Owning and working in a tackle store I get the privilege of talking to fisherman all day long about all types of fishing. And regardless of how long they've been fishing for I am usually able to come up with something new for them to try; even more so when it comes to bait fishing. Like any form of fishing using the right bait, collecting and storing it properly can make the difference between catching fish and going home empty handed. I find a lot of anglers for one reason or another get stuck into a routine of using just one type of bait, and whilst this may be fine if you catch fish with it every time, what if you don't?
Collecting or finding and gathering bait for fishing is a tradition for many. Many anglers started fishing careers by digging in the garden for worms or scrounging around a beach looking for pippies, and such, to have bait for a session. It's not until later in life, perhaps in our teens that we progressed to using lures and other methods besides bait to catch a fish. Its something parents can do with the kids and it can be a lot of fun for them as well as learning new things about the world around them.
Worms; probably the most well known and oldest used form of bait for fishing. There are several species, but the most common used by anglers are scrub worms, tigers, bloodworms and of course sand worms used for beach fishing. Scrub worms are normally very large, as thick as your finger and up to 4-5 inches in length. Because of their size only one is needed on a hook and I find a bronze size 1 baitholder ideal for these big buggers. A little trick I learnt years ago was to inject a small amount of air into them using a syringe and they would float just off the bottom out of the mud and weed. This is a great attracter for fish as it will be seen from a long way off and a big juicy worm like these will not be refused. Be sure to only thread the hook into the worm once and don't hide the hook point. Tiger worms can be identified easily because they have light colored rings around them which give them a tiger stripe effect. Tigers are normally very small and quite a few should be used on a hook. Because they are so thin I recommend using a very fine gauge hook like a Daiichi 2451 size 6. Bloodworms are basically your more common garden worm, slightly dark in color with a visible ring one third the way down the body and is lighter in color than the rest of the body. These worms make a fantastic bait especially when they are fat and 2-3 will fit on a size 6 - 1 bronze baitholder and be sure to only thread a small section of the worm onto the hook as the extended ends will wriggle and move even more when they are left in the water for quite a while and the movement is a great visual attractor for fish. Flat tails look very similar to a garden worm and are just as effective and should be fished the same way.
Collecting worms is fairly easy. A pitch fork should be used, as a shovel can cut the worms in half as you turn over the soil. Moist areas such as compost heaps, under logs, cow pats, and by digging up a garden bed or in wooded gullies that are well shaded. They can be kept (in most cases) for an indefinite period of time as long as they are kept in a well ventilated container and the soil they are kept in is not too moist. I prefer to keep them in black soil and store them in the fridge as it is very important to keep them cool. As a kid my old man used to lay out newspaper on our lawn and wet it down with a hose. The worms would be attracted to the surface with the moisture at night and come morning we would turn over the newspaper and find heaps of worms stuck to it, which made for easy retrieval. Worms can be fished unweighted, under a float, rigged with a running sinker and even trolled behind a set of cowbell attracters, which are available at most tackle stores. I know it sounds strange but you'd be surprised at how many fish you will catch trolling worms. They are a bait that can be found all year round with a bit of work and can even be used in saltwater. Fish like bream, trevally, mullet and a host of other saltwater species will readily take scrub and garden worms. Beach worms can be found around the shore wash of most beaches and their homes are identifiable by a small swirly looking mound of sand. This is where a bait pump comes into its own. The pump is placed directly over the mound and pushed down into the sand whilst pulling the handle up simultaneously. This creates a vacuum and the pump fills with sand. By pulling the pump out and pushing the handle back down you expel everything in it, including hopefully the sandworm. Some sandworms can be massive in length, some several feet. A worm that large will make several baits.
Grass hoppers and beetles all make choice baits at times of the year when they appear. Grass hoppers can be collected by hand or with a small net in grass paddocks or in tussocks along the edge of the river you are to fish. They usually appear through summer and there are many species of grass hoppers that come in various sizes and colors, but they all catch fish. They can be rigged through the body with a fine gauge hook and cast unweighted on light line up stream and left to float with the current. It's not hard to tell when trout are feeding on grasshoppers because their rises are normally fairly splashy. Beetles are another common trout food. Again there are plenty to choose from but in the central highlands gum beetles can be prevelant. I prefer to fish these rigged on a small fly hook and cast with a float rigged ½ a rod length from the hook. Other bugs like cockroaches can be found under rocks and logs in darkened places and cast unweighted and left to drift are deadly.
Pippies, mussels and oysters make fantastic bait for nearly all saltwater fish. Pippies or cockles can be found around the shore wash of beaches. Sometimes they are buried in the sand just below the surface and the mounds are a give away. If there are very few at the surface you can find them by twisting your body to drive your feet into the sand and you will "feel" the pippie and be able to collect it. Mussels are found around pylons and rocks, as are oysters. You will need a flat head screwdriver or a flat nosed divers knife to pry open an oyster or mussel. These are soft baits, and baitholder style hooks are a definte advantage. Bait mate thread can also be used to tie the bait to the hook. These soft flesh baits can be frozen for later use but it is best to only take the quanity needed for a days fishing.
