Do not copy, printout or reproduce material of any kind from this site without permission from 
MichiganSportsman Copyrightę2000-2004

Part 1
Using Cut Bait in Michigan
or how you too can become
Manistee's Master Baiter!

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 Algoma, WI 6/28/04

Harbor Beach 7/14/04 

Manistee 7/15/04 

Manistee 8/28/04

 

Born out of desperation, my journey into the land of fishing with cut-bait has been a surprisingly rewarding trip.  Mitigating circumstances forced to move into this unknown, because Manistee during the early summer of 2003 was not producing Kings in any significant numbers.  I always knew the original Salmon trollers on the west coast preferred natural bait, over artificial  lures.  Now, I know why!

If you're anything like me, I was more then skeptical in the beginning. I had tried cut-bait off and on for 3 previous seasons with only limited results. My cut-bait program was lots of trial and error, as I tried to build a workable knowledge base.  Breaking new ground by myself without any outside help was a daunting task!

Getting with the Program

In my 36 years of fishing the Great Lakes for Salmon and Trout the one thing that was over looked by the entire fleet from Lake Huron and Lake Michigan was the olfactory senses (ability to smell) of our quarry.  Our entire fishery was predicated on fooling the fish into biting by using hues of colors way too numerous to mention.   Any artificial bait known to mankind made out of hair, rubber, plastic, or metal came in a multitude of colors and patterns.  Last week's "hot color" often died and another costly trip to the tackle store meant buying this week's new color that was sure to wreck devastation on any fish swimming within a quarter of a mile of your vessel!  Sound familiar?......you bet it does!  I'm sure your overflowing tackle collection is a testament to this all to well known fact.

Well, Mr. Fellow J. Fishermen that has all changed, because I fished 5 basic color combinations from the third week of July until the end of September.  Black, blue, green, white and ice with chrome was the lasting reel-deal for me.   While each of the afore mentioned colors had a certain time when they out fished the other colors, the basic premise of these 5 patterns remained unflinching winners day in, and day out.  The time frame of mid-July through September signals when attractors come into their own and cut-bait fishing is apt to be most advantageous.  Although, my thoughts at this time is that it will work throughout the entire season.

I took fish from 8 feet down (in the harbor) to depths of 135 feet on cut-bait and never lost confidence in my bait program.  Catching fish to the top 30 feet of the water column on attractors has been a problem since the lakes start clearing in the later eighties.  I only lengthened the leads off the cannonball when trolling shallow.  Let's say I was trolling the harbor at a 11 down.  Then I stretched the lead back to 50 feet, compared to a 10 foot lead at a 135 feet down.

Simply put, unless you live next to the a toxic landfill, ate too many paint chips as a kid, have missing chromosomes, attend family reunions to pick-up chicks, or if you're a drone pilot.....your trek into the land of cut-bait should be fairly effortless.  This is the least complicated way I know to fill a fish box with a bunch of Salmon in a big hurry.

Dry Technical Content

A fishes olfaction is said to be the oldest sense in evolutionary terms.  Salmon being an anadromous specie, meaning that it returns to it's birthing tributary to reproduce.  Much investigation has been in trying to come up with a solution as to how a Salmon locates it's natal stream, or uses it's homing instinct.  Some have put forth the theory that the earth's magnetic alignments and minute electric current aids in their astonishing navigational skills.  Some have even claimed the Salmon's olfactory perception is almost based on a supernatural rational, because of their keen ability to detect extreme negligible variances in one river from another.

Another hypothesis
is when young Salmon undergo a transformation, or the smolting process (imprinting) and leave their natal tributary, small trace amounts of pheromones are released, which adult fish key in on later.  These pheromones are released by the fishes thyroid as it under goes behavioral and physiological metamorphosis called smoltification.  This enables them to live in salt water, changing from their former fresh water parenting streams.  Please keep in mind, our Salmon in the Great Lakes are transplants from salt water i.e. the Pacific Ocean.  Some experts have even put forth estimates that Salmon can sniff out parts per trillion.  

While I'm a long ways from ever being expert on Salmon, but I do know from my extensive research for this article, their capability to distinguish scent is at a highly honed level.  So, using the natural fragrance of a herring fillet should be stacking the odds in your favor.  Something akin to flashing a jelly donut in front of a cop might be a better analogy. 

The Biggest Secret?

The biggest secret is that there is no secrets involved integrating cut-bait into your already existing attractor program.  Especially, if you already know how to catch fish on dodgers and flashers.   Moving to reel-bait is categorically no big deal!  In fact, fishing bait with flashers a whole lot easier then cracking the proper dodger, or spoon speed.
I guess the hardest part was me developing confidence in the bait and not getting all shook up if the fish were not on a immediate bite.  Second guessing yourself is always a way to many problems and is a cause for major unwanted grief.

