Is there one live bait that out-produces anything else? Yes … the one the fish prefer on that day! Seasonal patterns can give us general guidelines to follow like; minnows in cold water (spring, winter and fall), and crawlers or leeches in warm water (summer), but like so many things in walleye fishing, there are exceptions.
Minnows are great cold water bait. The classic jig and minnow combo has accounted for more successful spring fishing outings than probably any other technique, and for ice fishing, minnows are often the only live bait available. However, just putting a minnow on your hook isn’t going to guarantee that you’re fishing the right bait. Often, it has more to do with the type of minnow being used than anything else. Most bait shops carry Fatheads, a standard minnow choice in many cases. They’re hardy, lively, and walleyes love them. But in some areas there are many other choices like Emerald Shiners, Lake Shiners, Dace, Redtail Chubs, Creek Chubs and Suckers. Most bait shops offer different sizes of minnows too, from tiny Crappie minnows to Suckers large enough to fillet. Choosing the right minnow for the body of water being fished and the conditions you’re faced with will have much to do with how many walleyes brought to the net.
Cold water is not the only time minnows are effective. One of the deadliest tactics we use from summer through early fall is to target walleyes relating to deep structure using a bottom bouncer, plain snell and a 4 to 6 inch Creek Chub. Creek Chubs are very lively, and are a favorite walleye meal in many waters. They are not available everywhere however, and you’ll need to check your local regulations to see if they are even legal where you fish. If you are interested in fishing Chubs, be aware that they can be difficult to keep alive. Creek ChubThey are very delicate when it comes to changes in water temperature, and it’s a real heart breaker to get to the lake only to find you just spent your hard earned cash on a bucket full of dead bait. A good bait keeping system like Frabill’s Aqua-Life Bait Station or a large cooler equipped with a couple of Frabill Aqua-Life Portable Aerators is a good idea for protecting your investment.
Many of today’s modern walleye boats are equipped with built-in baitwells, and these can be very handy for keeping minnows. Even keeping your minnows in your livewell with the use of a minnow bucket can be better than a bucket hung over the side of the
boat. Whether you’re keeping your minnows in a baitwell, livewell or another type of bait keeping system, you’ll find that retrieving a minnow to bait-up with, to be a lot easier with the help of a neat bait keeper called the Bait Tamer by JNB Originals. It’s a bucket-shaped mesh bag that comes in three sizes to fit most any bait container, and collapses when not in use for easy storage
Nightcrawlers are great live bait in summer, but here too, you need to take care to insure the bait stays lively and in good condition if it’s going to work. The best systems we’ve found for keeping crawlers is Frabill’s series of Crawler containers. The Frabill Habitat Worm Storage Systems can handle up to 12 dozen crawlers for long-term storage. For those trips to the lake, the Crawler Cribs keep the worms cool, moist and lively. The bedding you keep your crawlers in is very important to how well your bait will hold up, and Frabill’s Super-Gro Worm Bedding is ideal. It’s odorless, mess-less, and creates a clean environment for your crawlers (no more muddy gunk!).
One trick many savvy walleye anglers use when fishing with crawlers is to “condition” them prior to putting them on a hook. You do this by dropping a handful of crawlers in a small bucket or cooler of ice water. After a short while, the crawlers are pumped up and livelier than ever. This works especially well when using crawlers on a livebait rig where you’re moving slow enough to allow the crawler to squirm around in front of the walleyes. Once the crawlers have been in the ice water, do not put them back in with the rest of your worms because they aren’t going to live long and will contaminate your worm bedding.
Although many folks have a tough time handling Leeches, they are actually the cleanest and one of the most productive baits to use for walleyes. They don’t smell up your hands like minnows, there’s no bedding to clean out of the boat carpeting at the end of the day, and walleyes eat them up like candy. It is important to keep your leeches in cool, clean water for longer storage periods. When on the water, your leeches will perform better if kept at the same temperature as the water your fishing in so that they don’t “ball-up” on the hook. The best way to do this is to keep a supply in Frabill Leech Toteyour baitwell or livewell using a Frabill Leech Tote. Simply put your leeches in the Leech Tote, close it up, and toss it in the baitwell or livewell. When its time to bait-up, take the Tote out, open it up and grab a leech … no more chasing leeches around a container of cold water.
The one thing that remains constant no matter what bait you’re using is that good quality live bait is a must in order to get the best results. That may seem like a no-brainer, but there is much more to keeping live bait lively than most anglers realize. Many of us will end up spending a good chunk of change on livebait over the course of a season, so it only makes sense to invest in good bait keeping equipment to insure good luck every time you hit the water.