Whether you call ‘em bull minnow, mummichog, gudgeon, or mud minnow, one thing is for sure: just about every predator sought after by people fishing the Chesapeake Bay enjoys eating these little fish. And while many of us slip one onto a hook when searching for perch, pickerel, or other panfish, on the whole many anglers underutilize this awesome bait.

a bull minnow
Just about every predator fish living in the Chesapeake eats minnow.

What makes bull minnow so great? Well, as we said, just about everything eats them. But they have another trait that makes them utterly fantastic: bull minnow are nearly impossible to kill. You can practically throw them against a brick wall and as long as you put them back into a bucket of water before they dry out, they’ll still be more than willing to provide a pretty little wiggle predators can’t resist. In fact, you can merely wrap them up in wet paper towels and they’ll continue kicking for days. Fun Fact: thanks to their heartiness bull minnow were selected as the first aquatic astronauts, and were flown to Skylab in 1973. Not only did they survive the mission, they successfully reproduced in space (although the fry reportedly swam in circles for three days before figuring out which way was up).

Okay: so bull minnows are hearty, and just about everything loves to eat ‘em. Most of you probably already know that. Back in the day, however, people used them a lot more than they tend to in current times. Maybe it’s the advent of new and improved soft plastics and maybe more anglers simply don’t want to mess with bait. But for whatever reason, today the mud minnow is an underutilized option. File away these three old-timer tricks, however, and you’ll discover that the lowly mummichog can help maximize your catch.

Rockfish – Tie on a top-and-bottom rig with thin wire 4/0 to 6/0 hooks (circle hooks, these days of course), weight it down with three or more ounces of lead, and lip-hook the minnow. Now you have a relatively heavy rig you can use to reach bottom in high-current areas. This tactic always was (and surely still is) a killer when rockfish schooled up near the Bay Bridge rockpiles and pilings in 40-plus feet of water, and the current made it difficult to get most other offerings to stay down low.

rockfish on the bay
Use bull minnow for rockfish?! Youbetcha!

Speckled Sea Trout – When specks are offering up a super-finicky bite, fishing plastics can become incredibly aggravating. You’ll feel the nip, but it’s only just that — a nip at the tail which rarely results in a hook-up. Ten nips later, you’re ready to pull your hair out. The solution? Yup, a bull minnow. Take a small bucktail, add on a lip-hooked minnow, and slowly hop it along or let it dangle just over bottom as you drift. When the nip comes don’t do a thing, and allow some time for the fish to decide yes, it’s real, and suck the whole thing into its jaws. After a three- to five-count, you’ll usually feel a heavier, steadier tug, and that’s when you know it’s time to set the hook.

Redfish – We love tossing jigs for reds as much as the next guy, but there are times when this can get frustrating, too. You know where the fish are holding, but that slamming strike just never comes? In shallow water of five feet or less, tie a thin wire hook on the end of your line and add a split-shot about a foot up. Then use another ancient fishing tool, a bobber (or cork) high enough on the line that the minnow drifts along just off the bottom. It’s rare that a red can turn down that succulent little morsal struggling to swim as it drifts along.

There’s a second puppy drum scenario to keep in mind when you have mummichog in your livewell: periods of slack tide when the bite drops off and the fish are in deeper zones of eight to 15 feet. In this case you can anchor or Spot-Lock your boat, ditch the bobber, and toss out the minnow. You may need to upsize the split shot or add a second one, but either way, make sure there’s enough weight to get it to bottom in the target zone. Leave a bit of extra slack line out to account for the breeze or any boat swing, and let it sit there until the line streaks away. Even when the reds aren’t terribly interested in feeding it can be tough for them to turn down such a temptation.

BONUS BULL MINNOW FISHING TIP – If you’re heading offshore and plan to bail for mahi-mahi, bring a couple pints of minnow along for the ride. If you encounter fish but they don’t want to eat, tossing handfuls of minnow into the ocean is a sure-fire way to get them all fired up. Amp up the action even more by bouncing them off the side of the boat so the stunned fish wiggle in circles, and the mahi will go utterly insane.

The bite’s become tough and you need an ace up your sleeve? Forget about the ace and pack a few live bull minnow, instead. Old timers know just how effective these tricks are and now you do, too — and that’s no bull.