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Go to Hellgrammites

June 13, 2018
By Paul Liikala , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Tired of not catching fish? Are you willing to do almost anything to find that miracle bait? Then go to hellgrammites. Yes, I said go to hellgrammites. This bait is so sinfully ugly that it looks as if Satan himself created it. However, it is so devilishly tasty that fish can't resist its temptations. Best of all you don't have to sell your soul to get it. In fact, it is free for the taking from many area streams.

A hellgrammite definitely fits the phrase, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is one scary looking creature that looks like a large black centipede. Both male and female hellgrammites have a menacing set of mandibles that can deliver a powerful bite to any finger that passes in front of its jaws.

Unfortunately, hellgrammites are so valuable that they are priceless. Well, you can't buy them because bait stores don't sell them. So, you have to catch them yourself.

Article Photos

Hellgrammites on a fly rod is a fun way to catch smallies. Photo by Paul Liikala

When hellgrammites are in the stream, use a minnow-meshed dip net or seine to capture them. Wade into a set of riffles and place the net downstream from large flat rocks. Hold the net close to the rock and flip it over, allowing the current to sweep the bait into the waiting net. Usually, the swifter water produces more hellgrammites because their lower abdomens have terminal hooks that tightly grasp moss and rock crevices. The fast moving water helps to tear them free from stones. When fishing with hellgrammites some anglers snip off these anterior hooks, to prevent snagging.

Hellgrammites are fairly easy to store. One method requires a bit of deception. When my wife is not looking, I take an empty cottage cheese carton and punch a couple holes in the lid. I line it with wet paper towels or shredded newspapers. Place about a half dozen hellgrammites in each carton. Now comes the tricky part, sneaking them into the refrigerator without your spouse finding them. Be careful because if she looks inside the container - all hellgrammites will break loose. If they remain undiscovered, change the wet paper towels every few days, and they will keep for several weeks. For those husbands fearing for their personal safety, keep the hellgrammite containers in a cooler with some ice.

Hellgrammites also can be successfully stored in buckets filled with cool dechlorinated water, and an aerator for oxygen. An aquarium aerator works great for long periods of time. Change the water every two or three days. Try and keep in a shaded cool area, like a basement or cellar. Properly storing them is well worth the effort since most bait shops don't carry them.

Fact Box

A hellgrammite definitely fits the phrase, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is one scary looking creature that looks like a large black centipede.

While fishing, keep your hellgrammites in a bucket of cool water, or put them in stream water in a perforated minnow bucket. Avoid placing the container in the sun. When wading, simply put the bait in a small canister lined with wet moss or grass and occasionally dip into the stream. Do not leave the lid open, or the captives may escape. Good luck if the fugitives seek refuge inside your hip boots.

As a youngster, my uncle taught me how to catch, store, and fish hellgrammites. And boy did we catch fish! As I got older, I started reading all about the miracle artificial lures. I neglected live bait and fished exclusively with artificial lures. One day a hellgrammite snapped me back to my senses. We were fishing a stream loaded with smallmouth. After five hours of nearly fruitless fishing, only one dinky smallmouth hit our lures. We tried every "miracle" lure in our tackle boxes.

Wearily, trudging downstream, I kicked over a flat rock and spotted a large black hellgrammite sitting there. I carefully grabbed it. I hooked it on a size 4 hook. I cast it upstream and worked it behind a large boulder in the riffles. Wham! A smallmouth inhaled it and tail walked across the surface. A two pound bronze back grudgingly came to my net. Even though the hellgrammite was worse for wear, I was able to thread it on the hook again. Cast number two resulted in a rock bass. We spent the rest of day looking for hellgrammites and catching fish.

A free falling live bait is always more natural and appealing to wary fish. Favorite spots to fish it are washouts behind boulders in the riffles. Cast the bait upstream and let the current carry it to the calm waters behind the rock. To prevent gut hooked fish, set the hook soon after the pick up.

Where the water is deeper and especially fast, pinch on a split shot 12 to 18 inches above the hook. Put the weight too close to the hellgrammite, and it cuts down on the natural presentation. Use size 4 or 6 Aberdeen style hooks. Thin wire hooks work best because their small diameter does less damage to the live bait. Place the hook's point under the hellgrammite's collar, which is just behind the head. These baits are tough and often several fish can be landed before losing the hellgrammite.

A float is very effective for fishing deeper holes. Use a fairly small bobber and set its depth so the hooked hellgrammite just skims over the bottom. In calm slow moving water, don't let it sit on the bottom. It will crawl under a rock and quickly snag up the bait. Cast the float rig to the head of the pool and let it float down about 1/3 of the way. Cast the whole area in a grid-like pattern so all sections are fished. In the next third of the pool, set the bobber deeper because this part of the hole usually has greater depth. Make certain to float the bait right next to undercut banks, submerged trees, and big rocks. For the final third of the pool, raise the bobber's depth because it will be shallower. Don't be surprised if several different species are caught from a good looking hole. Not only do smallmouth like hellgrammites but other species also find them irresistible.

Hellgrammites make good trailer baits for artificial lures. Hook one to the back of a spinner and cast it to all the fish holding cover and structure. Another very good rig places a hellgrammite on the rear hook of a size 6 or 7 Flatfish. Wade to the top of the riffles. Cast downstream and let the Flatfish wobble enticingly in the moving water. Move the rod tip slowly to the left and right before stopping to let it dance in the current.

When casting hellgrammites or any live bait, don't snap the rod tip. This can kill the bait or rip it free of the hook. It is best to cast overhead using a soft lobbing motion.

Yes, hellgrammites may take some time to gather. However, their ability to attract fish, even when they are not hungry, makes the extra effort well worth it. Hellgrammites definitely are one super fish-getter. When the angler knows how and where to catch them, they will agree with the phrase - go to hellgrammites for big catches of fish.



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