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Wild shiners make catching bait fun

You know you've found a cool deal when rounding up the bait is nearly as much fun as catching the game fish.

Such is the case for bass anglers who fish with live shiners.

Sure, most bait shops sell shiners, but they're usually the farm-raised version of the fish. This option will work, but it's kind of like comparing really nice canned biscuits to those fluffy, buttermilk treasures that my grandmother used to make.

Wild shiners dodge bass every day, so theirs is an authentically frantic reaction that drives predators crazy. Round up your own and you'll enjoy the process from start to finish.

Where to look

If you can catch bluegill, you can catch shiners. In fact, it's rare that you don't catch some form of panfish alongside the golden nuggets.

That means fishing around lily pads, hyacinths, docks and anything that offers shade and shelter.

Cold snaps will push most lake and pond fish deep where they'll hover near vegetation and any structure they can find. Warm days often find the shiners zipping around shallow pools between the shoreline and weed banks.

Look for boils, surface pops and zippy little streaks as the baitfish run just under the surface. Polarized sunglasses and a hat to shade your eyes will help you spot figures in the water. You can tell shiners from bluegill by their relatively longer form and narrow head.

And shiners will hold along the deeper edges of vegetation, but you're not as likely to spot them.

Gather the group

Similar to saltwater bait hunts in which anglers attract scaled sardines by chumming with jack mackerel or cat food, those seeking shiners will draw their quarry into the open by tossing out pieces of bread.

Chumming serves the dual purpose of congregating shiners and disclosing their location, so chum strategically. That means scattering chunks of bread in various areas and depths until you find the "happy" zone where shiners will hold.

Long pieces of bread crust offer a sizeable target that several fish can hit at once. And the more they have to work at a chum piece, the more the shiners reveal their size, numbers and location.

When bluegill and shiners mix, they'll compete for the chum bread and roll side-by-side. But bluegill typically rise face-first toward the surface for quick attacks, whereas the bold shiner will literally greyhound across the water with its distinct reddish fins clearly visible.

The capture

Ultralight spinning gear, bream hooks, tiny split shots and the classic round plastic bobbers — the same rigs that catch bluegill catch shiners. For bait, roll pinches of white bread into tight balls the size of pencil erasers.

When chumming gets the fish fired up, you can drop your rig right on their heads and expect a strike quicker than you can close the reel's bail. Feisty shiners and big bluegill will even nip at the bobber.

A decent-sized shiner, one measuring about 6 inches, will grab the bait and tow your bobber several feet across the surface. The jumbos — 10 inches or better — will submerge the float on first contact.

Reel quickly to come tight on the fish, but don't jerk the rod. Small fish often grab meals and run away from the competition before the hook actually does its job. Erratic twitches might pull the whole deal out of the shiner's mouth.

Flattening hook barbs helps you get captive shiners into the holding facility with minimal stress. This facilitates release for the turtles that frequently crash the party.

Now, if you're willing to forgo the fun of catching shiners one at a time, a well-placed cast net will do the job in short order. Chumming with chicken feed will pull the baitfish into an open area.

Nervous in service

However you capture shiners, get them into an aerated livewell, or at least a flow-through bait bucket promptly. Despite their abundant energy, shiners wear down easily, so keep them comfortable to optimize their bait presentation.

Some drift shiners under corks or slow troll them along weed lines, but few styles of bass fishing are as exciting as slinging a big golden baitfish into heavy cover. Strikes will be fewer, but when you connect, it's usually a fish worth the wait.

Fish with a heavy-action conventional outfit strung with 80-pound braided line and fitted with a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. Such gorilla gear enables you to control a big bass in heavy cover and pull your catch through 20 pounds of weeds.

Hook shiners through the lips on a 4/0-5/0 circle hook. With big baits, you rarely need a sinker.

When trolling or drifting smaller shiners, give the bass a five-count and then reel down until the circle hook comes tight. Bass that hit your jumbo shiners usually handle the hook set for you.

Wild shiners make catching bait fun 02/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:18am]

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