Posts

Live Bait Guide | Live Bait Selection by Fish Species

Live Bait Selection Guide for Various Species

 

Fishing with live bait is where it all starts. No fancy, expensive lures but only a worm or a minnow on a hook tied on the end of your rod. Almost every angler has used live bait in the past and still does today either when teaching kids to fish or going after a particular species of fish. Live bait selection is just as varied as fishing with artificial lures. To be successful, whether on the shore for panfish or downrigging for walleyes, you have to decide which bait is your best choice for the situation and the fish species you are targeting.

 

Catching Panfish with Live Bait

 

Panfish are some of the more common and easy to catch fish out there. They are found in nearly every lake, pond or stream across the country. With panfish, we are lumping in all species of sunfish, crappies, and perch. Besides making great table fare, panfish are the category of fish species where fishing with live bait makes the most sense.

 

When panfish are tight to banks of lakes and ponds, among all the different types of fish bait the best live bait selection is a worm. You want to choose a small worm such as either a red worm or trout worm so that the small mouths of these species can actually eat it. Hook the worm on a small single 8- to 10-size hook with the worm wrapped a few times through the hook so it stays put even after a few light bites. Add a small spilt shot about 12-inches above the hook so the worm sinks. Bobber or no bobber? It comes down to preference in most instances, but bobbers are great for kids or if you are fishing multiple lines at the same time. However, fishing without one gives you the ability to jig your worm or cast in tight cover.

 

If you are offshore fishing for panfish, like suspended crappies or schools of perch, your best fishing bait will be a small minnow. One option is to use a small painted jig head and hook the minnow through the mouth. This rig lets you work drop-offs over suspended fish and also allows you to cover ground until you find these fish. Another successful setup for fishing with minnows for crappies is one hooked in the back with a ½- to 1-ounce egg sinker attached about two feet up your line. Your minnow is free to move off the bottom and swim around areas where crappies may be hiding such as in submerged trees or shallow stumps.

 

Live Bait Selection for Targeting Bass

 

Bass, both smallmouths and largemouths, can be reliably caught using live bait techniques. For largemouths, there are several live bait options that work consistently better than the many types of artificial bait options. Instead of using plastic worms, replace them with large nightcrawlers. A nightcrawler hooked up on a drop-shot rig when fishing suspended bass on deep drop-offs is deadly. Nightcrawlers are also good live fishing bait for bass when targeting shallow spawning beds. Attach one to a jig head and slowly bounce it off the bottom to trigger reaction bites.

 

The best fishing bait for bass is minnows. Big shiners attract trophy caliber largemouths. Do not be afraid to go big either as bass will take minnows anywhere from 3- to 6-inches long. The bigger the minnow the bigger the bass in most cases. Depending on minnow size, use a 3/0 to 5/0 hook to rig a live minnow through the back if you are free-line fishing without a bobber over submerged grass flats or through the mouth for fishing with a small bobber near shore. It is important to keep your minnows alive as a dead minnow will seldom be taken by a bass.

 

Smallmouths love crayfish and if you can get your hands on some, you will crush them in big rivers. Have a hook as long as the average tail length and then hook them weedless by putting the hook through the end of the tail and up underneath the tail like you would rig a long plastic worm. The crayfish will crawl across the bottom naturally and you will stay snag free until a big smallmouth swims by and picks it up.

 

Live Bait Techniques for Trout Fishing

 

Fishing with live bait is one of the best ways to catch trout. For this fishing bait guide, the focus is on going after trout in streams. Fishing for trout in moving water, especially if you are wading, adds a whole new set of challenges beyond trying to catch fish. Wading, carrying live bait, pulling something squirmy out and rigging it up is all but impossible without a good live bait container. The first live bait technique for trout starts with a minnow. Thread one using a needle and a loop in your line through the mouth and out the back end with a split treble hook in size 14 or 16 to secure it. Cast it into moving water and slowly reel and jig as it comes in. This tactic works well in swift water in small creeks for rainbows and browns.

 

Without question, the worm is also a popular live bait selection for trout. The best technique for catching trout with worms is to hook one on a size 8 to 10 single hook with a part of the worm dangling off the shank. Add enough split shot to get it on the bottom and drift it naturally from upstream to downstream. Additionally, trout will take crickets and meal worms drifted in slower pools near the shore. Try floating these with no weight during the summer in streams that have a lot of pressure or in creeks that hold native trout.

 

Fishing with Live Bait for Walleyes

 

More and more walleye anglers are switching from one of the many types of artificial bait and coming back to live bait for catching walleyes. Reason? Because live bait is much more productive in various situations and conditions than artificial lures.

 

First, if you are trolling for walleyes, you want to ditch everything but the nightcrawlers. Get your depth and speed right then rig up a large nightcrawler to a spinner rig. Bottom bounce this setup for deep walleyes or add a snap weight to target suspended walleyes. The second best live bait selection for walleyes is the minnow. Similar to panfish, hook a small minnow on a painted jig head. Jig over deep structures and along the edges of grass. Lastly, leeches are effectively used as a trailer with artificial lures for walleyes. Bucktail jigs paired with a live leech are perfect for deep river walleyes around large rocks or shelving.

