Catch What’s Biting

You’ve been planning this trip all week long and big bass, you hope, are in your future. Armed with all the baits that guarantee huge fish (at least that’s what they say on TV) and high hopes. Cast after cast, beating the water to a froth and you go without a bite. I’ve been quoted as saying “if you’re fishing and it’s not fun you’re doing it wrong.” The cure, catch whatever is biting.


Don’t give up your hope of hooking up with a heavyweight but consider changing tactics and tackle. Of course you’re going to have your go-to baits, for me a jig, buzzbait, spinnerbaits and for good measure a couple of cranking “plugs”. If you’ve never wrestled with a big catfish from your kayak or a slab crappie or a school of hungry bluegill you’re missing out. Don’t abandon the bass but when it seems that every largemouth has lockjaw start rethinking the target species. In many instances I’ll start trying during the early hours seeking out Mrs. BIG, as the sun comes up or the bite slows I look for brushpiles or downed trees and pick up the crappie rod and break out the leadheads and soft plastic tiny tube baits. With multiple casting and retrieving possibilities a few crappies are almost always obliging. Like most game fish when conditions are right a cast / retrieve / catch scenario is imminent. When the bite is tougher go vertical. A slow drop inside heavy cover and couple a gentle twitch and probe different depths to find what the fish are doing and establish a pattern. For white and black crappie, they use the same habitat but at different depths. Anything resembling wood, man-made stake beds, an underwater stump field, a submerged tree or brushpiles are all likely targets. Shallow in the spring, deeper in the heat of summer, back to “thin” water in the fall and schooled up heavily in off shore deeper holes. An ultralight spinning rod spooled up with four to six pound test line, and several leadheads ranging from 1/16th ounce up to ¼ ounce for windy conditions positions you for success. Curly tail grubs, tubes and other soft plastics are all potential crappie catchers. Colors include, silver, pearl, chartreuse and many combo colors.


For catfish it’s even easier. A sturdy rod and reel (spinning or baitcasting both are suitable) braided line or heavy monofilament 15 to 30 pound test line and an assortment of circle hooks 3/0 to 5/0 for flathead, channels and blue cats, can be stored in a separate box. Commercial baits, shad, bluegill, skipjack or even hot dogs are all liable to draw a catfish to your kayak. If there is current present cast your bait to the UPSIDE of the heaviest cover. I plays out this way: the catfish fish picks up the scent from the baited hook, it’s brought to the fish by the current. The catfish has set up in the heavy cover and leaves to investigate the smell, using taste buds on its underside, the cat hovers and accepts the free lunch, a pick up and swimming back to the “house” you just use the magic of the circle hook by just winding the line down and the hooks then slides up into the side of the mouth of the catfish and is imbedded in the tough party of the fishes jaw. Bring a pliers the hooks are hard to remove.


Bring on the bluegill. Easy to catch in the spring, they are ready and willing to bite the rest of the year. The same tackle that catches crappie can be used for bluegills. In addition to that the fly rod with sub-surface streamers, sponge spiders on the surface or tiny trout midges are all possible artificial baits. Don’t blow off live bait. A #8 light wire hook, a couple of tine split shot all under a float has saved many a trip for kayaking ”kids” of all ages. Bait up with bits of nightcrawler worms, crickets or small minnows. Miniature version of most bass baits also draw the interest of bull “gills”. Downsized crankbaits, spinners and soft plastics are all worth of a cast or six.


Trolling for walleye, flicking flies for trout and many other baits, tactics and techniques can produce many other species. I’m sure nit giving up on the bass bite but you can be sure I’m going to try to catch whatever is biting, because my favorite fish is the next one at the end of my line.

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