We as fishermen, now-a-days have become informational beasts of burden.  This color at depth, until this time, then switch to the next color progression.  Look for the deeper fish, vary the speed, change this and change that!  Does the last statement strike a familiar chord?  I'd say it does, and that's the line of attack is when you're pulling artificial lures.  There's not much latitude for error with non-natural lures...reel-fact.  

OK, here's a refreshing piece of truth, with cut-bait it don't matter, because your bait appeals to the olfactory senses of Salmon plain and simple.  This is reel-chow that leaves a scent trail that can trigger constant non-stop action.  Just get in the right area and the fish should do the rest.  Unless you're totally brainless, cut-bait will enhance your time on the water. 

Have you've struggled in the past to fill up your fish box?  Well, you can count that problem as solved when you switch to reel-bait.  Just ask the fisher folks that attended my cut-bait seminars I held in August of 2003.  Even the less experienced anglers pulled boxes of Salmon they never dreamed of!   So, if your program is slightly off, the bait stuff will more then compensate.   Click here for full-blown proof

The Hard Sell

Great Lakes fishermen are a stubborn lot, and in my opinion they'd rather imitate rather then innovate new ways to catch fish.  I know this for a fact.  Tried and true proven methods are hard to deviate from no matter who you are, including myself.  Unless, you had a flagrant disregard for change, you would have never gravitated to the Hootchies everyone now proudly waves at the fish.  Jerry Bechhold's product never grabbed much attention until about 1999, although the Fishcatcher had been around for many previous seasons.  Keeping this in mind, Jerry Bechhold's Fishcatcher (Hootchie) was considered cutting edge technology in 1999.  Evolution of techniques in harvesting Salmoniods from the Great Lakes in inevitable and cut-bait is new kid on the scene for now.  

If you think that you'll try one cut-bait rig, you're dead-set to go down the wrong path.  You have to load your spread with bait.  I believe this provides a better scent signature and draws fish into your spread.  In know for a reel-fact in the summer of 2003 most of the fish we took action from never were marked on my Raytheon L750 graph.  So, were these fish looking for a meal before closing in on sight distance from my offerings?  I'm pretty sure they were, because of the doubles and triples we had during the middle of the day (meaning straight up noon).  

Please let me clarify this last statement, because once the Salmon showed up in mass, I was never off the dock until noon.  Unless, my guests were missing more they caught and this happened more times then needs mentioning.  My mindset on what my customers catch?....... is what they caught, without too much assistance.   Not me or my deckhand was hooking the fish for them.  If my guests are gonna look good in the dockside catch photos, they're gonna earn it!  Besides, I don't like cleaning fish that much, and the more they lose is the less that has to be cleaned.

Capt John's "Reel Flashers"

I spent most the 2003 season into research and design for my new product to be introduced in 2004 called, Capt. John's "On-Line Reel-Flasher."  I had fished with other rotating products and found a lot of room to improve on.  While the existing products caught fish, I found a 3 to 1 advantage with my prototypes.  I bent the tail-fin in ever imaginable design, until I came up
with a superior product.
Click here to purchase Capt. John's  "On-Line Reel-Flashers"

Reel Cost Factors?

I've heard it said by a some, "I don't want to have to buy bait every time I go fishing."  This is a cop-out coming from folks that have a major investment in a boat suitable for Great Lakes fishing.  The few extra bucks I spend on bait is "no big deal" when I compare it to the 100k I have in a fishing inventory and boats.  Besides, I'm not in the tackle stores every other day chasing some hard to find quirky lure.  I figure in the 2 months that I concentrated my efforts on trolling with meat, I spent less than 10 bucks a day on meat.  Now, what's 10 bucks a day when you compare it to 1 mile a gallon and gas costs better then 2 bucks at the marina pump?

In retrospect, I think that I saved more money on tackle this season, when compared to the past.  I wasn't chasing "hot lure of the day" at every tackle store in town.  What I had worked and I knew it from day one.  Sure, my initial expenses were on the pricey side, but overall increased productivity more then compensated for this fact too!

Rigger Releasing Mechanism 

My hardest adjustment with cut-herring was find the proper rigger release.  Size 32 rubber bands which are normally deadly on tuna-sized Salmon were way too stiff.  The fish would turn the herring strip as they swallowed it, then the line would become tangled in the crotch of the treble hook.  When this happens the hook is pointed the wrong way and the angler will actually pull the hook out of the fish.  I had this happen often when unprepared anglers were on a lark, not paying attention to the business end of my boat.

