Freshwater Types of Live Bait & Natural Baits

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leechLeeches are great for so many different species.  They work well for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike and panfish.  Leeches are very hardy.  By putting them in a container with some water, you can keep leeches alive for weeks.  Leeches tend to work much better once the water warms above 55 degrees.  When it’s colder, the leeches may curl up into a ball and just stay there.  When the water warms above 55 degrees, leeches become much livelier, which draws strikes from a variety of different fish.

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Crayfish, often referred to as crawfish or crawdads, are freshwater crustaceans that closely resemble lobsters.  Crayfish are very popular as bait for a variety of game fish.  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and walleye are some of the more popular fish that anglers will target with crayfish.  There are many other species that can be caught on crayfish as well.  Before you decide to go out and catch some crayfish or use crayfish as bait, make sure to check your regulations for your state.  Some crayfish are considered invasive species and there are laws prohibiting anglers from using them as bait, transporting them into different waters and even controlling how you can catch them.  If you are allowed to use them as bait, they can be very effective.  If not, take a look at the numerous jigs and crankbaits on the market that resemble a crayfish.  These will help you put more fish into the boat.

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Minnows & Bait Fish

There are 2 main types of chubs that fishermen use on a regular basis and they are the creek chub and redtail chub.  These chubs work very well for a variety of large game fish such as largemouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and muskie.  They will also catch big smallmouth bass and catfish.  While both types of chubs work very well for a variety of species, many experienced anglers would agree that the redtail chubs tend to produce better results for walleye and northern pike.  We’re not exactly sure why, but those toothy critters have a hard time resisting a redtail chub.

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Creek chubs are one of the top freshwater bait fish for targeting big game fish.  There are times when creek chubs will out fish any other bait you can think of using.  At other times, they will barely get bit, but when they do, you are probably going to be catching a big fish.  Creek chubs are excellent for largemouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and muskie.  They will also catch big smallmouth bass and catfish.  Creek chubs can be found in many bait shops and you can catch them in shallow creeks and streams with a small piece of worm or corn.

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Emerald shiners are another type of shiner, but they are much smaller than golden shiners.  They are typically 2 to 4 inches long and they will catch bass, walleye, crappie, perch and other panfish.

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Fathead minnows are the most popular type of freshwater bait fish.  Anglers love fathead minnows because so many fish eat them and they are fairly easy to keep alive.  Fatheads also live long in the bait bucket without much care.  In cooler weather, they can last days by just putting them in a minnow bucket and leaving them outside.  Fatheads work well for bass, walleye, crappie and perch.

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Golden shiners, or shiners, are one of the best baits for catching bigger fish.  They work well for bass, northern pike, walleye, catfish and even muskie.  The golden shiner’s back is a green to olive shade, and the belly a silvery white.  There may be a faint dark stripe along the sides.  These shiners can grow up to a foot long, although most bait shops will carry shiners that are 5 to 6 inches long.  Most, if not all bass fishing guides in Florida will use shiners for bait.

They catch lots of largemouth bass and many bass over 10 pounds are caught on shiners in Florida.  You can purchase shiners up to a foot long in Florida bait shops and they can get very expensive.  Depending on the size, you may end up spending $40 or $50 on a single day on the water fishing with shiners.

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herring2Herring are a very common type of bait fish.  There are many different types of herring and they can be found in fresh or salt water.  While most herring are smaller, some can grow up to one and a half pounds.  They are a common bait fish for many salt water species and they work well for fresh water striped bass.

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Redtail chubs are great for catching larger fish.  They are tougher to find and you won’t find them in many bait shops.  If they are available at your local bait shop, you should think about using them as bait.  They work well for bass, walleye, northern pike, muskie and catfish.

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Rosey Red Minnows are a selectively-bred red-orange variation of the fathead minnow.  Their characteristics are similar to fathead minnows and they will catch the same types of fish.  Rosey Red minnows work well for bass, walleye, crappie and perch.

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shadShad are one of the most popular types of forage in many of the lakes throughout the country.  There are many types of shad and some are even big enough to catch, but the shad we are talking about on this page are the types of shad that are bait fish for the game fish.  Threadfin shad, like the one in the picture above, and gizzard shad are two of the more popular types of shad used as forage.  Shad are typically stocked in lakes so game fish will have a healthy population of bait fish to snack on.  Most game fish will eat shad, but they especially loved by largemouth bass and striped bass.  There are many crankbaits on the market that look like a shad and they are very effective baits for a variety of species.

