Don’t be too proud to overlook live bait in Texas fishing pursuits

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Texas fishing provides striped bass
Striped bass are among the fish anglers use live bait to catch

The vibrant afternoon that held promise had turned into a shadowy evening crammed with frustration.

The sloping sand flat littered with waving grass and oyster shells had produced a number of good fish in the past, but on this coastal day, the only reds and specks that materialized were in my mind’s eye.

As the kayak slowly rounded a bend in the sandy shore, I spied an elderly fellow exiting the water only 50 yards from where I’d launched. He had been fishing a long, deep cut that previously had given up fish and where an excess of artificial offerings had been sent on this day with no takers. A bait bucket and floating fishing caddy trailed behind as he slowly creeped toward the bank, eventually using the butt of his rod as a cane to pry himself from the sticky mud and onto dry land.

As the paddle sent me closer, the man took notice and gave a quick wave before shaking down his gear. Any thoughts of this gent sharing my angling futility quickly were thrown out when he lifted the hefty stringer of trout that had been hiding behind the caddy onto the tailgate of his pickup.

This angler sheepishly paddled up to get the goods.

“At least somebody found them,” I casually offered.

“Yeah, I finally got some live shrimp from the bait shop,” the old man said. “I caught three sandies and five redfish, too, but they were too small.”

Chalking it up, the lesson was learned – again.

Even if you don’t have a revved-up bass boat or some other craft, you still can catch fish if you adopt the simple strategy of trying live bait in Texas fishing pursuits.

At its core, fishing is simple: Introduce a tempting offering complete with barb, your quarry takes it and you reel them in. Somewhere along the way, all the tantalizing extras caught our fancy and made things more difficult than they have to be. Most die-hard bass anglers literally have boatloads of lures in a rainbow of colors and styles, some of which they never use. Many guys and gals who fit this description would be defined as purists, the type of angler who would rather not catch fish than have to admit to using live or prepared bait to scoop them into a net.

Fly fishing also has its purists, those folks who can’t fathom dredging a nymph below the surface to catch a fish that won’t act right and attack a dry fly. There was a time when the thought of a 6-inch brookie popping a yellow humpy trumped a 16-inch brown thumping a beaded nymph for me, too, but I soon came to my senses.

The key to fishing – especially this time of year – is to not make things harder than they have to be. With that in mind, the next few months are a great time to fish from or near the bank with live bait. Spring is a magical time for anglers looking to catch the biggest bass of their lives and though most lunkers are caught from a boat, there remains a good chance for someone angling from land to find big fish that have moved up to spawn.

The same goes for crappie, which also move into the shallows to spawn as water temperatures slowly rise. Boat docks and other structures near shore that may hold bass certainly also will have crappie near them this time of year, and there’s no better crappie bait than a live minnow. Our state record bass was caught on a minnow fished by an angler targeting crappie, so that certainly points to the versatility of using a live offering now.

East Texas anglers and those from Florida and California have learned the value of using live bait in the spring, including crawfish and waterdogs (larval salamander), for lunker largemouths and for good reason: A bass sitting on a nest hates intruders – especially live ones – and will act accordingly.

Though largemouths and crappie are sought-after fish, they aren’t the only ones that are primed for natural offerings. White bass that have started to run up numerous rivers to spawn can be caught using minnows and other live bait choices and the ubiquitous catfish – flathead, channel and blue – can be found in some form in almost every lake and river in the state and has never been finicky about a meal.

The best part about using live bait is that it simply outfishes artificials, making it perfect for introducing a youngster or beginner to the pursuit. Wearing someone out with all-day casting and little to no results is a drag, and I certainly can attest to it.

Even if you don’t have a revved-up bass boat or some other craft, you still can catch fish if you adopt the simple strategy of trying live bait.

You can take it to the bank.

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