Larry bait fish
Guide Daniel Brown shows how to rig a threadfin shad.

Imagine for a moment that fish have shoes, and put yourself in them:

You are a big, hungry Cherokee bass and have your choice of chowing down on a fluttering chunk of shiny metal or a juicy, wriggling threadfin shad, the fillet mignon of bait fish.

Which would you choose?

So would the Cherokee bass.

“There are times when they’ll ignore artificial lures right under their noses, but will hit live bait,” says Daniel Brown, a veteran guide on Percy Priest Lake who specializes in catching Cherokee bass, better known as hybrid striped bass or simply hybrids.

“In the spring they’ll hit lures like jigging spoons,” Brown says, “but on into the summer and early fall they prefer live bait. Priest is full of threadfin shad, their natural forage.”

Sometimes catching the bait is more challenging than catching the hybrids. Brown uses a cast net, and stocks up on bait before he takes out a client.

“I don’t want to waste our fishing time catching bait, so I catch it beforehand,” he says.

Brown, who operates The Reel Deal Guide Service out of Smyrna, is picky about his bait. How picky? The interior of his big bait bucket is white, as opposed to black or any other dark color, because the threadfins will adopt the hue of the bucket. He says a white/silver color makes the best bait, as opposed to a darker shade.

“It’s the little things,” he says, “that make the difference.”

Brown has a reputation for catching fish when nobody else can. Other fishermen often putter over when they see Daniel’s boat, to seek advice or borrow some bait. He’s generous with both.

“I like to help people catch fish,” he says, “whether they’re in my boat or not.”

Daniel has about all the business he can handle, sometimes booked solid for two or three weeks.

One of his recent bookings was by Mt. Juliet’s Chuck Campbell, a skilled hybrid fisherman in his own right. Chuck wanted to observe Daniel’s techniques, and invited me along.

We fished out of Fate Sanders Marina, shoving off at 8 a.m. for a four-hour trip. Daniel used electronics to locate pods of bait fish in some of his hot spots, with hybrids lurking below.

Within minutes of lowering down a bait, Chuck hooked a seven-pounder. Eventually the hybrids moved away and so did we. Fishing his favorite spots up and down the lake, we boated five more hybrids, for a three-man six-fish limit, and lost four more.

Daniel has a word of warning for bait fishermen: never use minnows netted in another lake, and never dump left-over bait shop minnows in the water. There is a risk invasive Asian carp could be mixed in with them.

When the water begins to cool, lures such as weighted jigging spoons will be effective as they flutter down, imitating a wounded minnow.

Meanwhile, you can’t beat the real thing.

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