By no stretch of the imagination, was my first fishing pole a fly rod.
But it was a wonderful way to fish small natural baits such as hellgrammites,
the aquatic stage of the Dobsonfly, small crayfish, or the tail meat of
larger hard craws.
The west fork of the Muscatatuck River (roughly two miles west of Crothersville)
had been dredged around the turn of the century, or shortly thereafter,
and the course of the meandering old river had been turned into a straight,
high banked chute in the name of flood control.
Still, there were deep holes of water separated by riffles (fast water)
with clay banks and gravel/sand bottom. Furthermore, huge beds of water
willow, a weed of shallow water on streams and lakes, offered hiding places
for a variety of fish--especially largemouth bass, long-ear sunfish and
several other members of the sunfish tribe.
To complete the picture, the banks of this stretch of the river also
hosted a species of willow “tree” that never attained great diameter, but
often shot 10 feet or more skyward, the butt end often being no larger
than my thumb and the other end of the proportions of a kitchen match.
I have not been able to identify this willow by species, but I see it
(or a close relative) in sizable stands at other places, including some
streams and lakes.
Identifying the species has never been as important to me as getting
such a buggy whip like pole rigged for fishing. I accomplished this by
tying a skein of grocer's twine roughly the length of the pole to the small
end, then tying on a light wire long-shanked hook to the other end of the
line, and wrapping on enough weight to sink the baited hook slowly in the
swift water. The wrap-on sinker was no more complicated that strips of
the (heaven forbid) lead toothpaste tubes of that day, or .22 rifle bullets
pounded out flat and cut in strips.
Builders of the old iron bridge that spanned the river had left some
sizable stones in the swift water under the bridge, and when they were
turned over slowly (bottom of the stone against the current), fat hellgrammites
and other aquatic insect larvae were plastered against the bottom of the
Hellgrammites were my favorite bait, but any insect larva would take
fish. With pole rigged and baited, I would wade the shallow side of the
riffles and swing my offering, pendulum style, toward the deep water of
the far side where the beds of water willow teemed with fish.
This would allow my bait to sink slowly as it was swept past the water
willow, and I would keep a keen eye on my line at the point where it entered
the water. When the line stopped, or moved upstream, I would raise the
tip of the pole sharply and soon would be embroiled in an exciting fight
with some denizen. Even little fish were good fighters on my willow pole.
Now and then the impending action would be foretold by movement of the
tops of the weeds as some unsuspecting fish sensed the presence of my bait
and lurched out to grab it.
Incidentally, when the beds of water willow bloom (on toward mid June,
or a bit later), wildflower lovers will get their money's worth with close
observation of this lavender/white /green flower. The blossom is made up
of four minute, back-to-back orchid-like flowers. The composite is no more
than three-quarters of an inch wide.
Hellgrammites are hooked under the hard segment (immediately behind
the head) of their black, leather-like bodies. If the point of the hook
is inserted at the front side of the hard segment and brought out at the
backside of this segment, the hellgrammite will dangle and squirm below
the hook to lure any fish. The bait should be hooked as lightly as possible.
Hooked in this manner, the hellgrammite will remain alive for long periods,
and several fish. But even a dead hellgrammite is good bait.
Small crayfish can be “wormed” on a long-shanked hook, the hook point
starting at the underside of the tail, and the point and bend protruding
from the under side of the craw/s head.
The white tail meat of larger hard craw can be extracted from the hard
shell and cut lengthwise into two rows of meat lengthwise that will take
any fish that swims Hoosier waters. Each row of white meat can be cut into
two baits, or more with a small hook.
Now and then an angler catching hard craws for bait will come up with
a soft craw. Soft craws are excellent bait fished whole or in parts, including
pinchers and legs.
Click on thumbnail
image for enlarged view.
of the water willow is seldom noticed by anglers, but it is one of Hoosierland’s
most beautiful wildflowers.
hellgrammite, aquatic larval stage of the dobsonfly, will be found on the
bottom side of rocks and other items on the bottom of swift water of streams
and rivers. The hellgrammite reaches lengths of three to four inches.
is the adult stage of the dobsonfly.