Size 16 rubber bands were to light and offered no penetration of the hook into a hard mouthed King.  I finally settled on the Off Shore OR-8's.  With the plastic pinch-pad 0R-8, I had to rely on the angler in charge of the rod to bury the hook in the fish by winding like hell and tightening up on the fish in a big hurry.  The best way to do this is to leave the rod in the holder and turbo-reel until the slack is taken out of the line and the rod is bucking from the heavy pressure an adult King will exert. Once you know the fish is there, remove the rod from the rodholder and get down to business.  At a 100 feet down, my guess is there's about 30 to 40 feet of slack line that has to be gathered in, before you are on direct drive to even feel fish.

Here's 5 step plan that should benefit your bite to hook-up ratio:

1.  Be alert at all times. 
2.  Watch for the strike.
3.  Get the rod in a hurry!
4.  Leave the rod in the rodholder and turn the reel handle as fast as you can.
5.  Remove rod from the holder once you see the heavy pulsating  pressure from the fish.

Experiment and see what works best on your boat, because I feel I never fully conquered the rigger-release issue.  It seemed the strike on cut-bait was different and the fish were less apt to rip, then chew.  You must be quick to a rigger rod is the absolute best advice I can give.  This is an adjustment, when compared to what I had what worked best from in the past.  I did see several nibble type bites, like a perch pecking a worm, before the Salmon would engulf my chunk of fish meat.

Hot, Cold or Indifferent?   

The biggest impact using reel-bait, it just didn't make any difference what-so-ever the water temperature we were pulling fish from.  One morning in early August, I was north off Onekama and the surface was 51 to 49 degrees.  Anything below 15 feet down was cold water, like 36 to 37 degrees.  Guess what?.....it didn't make one iota's difference to the Salmon, as we maintained a steady bite and came back with a healthy cooler.

I did not fish the Manistee Harbor much in 2003, because my bite on the shelf was so consistent.  When I did fish the harbor on a few occasions, we caught fish in some very warm water.....like up to 74 degrees.  And once again, water temperature didn't make one iota's difference to those large fussy adult Kings.

I'm in the firm belief the cut-bait shines when it comes to neutral to negative fish, who normally wouldn't bite.  In to past prying a bite from extremely cold, or warm water fish was like pulling hen's teeth, but not with bait.  Why does bait work in warm, or cold water?  I plain don't know, I just know for a reel-fact it does, as my fish boxes from the 2003 season can attest too!

Pros and Cons 

In my line of thinking the worst thing about using meat for fish bait is remembering to get it out of the freezer, or refrigerator every morning. I cured my short memory (especially at 4:15am) by leaving a note next to my personals bag which I haul to the boat every day.  If I forgot to get some bait out of the freezer the night before, I'd set the package on the defroster and during my 15 minute ride into Manistee and the fillets generally thawed enough for use.  

This article was written in the fall of 2003 and have since learned making my own meat from Fish On Bait Companies (Green Label size) is far more effective and less costly.


You're gonna hear statements like, I'm not buying bait every time I go fishing, or handling the herring fillets make my hands smell.  Well, let me clue you in, because these are worse then flimsy, unintelligent comments.   Factor in the all-to-expensive assortment of tackle you already own and handling any fish makes your hands smell like fish!  Me?....... I like the way cut-bait makes my fish box fill-up, and yes, my hands and fish box are supposed to smell like fish.  Or, in my case getting paid, is a whole lot harder when the fish box isn't full.  And if my paws don't have the strong odor on fish on them, I'm doing something wrong!

Proper Speeds......If There is Such a Thing?

Proper speed is an conundrum, because what the fish wanted at a faster clip yesterday, might have no bearing on results for today.  In using bait during the 2003 season I took fish from 1 mph to over 3, and little just under 2 mph (1.5 to 1.8) is what I used most.  Keeping in mind, slow speed does not spin a large Coyote Flasher.  So, in other words, a wide latitude of speeds were employed and they all worked just fine. 

I mentioned miles per hour, but a 15 to 30 degree cable angle is what I'm really after, because cable angles never lie, break or need batteries.  The smell factor
I'm sure made up for several mistakes on my part, because I could still be off and take strike with amazing regularity.  The only time I concentrated on a slow troll is when the fish were deeper then 80 feet.  Slow means less carry back at the deeper depths.

