"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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High-Dives on the Catfish Smorgasbord
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

We had minnows, crayfish, cheese squares, night crawlers and I don’t know what else, but as Rocky turned his little car west toward the river he said, emphatically: “We don’t have high-dives.”

In the parlance of the speaker, Roscoe “Rocky” Haulk, one of my boyhood angling mentors, that meant we did not have any grasshoppers.

It was a hot, dry, summer day and we were heading to the Muscatatuck River for some catfishing. We had spent most of the morning fixing cheddar cheese squares with Rock’s special recipe, seining minnows, and getting other entrees of the bill of fare for our catfish smorgasbord ready for the late afternoon and night fishing.

Now it was time to fish, but not without some of those big yellow grasshoppers that was so plentiful in weed patches.

That was only a temporary setback to the proceedings.

“This won’t take long,” Rock said, wheeling his little coupe (the trunk in the back converted to something that resembled the bed of a pickup truck) into the edge of a wheat stubble field and pulled a quart fruit jar (holes punched in the top for air) from the mountain of fishing paraphernalia.

Soon we were snatching those big, yellow flightless grasshoppers (high-dives) from the patches of ragweeds that punctuated the stubble.

Rock’s thinking proved to be right on the money. We started fishing with live minnows. Switched to dead minnows (well mutilated and smelly), cheese squares, night crawlers and I don’t know what else. But the snooty forktails (channel cats) roundly ignored our offerings until just before dark when I hooked a big yellow hopper and dropped it to the bottom of the deep channel of the river near the edge of a logjam.

Whammo! The tip of my split-bamboo fly rod arched down almost to its handle, and I feared it would be reduced to a million toothpicks as the husky channel used the current of the river in an attempt to avoid the frying pan. But, after a length battle, I nursed the five-poundish torpedo to the side of the boat and Rock brought my prize in with the broom-handle net.

We fished until the wee hours of the following morning, taking only four other forktails, none so large as that first fish, and one two-poundish white perch (freshwater drum). Although it was not a huge catch, I was impressed by the fact that, for all of our bait preparedness, the last-minute high-dives accounted for all of our fish.

Now and then (in the lulls between fish) we would switch to other baits, but the hoppers accounted for all of our fish, including the drum.

Little wonder that the big yellow, non-flying grasshopper is my favorite summer insect fish bait. But there are many other insects of the Orthoptera family, and I would say without reservation that they all will take fish, regardless of size.

Some years after Rock administered my first grasshopper-fishing lesson, I found myself at the spillway of Starve Hollow (Driftwood) Lake near Vallonia in Jackson County.

I had gone to the spillway with the aforementioned fly rod with the hope of nailing some big bluegills around the aprons of the dam with little toads for bait. I often found little toads around the dam and had learned the important lesson that big gills hung out around the dam and that they adored little toads

I could not find little toads on this day, but there was a glut of tiny grasshoppers, most no more than half an inch long, not at all big and juicy like the big yellow fellows.

Operating on the “any port in a storm” theory, I caught a few of the smaller hoppers, changed to a smaller hook (about a No. 12, long-shank, wire) and threaded a small hopper onto the hook, the head of the hopper in the bend of the hook with the point protruding.

To shorten the telling of that episode, the big ‘gills loved the small hoppers.

You may be sure that even today my tackle kit includes hooks of many sizes, and my disorderly cerebellum burgeons with visions of grasshoppers of many sizes and descriptions. And the hoppers are only one of many insects that make great fish bait.

Another member of this insect family that is great bait is the cricket, raised and sold commercially for the express purpose of catching fish.

Commercially distributed crickets are undoubtedly as effective as fish bait as their wild brethren. But I prefer the latter because they always are available in good numbers along creeks, streams, rivers and other waterways. Dried up cow pies in a pasture offer respite--and sustenance--for a great variety of insects, and collecting them is not as messy as one might think.

There are many commercially produced containers that will work well for storing and carrying live insects for bait, but I like a coffee can with air holes in the plastic top. I rig the can with a strong cord to suspend it at my side as I wade or walk the banks as I fish.

A large glass container also will work, but I switched to the more durable coffee can many years ago after my Mayo jar hit rocks at my feet and served up a fancy feast for the denizens of a Salt Creek riffle.

I use weeds for a culture in my hopper can because it tends to make hoppers less likely to jump to freedom when I remove the lid to get a bait. I also think hoppers will stay in good shape longer--even an extended period of time--if they are stored in a good culture.

Needless to say, I do not use stinging insects for bait.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

hopper.jpg (31173 bytes)
A long-shanked hook started just behind the hopper’s head and the point brought out at the end of the tail will thwart the attempt of fish to bite off and escape with the tail.


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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