But what is cut bait? I have evolved into a cut bait catman. By that, I mean I use cut bait most of the time when I fish for channel cats. So, what is cut bait? I use a very broad definition that goes from the stepped on head of a perch or chub to a hook packed with punctured shiners.
Technically cut bait is cut fish, but there is more to it than hooking up a chub head and tossin’ it in the river. There are ways to approach the deployment of your cut fish that can affect the response you get in given situations. For instance, the size of the bait is a factor that can be adjusted to catch more cats. If you find that you are getting lots of peckers try scaling down the size of bait and hook you are using. You should see an improvement in your catch. The peckers have become eaters but are probably smaller fish.
I reversed this strategy last Saturday while fishing on the Susquehanna. From conversations we had during the week, I knew that the cats were biting lightly and that the guys were getting them by using smaller pieces of bait to entice them into holding the bait long enough to be hooked. Saturday evening found the cats in the same mood. When I met up with the boys they were already haulin’ the cats. They must have caught a dozen while I unpacked my gear and set stuff up.
I wasn’t interested in catching a bazillion cats. I was interested in catching one good fish that might be my next “the biggest cat I ever caught”. I used bigger pieces of bait and stuck them on big hooks. The smaller fish pecked away at my baits and I did catch some of them. Finally it happened; a big cat was on my line. She pecked at the bait a bit too but then my line slowly started to move out into the water and I set the hook. Big baits, big hooks and they were in the water when a big cat came by to investigate. The fish ended up being 29 inches and 10 pounds, I set up the presentation to get a result I wanted and it worked, this time.
So, what else can we do to get more out of a piece of cut bait? One thing that I do to make my cut bait sexy is to puncture it with the tip of a sharp knife. A couple dozen quick prick holes in a small minnow threaded on to a hook will release a strong scent trail that will flow downstream in the current and attract the cats to the bait. If I have a fish head I step on it lightly, just enough to crush but not smush it, producing the same effect allowing the scent of fresh fish juices to waft downstream with the river currents. The little tails that are left over can be jazzed by a few cross slices to increase the flesh exposure. The center sections of good sized baits are treated differently. I like to thread any bits of the viscera onto the hook (like hooking a worm) then, hook on the piece of bait to help hold it all together. Another trick for keeping the guts, milt or roe on a hook along with the meat that they were incased in is to use a thimble of elastic thread; just plain thread will work too. Take the end of the thread and grasp it in your fingers along with the upper shank of your hook then, wind a few wraps onto the shank and proceed to wrap up the bait and the soft parts up until they seem to be secure. Finish this with a couple over hand knots. This works well for chicken livers too.
Some baits that we trap or catch are actually pretty big fish in their own right. Bigger chubs, suckers, fallfish, carp and shad all belong in a special category and get special treatment. If you have a 12 inch chub or fallfish you can fillet it and then slice pennant shaped strips off the fillet to make attractive baits. The Guts of these pan sized minnows are particularly good bait. Catmen refer to this as the gut pocket and there are guys that fish gut pockets exclusively. The elastic thread trick is a definite advantage when tiring to whip a half an ounce of fish guts out 50 yards into the river, this is not for the squeamish but a catfish’s attraction to guts makes all the gore worth while.
Now we go from the pretty big to the truly big: carp and shad are both excellent material for making cut bait. If you are lucky enough to catch a shad this spring try this, soon after the catching scale the fish, do it right where you caught it. In the water the scales come off with out a bit of trouble and you will be done in a minute. If you wait till you get home you will have a mess of scales to clean and you will find that they have become glued to the fish. I have no idea why this happens but difference is dramatic. Filet your shad, cutting right through the bones and then cut the fillets into 1×4 inch chunks. These can be frozen and used at your convenience. The same goes for carp; unfortunately their scales are always hard to remove. Scale, fillet chunk and freeze, I have caught countless cats on cut shad and carp, they are well worth the extra trouble to get. A good carp will supply you and your buddies for many cat fishin’ trips.
Cut bait equals catfish, it is great cat bait. If you aren’t afraid to get a little bloody you can make it really work for you. I wonder if Jack the Ripper was a cat fisherman. You bring the beer I’ll bring the carp!
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