Today’s Plastics Good Substitutions for Live Bait
Those who are traditionalists might ask the question, “why would an angler not use live bait?” Well, there are a number of reasons why. There are also an absolute plethora of great plastics that can put fish in the boat just as good, and in some cases, even better than live bait. Let’s look at a few.
Why use artificial? In some cases, it is required. CFIA, the Canada Food Inspection Agency, created a new law in October, 2020 that prevents Americans from transporting any bait, alive or dead or frozen or freeze dried, across the border. Without getting into the weeds about their intent for such a wide sweeping regulation, fortunately, we have some very good options.
In other cases, plastics might trump live bait when it is very expensive. When in remote areas, what are you willing to pay? In today’s world, artificial bait options are effective and much less expensive.
Artificial baits can be more convenient, easier to carry and always available despite the temperature. It doesn’t die. It doesn’t have a “knock you out” odor when it gets hot. You can often catch more than one fish on artificial lure. So hopefully we have at least established some legitimate reasons for considering artificial bait. Let’s discuss actual options.
Without getting into companies too deep, there has been some wonderful work being done with plastics. Companies like Storm (Rapala), Berkeley and Northland are certainly leaders in this field. There are many others that are good too.
Jigs and plastics. Great technology has been implemented in today’s plastics. Color, scent, action, today’s baits have them all. Let’s talk swimbaits. These are oftentimes lifelike lures that anyone can use as they are simple. Cast them out and reel them in. You can cover water. They create their own action. They are a multispecies lure.
Plastics, as they are called, have many different variations. One of the variations is the tail. There are split tails, twister tails and paddle tails. The tails will determine what kind of action and vibration the plastic has.
On any given day, fish may prefer one tail over the other.
Fish also may prefer a certain action on a given day. During cold water or cold fronts when fish are lethargic, they might prefer a very simple presentation of slowly reeling in the bait, nice and steady. On other days, they may need to be fired up more, basically getting the reaction bite with an aggressive jigging motion.
That is part of the fun of fishing is figuring the fish out. I am a big fan of working together to figure the fish out. When I say working together, I am referring to each person in the boat using something different or maybe doing something different with action. Let the fish tell you on that give day, or that given hour, how they prefer it. You then can mimic what is working the best.
Leeches. I sometimes wonder, just like crawlers, how much walleyes really desire eating an actual leech but rather, the combination of the swimming motion and scent that at times of the year make them desirable. There are some good knockoffs to nature in the leech category as well.
If you are trolling with an imitation leech, in my opinion, you can get away with a lot. If you are presenting the leech, for instance, under a bobber on a small jig head, it is important to have an imitation that moves on it’s own in the water. In a recent Head2Head fishing tournament that doesn’t allow live bait, Max Wilson, a pro angler used a newer product called Liquid Leech in such a manner and crushed the walleyes.
Spinners or crawler harnesses. When walleyes are spread out, it is sometimes helpful to cover water. One technique that is super effective for catching walleyes is trolling or drifting with a snelled spinner and a crawler or other live bait. If you don’t, or cannot use, live crawlers, what are your options. No worries, there are plenty of options.
A variety of lure companies make imitation crawlers or plastic worms that are lifelike and have scent, color and action to attract walleyes with this presentation. Don’t get me wrong, it is really hard to replace the qualities of a live crawler. However, there are actually times when an artificial worm is better.
One is when you are in a body of water with lots of panfish that are constantly stealing your live crawler. Another is when you are using a harness in weedy conditions. Much of the time when you pull out of a weed, you lose your crawler. This is a scenario when artificial crawlers shine.
Change isn’t always easy. Plastics have really come a long ways and if you are notorious for fishing mainly live bait, I encourage you to try some plastics. They are versatile, long lasting, effective and in many cases, a great alternative to live bait.