You won’t find the old-fashioned bellyfin rig in tackle boxes nowadays, but it was once widely used when trolling for trout. As its name indicates, the rig uses the belly and fin of a fish, usually a small trout. The rig is difficult to picture without a diagram and almost impossible to describe so someone could easily tie one. Even Carl King, the angler who first showed me how to use the rig – and who has tied dozens of them – was a bit hesitant when I asked him recently to describe it.
“Have you got anybody in your family who can draw,” Carl said jokingly before getting down to a brief description of the bellyfin rig. “Basically,” he said, “it’s a combination of a short length of leader on a swivel with two hooks. The hooks, a #5 short-shank and # 6 long-shank, are tied to the leader so they overlap a bit, the smaller hook in front.”
Carl went on to describe how the belly section of the fish used on the rig had to be cut so the anal opening and the nearby fin remained. The long-shank hook is run through the opening and attached to the outside edge of the fin; the top hook is then attached to the fin at the same angle as the lower hook, which gives the rig a peculiar motion in the water.
As I mentioned, Carl King introduced me to the bellyfin rig when he was doing some heavy-duty trolling on local lakes. This is more years ago than I care to remember but I recall there was more to using the rig than simply dragging it behind the canoe. “When there’s a tap from a trout, count to four or five before striking,” Carl usually reminded me when he put our rigs in the water. “Trout like to take the rig and run with it (before swallowing it). They really like the taste of those belly pieces.”
The bellyfin rig has accounted for many fine trout over the years and it was popular with anglers in past generations. There’s little doubt that it would produce fish today, but I never hear of anyone using it. Perhaps the rig is too difficult to tie, or anglers may have stopped using it because it’s simpler and easier to buy a trolling lure from a tackle shop.
I’ve mentioned the use of belly fins and other unusual baits in this column before and some of them have been on the bizarre side. For bizarre, however, I recently heard about a bait that tops them all.
Anglers use fins, strips of belly and other body parts of trout, perch and minnows as bait; and various insects and meats have adorned many a bait hook. But has anyone heard of anglers using snake tails as bait? No? Then read on.
When he was camped on a lake for several days, a friend lost most of his supply of worms when he carelessly left them on an anthill overnight. With the few pieces of worms that remained, he caught several perch, which he cut up and used for bait.
The perch produced a few trout but were generally unsatisfactory, and the angler searched around the lakeshore for some better bait. In the woods, he spotted a snake of unusual colour. “It was bright orange, the same colour that’s effective on trout flies,” he said.
The friend “collected” the snake, removed its orange tail and baited his hook with it. “That was some effective and durable bait,” he said. “The trout went after the tail like crazy and it was tough enough to last the whole camping trip.”