Good As Gold

While sometimes frowned upon, wild shiners elicit wild strikes.

FSF Staff October 3, 2012

Although the freshwater industry thrives on the development of the latest and greatest artificial offerings, wild shiner fishing for big bass is an extremely effective technique that cannot be beat. Live bait fishing for trophy bucketmouths is often disapproved by freshwater purists, but there is no arguing the fact that live bait works wonders.

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Shiners are known statewide as the number one bait for big bucketmouths. Photo: John N. Felsher

In fact, one of the main reasons for their lack of popularity is because wild shiners can’t sponsor tournament professionals. In addition, live shiners are so effective that they are often banned in tournaments. However, there’s also a different point of view. Even the finest artificial lures are designed to mimic natural forage, so if you are out fun fishing why not just use the real thing? While catching trophy bass on fantastic fakes is certainly rewarding, trophy catches with live bait are much more common.

Unless you are colorblind you’ll be able to quickly tell the two apart, with hatchery shiners taking on a silvery tone and wild shiners featuring a distinct golden hue.

In Florida, most tackle shops sell shiners, but they’re most often not the wild variety that put bass in a feeding frenzy. Hatchery raised shiners will do the trick under most scenarios, but wild shiners are a much better option. Unless you are colorblind you’ll be able to quickly tell the two apart, with hatchery shiners taking on a silvery tone and wild shiners featuring a distinct golden hue.

Naturally occurring shiners are thought to provoke more bites, as they are accustomed to being chased by top tier predators. At the sight of a hungry largemouth bass a wild shiner will instinctively flee in an attempt to avoid predation. On the other hand, hatchery shiners aren’t familiar with predator avoidance and the sight of a big bass won’t elicit much of a response at all. This isn’t to say that largemouth won’t attack farm-raised shiners, because they will, although intelligent bass will know something is up when a miniscule shiner challenges them to a stare down. Bass are more interested in the chase than simply gobbling down forage that could care less about escaping.

Select tackle shops sell wild shiners but they can be quite expensive, so many choose to catch them on their own. You’ll want to start your search around aquatic vegetation like lily pads, hydrilla and peppergrass that’s in the vicinity of shallow water. Breadballs and oatmeal will bring them to the surface where they can be captured with a cast net or tiny gold hook.

Whether you choose to catch or purchase wild shiners, it will be in your best interest to transport them to an aerated baitwell as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, live shiners have small, delicate scales and require very careful handling. Wild shiners don’t tolerate hot water, low oxygen levels or too much water flow, so these should be your first considerations when planning to keep them alive for a day on the lake. If you fish out of a tournament rigged bass boat there’s not much you need to do, as your platform is likely outfitted with a recirculating livewell that will keep trophy bass or live baitfish happy and healthy. If you plan on installing an aftermarket baitwell you should know that the larger the better, as increased volume decreases the negative attributes of waste products while simultaneously increasing available oxygen.

It’s important that your baitwell features a round or oval design and has water flow that isn’t excessive, or your baits will quickly become tired of swimming in the current and burn up all of their energy. Although traditional aeration systems work well, serious shiner soakers take it a step further with oxygen infusion systems and chemical additives to further enhance their bait’s longevity and effectiveness. If you don’t have an advanced aeration system you can get away with a 5-gallon bucket and battery powered aerator. If you notice that your baits are quickly dying after hitting the water check the temperature of the water in your bait bucket compared to the body of water you are fishing. Bait shops often keep live shiners in much colder water than what exists naturally in Florida’s lakes and ponds.

When fishing with live bait, proper care doesn’t end once your bait hits the water. For the most natural presentation you’ll want to extend the preservation of your bait until you get hooked up. Start with the proper hooking technique for the least damage to your shiner. It all starts with hook selection, which is in direct correlation to the size of your offering. Hatchery shiners can grow to 6 inches, with wild shiners capable of growing much larger. For smaller baits select a 2/0 or 3/0 hook, with the largest shiners requiring a razor sharp 4/0 or 5/0 thin gauge hook.

Next, select the liveliest bait in the well. Place your hook point through the lower jaw so it exits in front of the nostril. When making a cast try to underhand or sidearm cast so your bait doesn’t slap on the water too hard. Once you’ve hit your target, let your bait do the work and don’t make too many casts after your initial presentation. Even the hardiest shiners won’t survive more than a few lobs.

Since most tournaments outlaw live bait fishing and most seasoned bass masters think soaking shiners is for kids and novices, there’s not much pressure with shiner fishing. As a result, the bass in your local lake or pond will typically go absolutely bonkers for live shiners. Give this fun and relaxing method a try and you will find out that fishing with wild shiners is the absolute best way to catch Big Moe.

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