Fishing With Live Bait

The first livebait masters developed around the area of Brainerd and Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota.

Ron Lindner and Al Lindner, transplants from Chicago, moved to Brainerd originally to find a place to build a resort. However, they got sidetracked trying to develop better ways to offer a nightcrawler, minnow or a leech to hungry walleyes.

There also were fishing guides working in the region who contributed to live-bait wisdom. Among them was Gary Roach, known to everyone today as “Mr. Walleye.” He was homegrown, one of several kids raised in a log cabin on Mission Lake.

The Beginnings
Meeting one day at the Starlite Club, a Brainerd bar that Nick Adams managed, the Lindners asked Roach to join the Nisswa Guides League, a confederation of the area’s best guides headquartered at Marv Koeps’ Nisswa Bait & Tackle. They’d meet there or at the Starlite to share information on what was biting where.

It was from a design for a pancake-styled sinker that came to Ron Lindner and the on-the-water testing of Al Lindner, Roach and the other Nisswa guides that lead to the live-bait revolution. Their advances are now being passed to the next generation of Minnesota fishing leaders, like Professional Walleye Trail pro Sam Anderson.

With lots of time left in his 20s, Anderson is already proving to be a leader among other professionals while often relying on the live-bait techniques he learned at Mille Lacs fishing with his dad. Anderson has absorbed knowledge from the older masters and kept pace with further developments in live-bait rigging. He’s seen how changes at Mille Lacs itself have led to fine-tuning of live-bait tactics.

Improved water clarity at Mille Lacs and elsewhere have forced anglers to adapt techniques to catch wary fish.

Anderson remembers times as a boy catching walleyes in the shallows from shore in relatively murky water. The original livebait rig was a split-shot pinched on the line several inches above a hook. Some people even enjoyed success by pinching on the weights used to balance tires. Those early-day walleyes apparently were not too picky.

Water Clarity Improves
But, the water began getting clearer in the 1980s, and fish moved out to deeper structure of rock or mud. Visibility grew to 18 inches, sometimes reaching 24 inches. Clarity reached 6 feet to 8 feet and even more by the mid-1990s. Scientists have yet to pinpoint the cause for the change. The accidental introduction of zebra mussels is to blame elsewhere in the walleye range, including Lake Erie and Lake Michigan, but zebra mussels are not present in Mille Lacs.

Walleyes became more wary in clearer water. Ron Linder’s Lindy Rig became the favored way to present food to fish in the most realistic way possible. A Lindy sinker slides on the line before a swivel is tied on with a long leader to a #6 hook. The bait is allowed to swim naturally, and the fish never feels the weight when it inhales it. The angler lets the walleye take the offering a few seconds, then reels up slack until he feels the fish and then set the hook.

Anderson terms the Lindy Rig “dynamic,” meaning it can be altered several ways to suit conditions. The weight can be changed for use in various depths. The leader can be lengthened or lighter line down to 4-pound test can be used for finicky fish. The leader also can be shortened for more aggressive fish or to avoid snags. The bait can be changed from minnows early and late in the season to leeches in the warm months. Nightcrawler are good bet anytime. Add a bead above the hook for color and some noise or use a colored hook.

The rig is best fished nearly vertically or with no more than a 45-degree angle between line and water’s surface. Look for transition areas between hard and soft bottoms or “stair steps” where there are breaks from shallower water to deep.

Other modifications can be made to adapt live-bait rigs to conditions. For example, Lindy sinkers tend to swing back and forth in current. Anderson substitutes an egg sinker in that situation. Or, he uses a three-way rig. Here’s how he uses it: Tie on a three-way swivel; add a short dropper of a foot to a pencil weight; and then tie on your leader and hook. In states where multiple hooks are allowed on the same rod (which does not include Minnesota), fishermen substitute a Jumbo Fuzz-E-Grub for the pencil weight.

Different Sinkers For Different Conditions
A bullet sinker can reduce hang-ups in weeds. Peg the weight in place with a toothpick and shorten the leader.

Anderson uses a “needle” sinker for sandy flats that feature patches of gravel. The leader is sometimes 10-feet long and the weight is as light a 1/16-ounce or 1/32-ounce.

Use a bottom-bouncer with about a 4-foot leader to work sloping breaks typical of reservoirs. Move with more speed, perhaps 1/2 mph. Keep your bail open on the spinning reel, then drop your finger to let the fish take line without resistance when you feel a strike.

Leave it to Ron Lindner to come up with the newest innovation to the livebait rigs. It’s the NO-SNAGG Sinker, a banana-shaped weight designed to move through dense wood and rocks. Lindy/Little Joe markets them in several sizes, and recently added a selection of Rattlin’ NO-SNAGG.

Greg Bohn from Wisconsin added another weapon to the livebait arsenal when he used 7-strand wire to design a snagless hook. This year, Lindy/Little Joe has combined the No-SNAGG Sinker and Bohn’s hook to market the NO-SNAGG Rig and the NO-SNAGG snell. To test them, Bohn and Ron Linder headed to snag-filled Lake of the Woods. They fished for three days and caught a variety of walleyes, northern pike and other species. They did not loose a rig.

Crankbaits and other artificals can catch fish, but when fish are tough to catch, livebait works when no other methods will.

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