Cut bait — promised land or placebo?/Tom Rozich

As we in the Copper Country endure the dead of winter, with its cold and snow, one’s mind tends to turn to more pleasant thoughts like warm weather and fishing. This is what happened to me while pondering this month’s column topic:?My mind flashed back to the happy memories of salmon fishing on Lake Michigan during the dog days of summer.

During the dog days, the surface waters of Lake Michigan get very warm from solar heating and the prevailing winds pile up the hot water along the west shore of lake Michigan. This drives the salmon deep, very deep, from 150 to 250 feet down, which requires different trolling tactics to get them to bite.

Lake Michigan salmon fishermen have turned to using cut bait rigs more and more. This technique of using strips of herring has been used on the West Coast for decades and is still a preferred technique in waters of the Pacific Ocean. Does this method work in the Great Lakes, after all they came from Oregon and Washington, and will it catch more and bigger fish? Maybe…

Fish use many senses to detect prey and various species use them to a greater or lesser degree. These senses are in five general categories: 1. Acoustic Senses, 2. Eyesight, 3. Taste, 4. Smell, and 5. Electro-reception. Let us look at these in some detail.

Acoustic Senses Fish have an inner ear, which has no external opening and is used for balance and hearing. Sound waves travel through the fish body to the ear, thus fish “hear.” Fish, likewise, have a lateral line that senses vibrations like the ear. The lateral line consists of a series of fluid-filled canals, which contain sensory cells. Tiny hair-like structures project out into the canal and water movement created by turbulence, currents or vibrations moves these hairs and sends an impulse to the brain. These senses work in a wide variety of water conditions, form murky to clear.

Eyesight This sense is well-developed in some fish, while other species are blind and have no eyes. Cave fishes are a species with no eyes. Walleye, on the other hand, have well developed eyes and have a coating called “tapetum lucidum,” which gathers and amplifies incoming light. This allows walleye to feed at night. Many fish have color vision, thus the need for hundreds of different color spoons, dodgers, and flies. Some fish have different coloration between the sexes. Male cohos turn red at spawning time and male bowfin (dogfish), which have brilliant green fins and an eye spot, are two examples.

Taste Fish have taste buds in their mouth and some also have them on the head and sides of their body. Catfish are a species with an extraordinary sense of taste like something out of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” The smooth scaleless skin is completely covered with taste buds. A six-inch catfish has more than 250,000 taste buds on its body. A huge swimming tongue, eh! Biologists suspect taste may be responsible for final acceptance or rejections of prey items (lures).

Smell Fish have nostrils on each side of their head. Each one has an incoming and outgoing tube for water and is lined with folds of tissue, like the corrugated lining of cardboard. The more folds, the more sensitive the sense of smell. Salmon can detect smells at one part per billion, while catfish can detect one part per 10 billion.

Electro-reception – Some fish produce a low-voltage electric current that sets up a field around the fish. They have tiny organs on the skin that detect changes in the electric field caused by other fish or objects. These fish detect prey and navigate using electricity. Catfish are a species that has this sense.

So, what does all of this mean about using cut bait? On the charter boat, Sandpiper III, captained by Kevin Hughes out of Onekama and where I was First Mate, we used cut bait rigs when the salmon went deep during the dog days. The results were mixed, but mostly positive. Some days almost all our fish came on cut bait, while some days we could not get a bite on cut bait. The other positive was the largest fish hit the cut bait, which was very important in tournament fishing, where total weight won.

A biological analysis would tell you use a bait that vibrates, smells good, tastes good and looks good, and you will catch fish.

Cut bait..Promised Land or Placebo? Some days, and that’s final!

Go Fish!