No sane angler doubts the true fact that natural live bait, properly hooked and played, is the most perfect means to seduce game-fishes, and I frankly concede the point that if natural bait were now so abundant as to deem it wise to continue its use, the making and using of artificial imitations would be foolish. But we have arrived at the time - nay, past it - when all species of natural bait are very hard to capture and expensive to buy because of their scarcity; and most difficult to keep alive or in condition for use when you need them. Have I not in days gone by seen the tribulations of a live-bait angler and gained wisdom thereby ? Many a time have I gone through these troubles, and paid dearly for the precious value they gave, or intended to give, in sport. It may also be said, I have vainly argued with the wicked boy and his exorbitant demand for his frogs that looked so tempting - lying snug in a long row at the bottom of a wire-top cigar box. How different from mine was the masterful way in which the captives were held secure and safe; how easily recaptured if they got away. The large, fat man was pitifully helpless when these youthful tyrants insisted on a "quarter" each for these elusive jumpers that so mysteriously disappear an hour after the crisp bills have adorned the grimy paw of this miniature member of the "frog trust." What a look of disgust is pictured on the face of the most serene angler after playing and landing the first bass or pike to turn around and witness the last of the captives just diving from the edge of the boat into the water. The first impulse is to dive after them, or make a sudden move and a slip that nearly topples over the boat for a wetting. It is then, at such a time, the doleful wail goes up: " Why on earth didn't I get some artificial frogs ? They do at least lie still and are a mighty sight cheaper."
But more deplorable are the conditions when boys are at a premium, not to be found either for love or money. We and the tackle are all ready for the fray; conditions are just right and weather superb. We lay down our creel and rod, and grudgingly trudge off to the swamp in order to capture the pretty little greenbacks in their native lair. With a self-satisfied air we say: "It's easy enough with a net!" But is it, dear brother angler? You all know what a 'divil' of a time it is, jumping, running, then creeping on "all fours" with face splashed with mud, cuffs - if we have them - all wet and dirty; all the time muttering dire vengeance on the little animated bait fiends. We see plenty, feel plenty too, but catch and hold securely, we certainly do not. Meanwhile, time passes swiftly by; soon the "wicked hand of time is on the sign of noon," and we are still at it, still jumping, nearly with the same agility as the frogs themselves.
At this stage of the game there is this to say: our temper, while not exactly at boiling pitch, is quite warm enough to hunt for a pliable wand, or even a thick stick that is not rotten, and so, we vow, we'll catch 'em dead, if not alive. The fun grows apace. If we could only see ourselves as we appear on these occasions, crumpled hat on one side, face and neck well coated with sticky perspiration, tie and collar hanging at the back instead of the front, indulging in sprightly gymnastics that would make a clown's fortune. All these things would be saved unto us had we only been provided with an artificial frog, and the thought flashes through our mind: " What a darned fool to forget such a treasure!"
The stout stick or pliable withe - as the case may be - is brought down with such a whack on the poor little beastie that if the aim were true, surely it would drive it two inches into the soft green sward. Sometimes the aim is true, but not quick enough. Then, like the big drum man, we begin to beat more savagely than ever, until our weary bones ache with pain. We at last take a rest and time enough to say to ourselves: "Come now, this is no gentle angler," and patience returns. We soon manage to strike half a dozen enough to stun them. We quickly box the precious though light burden, and about 3 P.M., get to work fishing.
But frogs are not the only live bait to vex the placid angler; digging for lampreys is another back-breaking, pleasing pastime. How cheerfully we start off under the directions of an angling friend to that little sand-bar just below the third rapid, only about a mile away, and near by in the bushes a spade is hidden. We search but do not find, search again to find tracks of some previous angler who has been there, only to hide the spade in another place, and we hunt again in every likely spot until at last, in despair we pick up an old piece of iron-sheathing to do duty as a spade. Every bass fisherman knows that lampreys lie about six inches deep in wet muddy sand. Even with an improved patent spade work is hard, lampreys wofully scarce. We perhaps turn over a few little ones and these we grab quickly enough after infinite pains; secure three or four nice ones; even those we think, better than nothing, for the truth is, we are too tired after such labor to go at the fishing with the same vim we felt in the morning hours. Well, we have got them, we think, snugly packed in grass, the tin can securely tight in our pocket, convenient to abstract even when wading waist-deep in the current. But alas! The slippery eel was not made to handle with one hand, nor the rod to float obediently by our side. While capturing the slimy critters to hook, flop! goes our big one into the water. Another works its way up the shirt-sleeve. In desperation, we place the rod between our teeth, to leave our two hands free; yet still another hand would be welcome to save us from simply having grass for bait.
We cast forth the hooked one to lose our sad thoughts in the rigor of the game. In half a minute the wriggling terror has crawled under a rock, and budge it we cannot, being wound around the rock, lying snug in a hole, past recovery. We get so mad, giving a jerk and a pull, that the line comes back minus bait, hook, and leader. With a sad and weary smile we find it to be the last bait, and we have no bass. It is then, more than ever, we cry in anguish: "Oh, why didn't we get artificial eels!'