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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Live bait catches fish and is the best approach for beginners, anglers on a budget

Live bait catches fish.

A slithering worm or wiggling minnow is something fish can’t resist. The natural action, smell and mouth feel of a live organism is something adult fish experience whenever they feed. They know it’s food, but yes fish can be fooled into striking artificial lures.

For beginning anglers or anglers on a budget, fishing with live bait is a win-win approach, effective and inexpensive. That’s because many live baits, the so-called natural baits, are plentiful and free for the taking.

Live bait rigs are simple too, usually just a hook and sinker, sometimes a float attached to a leader, or above the sinker and hook to suspend the bait below the surface. Bait rigs are much less costly compared to artificial lures, such as flies, jigs, and hard or soft plastic baits.

Here’s some tips on how to gather live bait:


Earthworm (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

An earthworm is a terrestrial invertebrate found in soil, feeding on organic material.

Earthworms are hard to beat as bait when fishing for sunfish species, catfish, and other game and rough fish species.

Attract earthworms to your backyard with a compost pile.

Start by digging a shallow trench, about four feet long by two feet wide and a few inches deep.

You can make compost and have a good supply of worms in just over 30 days.

Pile up alternating layers of green and brown ingredients, such as grass trimmings, hay, dried weeds, leaves, or wood shavings in the trench, at least four feet high.

Bury kitchen waste in the pile daily. This includes fruit and vegetable trimmings, or spent coffee grounds and filters. Wet the pile with the garden hose, and cover it with a tarp, to prevent the escape of moisture.

Soon after you make the pile it will begin to heat up. When the temperature gets up to about 130 degrees, the pile is said to be “cooking.”

Every four or five days, turn the pile with a pitch fork since the decomposition process requires lots of oxygen. Add more green material if the pile fails to heat up and keep the pile moist.

If you continue to turn the pile and keep it moist, decomposition will reduce the pile in size and turn the raw materials into dark, brown compost.

To attract worms continue wetting the compost after it has cooled down, and keep it covered. Early in the morning, before the heat of the day, take the tarp off and dig down to the dirt level at the base of the pile and it will be alive with worms.

Not only will a compost pile keep you in earthworms but it will create rich, organic soil for your garden or flower bed.

• Bagworm

Another free bait is the Evergreen Bagworm (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis), commonly known as the bagworm, a moth that spins a cocoon in its larval stage, decorating it with bits of plant material from the trees on which it feeds.

Bag Worm Casings (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

In August, an important host tree is the Eastern Red Cedar, which is abundant across central Kentucky. This early successional tree grows just about everywhere, even on poor soil, often along roadsides, in old fields, especially where the soil has been disturbed.

The 3/4-quarter-inch caterpillars make great bluegill bait, just the right size to thread on a No. 8 bream hook. The worm a casing is a bag of silk, which is ornamented with foliage to camouflage it, an effective defense against hungry birds and other predators. Use a small pair of sharp scissors to cut open the worm casing to get at the fish bait.

• Minnows, Shiners and Crayfish

Sportfishing license holders may use seines, cast nets, dip nets and minnow traps to catch live bait from creeks and lakes for their own use as bait while fishing for crappie, black bass, white bass, hybrids and striped bass, walleye or catfish.

Under the regulations governing live bait for personal use, non-native fishes or fishes not established in Kentucky waters, may not be possessed, imported, or in any way used or released into Kentucky waters.

Seining a creek for bait (Image from Wikipedia Commons)

For example, Blueback Herring are not native to Kentucky and may not be imported or possessed in this state.

Holders of sport fishing licenses who take live bait from public waters may possess up to 500 live bait fishes and 500 crayfish.

Be advised that on some lakes in Kentucky the possession or use of shad for fishing is prohibited.

Small Asian Carp, which closely resemble Gizzard Shad and Threadfin Shad, may only be used as bait in the waters from which they were collected.

For all the details on live bait for personal use consult page 10 of the 2020 Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide.

Live bait fishes are defined as rough fish. Be aware that sport fish species and some threatened and endangered fish species are protected and may not be used as bait.

Bluegill are not considered a sportfish and may be taken for bait. They are typically used to catch Flathead Catfish and Striped Bass.

Live bait may be taken with the following gear:

• Dip Nets, with a maximum size of three feet in diameter.

• Minnow Traps, with a maximum legal size statewide size of three feet long, 18 inches in diameter, with a one-inch opening.

• Seines with a maximum legal size statewide of 10 feet long and four feet deep, with a 1/4-inch mesh.

• Sport cast nets with a maximum net size of 20 feet in diameter with a maximum one-inch bar mesh statewide. Be aware that the regulations vary on some waters. All sport fish incidentally taken while capturing live bait, must be released immediately unharmed.

Live bait is readily available, highly effective for catching fish, and ideal for beginning anglers because it’s basic fishing. Everyone new to fishing needs to start at the roots of our sport to fully appreciate modern tackle and lure innovations.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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