Anchovy, I Love You!

Written By: Cal Kellogg, November 18, 2013
Species: Catfish Sturgeon Stripers Saltwater Stripers Saltwater Salmon Saltwater Sturgeon River Salmon Halibut Rockfish shark Steelhead Trout Tuna

Anchovy, I Love You!
Anchovy, I Love You! Anchovy, I Love You!
Anchovy, I Love You!

Just the other day I found myself setting on a deer stand on a ridge high in the Tahoe National Forest. The hunting was great except for one thing, deer sightings were few and far between.

As I waited and watched my mind started to wonder and soon I was contemplating different fishing baits. My thoughts quickly went from lures to natural baits and I asked myself the question, which baits couldn’t I do without? In other words if I were limited to only a couple different baits, what would they be?

Anyone that has read my work in the pages of the Fish Sniffer and other publications over the years knows that I use worms a great deal when I’m fishing freshwater. When the going gets tough for trout, black bass or steelhead, out come my worms.

The worm is fine for freshwater, but what about saltwater? That’s when my mind screamed anchovies…I realized that I absolutely love anchovies and I couldn’t believe that I’d never written specifically about them before. Well here it goes, join me in celebrating my all time favorite baitfish, the anchovy!

Surfperch, jack smelt, sturgeon, stripers, king salmon, silver salmon, halibut, flounders, rockfish, lingcod, leopard sharks, rainbow trout, brown trout and catfish, I’ve caught all of these species and more on anchovies.

Like the night crawler, anchovies are versatile. You can cut them or fish them whole. You can still fish them on the bottom, drift them under a bobber or beneath a boat (mooching) or you can troll them.

Fillet an anchovy and cut the fillets into thin strips and you’ve got the perfect thing for tipping lure and hoochies. Need to wrap a Flatfish for salmon, but don’t have sardines? Three or four anchovy fillets will work just fine. They’ll take you a bit longer to position and tie onto the plug than a single sardine fillet, but the kings will slam that anchovy wrapped plug with gusto!


Fishing With Anchovies, Let Us Count The Ways…

My introduction to using anchovies as bait came when I was only about 6 years old. At the time we lived in the East Bay community of San Lorenzo. One evening my Dad took me down to Alameda to fish next to the Bay Farm Island Bridge.

I don’t think we were fishing for anything specific in terms of species. We were looking for anything that would bite. Dad rigged his rod with a high-low rig and attached a 2 ounce sinker. Cutting an anchovy in half, Dad baited the hooks and tossed the rig out.

The first time the rod wiggled to life, Dad hooked a small shark, but the next two bites produced a pair of husky flounders. That’s exciting stuff when you’re 6 and the experience firmly cemented the idea in my mind that anchovies were a pretty darn good bait.

Still fishing with frozen anchovies is a great method for a range of different fish. In saltwater this approach works well for stripers, flounders, sharks and rays. In freshwater, catfish and sturgeon will both chomp on a juicy anchovy soaking on the bottom. If you just want to get bit and aren’t concerned with the species, cut anchovies are for you!

I know some guys that do well still fishing with whole anchovies and catch lots of fish, but I prefer to cut them because I’m convinced cut anchovies release more scent into the water and produce more action. If I want a big bait I simply put one or two anchovies that have been cut in half on a single large hook.

There are many different ways of fishing cut anchovies, but I’d say that the most popular rigs are the High-Low Rig and the Sliding Sinker Rig. As to which method is better I’ve tried both and I’ve never noticed much of a difference in terms of productivity. These days I tend to run a Sliding Sinker Rig most of the time.

Slinging out a cut anchovy and allowing it to marinate on the bottom is pretty basic. Moving up the sophistication ladder we come to mooching techniques.

Anchovies either whole or cut can be effectively drifted or “mooched” beneath a boat or bobber. Generally when you are mooching dead anchovies in Norcal saltwater your target it salmon, halibut, rockfish or lingcod. In freshwater the targets are typically landlocked kings and/or trout.

Let’s start with saltwater. In the salt I like mooching whole anchovies. To rig them I use a bait threader. I insert the needle at the rear of the eye socket, pass it through the body and exit about a half inch from the tail. I then pull a hook adorned leader through the bait’s body.

When I’m done I have a perfect looking anchovy with a hook protruding from the eye socket. Rigged this way, the bait drifts head down and is absolutely deadly for kings, lings and rockfish.

Most of the time mooching is done from a boat, but over the years thousands of big salmon and stripers have fallen prey to anglers mooching anchovies off the Pacifica Pier and similar locations up and down the coast.

In freshwater, I typically don’t mooch whole anchovies. Instead I like to cut about 2 inches off the bait’s tail off at an angle. I discard the head section and use on the tail for bait. I rig the tails using a bait needle. I insert the needle in the cut end and exit about a half inch from the tail.

Whether mooching in saltwater or freshwater, patience is the key when you get a strike. Fish, especially salmon and trout like to play with a mooched anchovy quite a bit before they commit. When you see that rod tip start to move, resist the temptation to pick up the rod. Leave the rod in the holder and let the bite develop. I never set the hook when mooching anchovies. I let the bite develop the fish does the work for me.

Are you ready for anchovy graduate school? Okay, let’s troll! Rigged and rolled, snapped into a bait holder or trolled as “straight bait”, anchovies are deadly for halibut and salmon in saltwater and landlocked kings, rainbows and browns in freshwater.

For use as saltwater trolling baits there are many ways of rigging an anchovy. There are a variety of different plastic bait holders on the market that make rolling anchovies easy. There are also a variety of “cable baiters” and “crowbar rigs” that are inserted through an anchovy, such that your leader attaches to the bait’s head and your hook protrudes from the bait’s rear end.

I’ll confess that I don’t use bait holders much anymore. In the ocean I like to run my anchovies on crowbars or modified crowbars made of stainless steel wire.

In freshwater I run my anchovies on hand tied leaders that feature a treble hook on the end. Above the treble, I tie on an octopus hook on a sliding snell. The octopus goes in the anchovy’s nose, while the treble is inserted near the tail. By tightening the leader between the two hooks I can create a bend in the bait and this makes the bait roll when trolled.

The more bend you put in the bait, the more the bait rolls. Sometimes a widely rolling bait works well in both salt and freshwater, but at other times a bait with little or no roll works best. This is where experimentation with multiple rods can help you dial in the perfect action for any given day.

In saltwater I always troll whole anchovies. In freshwater sometimes I troll plug cut baits, but I prefer to use whole bait whenever I can. I’ve caught some nice browns on whole anchovies. My theory is that they look like a little kokanee to the browns…Wham Fish On!

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