Bait: Ya gotta love the concept

Published 8:43 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2015

By Biff and Susan Andrews

What do corn kernels, chicken livers, fiddler crabs, crickets, fish belly strips, sand fleas and delicious shrimp have in common? They’re all used as bait. It’s hard to decide which type of fishing — freshwater or saltwater — uses the weirder stuff to entice fish, but all of the old standards seem to get the job done.

Bait might be defined as the use of substances or critters to attract and catch other, larger critters. Artificial lures are another ball of wax altogether, as are the chemical scents now used to enhance them.

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Let’s start with freshwater baits. I’m new to “sweet water” fishing, but thus far I’ve caught fish on some truly odd offerings.

Carp seem to love single kernels of corn boiled up in blackberry Kool-Aid. Catfish seem to bite on anything — hot dogs, chicken livers, blood baits, Canadian night crawlers — the variety is endless. Bream/sunfish seem to enjoy crickets, worms — American or Canadian — and red wigglers, or is it red wrigglers?

Bass favor minnows, as do crappie, but crappie minnows are smaller. (In saltwater they’re minners, at least at Quinby and Oyster on the Eastern Shore).

Artificial lures primarily catch fishermen, though they have also been known to attract fish. Various dips and sprays seem to add attractive power to artificials. It gets complicated.

The most outrageous bait I’ve ever used to catch fish in fresh water? A slice of Kraft American cheese formed around a hook to catch catfish.

I’m far more conversant with saltwater baits. And they’re just as diverse. Spot, some of the tastiest fish in Virginia, love one tenth of a bloodworm from Maine’s rocky coast.

Tautog, which dwell on offshore wrecks and rock piles, love sand fleas (mole crabs) from our sandy beaches. Squid from the Pacific’s or Atlantic’s deep oceans catch croaker up the James River in three feet of water.

Is there any rhyme or reason here?

Mud bugs — fiddler crabs — make wonderful bait for tog and sheepshead. Claud Bain earned fame for discovering that spadefish will indeed bite a hook on a chunk of jellyfish. Flounder at the Light Tower willingly swallow gudgeons from shallow tidal creeks. (Again, in Quinby and Oyster they’re minners — the sign says so).

Artificial bloodworms? Little salted crabs? Thick slabs of giant squid? Sure. And saltwater anglers use their own chemical sprays and dips as well.

What’s the most outrageous bait I’ve ever used in saltwater? I’ve used a live 7-pound trout to entice a 150-pound shark and caught numerous large bluefish on a Thom McAnn shoehorn flattened with a 7-0 hook added.

I hereby propose to both fresh and saltwater angling groups a novel form of fishing tournament — the One Worm Tournament.

At 6 a.m. tournament launch, each angler gets one Canadian nightcrawler (fresh) or one bloodworm (salt). You have to use the worm to catch the fish to use as bait to catch the bigger fish to catch, etc., etc., etc.

Bait — ya gotta love the concept.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at