But many other food sources that are just as important as minnows are often overlooked. One of the most overlooked baits are crayfish. Crayfish are a staple in most water systems and will sometimes catch more and bigger fish than minnows or lures that imitate minnows.
Live crayfish are great live bait for smallmouth bass, walleyes, catfish and carp. Crayfish are also pretty easy to obtain, and are tough on the hook. Most fishermen like to hook the bait through the end segment of the tail.
You can fish live crayfish bait in many ways, but the most productive I've seen was shown to me by some old-timers on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. The approach was to fish them under a sliding bobber and let them drift naturally with the current. That is a great presentation for river smallmouths, channel cats and walleyes.
Another interesting use of crayfish as a bait is to peel the tail like you would a steamer shrimp, and fish them on the bottom. I first saw this approach more than 30 years ago on the Potomac River for smallmouth bass and catfish, but later saw crayfish tails as bait used for rainbow trout in Montana, and steelhead in Washington State.
There are a number of artificial lures that successfully imitate crayfish. Some look almost exactly like a crayfish and others are more suggestive. I have always thought that the popular tube lures are taken by bass as crayfish.
Fly fishermen now know that crayfish flies are very effective when fished like a nymph with an upstream cast and natural drift through holding waters. Two great crayfish patterns are the Clouser Crayfish and Dave Whitlock's NearNuff Crayfish pattern. The crayfish flies have been used successfully on just about every freshwater species.
The importance of crayfish to nearly every species of freshwater fish is well-documented. If you use crayfish lures and baits you will be a more successful angler - no matter the species you are after.
My new pond is now getting a stocking of breeder crayfish. The bass will thank me later.
Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.