There's no doubting the effectiveness of artificial lures when it comes to catching fish, but nothing looks more like a minnow than a minnow. Baiting your hook with the natural prey of any game fish gives you a solid chance of catching them. You can hook a minnow in a few different ways, each of which is useful in certain situations.
Hooking a minnow through the lips is a common tactic when trolling or when you plan to cast and retrieve the bait. Lip hooking keeps the minnow facing forward as you retrieve it, creating a more natural presentation. To lip hook a minnow, insert the hook into the bottom of the minnow's lower lip and bring it out through the top of the upper lip. Avoid bringing the hook through too far back on the minnow's head, which can kill your bait before it gets to the water. The downside to lip hooking is that it keeps the minnow's mouth closed, which limits its oxygen intake and can cause it to die more quickly on the hook.
You also can hook a minnow through the back, which allows the bait to stay alive longer than lip hooking. Insert the hook into one side of the minnow and bring it out the other side, just in front of the dorsal fin on its back. Be careful to to hook the minnow above its spine. Injuring the minnow's spine will paralyze it, making it less effective as bait. Back hooking is most useful for vertical fishing techniques, such as ice fishing, or for suspending a minnow under a bobber. This can be useful for fishing in weedy water, or any time game fish are feeding near the surface.
Tail hooking is a third option for keeping a minnow on your hook. This is similar to back hooking, except that the hook is passed through the minnow's body just in front of the tail. As with back hooking, it's important to avoid injuring the spine. Tail hooking is particularly useful for free-line or drift fishing. Cast the minnow out gently and allow it to swim freely as the weight of the hook pulls it slowly toward the bottom. This can be a productive tactic if you've located fish in a lake or pond, but find them inactive and disinclined to bite. You also can tail hook minnows for river fishing, allowing the current to carry the bait downstream.
Minnows serve as effective bait in a wide range of situations, and with a widely varied assortment of rigs and tackle. Bait-holder hooks are commonly used for minnow fishing, because they have barbs that help keep the bait in place. These hooks come in a wide range of sizes for bass, walleye and pike fishing. Larger hooks work best for large minnows, and vice versa. Aberdeen hooks, which have a long shank and are made of thinner wire than bait-holder hooks, are a good choice if you're using small minnows for trout or panfish. Aberdeen hooks are harder for fish to see but can bend under the weight of big fish.
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