As to minnows, the best thing an angler can do is to frankly admit there is more real sport in catching them than there is in bass fishing. Certain, we need not imagine it less lively or difficult. Who has not tried to drive a school of lovely minnows up a little brook, and with a net struggled to scoop them out of a convenient pool only to find the net held tight at the bottom by a rock or sunken branch which rips a hole right across it, and the water so muddy we are forced to wait fifteen minutes for it to clear. So we mend the net. By the time it is fit for work, the minnows have disappeared. We travel still farther only to find they have scattered; it is scarcely possible to secure a single specimen, each darting away like a flash before the net touches the water. What angler is there, I ask, who has not seen minnows in swarms so thick he could scoop them up easily with his hands at times when he did not require them; and yet when he did, how wofully scarce and hard they were to get! Again our minds turn to the maddening thought, how much easier bass fishing would be if one possessed an artificial minnow. The remembrance of them lying so quiet on the white cards in the tackle shops is galling in the extreme; to our minds they were more true to nature, and to our thinking more killing than the live ones. Like the frisky frog, when he was captured after such infinite pains, the vexatious problem loomed darkly as to keeping minnows in fit condition for fishing some miles away. We knew (some anglers don't) that the water should be kept at a low temperature or they would soon sink to the bottom or rise to float stiff with a ghastly paleness. Again, those white cards, upon which the beautiful minnows glistened day after day in the sunny window, without changing color!
However, we wrap the pail of minnows tenderly in our coat to keep them from the sun, and hope for the best, which at the end of the journey is very poor. We find one or two little fellows at the surface, with wide-open mouths, gasping for what we know not, but we hook one quickly to revive him in the cooling stream. It works to a charm, and so we change the water to save what few still live. After all the troubles, griefs, and woes, we are perhaps repaid by two or three nice fish - perhaps not - it is certain we there and then make a vow to wire from the nearest station: "Send a dozen artificial minnows at once; hang the price, so long as they are good." So we wait day after day, till a letter comes - "Sold out." The live-bait angler who can secure bait without much trouble and expense is very much to be envied, but certainly he is a rare individual, and uncommonly smart. In another way he is to be pitied in that he loses a mixture of spice and a fair amount of discipline that makes the perfect angler what he is famed to be, sweet of temper and kind of heart. The writer, years ago, ran the whole gamut of live-bait hunting; they are all alike as to capture. The wily "dobson" as well as the shy and retiring crawfish have in a way their own peculiar habits and manners, and although in truth they are not quite so hard to keep alive, yet they have other remarkable traits that make them as like each other as one grape is like the rest of the bunch. The live-bait angler can with justice say the artificial-lure man has also troubles to vex him, and for that reason I have in latter years been trying to dodge these darker sides of an angler's life, and find a cure-all for some at least.
How live frogs should float..
How live frogs usually float..
Last year I read an interesting letter from an angler, referring to his experiments on live bait, in administering a very small dose of brandy in order to make the bait more lively in the water, therefore, enticing the game-fish in addition to forgetting his own woes. Every angler is aware that dead frogs, minnows, and other baits are less effective than lively ones. Frogs, after the first few casts, have a tendency, even when alive, to float, belly up. This indecent habit is neither pleasing to the angler nor agreeable to the fish, and I find the aforesaid brandy treatment to be a complete cure for that and other ills.
My first experiment was made on a six-inch chub caught on the fly when trout fishing. Providing myself with a small bottle, holding but two table-spoonfuls of the liquid, in order that I could easily pour single drops, I unhooked the fish, gave it two full drops, then placed it back in the water. The effect on its movements was magical. Swimming about at such a lively rate, going round and round with amazing rapidity, I felt at once convinced that the idea was a complete success. Such being the case with fish bait, why not on a young frog? The result would be even more gratifying. So I set to work, caught a frog, gave him a dose that started him kicking before even being placed in the water. After hooking it and putting it in the water, it was the most joyful active frog I ever saw, swimming about in all directions in the most animated manner. Had there been bass or pike within a radius of fifty feet, it would have been devoured in no time. Of course, I was careful to consider that an overdose would be fatal; that the smaller the frog or minnow, the less be the necessary dose.
I am convinced that this plan of giving a stimulant to live bait not only induces the lively action and quick movement so valuable to the angler but it also helps to keep them alive much longer, if the fish do not at once take them. I also assume that whatever pain the frog has to endure, such a dose would be certain to lessen. Since this chapter appeared in magazine form, the country has gone bone-dry; so I advise those plutocrats who prudently hoarded a good supply to save a stock for this beneficent purpose.
After reading the foregoing, the childlike and trusting amateur will, I hope, perceive that a wise selection of the best lures or self-made ones, however crude, should be part of every fisherman's kit; that is, if he wants to catch fish and the time at his disposal is short; otherwise, for the greater part of the vacation he will be everlastingly on the jump for live bait. Five dollars spent in lures is a mighty good investment compared to that required in purchasing live bait. There is trouble in lures as in live bait, but of a different kind, which the amateur will soon find out for himself, and he will at last conclude, as I have after many years' practice, that angling is a curious mixture of pleasure and pain - the latter most often predominating. All the same, we like it, and are never tired, whatever the result may be.