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Live Bait: It's Not A Crime

By Steven Vonbrandt

The time from Ice-Out to the time when the water warms to above fifty degrees can be the prime time to catch a true "TROPHY" bass in almost every area, all over the world. Many of the largest specimens are taken this time of year on "live bait".

In the Northeast, a "trophy" largemouth is usually a bass that is over five pounds. This will vary from state to state, but some of the largest bass of the year are taken every spring in small to medium sized lakes and ponds all over the world on "live bait." Lakes and ponds of as little as two acres have produced some huge bass over the years, and many of these waters are easily accessed by the public. Most of these waters are under fished because they are over looked by tournament anglers, and others with larger boats. Most are shallow, with an average depth of four feet, and there are thousands of small bodies of water just waiting to give up the trophy of a lifetime all over the world. Many large bass are taken here in the Northeast every year on spinner baits, plastics, and hard baits each year, but some of the largest bass are taken by anglers using live bait. This is well known to anglers in places like Florida, where many of the larger bass feed almost exclusively on shiners. Here in Delaware and Maryland, there are lakes and ponds that consistently give up bass in the seven and eight pound class each year in March and April, when water temperatures are still in the low thirty-degree range. These bass are very reluctant to hit most artificial baits, but large live shiners always produce numerous bass in the high end of the trophy class range.


These large females will be staging in the deeper water at the mouths of creeks and shallow bays on the North shore, usually in or near some type of wood structure at first. The other shorelines shouldn't be neglected though, as many of the lakes and ponds are very shallow, and the water temperature remains pretty much the same in most areas of the lake. Many times, structure and proximity to deep water and the spawning grounds are more important. Any areas that contain a hard bottom, relatively few overhanging branches, and some type of wood and vegetation on the North shore, are prime spawning grounds. Most people don't realize that many of the largest bass will go on their beds very early in the year. They start feeding up as the water continues on a steady warming trend from thirty-eight degrees up to about fifty degrees. Once the water reaches fifty degrees and above, and the sun starts to stay out longer and longer, these large females will begin roaming the shallows and looking for food that will build weight and is easy to catch without expending a lot of energy. They will start making beds as early as April, or when the water warms to just fifty-eight to sixty-two degrees. This is the time that large shiners come into play!


Most tackle stores have a variety of sizes available in most areas of the country in regard to live shiners. In the areas where they are not available, you can catch your own with a throw net, but you should practice this technique first, as it is not as easy as it looks. The schools of baitfish can be located using good electronics. They also are abundant in many of the spillways and in the tidal creeks at the slues gates. The best sizes for trophy bass are from four to ten inches. If you want to eliminate most of the bass that are from one to four pounds, and just target bass that are four pounds and above, then the extra large shiners that are from seven to ten inches are the ticket. You need to keep them lively, and try not to vary the water temperature you keep them in by more than plus or minus five degrees, as they die easily from shock. Some chemicals and a good aerated live well or bait keeper system will assure that they are lively all day. In areas where it is allowed, "Millroach," or "Golden Shiners," is a very good choice for live bait tactics. Always check with your local state agencies to see what is legal to use for live bait in your areas or particular body of water, as the laws vary from state to state, lake to lake.


We use baitcasting gear when fishing for trophy bass with live bait. We use a seven-foot rod, in medium/heavy to heavy action, in a G.Loomis, St.Croix, or Bass Pro Shops rod. We use a Superbraid line such as Pline or Stren, in a heavy test such as forty or fifty pound test. It has no stretch, and really socks it to them when you set the hook. It is also good when they are near or in heavy cover that can fray or break your line.

We use floats on occasion, but not the plastic kind. The best floats are pencil bobbers made of wood, or the foam type in the large variety. We use balloons almost exclusively when fishing live bait for trophy bass. You just blow up the balloons to the size of a large orange, and tie them directly to the line. We use a small split shot below the balloons to keep them in place. The best sizes for hooks are a size 1/0 to 2/0 in a good quality brand. Don't skimp on hooks! Most of the time we tie on our own when trophy hunting, and use Gamakatsu hooks in red, but any good quality hook can be used.


You must be able to brave the elements to catch the really large bass in the early spring. Just because it is raining, or even snowing, and the winds are blowing at twenty to thirty miles per hour, it does not mean that the bass won't hit! Many anglers miss out on this action every year because they don't believe the fish will strike in the bad weather in water that cold, or they just can't drag themselves out on the water in wind chills that are in the teens. This is the most common error people make. Another common belief is that the bass don't hit early as the sun rises, and in most cases it is better a little later in the day, don't think they won't strike in the early hours. It is best to get there early, and stay late. Just dress for the weather, and you will be fine. Get out there early and often, and I guarantee you that you will catch the largest bass of your life this year! We use artificial lures almost exclusively all year, everywhere we go, but we are not afraid to use "live bait" when hunting for trophy bass early in the year. Sometimes it is just the thing to do!

Good Luck and tight lines from Reeltime anglers.

Steve is the 1998 Big Bass World Champ/De and in the NAFC Hall Of Fame. He can be contacted at his website at www.reeltimeanglers.com

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