Roadside Opportunities

This is a tactic I employ far too infrequently, and I’m actually prepared this time. I’ve got a rod & reel and some good searching lures. I’m on the way home from a road trip with a loose schedule. An interesting bridge over a steep valley makes me instantly curious.

A short, steep hike through misty rhododendrons and cedars reveals a midsize freestone stream. I’m thinking – smallmouth for sure!

Fish #1: a leeping, pink finned rainbow trout is a nice surprise.

Fish #2: a little smallmouth bass. That’s more like what I was expecting. A couple more of those and it’s time to move upstream.

A deep, slow pool yields a mix of largemouth, smallmouth, and sunfish.

Rivaling the rainbow, this bluegill may have been the gem of the day with shades of purple, turquois, and burnt orange.

Turning a monotonous grind into a mini adventure is as simple as being prepared and being willing to stop. A rod & reel and a small box of confidence lures is all the equipment you need. Most importantly, you have to stop. If you don’t stop and try, you’ll never know.

Crappie Identification Methods

Crappies come in two varieties – black and white. You would think with descriptive names like that, telling the two species apart would be as easy as, well, black and white. For a crappie beginner, the differences may not be that obvious. For example; the very light colored fish at the top is not a white crappie. It is a black crappie.

The round body and an overall mottled color pattern signifies a black crappie.
An elongated profile and mottling arranged in bars identifies a white crappie.

The most conspicuous difference is the patteren on the sides of the fish. The white crappie has dark blotches arranged in bars. The black crappie wears his blotches in an evenly distributed pattern.

Body shape is another ID cue. Black crappies have a more round silhouette. White crappies are more “stretched out”, and have a little more of a snout.

A white crappie with 5 dorsal spines.
A black crappie with 8 dorsal spines.

The most analytical identification characteristic is a count of the rigid spines of the dorsal fin, A white crappie will have 5 to 6 spines. A black crappie will have 7 to 8 spines. When in doubt, a quick count of the spines will provide a near certain identification.

The range and preferred habitats of the two species overlap quite a bit. In my area, the black crappie is the dominant species. In other areas, the white is the dominant crappie. In either instance, it is still quite common to run into both species during the course of a season, or even in a single day. With these three methods to differentiate the two species, you will always be sure of a proper ID.

A pair of text book black crappies.
A classic example of a white crappie.

Yet Another Use For the Uni Knot

1. Pass several inches of line through the eye of the hook.
2. Loop the line along the shank of the hook.
3. Wrap the tag end through the loop and around the shank about 5 times.
4. Moisten the line and draw it partially tight. I find it is easier to control if you start this process near the bend of the hook rather than near the eye.
5. Moisten the hook shank, slide the knot up to the eye, and draw the knot fully tight. Trim the tag to a reasonable length.


Three Steps to a Handy Spool Tender

This great way to store and dispense line or leader from 1/4 pound spools. It’s a neater and cleaner solution than rubberbands or tape. It reduces tangles in your tackle bag while protecting the line from indadvertent UV exposure.

Step 1: Remove beer can from koozie, and pour beer into a chilled mug.
Step two: Replace can with line spool. Allow a couple inches of line to extend out the top for dispensing.
Step three: Admire double entendre fishing logo and tangle free line handing capability.

Sunfish, Sunfish, and More Sunfish

Sunfish generally don’t get enough credit. They were the “first fish” for many of us. Their colors rival any tropical species. Ounce for ounce, most of them put up quite a fight. Despite all that, they are often lumped together as one fish, or even overlooked altogether. Here’s an individual look at some of the major players and their characteristics.

The Bluegill is probably the most widespread and commonly encountered sunfish. A small mouth, solid black “ear”, and subtle blue shading on the lower part of the gill cover indicate a Bluegill.
A red and white trimmed “ear” and yellow to orange spots across the sides give away the Pumpkinseed’s identity. During spawning season you may see lots of blue coloration as well. See the close up pic at top.
The Redbreast Sunfish is most often caught in flowing water. Its orange to red breast, long black ear flap, and reddish highlights to the tail and soft part of the dorsal fin are good identifiers.
Predictibly, Rock Bass are most often found in rocky rivers or lakes. Red eyes, and black dotted lines on a golden brown background are a sure sign of a Rock Bass.
The aggressive Green Sunfish uses its large mouth to eat most any bait or lure that you put in front of it. A greenish overall color, with blue dots along the sides, and bright orange anal and pelvic fin are the best indicators of a Green Sunfish. They produce a large and beautiful hybrid when they cross with a bluegill.
The large eyes give the Warmouth the nickname goggle eye. Mottled sides and a large mouth are also good indicators of a Warmouth.
The Redear is often called shellcracker for its love of mollusks. As the name implies, the Redear Sunfish has a short red tipped “ear” on the operculum. Faint vertical bars are generally present . This one is the heavyweight of the sunfish world, with a record well over 5 pounds.
The Longear Sunfish is the true jewel of the sunfish world. If the spectacular coloration isn’t enough, look for a long black ear flap trimmed in white.

