We’ve all had those days … reports say the crankbait bite is on and you hit the lake in anticipation of a day full of catching walleyes on hard baits. However, the walleyes failed to listen to the reports, mother nature tosses in a cold front, and what you’d hoped would be an easy day on the water turns into one of those "You should have been here yesterday" scenarios. As you and your empty livewell head in at the end of the day, you reflect on what you could have done differently. Your mistake … not having a "Plan B"… specifically, no bait!
It’s a scene that plays out quite often, especially this time of year. Walleyes are beginning the transition from summer patterns to early fall, and at this point in the season, you need to take a bit of advice from the Boy Scouts, and "Be Prepared". Walleye fishing is a game of versatility and diversity. If you don’t head out on the water with and open mind and a back-up plan or two, you could end up fishless at the end of the outing.
While it’s true that walleyes can be caught on artificial lures of several types, when the bite gets tough, live bait can be the absolute best alternative. Amazingly, many walleye anglers baulk at carrying live bait, be it crawlers, minnows or leeches, mostly because proper care of it can be a chore. With the right bait systems though, it doesn’t have to be.
Minnows are popular live bait for walleyes whether used to tip a jig or worked on a live bait rig. Although they are typically thought of as a "cool water – spring and fall" choice, there are times in the heat of late summer when they catch more than their fair share of fish. Keeping minnows lively on a hot day however takes a bit of care. Many of today’s modern walleye boats are equipped with built-in baitwells, some even with their own aeration systems, and these can be very handy for keeping minnows alive and lively. Even keeping your minnows in your boat’s livewell with the use of a minnow bucket is better than hanging the bucket over the side of the boat on a warm day.
Another great alternative is to use an aerated bait bucket like Frabill’s Aqua-Life Bait Station model 1409 or the Min-O²-Life Aerated Bait Bucket model 1405. Whether you’re keeping your minnows in a baitwell, livewell or another type of bait keeping system, you’ll find 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. Load up the Bait Tamer with minnows, drop in your baitwell or bait bucket, and when you need a minnow, simply pull out the Bait Tamer allowing the water to drain out the mesh, reach in and grab the bait. Then just toss the Tamer back in the water, and your ready to catch a fish.
Night crawlers are a dynamite walleye bait all summer long, but can be especially deadly in late summer and early fall, either behind a spinner or fished alone on a plain snell and bottom bouncer rig. Crawlers can also be a very economical bait choice, if you buy them in bulk and keep a good supply on hand throughout the season. To do that, you need a quality storage system like those available from Frabill. Use the Habitat V (for up to 12 dozen crawlers) or the Habitat II (for up to 8 dozen crawlers) to insure your crawlers stay in good shape for long periods of time. Then when you’re ready to go fishing, transfer a couple dozen into a smaller container like the Deluxe Crawler Crib or Lil’ Fisherman Worm Tote, and you’re set. The bedding you keep your crawlers in is very important to how well your bait will hold up too. Frabill’s Super-Gro Worm Bedding is ideal because it’s odorless, mess-less, and creates a clean environment for your crawlers (no more muddy gunk to dirty up your boat’s carpeting!).
Leeches are another top choice when it comes to live bait for walleyes. When the bite gets tough, hook one of these wiggly little guys on a slip-sinker live bait rig and work it real slow through the fish zone. Walleyes will find that undulating morsel tough to resist. The main factor in keeping leeches in good condition is to keep them in a good supply of fresh water. However, anyone who’s tried to catch a lively leech swimming around in a good sized bucket knows you can end up spending more time catching the bait than catching fish. Frabill offes the handy Leech Tote. Its a "mini-bait bucket" designed to be tossed into a livewell, baitwell or bait bucket and easily holds a couple to three dozen leeches. Simply pull out the Leech Tote, open it up, grab a leech, and you’re ready to bait-up. No more chasing leeches around the bucket.
Next time the fishing report says the crankbait bite is fast and furious, grab your cranking tackle and head for the water! Just make sure you’ve got a good "Plan B" and a supply of live bait on board as well. It’s never a fun day on the water when you’re caught unprepared and realizing you "should’ve been here yesterday". Keeping a good supply of live bait is easy and convenient if you equip yourself with good bait storage systems.