If the deadliest walleye bait was a baby rattlesnake that had to be kept in a cloth bag and snatched from the sack to impale on a hook with eyes closed, fishers would stand in line to buy it.
The sting from a madtom tadpole is probably not as painful as a rattler bite. But these little cousins of a bullhead are truly the deadliest walleye bait known, especially when chasing marble-eyes in rivers—possibly the ONLY way to catch Wisconsin’s most sought after gamefish when a river is running belly-full and turbid.
Imagine the worst hornet sting ever, then holding the flame of a butane lighter an inch from the sting site for about two hours. This pretty much describes the pain of getting “horned” by a a madtom tadpole, which is commonly known as a “willocat.”
River-rat wisdom says rubbing the belly of a willocat on the horn wound for a few minutes will decrease the excruciating pain at the puncture site by up to 50%, down to about 30 minutes, with the wound holding most of your attention for another hour or so.
WHY would anybody in their right mind use a madtom tadpole for bait?
These folks are obsessed with catching big walleyes and only see “deadliest walleye bait.”
I’ve only been passionate about catching walleyes for a half-century or so, and I can testify that the “crows and owls” relationship between walleyes and willocats is absolutely true.
Capturing willocats for bait is profoundly labor intensive. Essentially the bait wholesaler has to grab the lively little fish out of a capture net one at a time.
Willocats are hard to come by in south-central Wisconsin. But a few bait shops over on the Mississippi offer these little treasures for $2-3 apiece—$20-$30 per dozen.
Willocats are easiest to harvest from weeds in warm water, with bottom habitat ranging from muck to sand and submergent vegetation ranging from eelgrass to elodea.
Rigging up this livebait is simple. Hook the squirmy little monster through the lips on a short-shank No. 6 hook on a 10-14 inch leader below a half-ounce egg sinker. Find a spot where the river drops quickly away from 3 feet to about 15 feet. Then tightline the bait just downstream from the leading edge of the hole.
If there is a downside of using willocats for bait (beyond the possibility of anaphylactic shock), it is that a substantial percentage of walleyes will be TOO BIG to fall within the slot length that allows the walleye to be turned into a sandwich.
Eric Ingvalson, a young entrepreneur from Caledonia, Minnesota, has followed the adage “necessity is the mother of invention.” Ingvalson has found a way to harvest and bottle willocat scent and impregnate this concoction into soft plastic lures he makes that resemble multicolored little willocats.
“Liquid Willocat” is Ingvalson’s product. But those in the inner sanctum of the walleye fishing world quietly whisper this potion as “the sauce” or “da juice.”
Although a live willocat is hard to beat as walleye bait, ”da juice” squirted on one of Ingvalson’s soft plastics on a jighead or tail of a blade bait, such as my signature series Teddy Cat manufactured by Vibrations Tackle, is both profoundly effective and less likely to shift your entire and prolonged focus to a puncture wound from a live willocat.
Please know that the preceding column is not an attempt at unabashed hucksterism. With willocats or Eric Ingvalson’s proprietary products you’ll catch more fish, bigger fish—and it really, really works!