"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Will Fish Eat Cicadas?
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

With mushroom mania waning, the big question of Hoosier outdoor types revolves around the value of the 17-year locust as fish bait.
In some parts of the southern part of Indiana the three species of locusts involved in Brood 10 already are singing their monotonous songs, and Bob Waltz, state entomologist, says this somewhat unpopular natural phenomenon soon will be apparent throughout the state.
Still, the real issue--at least for those of the hook-'n-bobber set--revolves around the fish-eye view of this insect lure as bait.

Will fish eat cicadas? Of course, the answer to that question is: Of Course!

In the early years of Monroe Reservoir--the year escapes me, but it would have been in the very late '60s or the early 70s--many of the bass in this 10,000-acre-plus reservoir went upstream in the spring into the three forks of Salt Creek (North, Middle and Mud forks) the latter being a fork of the Middle.
Mud Fork veers south from Brown County's Middle Fork into Jackson County and laces the wooded hills together all the way to the town of Kuirtz and a bit beyond.
Upper stretches of Mud Fork don't amount to much today, because it (like many other mid-sized streams) is trying to tell us there are ground-water problems in the offing. But in those days, Mud Fork--like the others--was a free-flowing stream with water of high quality. The fish joined me in loving it.

I fished, hunted, enjoyed, and wrote about Mud Fork so much in those days that some waggish readers accused me of owning it.
With my old canvas shoulder-strap bag loaded with small boxes of artificial lures, terminal tackle and night crawlers or soft craws, I could fill my old burlap bag (a k a the Bayou Bill Creel to those who made light of my adventures) with largemouth bass, crappies, bluegills and rock bass. It was heaven. I could slip into the water with old clothes and shoes and forget the woes of the world.
It didn't matter what I used for bait. The fish loved it. The fish loved it, that is, until the emergence of Brood something or other of the 17-year cicada. It didn't matter where I went, the cicadas were there, falling into the water--a smorgasbord for fish.
I had been aware of their presence on several trips to Salt Creek, but they did not seem to be a problem. Then one day I found the fishing much slower. Fish just didn't seem to be biting. 
It was something of a mystery to me until I stood on an old iron bridge and watched as countless cicadas dropped from the canopy of trees into the water. They didn't last long. Bass, bluegills and other fish sucked them in on the surface. Although I did not back up my observations with a study of fish stomachs, I presumed that fish were so well fed on cicadas that they simply would not take other baits.
I didn't catch a lot of fish on cicadas that year because the emergence was pretty much over before I realized they would take fish. Since that time, I have experimented with annual locusts when I have been able to catch them. The best way to catch cicadas is to pick them off the sides of trees. Adults climb trees to deposit their eggs in small twigs and under bark.
Although fish will take locusts--especially on the surface--I find their value as bait limited because they are difficult to catch (unless they come in swarms), and difficult to put (and keep) on a hook. A squeamish person will not enjoy handling cicadas, harmless as they are.
My experience indicates the best way to fish locusts is dry (on the surface). The best way to bait them is to place the insect head first in the bend of a light wire hook with  the shank of the hook running along the belly of the insect. This will place the tail of the insect near the eye of the hook. The insect can be held there with short strip of light copper wire, which twists easily--like a "twistem."  Plastic-covered twistems will work but I find light copper wire is better because it is less bulky.

If the wire is placed just behind the cicada's head, the wings will be free to create a disturbance on the surface of the water--a self-propelled buzz bait.
Locusts emerge every summer in one form or another. In most years the emergence of locusts comes during the "Dog Days" of summer. Their incessant song announces their arrival.
How good are cicadas for bait?

For many years I have inspected the stomach contents of the fish I cleaned, including many of the bluegills. Neither cicadas, nor any other insects, have shown up in great numbers. Most conspicuous by their absence have been dragonflies, even though wildlife artists revel in painting dragonflies hovering over the water and a big bass preparing to nab them.
My unscientific studies have found more crayfish and small bait fish than insects, or even worms. This makes sense because most insects and worms are not in their element when in water.
Still, I use insects for bait any time I can get them--especially grasshoppers, hellgrammites and other aquatic larva. Little toads can be deadly.

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

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