Live Bait Options for Better Fishing


There are times of the year when live bait can be the best way to get a fish to bite. After a weather system goes through and the fish get finicky, walleyes, perch, panfish, and smallmouth bass will eat some form of live bait while they ignore something that is artificial. When the fish are playing hard-to-get, a bait that’s alive is what will get them.

Sometimes the fish will respond most favorably to a particular form of live bait. I was fishing for walleyes on Lake Winnibigoshish in north-central Minnesota. Winnie is a really, really good walleye lake. I was fishing with Craig Brown. Craig is an outstanding angler who owns McArdle’s Resort, an outstanding resort on Winnie.

Walleyes are known to eat a wide variety of live baits. They like leeches, nightcrawlers, small minnows like fatheads and shiners, and they also eat larger fish like suckers, whitefish, tullibee, and perch. However, on some bodies of water, walleyes show a real preference for a certain type of live bait. That’s the case on Winnie in the spring and early summer: Winnie’s walleyes really like shiner minnows. In fact, if you’re not using a shiner, your catch will be noticeably reduced much of the time. When we were on Winnie we tried different things, but when we had a shiner on our jig, the chance for a bite was much better.

Leeches are another outstanding bait.  Panfish like little leeches: Walleyes and smallmouth like big leeches. Some anglers believe that if leeches don’t naturally live in the lake they fish, the fish won’t eat them. They believe that for live bait to be effective, it must be natural to the lake. But think of this: nightcrawlers don’t naturally live in lakes, they’re washed into the body of water by high water. And there’s nothing that I’ve ever seen in a lake that looks like a spinnerbait or firetiger colored crankbait, but those baits catch fish really good sometimes. A bait that’s alive doesn’t need to be a resident of a body of water to be effective.

Live bait needs to be lively. A minnow that’s dead but still fresh will work on a jig because the angler is providing the action. But it will be next to useless on a live bait rig or under a bobber in most situations. In the summer, you need to keep minnows aerated to keep them lively. Frabill’s 1404 is favored by many anglers in the summer for minnows and leeches.

Some jigs were created for live bait. The Fire-Ball jig has a short shank/wide gap hook, which makes it very good for use with live bait. When a fish sucks in a jig designed like this, hooking percentages go up a lot.

Artificial baits get better all the time, and they are catching more fish year after year. But when the bite is tough and you want to put fish in the boat, live bait is hard to beat, and it probably always be. Let that minnow or leech or cricket wiggle on a fish’s nose and you can bet that most of the time, that minnow or leech or cricket will soon be wiggling in that fish’s mouth. Try live bait now for more fishing success.

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