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Catching Own Bait Saves Time & Money on Lake Erie

Most Mid-American Boating automatically stop at a bait shop and
purchase the necessary worms or minnows before they go fishing. And
many times I do, too. But there are days when that's just not
possible, and I had such a day in late June this year. We wanted to
catch a few walleye, and the day promised to be hot and airless with
a dead flat calm expected, a poor situation for any walleye fishing.

So, our boat captain decreed that we'd be out there at first light,
and with that in mind we were motoring toward Starve Island at
roughly five a.m. No bait shops were open, but I'd taken the
precaution of catching a few dozen in my own lawn the night
before. It was a good move. At that time of morning the walleye
were nearly on top of the reef there, and we had good success until
about 7 a.m. when the fish turned off. Anglers that got there late
caught little or nothing, but we had 1`7 nice keepers, one an 8
pounder So, how do you catch your own nightcrawlers?

Most of what you buy in a bait shop come from Canada,
but there are millions of the little morsels waiting inland. If you
live in an older home that has a good lawn with well aged soil, they
might be just yards away, and if not, the local cemetery, golf
course, or other public area might give you permission to hunt
worms. To catch some, you'll need just two pieces of equipment, a
flashlight, hopefully one with a fairly weak battery, and a container
to hold your catch.

The best time to find nightcrawlers is after a good
rain, or at least a heavy dew that wets the grass. Wait until it's
full dark, then start walking very slowly while swinging the beam
back and forth. Crawlers are sensitive to light and zip back down
their holes if you hold the light on them more than a second or two,
so when that reddish-brown pencil shape shows up in the grass or on
your garden or flower bed soil, move the light so the worm is just in
the edge of its circle. Then bend over, grab the crawler between
thumb and index finger and gently pull it out of its hole. Nothing to it.

Many kids love to catch nightcrawlers and compete to see
who can catch the most, so for years I let my son and daughter do the
catching, paying them 50 cents a dozen. Now I'm back to catching my
own, but like bicycling you never forget how, and in half an hour or
so I can usually grab several dozen. Remember to always refrigerate
your catch unless you'll be using them immediately or the next
morning. Crawlers in moist soil or spaghnum moss will often live for
weeks in a cool refrigerator, and be available for several fishing trips.

Minnows are easy to come by most times,but they might be harder to
find this fall with restrictions on imported minnows. You can run
out of bait too, when perching on the big lake, especially if they're
hitting lightly or the water is full of bait stealing white bass,
white perch, sheepshead, and gobies. You can either make the long
haul back to port for another supply, quit early with fewer fish than
you'd like to have, or get out of the boat in swim trunks and tennis
shoes and catch your own.

All that's needed is a minnow seine placed in an out-of-the-way spot
below decks, easily purchased in any sporting goods store, and a 5-6
foot pole tied to each side. The seines have lead weights on the
bottom and floats on the top, and the technique is to drop off into
four or five feet of water near a sand or gravel beach, hold the
poles widely separated in each hand with the weights dragging bottom
and slowly walk toward dry land. Time and again I've made a few
hauls and picked up enough sand shiners, emerald shiners, or whatever
to keep fishing for several hours.

You can do the same in a local creek near your home too, if you're
going up early and bait shops might not be open, and I've found out
many a time that perch, etc. will hit creek minnows just as quickly
as emerald shiners. One that lies about a mile from my home is
typical, a 6-10 foot wide little rill that has riffles just inches
deep, long smooth runs that may be a foot or so deep, and pools here
and there that are deeper yet.

I walk along its length looking for loose schools of minnows
and seldom walk more than 50 feet to find one. Then I slip into the
stream, extend the seine as wide as it will go, and walk slowly from
one shore to the other, keeping the lead weights dragging bottom so
bait won't escape underneath the net. When my net hits the bank, I
pick out the minnows, place them in a bucket, and seine again until I
have all I need.

The whole business seldom takes more than 15
minutes. Remember to place not more than a couple of dozen in a
bucket to keep them from using up the oxygen, or have a battery
operated pump if you're adding more. If keeping them overnight for
use the next morning, I fill five gallon buckets with water, aerate
it well by pouring water into the bucket from several feet above, and
add just a couple of dozen minnows to each bucket. No problem at all.

Crayfish? Soft craws are expensive when you're going
after smallmouth bass, but I've long discovered that they'll hit
small hard craws almost as readily, especially if I pinch off their
claws. And crayfish are almost as easy to catch as minnows. They're
found in the same creeks, too. To catch those juicy little 1-2 inch
crayfish, I choose a stretch six inches deep or less with plenty of
loose rocks on bottom. The craws live under those rocks, and can be
seen sticking halfway out from under looking for passing morsels of food.

They're more attuned to movement than anything else, so
to catch them I very slowly slide my index finger into the water and
press down firmly on those claws. Then use my other hand to pick him
up and toss him in the bucket. Since they swim backwards I often
carry a little minnow net for movers, place the net just behind it,
then push a finger its way to make it backflip into the net.

Finally, comes leeches, a bait smallmouth bass consider similar to a
T-bone steak. They're extremely tough and wiggle wildly, and often
enough one leech is good for several bass. Back when I was younger I
spent several summers on Ohio State University's Gibralter Island in
the Put-in-Bay harbor and when class was over and we went seeking a
few bass, it was normal to walk out on our little point and turn over
rocks in just a few inches of water to get a dozen or so leeches.

You can still find them under near shore rocks, and when
fish are being picky, this can make the difference. It's a simple
business, using simple equipment, but if you're fishing early, run
out of bait, or need something different, catching your own is a good
move. And inexpensive, too.

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