It was the most important draw of the year, as it determined who would fish and who would bleed. I was 13 when my brother and I started the tradition of tossing a coin to decide which one of us should pull down our pants and wade through warm marsh water that drained into a particular Adirondack Lake. that we liked to fish. This was the perfect place to pick up walleye bait. Armed with a small landing net, the unlucky brother waded around the swamp scooping up baitfish, though the real prizes were the swampy waters’ least desirable inhabitants: leeches.
On warm days, the struggling little annelid worms swim close to the surface and make easy targets for the net. However, the easiest way to collect them in any number was the real reason for the draw. When we entered the swamp in “full commando,” our bare posteriors would get covered in tiny parasites, forcing the loser to sit still and wait for the winner, so dump them with a knife blade into a bucket. It was an effective but traumatic way to gather bait. So, after a few years, we discovered a much more effective and less humiliating method of catching leeches.
How to make a leech trap
As my brother and I discovered in our youth, leeches can be amazing bait for a myriad of freshwater fish. While walleye seem particularly fond of creatures, other fish like smallmouth, pike, panfish, and trout also eagerly inhale leeches whenever they get the chance. However, many bait shops do not offer leeches as bait, either because it is against state law or because anglers are reluctant to purchase what they imagine to be parasites. bloodsuckers. So if you want to use leeches as bait, that often means having to catch them yourself.
While a barelegged stroll through leech-infested waters may catch a few for you, it’s far from the most effective method. Additionally, many species of bloodsucking leeches do not make the best bait due to their habit of latching onto an angler’s hands and fingers when trying to catch them. Many such species are also avoided by fish for unknown reasons. Therefore, your best bet for gathering leeches in sufficient numbers for bait is to craft a leech trap. These traps are easy to build and target scavenger leech species, such as the ribbon leech, rather than the creepy bloodsuckers.
Leech traps can be made of almost anything as long as they can both hold bait and have a large surface area for leeches to cling to while feeding. Many anglers use things like coffee cans, soda bottles, and even small buckets as leech traps. The items I’ve found to be the most effective are aluminum pie plates, as they’re both inexpensive and quick and easy to turn into traps. Simply fold the pie pan in half and crimp the edges together, leaving a small opening at one end to have a kind of little metal casing. Punch a hole in the top of the folded plate opening along its edge to attach the line and you’re done. It’s best to craft multiple traps and place them at different depths and in different locations to increase your chances of success.
The best places to set leech traps are in shallow ponds, streams, or swamps that don’t contain many fish or along the shallow, warm edges of large lakes and rivers that do. Bait your leech traps with a few freshly cut pieces of bait or even with the head and guts of a previously cleaned fish. Add a few small rocks to help weight the trap, then tie it to a length of heavy monofilament or string. Place the trap in the water so that it rests on the bottom and tie it to the shore or to some float, such as an empty plastic bottle. This is essential if you are soaking your leech traps offshore so you can easily locate them later.
Let the traps sit overnight and hope they are filled to the brim with leeches the next day. If not, change the bait and try a new location rather than leaving the traps in place. Dipping the bait too long in one spot will often result in traps being looted and destroyed by larger scavengers like snapping turtles. When you start catching a few leeches, all you have to do is unfold the pie plate and throw the bait into a bucket and you’ll be ready to go fishing. If you want to see the whole process better, be sure to check out Jay Siemens setting leech traps on Season 1, Episode 1 of The Canadian Angle.
How to fish with leeches
There are many ways to fish with leeches depending on the species of fish you are chasing. The easiest and probably most common method from the shore or from a boat is to rig them with a small hook in the head, attach a few small split shot and one slip float line and throw. This method allows the leech to swim and wrestle naturally and is a great way to catch fish like walleye, bass, and trout that cruise through shallow waters looking for a meal. However, when fishing in deeper waters or covering a lot of ground from a boat to find them and lure them to the bait, your fishing methods can become more complex.
“Leeches make great bait, but you need to know how and when to use them,” said Ross Robertson, professional fisherman and MeatEater contributor. “Hot water is the key to success because if the water is too cold the leeches will curl up into a ball and sit on the hook. You won’t catch anything that way.
Robertson likes to fish for leeches on rigs that can be worked slowly so the leech can slide and ripple below the surface of the water and not just be dragged around like a stick. Troll leeches slowly with additional attractant such as floats and spinner blades on a Lindy Platform Where worm harness is a fantastic way to target species like walleye and trout, especially when placed on a winch Where weighted bottom bouncer. They also work extremely well when angled on a jig, especially when targeting fish like bass, walleye, or catfish off of rocky points in the structure. To do this, hang a leech from the front of its head using a bucktail jig Where single jig head. Once the leech is hooked, drop the rig into the water until the jig touches bottom, then slowly lift it a few feet before dropping it. It is an incredibly effective method.
“I really like tipping them on a jig,” Robertson said. “But no matter how I fish them, I always like to fish on a light line or a leader and I like to use a small hook, like size 6 Octopus hookhooked through their suction cup so they stay and have a good deed.
Robertson has other tricks he uses to make sure his leeches stay good and alive.
“I always make sure to change the water they’re held in to keep them fresh,” he said. “And when they get sluggish or just when I feel like I need them to get some extra action, I’m going to smear some Preparation H on their skin. It drives them crazy.
The livelier and more active your leech, the more luck you will have. If you fish enough with them, leeches can very quickly become your favorite live bait.
Summer and leech are easy
One of the best things about fishing with leeches is that often they will work when nothing else will. Slow worms are easy to catch and provide a convenient meal for many predatory species. Often in early summer, when leeches are breeding and abundant, many species of fish target them almost exclusively. This means that in mid to late summer, when some fish become more lethargic from the heat or reluctant to eat from the fishing pressure, leeches can be that magic bait that ends up bending your rod. It’s worth moving past any stigma you might have about leeches as blood-sucking parasites, because collecting them is worth it. Still, it’s probably best to leave your pants on when you do.