Daisy P-51 slingshots. It worked, and the power was increased by just replacing the bands with high power Theraband tubing (or in my case, speargun tubing). Adding a reel turned them into an efficient bowfishing rig. People like Randy Edwards and Jorge Spave began posting their creations on YouTube, and before long, we were all making our own slingbows with slingshots from Daisy, Saunders and even the old Wham-Os. Some companies began marketing kits to convert a normal slingshot into a sling bow. By 2010 several companies marketed ready-made slingbows at reasonable prices, and even the wonderful PocketShot was modified for Bowhunting and Bowfishing. It doesn’t get any more compact than that.
Here is a diagram of a typical slingbow:
These are both my slingbows that I use in my inflatable yaks. You may have noticed that the first one doesn’t have an arrow rest. I use fishing darts with this one, so an arrow rest is not needed, but the hand guard is crucial so that you don’t stab your hand with an errant dart. The 2nd one is set up for normal fishing arrows. I use safety slides on the arrow to make sure the line never gets fouled on the slingbow. Both have attachments for LED Flashlights and/or a laser sight. Most bowfishing is done at night, and these are very handy. I purchased both on EBay for under $40.00 each, and all I had to do was replace the bands high power Therabands. The bands they came with were OK, but Therabands increase the power tremendously. They both pull around 45 lbs at 26 inches, just about perfect for hunting and fishing. It takes less than 5 minutes to convert them to a regular slingshot.
Be sure to check your local laws before using slingbows. As far as I know, they are legal in most states for non-game fish, and big game hunting during archery season, but check anyway. Don‘t automatically assume it is legal.
Other Options To Bowfish From A Kayak
I have tried many things to be able to bowfish from my kayaks, but so far, nothing has beaten the slingbow. I tried using my crossbow, fitted out for fishing, and quickly found that they take up a lot of space in the cockpit, and are a nightmare to try to cock in a kayak, even with assisted cocking devices. The devices also take up a lot of room. And, it was much too powerful for bowfishing. The arrow would go all the way through the carp and stick in the bottom, making recovery difficult. A crossbow is not a very workable solution.
I also tried fitting a reel to my Cold Steel Magnum Blowgun. It worked, sort of, but a 7’ blowgun is hard to carry and manage in a kayak. Also, the dart is only .62 cal with small barbs, so any fish with any size can easily pull loose.
I have tried using frog gigs as well. They work, but again, managing a 6’ or 7’ pole in a kayak is very difficult.
I had contemplated using a spear gun, but the local Fish and Game Officer told me that you could only use a speargun when completely submerged. I don’t understand this because a slingbow operates on the same basic principle, but it is totally legal here. Oh well. I don’t make the laws. I just follow them.
People have undoubtedly tried other methods, and would love to hear about them. But in my opinion, at this time, nothing beats a slingbow for bowfishing from a kayak.
If you are a night owl, like I am, frog-gigging is tailor-made for you. I love the peaceful sounds of a lake at night, and the soft muggy humid air. You usually don’t see many other people out at night, so you pretty much have the water to yourself. And I love fried frog legs.
Kayaks have turned frog gigging into a whole new proposition. Since I started gigging from my yak a few years ago, my harvest numbers have quadrupled. The reason is simple. Kayaks are very quiet and stealthy. You can paddle almost right up to ole Mr.Rana catesbeiana and have a good chance of sticking him before he bolts.
Know Thy Prey…
The American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) is the largest frog in North America, and unquestionably the most aggressive. Males are mostly what you will get because females don’t croak and are hard to find. And they will viciously defend their territory as long as they can. They are also cannibalistic, and cheerfully munch on their smaller brethren. They are a favorite food of alligators, large bass, racoons, bears, otters, bobcats, and cottonmouth snakes, which means you need to exercise a little caution, because you are not the only thing hunting them. Bullfrogs are partially resistant to the venom of cottonmouths, but you probably are not.
Bullfrogs range along the East Coast from Southern Canada to Florida, and west to Oklahoma. It has extended to some other states due to intentional and accidental releases, and many states classify them as an invasive species.