A Reliable Knot For Mono and Fluoro

The Trilene Knot is a favorite of mine for attaching lures to fluorcarbon or standard monofilament lines and leaders. It is fast and easy to tie; and very strong when done properly.

1. Pass the line through the eye twice and leave a loose loop.


2. Wrap the tag end around the main line 5 or 6 times. Use six wraps for lighter lines and five for heavier lines.


3. Pass the tag end through both loops formed in the previous steps.


4. Moisten and draw the knot tight. Trim as needed.

More From Your Backyard Bait Shop

The rainy day, driveway worms described in Your Backyard Bait Shop a few weeks ago are a great resource, but what do you do if it’s not raining? As the name implies, nightcrawlers leave their burrows at night for the surface. They mate and who knows what the hell else they may do under the cover of darkness. Whatever they are up to, they leave themselves vulnerable to motivated fishermen.

By walking softly and scanning with a flashlight you can spot individual nightcrawlers at the surface. They are somewhat sensitive to a direct beam from a flashlight, and very sensitive to vibrations. If you are quick, quiet, and patient enough, you can collect a day’s worth of bait in a short time.


Above are a couple of outstretched nightcrawlers. They will stretch out several inches, but always keep their tail in the hole.

Make a quick grab where the crawler enters its hole. Keep a steady pressure and only pull when you feel the nightcrawler’s muscles relax. When you do pull – pull gently. Pull too hard and you will break him in half.

The prize in hand.

NSFW pic above: two nightcrawlers mating. Fun fact: night crawlers are hermaphrodites.

Blue Catfish or Channel Catfish?

The Blue Catfish and the Channel Catfish are two very similar species with a great deal of overlap in range, habits, and physical characteristics. Anglers will often catch one while targetting the other. Identification can be tricky at times for the uninitiated.

Blue catfish attain a larger size than the channel catfish, sometimes exceeding 100 pounds. Under optimal conditions channel catfish will occassionally grow beyond 20 pounds, rarely surpass 30, and only a handful have ever topped 50 pounds. All fish start small, so size is only definitively helpful in identifying the largest blues. As the name implies, blue catfish are usually bluish gray on the dorsal side. Fish coloration is highly variable, so you can’t rely on that. Blues will typically have a more robust build with more weight in “upper torso” compared to the channel catfish. The body shape can be helpful for ID at a glance, but again, it’s not conclusive.

Look at the pic above of the two fish in the net. The fat, silvery blue one is a blue catfish. The slimmer, brown one is a channel catfish. Sometimes a proper ID is that easy; sometimes it’s not.

Above are examples of a blue and a channel of similar size, coloration, and body shape.

The key to the ID is in the anal fin. The blue cat (left) has a long straight anal fin, whereas, the channel cat (right) has a shorter more rounded anal fin. Although there is a difference in the number of rays in the fins, I pay more attention to the fin shape and overall length. The anal fin of a blue cat is long, straight, and somewhat angular. To me, it looks like a banner. The channel cat’s anal fin curves gradually to its full width. It’s shaped more like an elephant ear. I’m refering to an actual elephant’s ear; not the pastry.

About 20 pounds, blue-gray coloration, big shoulders, and, most importantly, a banner-like anal fin – this is a blue catfish.

Your Backyard Bait Shop

Spring showers bring us the bounty of “Driveway Worms”. It is a convenient opportunity to collect free, natural baits. Sizes will vary widely. Small worms can be used as bait for catching bait, or ultralight applications. Full-sized nightcrawlers can be used for a number of different gamefish from walleye to catfish.

What is the toothpick for?
Slip the toothpick under the midpoint of the worm to lift them. It’s a lot easier than trying to pinch them off the pavement with your finger tips. The smaller the worm; the more you will appreciate the toothpick method.
You can cover the worms with loose soil or commercial worm bedding. Lately I’ve successfully used damp leaves. I have not found a lid to be necessary, When stored out of sunlight, directly on a cool garage floor, and covered with leaves; the worms stay put on the bottom of the container and last for weeks.
Check on the leaves periodically. When they feel dry, replace them with a fresh covering damp leaves. Otherwise, your worms will turn into a wad of something between half cooked pasta and beef jerky.

Small worms can also be used to feed residents of the home aquarium.