Crawler Secrets: The Art Of Live Bait
About 50 years ago a Milwaukee sportfishing pioneer named Bill Binkelman almost singlehandedly resurrected the ancient and honorable use of live bait in fishing and raised it to an art form.
By the late-1950s and early-60s, the sportfishing community fostered the notion that it was unsportsmanlike to fish with live bait as opposed to artificial flies and lures. It was actually viewed as demeaning. The typical picture of live-bait fishing at that time was of the barefoot kid with a straw hat, cane pole and ntomato can full of worms. The big sportfishing magazines of the time – Sports Afield, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life – mainly featured articles for "real" fishermen that offered titles such as Topwater Tactics For Bass orRainbow Trout on a Dry Fly.
In contrast stood Bill Binkelman's seminal book (actually booklet) titled Nightcrawler Secrets, and it took a completely different tack.
Initially, Bill focused his work on the Upper Midwest, as opposed to eastern or western waters, far-flung Canadian lakes or any of the newly built Deep South reservoirs. He zeroed in on his close-to-home-waters, which were busy, heavily used lakes that were more a home to waterskiers, swimmers and casual boaters than fishermen. And by using simple creatures like the lowly nightcrawler the way he did, Bill could catch monster stringers of walleye and bass.
Bill publicized this work in his new tabloid newspaper, appropriately titled Fishing Facts.
What both these publications did was debunk commonplace notions, like the belief that these suburban, heavily used waters were fished out, or that one had to go to the wilderness waters of the north woods to really catch fish.
Binkelman in fact proclaimed that these backyard waters close to urban areas were actually underfished – or more specifically, not correctly fished.
In 1965, when Bill published his Nightcrawler Secrets manifesto,he had little idea that it would produce a sea change in the course of angling history. Bill, however, was no purist – live bait or otherwise. He'd put minnows on the backs of jigs, use hellgrammites on split-shot rigs and even little pieces of nightcrawlers on the tips of the treble hook of a Lazy Ike. Later he'd utilize crawfish, leeches, salamanders, crickets. If it moved in the water, he fished it.
In a way, Bill was the father of finesse fishing as we know it today, because 4-, 6- and 8-pound test mono was critical to his overall philosophy, as was the use of tiny hooks buried into the various kinds of live bait. Remember, it wasn't many years before that thick, black braided line and heavy cat-gut or metal leaders were common.
There's no question that Bill was a direct influence on my brother Al and myself when we designed, introduced and popularized the Lindy Rig for the world of walleye fishing. Peruse any of Bill's early books, articles or writings and you'll see early forms of what would later become the dropshot and Carolina rigs. The difference, of course, was these later rigs would utilize some type of soft plastic instead of live bait.
Regardless of what he used, Bill Binkelman always preached "the simpler the better" approach. Indeed, this largely unheralded pioneer of the live-bait art form has never received the popular acclaim he so justly and richly deserves. Nevertheless, anglers the world over owe him a debt of gratitude for dispelling myths, inspiring finesse methods and bringing live-bait fishing back to the forefront of angling tactics.
In spite of the quantum leaps in luremaking technology, particularly with soft baits, live-bait fishing is still an integral, deeply-rooted part of the professional walleye fishing world. In fact, if baits like shrimp, crickets, minnows and the like are added to the equation, live bait's still one of the most-utilized fishing techniques in the world. Remember, even the most advanced lures in the world are designed to mimic some sort of live critter.
Today, another old timer – the 70-year-old Frabill company – is a direct descendent of some of Bill's concepts. Products such as the Frabill Habitat V – a styrofoam worm cooler filled with Frabill's Super-Gro Nightcrawler bedding (which contains a built-in food source) – brings the tradition into the modern world.
Thank you Bill Binkelman.
about the author
Ron Lindner is a living pioneer. A book author, magazine publisher, TV producer, tackle designer, industry analyst and radio host, Ron and brother Al founded the In-Fisherman Network. Ron still fishes close to 200 days a year and co-owns and operates Lindner's Angling Edge.