On the trail of the diminutive minnow

Anglers have used minnows as bait for centuries, but in recent years they have been somewhat neglected. Why this is so is a bit of a mystery, for they are undoubtedly among the very best baits for big perch and chub – not to mention trout.

Summer is unquestionably the best time to fish with minnows, mainly because this is the easiest time of the year to catch them, but also because they are very much a visual bait and are more likely to be seen by your quarry in summer, when the water tends to be clearer.

Clear water is the key to finding minnows. They are widely found in streams and rivers, but are commonest where the water is very clear. The water must also be clean— unlike sticklebacks, minnows can’t tolerate pollution of any kind.

Tracking them down

Minnows shoal in large numbers and favour fast, shallow, well oxygenated gravel runs. They tend to avoid deep, sluggish, silted areas of the stream or river. Netting Where the water is shallow enough for you to wade, one way to catch minnows is to scoop them out with your landing net or a child’s tiddler net. However, this is often easier said than done and you can end up wasting valuable fishing time for very little reward. It is very good fun, though.

Hooking Another way is to fish for them with rod and line. Trot a pinkie or pellet of bread on a size 22 hook under a small stick float, throwing in a few pinkies or a pinch of groundbait every cast to attract a shoal. This is great fun and so absorbing that if you’re not careful you can end up spending the whole day fishing for minnows! Seriously, the drawback with this method is that it can be rather time-consuming

A cunning plan

The quickest and easiest way to catch minnows is to trap them. This is another fun method that works on the lobster pot principle. At the riverside you simply bait the trap with a bit of bread or groundbait, lower it into the stream on a length of string and let it fill with water and sink to the bottom. If you have chosen a good spot it should only be a matter of minutes before a shoal of minnows is drawn to the bait. Unfortunately for them, but happily for you, they find it easier to swim into the bottle than to get out again.

If you can’t see what’s going on down below, leave the bottle for only a quarter of an hour or so before pulling it up. If you haven’t caught any minnows by then you’re trapping in the wrong spot and should try again elsewhere.

Fishing with minnows

A roving approach is usually best as it allows you to explore as much water as possible. Insert a large, single hook through the minnow’s top lip and fish it under a balsa float – undershotted to stop the bait pulling it under, with all the shot 30cm above the hook to keep the bait down.

Set the minnow to fish 30-60cm off the bottom, where it can most easily be seen by perch and chub, and wait for a decisive take before striking. In turbulent water a dead minnow can appear extremely lifelike – to kill a minnow, flick it sharply on the head with your fingernail.

Legering can also work well, especially where a long cast into deep water is needed to reach the fish. Again, lip-hooking is best, but use a slightly heavier weight than usual, because a smooth, gentle swing is essential if the bait is not to fly off the hook in mid-air every cast.