Equal Opportunity Gluttons

If bluegills got to be a hundred pounds, no one would ever be safe swimming.

My family and I were on vacation one year soon after the end of school, and we headed to Lake Catherine in Arkansas, more to rest and relax than fish. However, it was on this trip that I learned something about the culinary habits of bream. They’re not particular; they’ll eat darn near anything.

On this particular getaway, I awoke before the family one morning, took my mug of coffee and stepped outside into the warm June sunshine. As I sat on the little porch attached to the cabin we had rented, I noticed an old man sitting on a nearby dock. Before I could finish my coffee, I had watched him hook and land half a dozen hand-sized bream and toss them back into the lake.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I sauntered down to the dock to watch this old fellow do something at which he was obviously adept, and that was catching bream.

“Having a good morning, I see,” I said.

“Yup … catching a few,” he drawled.

“What’re you using for bait?” was my next question.

He said not a word but held up the “bait” for me to see. It was a slice of white bread. He was molding small pieces of bread into lumps and threading them onto his hook. The bream were eating it up. I hurried back to the cabin, grabbed my fishing pole and loaf of bread and was soon joining him for a totally enjoyable fishing experience.

After reading this, I know you’re not likely to stop by the grocery story for a loaf of Holsum before your next trip to the lake. However, what I learned from an old man on a fishing dock that morning let me know that when bream are on their feed, you can catch them on virtually anything.

One of the more intriguing bream baits I ever saw in use occurred one day more than 20 years ago while attending the annual conference of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association on Black Lake.

A special guest for our get-together was an Englishman, Mick Thill, who had perfected the art of catching fish to the point he was named a European fishing champion. He brought his skills to demonstrate for the state’s outdoor writers. While his fishing equipment was state-of-the-art with perfectly balanced poles, line and bobbers, it was the bait he used that attracted the most attention.

Before he began his fishing demonstration, he used a slingshot he’d filled with his special bait, and flung it out into the water where he was to fish. Momentarily, he lobbed his offering out, and the bobber immediately went under.

His bait? Maggots. Fish love them, but because of their origin, your best bet to secure enough of these creepy crawlers is to visit your local bait shop. They’re widely available; you can even find them on Ebay.

These maggots are actually larvae of the blue bottle fly, the type of fly you see swarming around the rotting carcasses of dead animals, piles of animal excrement and other such putrid places.

Maggots, or “maggies,” as Thill called them, are similar to another couple of types of worms used for bait by bream fishermen. Wax worms and meal worms both look similar to maggots, but have different origins.

Wax worms are larvae of the bee moth while meal worms eventually morph into darkling beetles.

Wax worms are popular baits on Arkansas trout streams. Put a couple of these on a hook, and you’re fighting a rainbow trout in a few seconds. Bream treat them the same. Dangle wax worms, meal worms or maggots in front of a hungry bluegill, and watch the bobber disappear.

It’s probably a toss-up as to which bream bait Louisiana anglers use the most — earthworms or crickets. However, earthworms come in many forms, and it would probably be helpful to identify a few of the more popular varieties used as fish bait.

The common nightcrawler is a worm you’ll likely find enjoying the company of your day lilies and lantana in your yard. These big worms like the moist humus of flower beds, and a typical bed of impatiens will hold enough night crawlers to fill your fishing needs for a day.

One problem — your wife might not think too kindly of you should she catch you with a sharp-shooter shovel, unearthing some of her prized dahlias in search of nightcrawlers. Thus, other methods are available to keep the plants intact while furnishing you all the worms you’ll need.

One of my favorite methods of extracting nightcrawlers from rich, damp flower beds is to use a simple homemade device. I’ll take a small-diameter dowel rod or a length of limb, cut it into two equal lengths and notch one of the halves every quarter inch for at least six inches along its length.

While inserting the notched portion into the ground where you suspect night crawlers to be hanging out, vigorously rub the other piece of rod or limb up and down the notched portion. This action creates vibrations that are irritating to worms, and they’ll come to the surface quickly to get away from the noise and vibration. It’s a simple matter to pick them up and drop them in your bait bucket.

Another popular type of worm that bream love is the red wiggler. Go to the bait store, pick up a box of worms and unless you’ve specified differently, red wigglers are what you’ll find in your box.

These worms are often grown by fishermen at home. I’ve seen them thriving in old ice chests, abandoned refrigerators with doors removed or any type of enclosure where they can’t escape.

My brother-in-law Roy Dupree, who lives near Goldonna on Clear Lake, raises his own supply of red wigglers.

He starts out with a mixture of peat moss, organic topsoil and shredded newspapers. Red worms left over from fishing trips or purchased are added to the mixture. For feed, he uses commercial chick starter, the non-medicated type. Chemicals in the medicated type of feed would kill the worms. Next, he covers the soil with newspaper pages, and keeps the contents damp.

