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
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
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.
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.