The commonest of all baits, earthworms, are not common in a wilderness. Generally they are creatures of the barnyard and garden. Out in the big woods they are too scarce to consider, except as accidental findings. If you chance upon an old lumber camp or saw-mill site, you may find worms in abundance by digging under piles of chips and sawdust. Sometimes, in a damp place in the forest, you can get active little red fellows (fine bait) under overturned rocks or logs, or under the moss on the banks of brooks. The largest worms I ever saw are found, after a warm shower, or just before nightfall, on the grassy summits of "balds" in the Great Smoky Mountains, nearly 6,000 feet above sea-level; some of them are full two feet long.
The best all-round bait is a lively minnow. You may catch minnows on a very small hook with most of the barb filed off, or even on a bent pin, baited with a tiny bit of meat, a maggot, a grub, or a small insect. In winter, try a spring-hole, or cut through the ice close to shore.
Three men working together can capture plenty of minnows in a few minutes, wherever there is a small stream, by using what we called in the Ozarks a "brush seine." Simply get a lot of willows or other pliable brush, lay the stuff overlapping to length desired, and twist a little until the branch-lets interlock (like a farmer twisting a hay rope). Then, with a man at each end to haul, and another at the middle to hold the "seine" down in the water, drag the shallows and run the minnows ashore.
On dark days, or in rough or turbid water, the best baits are shiners, silversides (redfins), and other bright colored minnowrs; but they do not live long on the hook. In sunny weather, and for clear, still water, chubs and other tough species are preferred, being mote active and enduring. Almost any small fish will do in a pinch. Young yellow perch make excellent bait if the dorsal spine is clipped off. On the Potomac and the Susquehanna rivers a favorite bass bait is what they call a mad-tom, which is nothing but a small yellow catfish (stone cat) with its spines cut off. To keep a torn from running under a rock and anchoring himself there, they peel a bit of skin off the back of his head: one bump on that tender spot cures him!
For bass, pickerel, and mascalonge (spell it to suit yourself—here in the Carolina mountains the natives call it the "jack fish"—yes, we have the real mascalonge) don't use minnows under three inches, if you can get better ones. A half-pound bass will get away with a five-inch minnow.
When fishing with a short line and no reel, hook your minnow through the back, instead of the mouth, just behind the dorsal fin, being careful not to injure the backbone. The reason is that you have no chance to let your bass run and turn the minnow for swallowing—you must strike quick, while he is holding it by the middle. (Now don't get your own back up, Mr. Angler, this whole chapter is for men in extremity, and sportsmanship has nothing to do with it).
Frogs often are good bait in still fishing (the only method we are considering), although most favored by bait casters. Use none but small ones; the big fellows are of no account except for your own eating. The young of the common leopard frog is best. Hook him through both lips, from the bottom up, but to one side, so as to miss the artery in the center of the upper jaw. Let the hook come out near one eye; then the frog will wriggle around in trying to right himself. Keep him in motion a good deal, and bring him up now and then for a breathing-spell, or he will drown. Young frogs are to be found from June to August along the grassy banks of creeks, muddy margins of ponds, around springs, and wet swales. To capture without a net, approach stealthily until within sure reach; then strike swiftly, with fingers outspread.
In May and June, tadpoles can be used with success. The little red newt (often called "spring lizard," although it is not a reptile but a batrachian) is greedily taken by trout and other fish. It abounds in the woods as early as April, under stones and decaying logs or stumps, and comes out in great numbers after warm rains.
Crayfish (generally called "crawfish," by some "crabs") are found under flat stones in shallow water. They shed their hard armor periodically, and are at their best as bait when in the "shedder" stage. In this condition they may be hooked through the body, avoiding the heart, which lies close to the back just forward of where the tail joins the body. When in the hard shell, pass the hook upward through the tail; or, if the hook is too small to project enough in this way, pass it into the shell and out again. Use a float on the line, so as to keep the crayfish a few inches off the bottom, or he will cling like grim death to the first thing he can get hold of. Bass are very fond of crayfish at times.
One of the best natural baits for bass, when the water is clear, is that fierce-looking creature called hellgrammite, dobson, or grampus. This is the larva of a large winged insect, the horned corydalis.
