I finally got a chance to go crappie fishing last Saturday. Since the chances both for good fishing and for me being able to tolerate the heat were best as early in the morning as possible, I pulled into the driveway of Lincoln’s only bait shop at about 5:30 a.m., which was 30 minutes later than I had intended. The bait shop was closed, and the windows in the owner’s house were dark.
Other than fishing some other part of the lake, which I had neither the time nor the inclination to do, I had one remaining option: a service station a few miles south of Lincoln on US 65. I got there about 5:40 a.m., and its lights were on. Better yet the door was unlocked, despite the posted opening time of 6:00 a.m. I handed the clerk my minnow bucket and asked for a “couple dozen” minnows, a term which all the minnow buyers in this part of the country and–as I was about to find out–only almost all the bait sellers consider to be the numerical equivalent of somewhere around 50.
When she returned with my minnow bucket, she said, in a tone that implied she and I were now partners in a secret conspiracy, “I put 31 in there for you.” She rendered me speechless, which as anyone who knows me will attest, is no mean feat.
As it turned out, other than being late getting on the water, the only damage was to my psyche. During the rest of the year, I rely exclusively on jigs, but during the summer, I switch to minnows. Far more often than not, minnows will produce a limit of keepers, while producing lots of fun catching short fish.
But on this particular day, my hard-won minnows were attracting nothing but short–and I do mean short–fish. More out of curiosity than anything else, I reached for an outfit rigged with a jig and flipped my new offering to the same tree I’d been catching small fish out of. The 12-inch slab that inhaled my jig almost caught me by surprise, because, frankly, I didn’t think my new tactic would work. But it did and not just once.
At least crappie anglers have options. I decided a few years ago that blue catfish were my favorite species and that fishing for them was how I wanted to spend the majority of what is actually a very limited amount of time on the water.
My problem is that, while the under eight-pound blues I concentrate on will occasionally bite other things, conventional wisdom insists that consistent success demands fresh–not frozen–shad. I know several area catfishermen who toss a cast net on board their boats and head for the lake confident they’ll be able to find all the bait they’ll need. They do, too.
It doesn’t always work out that way for me, or at least it doesn’t without expending hours of frustrating effort. On the other hand, I do have days when one throw yields more shad than my partner and I could possibly use. Under those circumstances, cast netting shad is a lot of fun.
Used either alive or dead-but-fresh, the numerous species of sunfish, chubs and minnows that inhabit small gravel-bottomed streams all across Missouri are also excellent blue catfish bait. Plus, catching them on pole and line–at least in my country boy opinion–is about as much fun as fishing can get.
Since I usually fish for my bait a the day before I intend to go catfishing, I don’t even try to keep to keep them alive. Instead, I take a small cooler half-full of ice cubes to the creek for use as immediate storage for each bait fish I catch. I should mention that I use quart-sized heavy plastic bags to hold up to about a dozen fish. This serves to keep the cooler clean(er) and reduces–but does not necessarily eliminate–complaints when the next day’s catfish bait is–let me stress the word temporarily–transferred to the refrigerator.
Very early tomorrow morning, I’m going to find out how long sunfish can be kept refrigerated and still be good bait. The sunfish in question were caught last Tuesday in preparation for a planned jug fishing outing on Wednesday. Due to circumstances way beyond my control, Wednesday didn’t work out and neither did Thursday. Friday is going to work out no matter what. After all, it’s my duty to conduct research on important outdoor topics like catfish bait.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]