Crabs of various species and nippers are also found on beaches and around weed and rocks. Small black crabs are gun bream bait, and to a lesser extent green and soldier crabs. The best place to hunt for crabs is around rock pools. Carefully lift smaller stones and you will find crabs scurrying around and can be easily picked up. Their claws are usually small and don't hurt if they latch on to your finger. Soldier crabs are good for a number of species and can be found running over beaches in their hundreds like small blue spiders. These don't have claws as such and can be picked up before they bury themselves into the sand. With these smaller crabs I prefer an octopus type hook with a wide gape and only just pin the hook through the shell at the bum end. They are best fished live if possible and I don't like trying to keep them for later use as they never survive, so its best to just release what you have left before you go home.
Nippers or one armed bandits as they are also called need to be pumped from the sand using a bait pump. Nippers also have a tell tale hole in the sand and you pump these the same way you wood a beach worm. Fished dead or alive nippers are deadly on whiting, salmon,bream and just about everything else that swims. They can be very hard to find as they tend to be in small groups, so many fisherman protect their nipper grounds with great secrecy. I rig them on either a long shank hook by inserting the point at the base of the tail and running it just under the shell along its back bringing it out in the gap just before the head shell. With the hook point facing up you won't snag up as much and the hook won't drag in the sand. The other method is to just pin the nipper in his tail fin with a small octopus type hook. Sand crabs are often a by catch when surf fishing and are cursed by the people that catch them as they are good bait stealers, but they themselves are a gun bait, if used fresh, for gummy sharks.
These are the larvae of a dragonfly and are approximately an inch in length. They live in all freshwater rivers, dams and lakes. They can be found under logs and rocks that are submerged or in weed beds. They can be collected by hand only in Tasmania. There are two species of mudeye, one of which is called the couta mudeye. I suspect this is because of its elongated shape and this guy has a great set of nippers on his head that will grab onto your finger if you aren't quick enough to pick it up between your fingers. This is by far the best of the two species to use as bait, and this is proven on the mainland where the only mudeyes they sell are couta's. In fact I believe that nearly all coutas caught by commercial operators in Tasmania are exported to the mainland. Which makes collecting them by hand yourself the only option to get some. Spider mudeyes (shown above) are the other variety and are short round little bugs with no nippers. Both mudeyes can be used as bait and the best way to rig them is by putting a small size 16 hook through their wing case which is as hard as plastic. This doesn't hurt the mudeye and he will happily swim around all day, which is exactly what you want. A dead mudeye is next to useless in my book, and I see far too many fisherman putting a hook through their bum, which kills them. Mudeyes swim by expelling water through their bums so by putting a hook their it stops them swimming and they don't last anywhere near as long as they would hooked through the wing. The best way to hook them through the wing is to very gently bend them in half which forces the very short wings upward away from the body making it easier to put the hook through. Mudeyes can be kept for several days to weeks by soaking an egg carton in water then put this into a polystyrene box and kept in the fridge at around 6 degrees. Every 4-5 days take them out and give them a swim in a tub of cold water for a few minutes so they can rehydrate themselves. Mudeyes are best fished under a float but can also be trolled behind attractor type cowbells.
A favored bait by many Tasmanians. The common wood grub is found in many types of trees whilst the wattle grub is of course found in a wattle tree. Wood grubs love dead trees so look for old logs beginning to rot and carefully split them with an axe. You will see the sawdust type remains of where a grub has been in his tunnel, so if you follow this you should find the grub. Wattle grubs are a different kettle of fish so to speak. In a live tree you will see bits of sawdust type remains at the base of the tree this will tell you that there is an active grub in the tree and upon careful inspection you should be able to determine the entrance to his hole. The tricky part is to then spilt the tree carefully until you find the grub, but I assure you, this isn't as easy as it may sound. Grubs can be rigged in may different ways and this will depend if you are using them as a bait on the bottom, or under a float or if you a spinning with them. Wood grubs are of course the larvae of a moth.
An under utilized bait by fisheman. These are the life blood for freshwater fish and live in the mud, sand and weeds on lake beds and under rocks and logs in the rivers. They are very small and are the larvae of mayflies, stoneflies and caddis plus others. They are approximately 15mm in length and 4 or 5 pinned through their tails on a fine gauge size 10-14 fly hook and fished under a float make them a deadly bait for trout. The best place to find them so they are easily identified to the uninitiated is in a river, if you carefully pick up a few rocks and look underneath eventually you will find one that has a small insect moving about and that will be a nymph.
These and other small saltwater bait fish are great bait fished live for flathead and other fish. These can be collected by buying a clear plastic bait trap from a tackle store or by using a clear 2 litre juice bottle. One of the squarer varieties are best because it will lay flat on the sand. There are two ways you can use it, one is to simply place a piece of stale bread inside then just place in water with the cap off in about 1 foot or less deep and leave for short while. The other way which I prefer is to leave the lid on and cut a small long hole on one side just like a tissue box. Place stale bread inside and place in a depth of water that just leaves about an inch or 2 of water flowing over the hole. The baitfish swim into the hole and feed on the bread, upon your return just whip the bottle out and you should have a few fresh and lively baits.
Using fresh bait is by far more productive than something frozen or salted. It's not hard to collect bait once you locate where it is. All that is needed is a few simple tools, like a bait pump and a pitch fork. Your kids will have a ball chasing crabs or pumping nippers, you could even start a worm farm at home and have fresh bait on tap. A great part of fishing is the preparation like rigging up your rods, sorting out your tackle box etc it all builds the anticipation of another trip and collecting bait is just an extension of that. The most important thing I might add to all of this to only take what you need, there's no point taking a heap more than you need because the idea is to use it fresh and just as important is to not transport various baits to areas where they are not found as this can upset the ecology of where your fishing.