There's a time-honored saltwater fishing technique that's gaining popularity in fresh water. It's known as bait and switch, and it entails getting a fish cranked up and chasing one offering before switching to the bait you want it to eat. Why bother? Perhaps because you actually want to catch the fish with specific tackle or lures, or maybe because you want to locate fish before fishing for them. For instance, some friends of mine often use hookless Rapalas to locate humongous brown trout on an east Tennessee river. Because the river is flies-only water, these guys visually mark the spots where the lunkers go after the plug, then return to fish the holding water later with the appropriate tackle.
Natural bait is not an option in bass tournaments, which is why a couple of generations of fishermen have grown up feeling varying degrees of bias against fishing with anything except lures. That doesn't apply to trophy bass specialists, however, who often soak live crayfish, golden shiners or giant salamanders in hopes of enticing a big mama.
If you like to fish artificials exclusively-say flies or spinners for trout-go for it. Conversely, in water with no special regulations, there shouldn't be a problem if you choose to dunk live baits while fun-fishing for bass or other species. If you intend to release fish, though, I believe live bait should be used either to sweeten a jig or, when fished by itself, on a circle hook. Otherwise, unless you're really fast on the strike and don't give the fish time to swallow the hook, you risk injuring fish not headed for the table.
Bass moving toward spawning areas often slide back out on secondary points if warming spring weather gets a sudden shot of leftover winter. Hanging off little points or maybe a drop-off just outside spawning areas, they'll often refuse to eat anything save a live bait that dances in their faces. You'll need to experiment with two rigs-both of them standard rigs for walleye anglers-to learn whether these fish are hugging bottom or suspended higher.
[pagebreak] Presuming that secondary points fall off gradually into deeper water, I usually start by dragging baits along bottom using some sort of slip-sinker arrangement that resembles a Carolina rig. I use a cone-shaped sinker and bait up with a worm or shiner. This rig is my first choice if there's weed or brush with which to contend. For rock or rubble bottoms, use one of those bent-nosed walking sinkers. Check out the relatively new snag-free slip sinkers like the Rig Saver or Rock Hopper from Mojo (800-474-6656; mojolures .com), and the popular No-Snagg sinker from Lindy (218-829-1714; lindylittlejoe.com). With these rigs the bait is dragged very slowly across bottom and you need to give a moment of slack the minute you feel any resistance:
It could indicate a fish. Likewise, wishbone-arm bottom walkers can be dragged along bottom to keep bait visible but practically snag-free.
Confronted by deeper water and the likelihood of suspended fish, I go with a slip float. The most common of these floats allows line to slide through its small, tubular center. The weighted bait descends below the float until a stop, located on the line and reeled up, hits the float's top stem.
Turned-off fish might require a "dead rod" approach: The bait is set so it hovers just above fish showing on your sonar. Waves and natural movement of the bait impart action. Fish that are in more positive moods respond to a bit more movement. In this case I'll work the bait, snapping it up and letting it flutter down on a semi-tight line in case fish hit it while it's descending. Alternately, try a slow jigging lift, hold in place and then flutter-drop the bait.
To make a natural-bait version of the popular drop-shot rig when the fish want the bait deep, tie the hook about a foot to 18 inches uup the line using a Palomar knot. Tie a weight at the end of the line and you're set.
[pagebreak] Float-Free Fishing
In shallow water around emerging vegetation or brush, or along shoreline cover, a couple of non-float bait rigs are deadly in warm weather. First, use a spinning rod to flip or pitch a nose-hooked crawler or baitfish weighted with a split shot. Retrieve the offering as slowly as you can stand.
Or try the same rig with an ultralight thin-blade flutter spoon. Use a small one wearing a single hook on a split ring, like a Needlefish or Canadian Wonder from Luhr Jensen (800-535-1711; www.luhrjensen.com). Nip on a piece of crawler or hook a minnow through the lips and flip it out.
Navigation Backup Plan>>
Don't rely on GPS or any other digital navigation device as your only navigational means. A paper chart is always a good backup on the water. Maptech has combined both technologies. A CD-ROM comes with Maptech's ChartKits and Waterproof Chartbooks. Charts on the CD are the same full-detail charts found in Maptech's two books. Download charts from a computer to a GPS chart plotter or take a laptop aboard.
Spiral-bound books in the ChartKit are 22 by 17 inches. The Waterproof Chartbooks are more compact: 12 by 17 inches. All the data on the paper charts are also on the CD's electronic charts. ($129.95 each for ChartKit combos; $49.95 for Waterproof Chartbook combos; 888-839-5551; www.maptech.com)