It is found under stones or other submerged objects in shallow, swift-running water. To catch it, turn the stone over, upstream; the hellgrammite then will curl up into a ball and float down into the net or hat held to receive it. Seize it by the sides of the neck, to avoid its sharp pincers, and, holding your hook sidewise so the barb will be horizontal, pass the point under and close up against the hard "collar" on the back of the neck, from behind forward, bringing the hook out just behind the thing's head. A hellgrammite is so tough and tenacious of life that two or more fish may be caught with one of them. Like the crayfish, it should be kept off the bottom by a float or by moving it frequently. The mature corydalis fly can be used as bait, after plucking off its wings, but it it much softer than the larva and does not live long on the hook.
From early spring until June, or even July, it is easy to get "stick bait" (the larva of the caddis fly) in almost any trout stream. This little white grub or creeper, with short black thorax and black head armed with nippers, makes for itself a cylindrical case out of tiny twigs, bits of leaf, sand, etc., stuck together with silk that it secretes, the whole being a good example of protective resemblance, for it looks just like a broken piece of dead twig. Caddis worms, hidden in these cases, strew the bottom of still shallows at the sides of streams, along with trash collected there by the eddies. Pinch off one end of the case, draw the worm out by its head, and impale it on a small trout hook. Fish take it very greedily.
Various other aquatic larvae, such as those oi stone flies, drakes, and water beetles, will be found in spring and summer under stones and sticks, or attached to them, in shallow water with rocky or gravelly bottom. Almost any creeper that you find in such a place is good bait.
Throughout the hot summer months the best of all live baits for trout are certain species of grasshoppers. Some of these may be captured even as late as October. There is a little, hard-bodied, green grasshopper, active and hard to catch, that appears early in the season and is a good fish lure at that time; but the later green ones are too soft and pulpy to stay on a hook, and they seldom bring a strike, anyway. Then there are the large, slow-flying, dry-looking locusts that become so numerous late in summer—they are worthless. What the fish want, and will go after, are the medium-sized 'hoppers with darkish, well marked bodies, red or yellow under wings, and a yw/Vy appearance. In the dog-days, when trout lie deep in the pools, sluggish and scornful of all other lures, it takes this sort of a grasshopper, kicking madly along the surface, to interest, excite, and compel your big old stagei to an athletic contest.
The time to catch grasshoppers is in the early morning, when the grass is still heavy with dew, or after a shower, or by moonlight after the dew has fallen. They are cold and torpid then, and you can pick up a boxful in no time. Common ways of hooking are through the upper part of the thorax, or through the "breastplate" and upward out through the head. Either of these will do in rippling water, though the bait dies quickly; but to provoke a lazy trout from the bottom of a still pool you must give your 'hopper every chance and encouragement to play the gymnast, and keep it up. This he cer^ tainly cannot do if impaled through the vitals. Tie a loop of thread around his body, under the wings and just ahead of the hind legs. Then run a small hook, from behind and forward, through this loop, on the under side of the insect's body, so that the bend of the hook hangs straight down between the legs and pointing backward. Harnessed in this way, the grasshopper is uninjured, and he is naturally balanced on the water. Drop him in, as far above the pool as circumstances will permit, and let the current carry him along while he kicks like a fury to rid himself of his incumbrance. It is a lump and a sot of a trout who can stand such a performance over his very nose.
Crickets have the same "season" as grasshoppers, and are used in the same way. You will find them under rocks and logs, or they can be captured in the open after a shower. Bass are not so fond cf grasshoppers and crickets as trout are; and yet, in the hot months, there are times when our notional small-mouth will take nothing else.
During the time of frost, bait may be hard to get; but fish have less choice then, and, correspondingly, are not so fanciful about their diet, when they have any appetite at all. Grubs may be found in decaying tree trunks, down-logs and stumps, which you can kick open or knock to pieces. Many insects hibernate under logs and rocks, loose old bark, rotting leaves, etc., and so do snails and lizards. A warm, thawing day will bring many of them out.
If the wanderer has saved a bit of bacon, he has fish bait ready at hand. Having caught one fish, then he has bait for others by utilizing the "throat latch" (the V of tough skin and tendon directly under the tongue), or a strip of white, glistening fish belly, which he will skitter on the water to imitate the motions of a live minnow. If the skin of a small trout or perch is used, leave the belly fin on.