One trick that helps keep the worms happy with their new home is to place a low-wattage light bulb near the worm box, leaving it on constantly. His experience has taught him that when it gets dark, the worms will leave the box. The soft light keeps them from vacating the premises.

Another type of earthworm has grown in popularity in our area over the past several years. The Canadian nightcrawler is also known as the dew worm or, more commonly called in Louisiana, the cold worm.

There is a reason for the Louisiana moniker — they thrive in cold temperatures. In fact, the only way to keep them alive is to put them in your refrigerator, another reason to cause a squeamish wife to give you the evil-eye. However, if they’re kept in the Styrofoam container your bait shop packs them in, they’ll keep in the refrigerator and out of the potato salad for weeks.

Cold worms are big, long worms that fish seem to love. In fact, they are one of the most effective baits for redears (chinquapins). These worms are large enough that you only thread them in pieces on the hook. It is possible to bait your hook with pieces of the same worm at least half a dozen times.

One other type of worm relished by bream is the catalpa worm. They are green and black in color, and are actually caterpillars in the larvae stage. When mature, they become Sphinx moths.

These worms only grow on catalpa trees, and to find a catalpa laden with worms is an angler’s dream come true.

It’s a simple matter to give the tree a shake, pick the lethargic worms off the ground and drop them in a bucket where you’ve place catalpa leaves.

The most effective way to fish these worms renders them quite messy. They have to be torn or cut, allowing the juices inside the worm to be exposed. Many an angler has come home from a day of fishing for bream with catalpa worms with his fingers stained black from the juices, stains that are not easily removed.

Some anglers snip the heads off catalpa worms and turn them inside out for the best bait possible. These are baits that bream find irresistible.

Catalpa worms are raised commercially, and can be purchased at most bait stores. However, the best bet is to find a neighbor with a catalpa tree growing in his yard and offer to help rid his trees of those “awful” pests.

Vying for Louisiana’s top spot in popular bream baits is the cricket. However, the black crickets you crush underfoot around street lights in summer are ineffective as bream bait. For whatever reason, bream generally shun black crickets in favor of their lighter-hued cousins, the gray cricket. Gray crickets are not really gray; they’re more tan in color, and are grown commercially.

Nothing is more fun than to pick up a cage of gray crickets at the bait store and head for your favorite bream fishing spot. These baits are not nearly as messy as the various varieties of worms mentioned above.

While bream will bite virtually any substance, those mentioned above are the most popular baits used by fishermen in Louisiana.

As effective as are natural baits for catching bream, anglers who are not interested in dealing with the mess made by baits know that bream will also hit artificial baits as well. They’re almost as effective as live bait without all the mess and the need to constantly chase crickets around a cage or dig in pulverized cow patties for worms.

The purist among the ranks of the bream angler wouldn’t think of fishing for them with anything short of a lightweight fly rod. Tiny popping bugs, streamers and artificial flies will all work on bream, especially when a bed is located and the lure can be softly dropped right in the middle of the nursery.

Anglers who prefer ultra-light spinning or spin-cast gear fare equally as well. Tossing any of a variety of small artificial lures will usually get all the action you could want. There is another advantage of casting artificial lures for bream. There is something exciting about casting and winding, feeling the strike and playing the fish to the boat. It’s like fishing for lunker bass in miniature.

The strike and fight of a hand-sized bluegill on wispy line and ultra-light gear mimics the fight of a hefty bass on casting gear. The ultimate advantage is in knowing you could experience such action 50 times while the bass angler is not nearly as likely to have action this fast.

My artificial rig of choice when going after bream is an ultra-light spinning rod and reel outfitted with 2- to 4-pound-test line. The lure I prefer is one I fashioned, using a crappie hair jig to which I add a tiny spinner. The finished product resembles an extremely small spinnerbait, and the bream seem to love it. The jig that has worked best for me is a Black Lake hair jig in silver and pink.

Whether you prefer live bait, artificial lures or Holsum bread, this is the time of year to head for your favorite lake, locate a few bream beds and get ready for some hot action.

The only thing better than catching a box of bluegills or chinquapins is converting them to a platter of golden brown fillets. A side of French fries, a hunk of purple onion, hush puppies, tartar sauce and a pitcher of sweet tea makes you completely forget the bream on which you’re dining may have been caught on a maggot.

About Glynn Harris 508 Articles
Glynn Harris is a long-time outdoor writer from Ruston. He writes weekly outdoor columns for several north Louisiana newspapers, has magazine credits in a number of state and national magazines and broadcasts four outdoor radio broadcasts each week. He has won more than 50 writing and broadcasting awards during his 47 year career.