Jerry’s Outdoors: Know your bait, know your season

Jerry’s Outdoors

By Jerry Purviance

After almost 10 years in the bait biz one fact is an ever constant, most folks don’t realize that live baits/cutbaits/and prepared baits have their time of the year when they shine and when they have little to no effectiveness on catching fish.

Some have a little longer staying power while others might be as short as a few weeks and they are done. So to save you some aggravation let me run through the calendar year and give you some reasons why some baits just aren’t worth stocking all year round.

Typically, January, February and early March are ice season. So wax worms, spikes, and small minnows are the movers and shakers at the local bait shop. Wax worms, though available all most all year long move by the tubs during ice season. Spikes, a waxworm’s hearty and more expensive cousin, are only available in the coldest part of the year.

As soon as the weather warms up to around 50 they become unavailable through suppliers as they start to prepare to pupate (turn into moths). Depending on how long the ice sticks around in a given year it may be early or late March when the ice begins to melt from the rivers and lakes and we experience a brief period known as ice out.

Pretty much open water everywhere, still relatively cold water, but fish are starting to feed a little more vigorously after a long winter  Shad guts and whole shad are going to be the go-to baits for catfish anglers. Here again depending on the seasonal temps the shad gut period may last as little as three or fice weeks. Once the shad gut bite drops off, and it is pretty quick, there is really no reason to have it in stock cause ain’t nobody buying it.

Now about mid-April nightcrawlers and red worms are starting to become pretty effective baits for anything from sturgeon to bluegills. Most fish species at this time of early spring are in pre-spawn. Wax worms are still holding their own.

Now we are into early May and spawning of fish species are beginning to take place. Crappie are the first usually starting to stage around that 62 -65 water temperature. Small minnows are the bait of choice and fly out of the shop by the pounds. Wax worms work, as well as small crawlers, but small minnows are the champ. Bluegills and Bass tend to be towards the end of May early June when they spawn. Nightcrawlers and waxworms work great.

Now also about this time leeches become available. Leeches are harvested from lakes north of here in Minnesota and the Dakotas. It takes longer for the ice to melt off the lakes there and sometimes leeches are not able to be collected in traps until mid-May. Once we have them in stock, they fly out the doors by the pounds cause cat anglers love to hit them pre-spawning catfish with a leech. Now this only lasts about three to four weeks into about mid- to late-June. Then after spawning you couldn’t give a leech away.

By this time, we are into to July and the water has warmed up considerably making dip baits /cut baits /green sunfish/nightcrawlers the buffet of choice. Minnows are still effective but take a back seat. Due to the warmer air temps wax worms become too fragile and die too quickly to keep in stock. I will typically not stock these again till late fall.

Fast forward to late October. Things are slowing down on the fishing side of things as a good percentage of summertime anglers are now turning their attentions to hunting. Water temps are starting to drop, and stink baits are starting to become ineffective. Welcome Mr. Large Minnow to the stage. Walleyes are beginning to bite. The cooler it gets seems like the hotter the bite. Which can last all the way up to late December, or to the point the waterways start to freeze up and the whole things starts again.

I glossed over some finer points with a wide brush opting not to make it a long read with all fish species. So, this will hopefully give you a little understanding why we don’t carry some baits at some points of the year. I for one try to navigate each week of the year by buying enough bait so we don’t run out and we don’t have too much bait left over from the week before that the bait is not fresh. It can be a delicate balancing act, you have to be able to predict the weather, the fish biting, and the number of anglers going out. Every week.

It can be a challenge, but we will always try to have the right bait, at the right time, for the right season, available if we possibly can.

Jerry’s Outdoors Show heard Friday mornings at 9 a.m. on KWPC am 860 and FM 95.1.