How To

Fishing Naked

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A live baitfish simply hooked and allowed to drift with the current free of weight is one of the most productive—if basic—baits you can use in fresh or saltwater.

A live baitfish simply hooked and allowed to drift with the current free of weight is one of the most productive—if basic—baits you can use in fresh or saltwater.

This is no post-April Fools’ patter. I’m not promoting a naturalist approach to fishing and advising you wear nothing but what Ma Nature gave you when you’re out angling. Think of this subject more along the lines of The Naked Chef, or Naked Science, a pair of cable television shows that are popular because their hosts promote the basics of food prep and science, respectively.

My well-worn Webster’s Collegiate defines the word “naked” as “without embellishment” or “unadorned” and that’s the angle (sorry) I’m promoting here.

The fact is, when I really, really need to catch a fish, whether for food or to fuel my ego in front of family or friends, I find my tactics getting simpler rather than more complex. My offerings often lack embellishment and go without angling accessories like twister tails, flashing blades, luminescence, scent, and even movement.

I take a more naked approach.

The author’s wife used the naked approach last month to catch walleye through the ice. She used a treble hook baited with a single emerald shiner fished dead-stick on a dropper line above a dipsy sinker and out-caught other anglers who adorned their offerings with hardware and action.

The author’s wife used the naked approach last month to catch walleye through the ice. She used a treble hook baited with a single emerald shiner fished dead-stick on a dropper line above a dipsy sinker and out-caught other anglers who adorned their offerings with hardware and action.

My first naked fishing epiphany came in a trout stream in Northern Vermont. It was the summer between high school and college and I had a split-shift job washing dishes for a resort in Stowe that left me with a few hours off in the middle of the day. I hadn’t fished in several years, but had brought my old spinning rod and reel up from my home in Ohio, knowing there were actually trout in the waters of Vermont. I had never caught one, although I had dreamed of the day when I might actually hook what I considered an exotic species, unavailable in my warmer Midwest waters.

I had a limited amount of tackle and no budget to increase it, but I did have some leftover hooks from crappie season and a manure pile loaded with lively red worms behind the garage of the house I was renting. When the short-order cook at the resort told me that a small stream nearby held trout, I headed that way at my first mid-day break with nothing more than my spinning rod and reel, a can of worms, and a few bare hooks. It was all I ever needed.

Over the course of that summer I learned how to dead drift a live worm under overhanging banks, through deadfalls, and down riffles into deep holes, where I caught so many trout that it’s a wonder I didn’t fish that creek out.

Ever since that epiphany, I call on what I learned that summer when I didn’t have the option of adornment. The naked fishing methods I have adapted rarely fail me, and I’ve shared them often with beginning anglers to allow them to catch a few fish and get their confidence up.

When I want to catch a perch, trout, or bluegill—or if I am catching them but want to catch a big one—I thread a light wire hook through the middle of a lively worm, leaving the ends free to wiggle. If I want to catch a crappie, bass, or walleye, I use a live minnow and the same light-wire hook rig and insert it through both lips of the bait. I make sure the hook is tied to a light line and remove any sinkers or swivels that may alert a finicky fish or affect the drift or drop rate of my all-natural offering. Then I drop or gently cast that bait into the water as quietly as possible and let is settle naturally, feeding line off the reel by hand so that its progresses is never slowed, let alone stopped, but a tight line.

That’s especially important if there is any current—if the bait’s drift is interrupted even for an instant, finicky fish will notice and often avoid the bait. The only terminal tackle I will add to a naked line is a bobber if I’m fishing with a child or inexperienced angler who needs a visual focus or bite cue, or if I need to hold the bait in the strike zone of suspended fish. I also might add or a split shot or two to weight a line just enough to allow it to reach deep holes when I’m dealing with current. Weight makes the bait drop unnaturally fast and often plunges it deep into the weeds or rocks on the bottom; what I want is the worm or the minnow to fall though the water slowly, unimpeded, as if it is not attached to anything.

Only then will it appear naturally. Unadorned. Unembellished.

Naked for the taking.

Images by Dan Armitage

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