Fishing with Live Bait
Live bait is defined as any natural, living organism that can be employed to catch fish. Fishing with live bait
is an effective technique for catching fish because of the authentic action and odor that induces fish to
strike. Usually the size of the live bait is proportionate to the size of the fish sought, with small bait, such as
worms, grasshoppers and crickets, being used to catch small fish, while large bait, such as frogs, mullets,
and crayfish, is used to catch larger fish. Trout, walleye, crappie, bass, sunfish and catfish are some of
the most popular freshwater fish caught with live bait. In the ocean, anything from halibut to sharks can be
targeted using live bait.
Live bait use is banned for one or more species of fish in 31 states, almost always for a type of "trophy
fish," such as trout or bass. Some states completely ban live bait, such as Alaska and Idaho, and others
ban its use during spawning seasons, such as New Hampshire. To be sure it is legal, check with the local
state fish and game department.
The issue of live bait use is sometimes a controversial topic for anglers and state fish and game
departments. For example, in 1997 a debate broke out over the use of live bait to catch trophy-sized bass
at two lakes in Texas, Lake Fork and Lake Ray Roberts. While one side believed there was nothing wrong
with the use of live bait, the other side argued that using live bait was too easy, tainting the challenge of
bass fishing. The debate between live bait advocates and anti-live bait anglers has yet to be resolved.
And despite such objections, fishing with live bait still remains a popular way to fish.
Bait that is fresh yields better results, so buy fresh bait and change it often. During the summer
tournament months, the local bait shops could be sold out from time to time. To avoid this, order live bait
the night or even the week before going out fishing.
Tips for keeping bait alive:
• Wet hands help to avoid removing the bait’s protective slime layer.
• If fishing in summer, keep the bait out of the sun. Hot water can kill some bait or make them sluggish.
• Fish cannot tolerate much temperature change in the water, so try to keep the bait in a steady
environment close to the water temperature being fished in.
• Make sure the bait gets plenty of oxygen. Aeration systems keep oxygen in the water. Recirculating
systems do not work that well. They heat up the water and create turbulence that tires out fish by making
them work hard to stay in place. Instead, try a bubbler, small air pumps that push air through a hose with
little holes in it. The hose rests on the bottom of the bucket or live well and transfers oxygen to the water
without tiring the bait.
• Be careful of chlorinated water. If using ice to help keep the bait cool, the melted ice will have chlorine in
it. A “de-chlorinator” can be used as needed. It will turn the water a blue-green color. If the color starts to
fade, simply add more de-chlorinator.
• To avoid running out of bait, save the dead bait in a live well or bait bucket. When the live bait runs out,
place a dead one on the hook, cast it out, then move the rod tip to give it some movement. Some fish are
so competitive they will not even notice, and some, such as large trout and catfish, actually like the
occasional dead fish.
Live Bait Fishing Techniques
• For bait around three inches in length a three ought (3/0) or smaller hook works best. For bait 8 to 10
inches in length, a 5/0 or 6/0 hook works best.
• Use weed guards sparingly, only when fishing in heavy cover.
• Keep balloons and bobbers small and use camouflage colors when possible.
• When casting, remember the bait need to get to the target area in good shape. Underhand casting is a
little gentler on impact for bait. It is better not to make too many recasts. Scales that are knocked off fish
leave white marks that can be seen under water and can make the bait weak.
• Watch the bait's actions. If it is struggling or trying to swim away, a fish is likely moving in to strike.When
fishing with live bait, give the fish some extra time to take the bait completely in their mouth. After detecting
a strike, let the line straighten out before setting the hook, but not more than 30 seconds, so as not to
allow the fish to swallow the bait.
Fishing with Live Bait: Minnows
The term “minnow” encompasses a wide variety of small fish including suckers, smelt, small perch, and
sculpins. Minnows are the most reliable bait for catching big fish, because big fish naturally depend on
smaller fish for all or most of their diet. Minnows are sold in bait shops, but to catch wild minnows, start by
dragging a six- to eight-foot minnow seine at the depth of a few feet, hauling it straight back to the shore.
Do this even if minnow schools are not visible because they are often hidden among weeds or other cover.
This bait collection technique may be regulated or even banned in some states, so check with the local
state fishing regulations before using it.
To keep minnows alive, use a large porous, self-cooling minnow bucket. Minnows keep better when they
are cool but not cold.
If the minnows at home die before the trip, wrap them individually and place them in the freezer. Then take
them in a thermos or ice cooler on the trip and unwrap them as needed.
Small hooks and light leaders should be used when fishing with minnows. Minnows can be hooked in the
back, through the lips, or near the tail behind the dorsal fin.
• Suckers are favored by pickerel, Northern pike and muskies.
• Smelt work well for trout and landlocked salmon.
• Tiny minnows are taken readily by panfish and trout in small streams.
• Medium (3- to 4-inches long) minnows are preferred by smallmouths, walleyes and large trout.
• Large minnows are better for muskies and big northerns.Shiners are the most available and widely used
Fishing with Live Bait: Leeches
Leeches need cold, unchlorinated, clean water (such as lake, well, or spring water) changed every couple
of days to stay alive. Younger leeches work best for bait. Young leeches are livelier and firmer than older
leeches, and can be distinguished from older leaches by the lack of a ring around the nose that older