"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Natural Baits For Summer Angling
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

Now that the weather pattern has hit a semblance of summer, it is time for wade fishing--or stalking your finny prey from the banks--and the natural baits come to the fore in our angling.

I speak of hellgrammites, larval stage of the hellgrammite dobsonfly, (Corydulus corynutus), the occasionally misnomered hellbender which is a salamander, not to mention the thousands of other members of the insect clan.

When we speak of insects as fish bait, the hellgrammite is often touted as the world’s best . . . and it may be just that. But while it is a good bait, I have seen times when even this ugly critter was snubbed by the finny set. I just don’t like piling accolades on this thing when there are so many other juicy insets roving our lands and waters through a good part of the warm months.

I will say one should use hellgrammites as bait in streams anytime he/she can get them. They aren’t available in most bait shops (probably because only a handful the army of mite followers have the gumption to literally catch their own bait). They are what I call a “killer” bait.

Still, I have halted my quest to net mites on the riffle (with rock or sand bottom), to pluck a fat and juicy yellow (no fly) grasshopper off a weed and impale it on my hook to drive bass and bluegill (also red bellies) crazy. Many species will take them.

Once I was sitting in an old wood boat on a Scott County pond without any live bait at all, when a beautiful powder-blue worm came ambulating up the leg of my trousers. I plucked it off my trousers, changed from an artificial lure to a long-shank hook and lightly punched the worm on the hook. 

The results were astounding. My first cast netted a nice bass (long before catch-and-release saw the light of day). Other bass and bluegills followed until one stole my bait.

I probably would not do that again because I later learned the pretty fellow was a monarch larva. I have a soft spot between the ears for butterflies.

Speaking of soft spots between the ears for Mother Nature’s children, I do not see such “attributes” as foibles in mankind . . . or womankind, for that matter . . . even kidkind.

The concept reminds me of an episode in which I walked out of my front door and ran smack dab into the web of a bodaciously ugly, big black and yellow spider. Simultaneously, a monarch made the same mistake. The Simon Legree of insects could see that he was no match for me, but he headed post-haste for the monarch, which now struggled hopelessly in his web.

With no thought of “survival of the fittest, “ or realization that spiders have to eat, too, I grabbed a three-foot stick and swept the monarch and web to the safety of the grass. With the web removed cautiously from the monarch’s wings, it flapped out of sight as the spider retreated to its lair to await the arrival of lunch.

Somehow, I felt good about the world and nature’s way of life.

Back to hellgrammites.

If bait shops seldom have them for sale, how do you get them? 

Easy question to answer, Coach. You catch your own mites. It’s easy . . . if you are willing to work. Just peel off shoes and socks, roll up trouser legs, and join the mites on the fast water with gravel, sand, or even boulder for a bottom. Mites love all of these on the bottom . . . even decaying large chunks of wood.

The trick is to approach these forms of structure from the downstream side. Just grasp the rock (or other object on the upstream side (or bottom), and lift it slowly back, the object still on the bottom with the current plastering the mites to the bottom of the abject. Now steady the object with one hand and pick the mites by the hard shell just behind the head and pincers which may be very large.

Put the mites in a can (with top) filled halfway with wet leaves and grass. They will stay alive and active for days if kept cool. No water, or very little.

If there are several people in the fishing party, a minnow seine can be stretched across fast water to the bottom, and others can do what I call “The Hellgrammite\ Dance” as the “dancers” flip over rocks and gravel or sand with their feet on the bottom. Current will carry the dislodged black critters into the seine.

Hooking them is easy. Start a sharp hook under at the front of  the hard, black collar  and bring it out at the trailing edge of the collar, this gives the mite plenty of body to flounce around and attract fish. Mites hooked shallow stay alive for a long time. They are rugged.

Some use two mites (hooked back-to-back) so they are very active. I go with one. In this case, I don’t think it takes the proverbial “two to tango.”

For the hoppers, I like the big yellow guys with rudimentary wings. They hop more than they fly and are easier to catch and better eating . . . for fish. Just start a long-shank hook at the underside of the thorax and bring it out at the back of the thorax or abdomen. They stay alive well and can be fished wet or dry (deep or on the surface).

Of course, fish don’t know the difference in a soft larva and a hard-shelled adult bug. A rose is a rose by any other name still is a rose (pardon my pilferage). Protean rules.

It is pretty difficult to end a treatise such as this. In conclusion, I fear I should say that a fishing friend of mine once caught a nice goggle-eye on a Blue River riffle without the fish getting hooked. The mite he was using for bait simply clamped onto the goggle’s lip and the angler brought it in. Witnesses available. . . 

Click on thumbnail image for larger view.

hellgrammites.JPG (19886 bytes) dobson08.jpg (143491 bytes) hopper08.jpg (19237 bytes)
Hellgrammites of all sizes are deadly bait for many species of fish. The Dobsonfly is seldom seen. It flies at night and lays it’s eggs on the under side of leaves on dry land brush and trees. Any hopper will take fish, but the yellow hopper is best. 

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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