Livebait Techniques

By Dave Duwe - May 1, 2014
When I started guiding, years ago, I was an artificial bait guy; jigs, plastic worms, spinnerbaits, etc. Oh, I caught fish, sometimes a lot of them. My customers who only fished a couple of times a year had fun, however we could have caught double or triple the fish if we would have used the bait from the good earth. In the lakes I fish most, like Lake Geneva and Delavan Lake, I have found that live bait is the only way to go. You can catch every fish that has a face and I have.

I have been fishing for over 45 years and guiding for 22 years, trust me I have more than my fair share of tackle and equipment, but I would have to say that out of all the tackle I have, the best bait is livebait!

My nightcrawler presentation is very basic and every angler can figure it out within a couple a minutes. With a basic presentation, one can concentrate on catching fish. I prefer the split shot rig. It is a single hook and split shot positioned about 18-24 inches above the hook. I use a small Eagle Claw Kahle hook (size 12) and a 3/0 round split shot for shallow water. For deeper water I will use a slightly larger size. The key to the rig is the round shot. Over the years I have found that the removable split- shot with the wings will get hung up on the weeds about 60 percent more. The smaller hook enables you to catch a variety of fish from bluegills to walleyes, or even the occasional northern pike.

The split shot rig can be trolled with your Minn-Kota trolling motor or drifted with similar success. Night crawler fishing is different than artificial fishing because you can't set the hook right away. You must let the fish eat it; it's natural bait and doesn't involve tricking the fish or getting a reaction strike.

For deep weedline fishing, my go to presentation is the standard Lindy rig. The lindy rig is a walking sinker or Lindy no-snagg sinker, a ball bearing swivel, a snell from two feet to 10 feet and a hook. When fishing nightcrawlers or leeches a #4 or #6 size octopus hook is one of the best. For minnows I choose a larger #2 hook. The size of the weight is determined by a couple of factors. First is the water depth you are fishing, the deeper the water, the heavier the weight. Walking sinkers come in a whole bunch of sizes, 1/8 oz to 1 ½ oz is what I use the most. Secondly, how fast you are trolling makes a difference. You want the rig on the bottom and the line at a 45 degree angle off the bottom. A simple rule, the faster you troll the heavier the weight. The snell length is a bit more complicated. There are a myriad of factors including, clarity of water, where the fish are located in the water column, how skittish the fish are, etc. The most important component to the lindy rig is the quality ball bearing swivel. Without one you will have a day full of line twists.

For walleye, the bait of choice is nightcrawlers or leeches. For smallmouth use minnows, chubs and leeches and for Northern Pike, I use exclusively suckers or chubs.

For Northern Pike I use a ¾ oz walking sinker and a 1/0 bait hook. Circle hooks will also work well. The leader length I like is 24 inches. I don't use a swivel, instead I prefer to use a small split shot to "peg" my walking sinker. This way if you get a deep hooked fish, you can simply cut the line and release the fish. Once you re-tie a new hook, you can simply slide your weight higher. It's faster than having to re-tie a whole new leader if you were using a swivel. It also eliminates the need to bring leader material with you. Another reason I don't use steel leaders is because it reduces the number of bites. The best locations for the fish are the weed lines directly associated with shallow bays. The warm water pushes all the shallow Pike to ambush points on the weed line where they remain cool and can prey on small fish.

The way that I present the bait is slowly back trolling with my Minn-Kota transom mounted electric motor. I always prefer back trolling because I can keep a more constant depth. I like to go into the wind to maintain better bottom contact.

For panfish my preferred technique is a bobber rig: either a fixed Thill spring bobber or a Thill slip-bobber. The set-up is a slip bobber with a single hook or an ice jig. The ice jigs that I use most are Lindy's Toad or the Fat Boy. I prefer the jigs in chartreuse, pink or orange. One should tip the ice jig with either spikes or wax worms. For the plain hook presentation I prefer leaf worms. Hellgrammites are probably the best bait; however their price sometimes deters people from using them. In shallow waters, you need to use the smallest bobber possible and I almost never use a sinker.

When using slip bobbers, I like to use a longer pole than most ultra-lites. A 6'6" pole will aid in making longer casts while also assisting in a good hook set. Any good spinning reel will work; I personally use the Cardinal 300 series reels. A good limp fishing line is needed. I like a 4 lb test and clear Trilene or Silver Thread are both good choices.

Crappies and Perch almost always prefer a small fathead instead of a worm. I will always have a bucket full of them on every trip.

Put your pride aside and bring your fishing back to the basics, it might surprise you how many more fish you will catch by using the livebait.

Author Dave Duwe
Dave Duwe
Full-time guide Dave Duwe owns and operates Dave Duwe's Guide Service, featuring the lakes of Walworth County, WI. Dave has been guiding for over 20 years and is one of Southeastern Wisconsin's best multi-species anglers. Dave is an accomplished outdoor writer and seminar speaker. He is a member of the Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Association and Walworth County Visitor Bureau. Sponsors include: Lund Boats(Jerry's Sport Service Inc.), Mercury Marine, Arkie Jigs, and Vexilar Marine Electronics, a pro-staff member of Minn-Kota trolling motors,Hummingbird graphs, Cannon downriggers, Lindy, Pure Fishing and All Terrain Tackle. For more information, please check out Dave's website www.fishlakegeneva.com .