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.