 

Live Bait Fishing

 

What fish likes what bait gets simplified when sticking with live bait. Live bait selection comes down to primary choices like worms and minnows and several other specialized choices such as crayfish, mealworms and leeches. Although by no means comprehensive, this live fishing bait guide should give you the basics when it comes to fishing for panfish, bass, trout and walleyes with live bait.

Why Fishing with Live Bait Makes Sense

Choices Between Fishing with Live Bait or Lures This Season

Lure choice, one of the biggest and most challenging choices for anglers, is more complex than ever. There are aisles of fishing lures at sporting goods stores and anglers are toting overflowing tackle boxes with them on each fishing excursion. In reality, all these artificial lures are only trying to mimic live bait.

Live bait fishing has many advantages, first and foremost you are fishing with exactly what the fish are feeding on. Whether it is worms, insects or minnows, fish are used to consuming natural bait. Instead of trying to pick through tackle box after tackle box, all you need for fishing with live bait is a few hooks, some weights and a good live bait container.

Natural bait has received a bad rap over the last decade or so. Philosophically, live bait techniques for catching fish are thought of as reserved for younger and beginner anglers. In fact, many of us have landed some of our first fish ever using worms and minnows. Fishing with bait should not be thought of as a separate form of fishing, one left for those younger or less skilled, but rather it should be thought of as just a different approach to fishing, with its own benefits and challenges.

No One is Ignoring Artificial Lures

The choice to use live bait when an angler is heading out to the water is often an afterthought. Clearly, there is a push in fishing society to move towards artificial lures and for several good reasons.

fishing with live bait makes sense

 

First, technologies in fishing lure manufacturing and design have made them highly realistic in replicating just about any type of food fish are feeding on. From minnows to frogs, the variety of lures available provides seemingly unlimited options in your tackle box, which is a big advantage when finicky fish are not biting. An angler can simply change lures until one finds which lure is enticing bites. Second, unlike fishing with live bait, lures can be used repeatedly to catch fish. Bait fishing is almost always a one and done. Catching a fish on a minnow means to catch another fish you usually need to dig into the live bait storage container for another. Finally, many lures have enhanced features added to them such as attractant, rattles and action. All of which can aid in getting fish to bite when natural bait fails to catch a fish.

Live Bait Fishing is Rooted Among Us as Anglers

There is no coincidence most of us have started our fishing careers casting worms and fishing with minnows. Fishing with bait is a technique with its own benefits. For example, learning to fish with live bait teaches us what and how fish actually eat. An important concept that only improves how we evolve as anglers in terms of lure choice. Also, fishing with bait is somewhat rewarding. Being able to gather bait from the ground or the stream rather than buying it and ultimately catching a fish brings a sense of accomplishment more so than tying on a purchased lure.

Reasons to Fish with Live Bait

Fishing with live bait is extremely effective because you are presenting a fish with an option they are already used to eating. It is natural, from the smell to the texture, to what they actually eat day in and day out. Here are three reasons to fish with bait:

  • Bait is cheap or free. Natural bait, like the name suggests, can be obtained by yourself for free and doing so can be rewarding. If you have to buy bait, either at a bait store near you or buying live bait online, it can still be significantly less expensive than the $5-$10 dollar artificial lures on the store shelves.
  • You will catch something. Almost no fish will turn down live bait. In just about any waterway or for any species, natural bait will increase your chances of catching something.
  • Fewer lure choices. Fishing with lures can have you spending all day tying on lure after lure trying to figure out what the fish are biting on. With bait, you know fish like trout or panfish feed on other small fish so it is only a matter of time until you hook into a few when fishing with minnows.

 

When Fishing with Live Bait Excels

Live bait techniques are no different than other fishing techniques, there are no guarantees to catching fish. There are, however, times when live bait fishing can excel over artificial fishing lures.

  • Fishing at night. Species like trout and walleyes will consistently feed throughout the night and can be caught more frequently on natural bait after daylight hours.
  • Discolored Muddy and murky water forces fish to rely on their senses other than sight to find food. The natural scents and movements you put in the water when bait fishing will bring more bites in stained water.
  • Waters that are overfished. In areas that see high fishing pressure, another artificial lure is just noise to a fish. Fish may have been fooled before by spinnerbaits or plastic worms but overfished waters quickly go tight-lipped to many lures. The best fishing bait in these waters is live bait.

Why Not Fish Natural Bait All the Time?

Live bait fishing excels in a variety of conditions and for many reasons, so why not fish with it all the time? Because there are a few disadvantages to bait fishing. The first is supply. Fewer bait shops are around, with most of them giving way to large retailers that often do not carry bait like minnows. It can be hard to just buy bait. Second, fishing bait that is alive requires care. Worms need to be kept cold and minnows need to be in good live bait containers that keep them alive but allow you to access them. Not every angler wants to put out this effort each fishing trip. Lastly, certain areas do not allow fishing with live bait. Tournament fishing is usually limited to lures and also certain waterways are artificial lures only for various reasons.

 

It is not an either-or question when it comes to live bait or lures but rather which fishing technique makes sense for your situation. Lures will be advantageous in certain conditions but live bait will win out in others. The main point is live bait fishing should not be left to the kids, but instead kept as a fishing technique to catch more fish.