Bullfrogs breed in late spring/early summer in the south, from April to June. Up north, they may not begin breeding until May, and continue into July. Since I don’t like to disturb anything while it is trying to breed (fish or otherwise), I gig from late June to late September. When the night temperatures drop into the upper 70s, bullfrogs will begin to look for suitable places to hibernate for the winter, and won’t come out again until next spring.
Equipment For Kayak Frog Gigging
Any kayak will work for frog gigging. I am not fond of SOTs (Sit On Top kayak), but in this case, they offer some advantages. You sit a little higher, and can see the frogs better. They are easier to get in and out of, and sometimes you will have to dismount in shallow water for various reasons. SOTs are ideal for frog gigging. I would be sure it has two paddle holders, one for my paddle, and one for the gig.
You need a 6’ gig. The plain old barbed 3-pronged type is fine. You don’t need anything fancy. Longer than 6’ is OK. but can be a little unwieldy. Anything shorter, and a lot of frogs will be able to bolt on you.
The most important piece of equipment may be a headlamp. You are going to need to be able to see very well. All of those glowing eyes are not going to be bullfrogs, and you need to see what you are about to try and stick. Snakes, snapping turtles, ‘gators, and bears take it very personally when you try to stab them. Don’t skimp on a headlamp. Get one that runs on batteries and carry extra sets. You need a minimum of 150 lumens, but 250 is much better. Get the brightest light you can find. Mine is 1000 lumens at full power. Your light needs to be bright enough to blind and freeze the frog long enough for you to gig it.
You need somewhere to keep your frogs until you get them home. A medium-sized cooler can be bungeed to the back cargo space for easy access. Place ice packs or frozen water bottles in it to keep it cool.
Tactics For Right Frog Gigging
Any warm, muggy, humid night is good for bullfrogs. The best time to hunt for them is at sundown until around midnight. You can tell when it is time to start, because you will hear them croaking their loud BRRRUUUUMMMPPPHHH! . When they start, you can start.
Look for them along the shore, especially where there is overhanging vegetation and cover. When you zero-in on the sound of a particular frog, use your headlamp to pinpoint his location. You will see lots of green glowing eyes. Isolate one set and quietly paddle, slowly, towards them. At around 20 feet, ship your paddle and quietly pick up your gig while the yak glides into range. Try to make sure it is really a bullfrog before thrusting. At a range of around 6 feet, smartly thrust your gig into the frog and immediately boat it. Shot placement is not important as long as you hit. Anywhere you can stick it will work. Toss the frog into the cooler and close the lid securely (sometimes they will try to get out if it’s not a clean kill…).
I can’t speak for all States, but here in Ga., there is no season or limit on bullfrogs. The only requirement may be that you need a fishing license. If you are on WMA (Wildlife Management Area) land, you will need a WMA Stamp.
Clean the frogs as soon as you can when you get home. They freeze nicely. In case there are squeamish people reading this, I won’t explain how to clean a frog here. There are numerous YouTube videos with step-by-step instructions on how to properly prepare frog legs for cooking.
If you’ve never had fried frog legs, your missing out. They really do taste a lot like chicken, only better. Here is my favorite recipe:
Extra: Georgia-Fried Frog Legs Recipe
Enough oil for the deep-fryer
A couple lbs cleaned frog legs
2 cups flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp water
1 tbsp of your favorite Seasoning Salt, Old Bay, Adobo, etc…
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1 few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. I prefer Carolina Reaper Sauce, but any good bottle sauce works, like McKillhenny’s, Bullseye, Trappy’s, Tropical Pepper Company, etc…
1. Fill the deep fryer with oil up to the fill line and turn it on to at least 320⁰F.
2. While the oil is heating, crack the eggs in a mixing bowl, add the water and hot sauce, and beat them until they are a smooth egg-wash.
3. In another mixing bowl, add all the dry ingredients and mix well.
4. Check the oil by dropping a small amount of flour in it. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.
5. Roll a frog leg around in the egg-wash until it is coated completely, then dredge it in the flour mixture until well coated. You can double-coat them if desired. Drop the leg into the oil using a basket, or let them float free. Repeat for the other legs.
6 When the legs float and are a nice golden-brown they are done.
7. Serve with fried potatoes, cole slaw, and corn bread. Mmmmmmh.
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