Walleye fishing icons Gary Roach and Doc Samson won’t be giving up live
bait anytime soon
Live bait is back, baby. You better believe it. Despite the buzz about plastics,
the reality is,
walleyes eat live bait. Period. In the end, all artificial lures lack two potent,
ingredients: organic random movement and instinctive flight response. In the
predators, live baits like minnows exhibit a set of natural, random escape maneuvers.
moves represent the single most effective strike triggers in existence. Often,
other species) simply will not ingest an offering until they’ve examined
it for extended periods.
Without all the little shakes, twitches and retreat signals performed by live
bait, sometimes you
simply will not get bit.
Talk is talk. Yet the truth lives within the boats of master walleye men.
Inside the bait wells of
anglers the likes of Gary Roach and Bruce “Doc” Samson reside a
perpetual, steady supply of
fresh live bait. Let’s begin with Mr. Walleye himself.
Roach on Rigging
“When the going gets tough, it’s still tough to beat a Roach (live
bait) Rig, even after all these
years,” states the venerable Roach. “Quick-Change
Walking Sinker, ant swivel, fine-wire VMC cone-cut hook, and Roach
Finesse Snell—still the deadliest live bait delivery system ever devised.”
The real beauty of the rig, Roach says, lies in its simplicity. But it’s
a deceptive simplicity, Roach adds.
“This rig didn’t happen overnight. It took years of fishing effort,
tweaking and redesigning.” The result, Roach says, is a rig that simply
places bait in the walleye’s face, then steps back and allows the tasty
morsel to steal the show. “Keep a rig and active live bait in front of
a walleye, and eventually, she’ll eat. It’s as close to a sure thing
Crawler Haulin’ Hawgs
There are times, of course— especially as water warms in summer—
when extra speed, bulk and flash trigger big fish. It’s why when Roach
finds walleyes on broad flats, he reaches for the bottom bouncer rods. “When
walleyes get cranked up in summer, I love running a big spinner rig,”
Roach continues. “Flashy Colorado blades, beefed up #6 beads and a 4-foot
snell tied with 17-pound test Berkley XT and run behind a bottom bouncer –
it’s a package that puts a fat juicy crawler in front of a lot of big
Developed on the Great Lakes and windswept western reservoirs, the Crawler Hauler
by Northland Fishing Tackle is equally at home on shallow, dark water
rivers and lakes. “Lots of times, bulking up your rig is far more effective
than the usual tendency to downsize, especially for big fish, and at night,”
Longtime tournament ace and electronics guru, Doc Samson, agrees. “Live
bait is simply about confidence,” Samson offers. “Even in the toughest
bites, live bait adds the extra dimensions of natural scent and movement. As
Gary says, eventually something’s going to eat it.”
For Samson, live bait has been like money in the bank. In 2002, he walked away
with a cool $300K, winning the FLW Championship with Roach Rigs and minnows.
More recently, he cashed a first place check at a PWT event at Ottertail Lake,
Minnesota, rigging a 1/16-ounce Northland Thumper Jig and leech below a slip-float. “I love blade jigs like the Thumper,”
“Lots of fishermen think they’re for dirty water only. Actually,
they shine in clear water; I think the flash of the little spinner better attracts
walleyes in clear water, because there’s more light available to reflect
off the blades.” Walleyes, Samson believes, detect the subtle baitfish-like
flash of the blades flickering near the bottom, and swim over to eat. A vigorous
leech seals the deal.
“Rig your float rig so the jig hovers just inches off bottom,”
he instructs. “In troughs between waves, the jig dips and the blade just
rubs bottom—looks exactly like a silvery-sided baitfish. Tipped with a
leech, this is a real go-to method,” he offers, with a grin.
Keeping Your Soldiers Happy
For live bait artists like Roach and Samson, proper bait care is key—but
it’s also the one step most anglers fail to execute. “My baits are
like my soldiers,” says Samson. “They’re always fresh and
ready for combat. I often see guys fishing bait that’s in really sorry
shape. I want to tell them they might as well be fishing with an old sock.”
To assure your bait stays healthy and happy, follow a few simple steps:
Minnows – Maintain a steady cool environment
in your bait container (under 60-degrees whenever possible), adding non-chlorinated
ice to baitwells as water warms. Avoid adding too much ice at once, which can
shock and kill baitfish. Keep water infused with a steady stream of oxygen,
too. An insulated baitwell, such as a Frabill Aqua-Life Bait Station, provides
a cool, aerated baitfish environment. Change water every day in cooler weather;
several times on hot summer days.
Crawlers – The “happiest” environment
for crawlers is within an insulated cooler filled with slightly damp (not soggy)
worm bedding. Bedding is cleaner and makes for robust crawlers. Frabill offers
a great bait care product called the Habitat Deluxe Worm Kit. The kit includes
a large insulated “Habitat” cooler, smaller cooler for toting enough
bait for a trip, a pack of specially-formulated Super-Gro bedding, and even
a jar of crawler food. Here’s an old guide secret: just minutes before
fishing, place a crawler into a small cup of cool water. The crawler will swell
in size, becoming fat and frisky on the hook. Don’t over soak.
Leeches – Like baitfish, leeches require cool,
clean water. Most top walleye anglers keep leeches in a container like a Frabill
Leech Tote, which fits nicely inside your boat’s aerated livewell. The
Tote features a removable bait strainer that lets you hand-select the choicest
leeches in the stash.
As long as walleyes swim, livebait will remain a prime presentation. Put a
frisky minnow, leech or crawler in a walleye’s face and it’s over.
They just can’t help themselves.