"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Terrific Natural Fish Bait
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

One of the great features of spring, and summer--which could beat these words into print--lies in the fact that they offer a wealth of terrific fish bait. 

Throughout the year anglers can rely on the night crawler, the all-American fish bait, and minnows, to mention some of the old favorite baits. But when the warm months arrive, millions of insects start thinking of perpetuating their kind. As a result, their larva, instars, and just plain young offer some of the best fish bait even though they are time-stamped. 

Best-known baits of this kind to Hoosier anglers probably are the catalpa worm, larval stage of the Catalpa Sphinx, a beautiful moth, and the hellgrammite, larval stage of the dobsonfly. 

The former will be found on the bottom sides of the leaves of some (not all) catalpa trees. Hellgrammites will be found clinging to the bottom of rocks and other obstructions on the bottom of riffles (fast water) of streams and rivers. 

Catalpa worms of varying sizes are excellent bait for bluegills, channel catfish and white perch (freshwater drum). It is commonly thought that a one-inch catalpa worm with head pinched off and turned inside out on a long-shanked (sunfish) hook is irresistible to bluegills. I would not pooh-pooh that thinking, but the same worm is just as good for the 'gills, and not half as nauseating, when merely baited a la earthworm style. [See Catalpa worm illustration here.]

The hellgrammite will take any species of fish, but is exceptionally good for smallmouth bass and rock bass (goggle-eyes), probably because they usually are fished right where they are found--streams and rivers which constitute favored water of those species of fish. 

However, as spring turns to summer and summer to fall, the Hoosier bait box is occupied by literally thousands of insects, their larva and metamorphic stages (instars). And most of them catch fish. 

When fishing some of the insects, the adult stage is just the thing (grasshoppers and crickets are prime examples), while in others the nymphal or maggot stages are the very berries--for example, bee moth larva (wax worms), mousies or spikes (larval stages of flies used for ice fishing). 

But whatever the species,  and regardless of what stage fits best on a hook, the insect world, which flourishes primarily during the warm months, offers an endless string of good fish bait. The exceptions I have found, are the dragonflies, damselflies and ants. 

Many artists who try to portray nature in their paintings find it difficult not to paint a beautiful dragonfly perched on a lily pad while a humongous bass lurks with his nose inches below. The paintings suggests that one twitch on the part of the dragon will touch off an explosion of nuclear proportions as Mr. Largemouth collects his din-din. 

Interestingly enough, having checked the stomach contents of thousands of bass and bluegills over the years (as I "cleaned" them), I have found the remains of only one dragonfly or damselfly. I figure that bass simply was starving. 

Mother Nature, it seems, gives some insects built-in protection from birds, fish, animals, and even other insects. For example, have you ever observed a bird chasing butterflies? Yet a hatch of Mayflies emerging from a stream or river bottom--taking to the air to find a place to deposit their eggs--will transform unlikely bird species into aerobatic daredevils as they (ungraceful as they are) snatch lunch from the air. [See Mayfly illustration here.]

So, if you try an insect for fish bait without success, it may be that you were a loser from the start. It may be that the fish knew your offering just wasn't palatable. 

On the other hand, the lower forms of life do not come with signs attached that read "I TASTE GREAT." That makes natural bait fishing a matter of trial and error. 

Once while fishing a small Southern Indiana lake for bluegills and bass with those big, yellow, no-fly, just-hop grasshoppers in the fall, a beautiful aqua blue "worm" crawled up my trouser leg just a I was preparing to bait up. 

"Wonder if that would be a good bait?" I asked myself. 

The inch-long larva was a very good bait (helped me put several bluegills in the boat), but I have always wondered what it would have been (it was obviously the larva of some moth) had I allowed it to pupate and emerge as an adult insect. 

On another occasion, while crossing the Muscatauck River on a large log jam (simply to get to the far bank to fish grasshoppers), I noticed small openings in the logs which would permit dropping bait into the dark water 10 feet below. 

My afternoon of fishing ended right there. Almost every time I dropped a hopper into the water, something grabbed it. I finally quit with a great mixed bag of fish when something of monster proportions took several yards of my line. 

Catalpa Worms 

This larval stage of the Catalpa Sphinx moth occurs on the under side of catalpa leaves.  But not all catalpa trees have suitable chemistry to attract the adult moth which deposits its white eggs on the under side of catalpa leaves.  Catalpa worms feed on catalpa leaves before pupating and turning into moths, probably the following year.


Mayflies occur in many sizes . . . this one was more than an inch long and was the downfall of a white bass that turned its nose up to a minnow. Hatches of Mayflies usually occur late in the afternoon. This gives the mayflies time to deposit their eggs at night when birds are least active. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author's family.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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