by Flip Putthoff
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Don Grose counted two dozen fish swimming in his boat’s livewell, and he hadn’t even left the ramp.
Their size wasn’t much. Medium, an angler might say. But Grose had bigger fish in mind when he stopped on his way to the lake and bought a couple dozen minnows. The livewell of his neatly kept boat made a perfect bait bucket as Grose backed down the launch ramp.
Some days he fools fish with lures. During spring he likes to feed ’em with live bait. Minnows are his top choice for putting all kinds of fish in his livewell, along with the minnows. His catch and his bait swim side by side. No doubt a minnow becomes an occasional snack for the bigger fish.
“With live bait the question isn’t if you’re going to catch fish, it’s what kind of fish will you catch,” Grose testified, basking in a glowing sunrise at Beaver Lake in early May.
By noon his line had been stretched by white bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass, walleye and a 10-pound striped bass. About the only species lacking was catfish.
An angler in another boat idled up to Grose and asked if he’d like a 15-pound flathead catfish the angler had just caught on a jig. Grose declined. The half dozen spotted bass he kept would be fine dining enough.
Using minnows boils fishing down to its simple basics. His rig is just a hook tied to the end of his line with a split shot for weight crimped about 18 inches above the hook. A lively minnow gets threaded on the hook, and Grose goes fishing. Hooking the bait through the lips, nostrils or just under the dorsal fin keeps it lively.
The most complex thing to know is that minnows come in sizes like shirts. Bait shops sell small, medium and large minnows. Grose does his springtime fishing with the medium size, called bass minnows by a lot of anglers. Small ones are called crappie minnows. The large ones go by brood minnows and are used mainly to catch striped bass.
He rarely twitches the bait or moves it much. The live minnow does the work, swimming back and forth for an irresistible meal to the game fish Grose seeks. He caught his first fish, a spotted bass, five minutes into the trip.
Walleye are his favorite, and he catches plenty with minnows during spring. On this trip, Grose netted a 19-inch walleye and welcomed it aboard while fishing between two islands within sight of Horseshoe Bend park.
Walleye must be 18 inches or longer to keep at Beaver Lake. The daily limit is four.
“It’s real simple fishing,” Grose said. “Sometimes it gets a little tricky if the wind comes up.”
The technique is easy. Grose casts his minnow then lets the split shot carry the bait to the bottom 15 to 20 feet deep. That’s it. The minnow does its dance while Grose waits to feel a bite.
Then the guessing game starts. Minnows work to catch such a variety that Grose doesn’t know for sure what he’s caught until the fish shows itself beside the boat. He’s been fishing all his life and is good at guessing what’s on his line by the way the fish fights.
Largemouth and spotted bass usually fight near the surface and jump. Walleye, white bass and stripers dig for the bottom.
The spot that Grose fished has been good all spring.
“I’ve caught everything here except stripers,” he noted.
His fishing buddy in the back of the boat took care of that, catching a hard-fighting 10-pound striped bass. That’s small for a striper, which can grow to 50 pounds, but fun to catch for sure.
Beaver Lake was calm and still for most of the morning. Grose likes a little breeze to ripple the water. The “walleye chop” he calls it.
What the fisherman really hopes for is power generation taking place at Beaver Dam. That creates a gentle current that the casual lake visitor may not notice.
Grose checked the Army Corps of Engineers app on his phone. Sure enough, generation was taking place at the dam on this morning of good fishing.
Showing fish the real deal, not a fake meal, was the ticket on this spring day.
Live bait boogie
Here are live bait suggestions to catch various kinds of fish on Ozark waterways.
Black bass: minnows, nightcrawlers, crawdads
Bluegill: crickets, worms
Channel catfish: nightcrawlers, worms, minnows
Flathead catfish: small sunfish, goldfish, large minnows
Rainbow trout: nightcrawlers, worms, small minnows
Brown Trout: nightcrawlers, worms, minnows, sculpins
Walleye: nightcrawlers, minnows
Source: Staff report