Speed is a difficult, perplexing issue under the best of circumstances.  Here's a general rule of thumb I kinda live by; if I'm over wads of fish, slow is better, because it keeps your offering in front of the fishes field of vision longer.  If you're not taking many hits and you're in an area skimpy on fish, then "faster" covers more water and might take you to a better spot with more haste.  Click here for Capt. John's complete article on boat speeds

Diver Dos and Don'ts

In all honesty, I never worked too hard on a diver program, because my simple 3 rigger spread was working remarkably well.  In the past many seasons (before 2003), I relied on my divers more and more after the morning wore on.  With bait, for the most part it only took from 7am to about 9am to pull 12 to 15 Kings (mostly on the riggers), which aboard my boat is a limit for the size of groups I generally run.  Now, when I say 7am, I mean being on the water and dropping lines, not the "leaving the dock" time, which in most cases was 5:30am to 6:00am depending on the group of anglers and if it was weekday, or weekend.  Weekends required a earlier leave time, because of the heavy traffic Manistee receives during "Tuna Wars" in August and the first part of September.

I never ran my wire divers and used Cortland's Spectron 35 pound super braid in the salt and pepper finish.  I believe Cortland calls it black-spot, but I don't think the color  makes any difference.  One thing worthy of note, is that I had to let the fish chew on the bait.  Making sure the line was being pulled against the drag, before I wanted the diver pole removed from the rodholder.  If we did miss a bite?  The diver rod would have to be tripped, reeled in and reset after making sure the bait-rig hadn't been slid up the leader, which in most cases it was.

I need to emphasize, I ran a 5 foot leader from the diver to the flasher, because the 3 fly-rigs were about 5 feet long, so 5' and 5' equals a 10 foot distance to the fish.  My whole diver program was a radical departure from the past many seasons, when I stressed at least a 10 foot leader to the flasher and another 2 or 3 feet back was the fly.  Plus, I'd always being running 2 divers per side, but the bait stuff worked to good and most of the time keeping a single diver per side in the water was chore.  So, unless you're a glutton for punishment, tone down your diver program to a total of 2 and you'll save yourself many tangled lines.  Explaining all the nuances of depths divers attain is way to complex of an issue for me to explain here.
                                      Click here for more info about divers

Missing Out?
Page 2 is reserved for the esteemed members of our private message board only!

This info has been available to our private message board members since about December
of 2003.  Out private message board is the reel deal and worth far more then the 10 bucks to join.  Where can you find such detailed information on the internet?  The check for 10 dollars
is more for identification, then the dough.  I want to know who I'm sharing the inside stuff with and locking our message board was driven as a security measure from pirates and a$$holes
that seem to plague public message boards!  Also, the water-mark behind the text is another
security measure.

This article previously had only been available to our private message board members.
If you wanna know,.....what they do?  I recommend you joining to most informational
message board on the internet.   To join?......use the below link to find the required 
registration form:
http://www.michigansportsman.com/Message_Board_Registration.htm

Click here to purchase Capt. John's  "On-Line Reel-Flashers"

I've enclosed a poll from early October 2003.  I predict this poll to 
rank cut-bait by at least second next season (2004), if not first.

 

2003 Poll

My best method for adult Salmon? Votes
Spoons 25%33
Dodger-Fly 9%13
Flasher-Fly 31%41
J-Plugs 6%8
Cut-Bait 17%23
Dynamite 1%2
Capt. John's 1st Mate 9%12
Spear 0%0
Bow & Arrow 0%0
Firearms 0%0

132 votes total

2004 Poll

My best method for adult Salmon?

Votes
Dodger-Fly 8%11
Spoons 19%25
Cut-Bait 24%32
J-Plugs 18%24
Flasher-Fly 21%28
Bow & Arrow 0%0
Spear 0%0
Capt. John's 1st Mate 6%8
Firearms 0%0
Dynamite 4%5
133 votes total

2005 Poll
  

My best method for adult Salmon? Votes
Dodger-Fly 8%16
Spoons 20%41
Cut-Bait 28% 58
J-Plugs 16%34
Flasher-Fly 20%42
Bow & Arrow 0%1
John's 1st Mate 6%12
Firearms 0%1
Dynamite 2%5

210 votes total

 

2006 Poll

My best method for adult Salmon? Votes 
Dodger-Fly  8% 10
Spoons  24% 30
Cut-Bait  40% 50
J-Plugs  7% 9
Flasher-Fly  16% 20
Bow & Arrow  2% 2
John's 1st Mate  2% 2
Firearms  1% 1
Dynamite  3% 4

 128 votes total

 

 

Page 2 is reserved for the esteemed members 
of our private message board only!

Part 2 contains visual displays on how to properly rig cut-bait 
correctly and over 30 tips for first time 

success with cut-bait!

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MichiganSportsman Copyrightę2000-200
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