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Makin' Waves column: Bait is a matter of perspective

We were standing in the muddy, flowing water of a central Wisconsin river pulling up mesh traps full of wiggling, flipping, snapping bugs. Some were barely the size of my pinky, while other were the size of a dollar bill. "Shake them into your pail before they start crawling out or they start freaking out too much," my buddy yells from across the stream as he shakes a trap full of angry Rusty Crayfish into a pail between his legs.

Two hours later and 26 traps checked and emptied, we are sitting in his garage sorting through these clawed critters. The ones over 4 inches or so go in one tub and the smaller ones go into a separate tub. The big ones we eat, and the smaller ones get sold as bait for perch fishing I learn. It is at that moment I am rather humbled to realize that I will be eating bait for supper tonight. Delicious, sweet, butter-covered bait, but bait nonetheless.

Different fishing trip, different state, different buddy. We are heading out to catch some snapper for supper and sun in the Florida Keys. We swing into the bait store before we hit the road. "They are all out of shrimp," my buddy says in a disappointed voice. "Well, let's hit the back-up bait store," he says with a smile. It is standing in the frozen food section of Wal-Mart grabbing a couple bags of frozen shrimp that I am again humbled. Inside the freezer at Walmart is a whole selection of bait; not quite the same as the local version at the bait store, but a shrimp is a shrimp to a hungry enough snapper. We also grab a bag of frozen calamari too, just in case. We did skip the condiment aisle for cocktail or tartar sauce though.

Small white suckers are five bucks a dozen at the bait store, while larger suckers in the spring are speared and considered a delicacy to be smoked and enjoyed with a cold beer by many Osakis residents. Chicken livers are great when breaded and deep fried to perfection for holidays and family gatherings, but raw, slimy, and smelly they are the demise of many catfish and bullheads. Bluegill sunfish in Minnesota, when large enough, are the favorite at a family fish fry, while in Indiana are the best bait for lunker largemouth bass fishing. Herring, when pickled, will get the attention of any Scandahoovian within the county, while salted, it is a tasty meal for salmon in Lake Superior.

Maybe the term bait is just a matter of perception? Maybe labels are just labels for the use of an item or for the consumer? Maybe that is a great way to get spouses to help with the grocery shopping, tell them it is a trip to the bait store? Maybe it is a way to get the in-laws to stop coming over every night for supper, say you are cooking bait. After all, it is truly just a matter of perspective.