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Smelt are one of the few fish that recreational anglers are allowed to net.  Using dip nets, anglers will net smelt along the coastline, in streams and along the shorelines of the Great Lakes.  Smelt are typically fried and eaten whole because they are so small.

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Suckers are a great bait for catching bigger fish.  Suckers get very big.  Bait shops will sell them in a variety of sizes from 3 or 4 inches up to 12 inches and even bigger at some places.  Suckers in the 5 to 8 inch range work well for big largemouth bass.  For catching northern pike and muskie, you can go even larger.  Suckers are very hardy.  They will last long in the bait bucket and on the hook.  If you are keeping a half dozen or more in a bait bucket, you should consider using an aerator because there is only so much oxygen in an average-sized bait bucket.  With the proper aeration, they will last days and possibly even weeks.

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Worms & Larvae

Hellgrammites are the aquatic larva of the dobsonfly.  They have large pincers and can be found under rocks in freshwater rivers and streams.  Hellgrammites work well for smallmouth bass and trout.  Since most bait shops don’t sell hellgrammites, anglers typically catch their own with a seine net or turn to hellgrammite flies.

To catch live hellgrammites, find rocky riffles in a river or stream and starting flipping these rocks over.  The nymphs will get swept downstream into your seine net and you are ready to fish.  Make sure to be cautious when catching your own hellgrammites because these insects have thick mandibles that can leave a nasty bite.

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Nightcrawlers are one of the most common baits for freshwater fishing.  Most fish will eat a worm and nightcrawlers are perfect for catching a variety of different fish: big and small.  They can be used to catch big fish such as largemouth and smallmouth bass, trout, catfish and carp. When using a small piece of a nightcrawler, you can fill your livewell up with smaller fish such as perch, bluegill, rock bass and other panfish.  You will find nightcrawlers at local bait shops, some gas stations and even at many super markets.

If you want to save some money, try searching the streets at night after a hard spring or summer rain.  Nightcrawlers will come out of the ground at night after a rain and you can just pick them up off of the street.  Streets that have low curbs and lots of grass on the sides of the street will be good places to search for nightcrawlers.  Dark streets seem to be more productive than well-lit streets.  Make sure to bring a bucket, flashlight and a friend so you get plenty of worms and stay safe.

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Red worms look similar to nightcrawlers, but they are smaller and skinnier.   Red worms are mostly used to catch perch, bluegill, rock bass, trout and other panfish. When fishing for panfish, red worms usually work better because of their size.  A bluegill can easily get a red worm into their mouth which gives you a good chance of setting the hook and landing the fish.  Red worms can be found in most places that sell nightcrawlers – bait shops, gas stations and super markets.

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Spikes are a type of fly larvae that is very hardy, but you must keep them cold (between 34 and 40 degrees) to keep them from turning into flies.  They are a common ice fishing bait for panfish, although many anglers use them throughout the year.  Some fishermen use spikes for steelhead when they are in the rivers.

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Wax worms are larvae of the wax moth.  They are white, very small and most panfish love eating them.  You can use them on a small hook or jig.  They are very popular among ice fishermen because they work well when tipped with ice fishing jigs.  Wax worms work well for perch, crappiebluegill and other panfish.

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Natural Baits

Boilies are one of the most popular carp baits on the market today.  They are boiled paste baits with a combination of fishmeals, bird foods, milk proteins, soya flour and semolina.  These ingredients are mixed with eggs to form a binding agent and then they are boiled to make hard, round baits that stay on the hook longer.

There are numerous products on the market.  If you did a quick search online, you should be able to find plenty of products for your next carp fishing outing.

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Bread is a popular bait for carp and catfish.  Most anglers will use bread as a way of chumming, which means putting some bait in the water to draw fish to your area.  Chumming with bread will draw catfish and carp into the area and hopefully they will stay long enough to take your bait.  Using bread alone on a hook is difficult because it falls off easily, but there are many fishermen that use bread and have very good results.  If you chum in the same spot consistently for a few weeks, some fish will know to come back there for feeding time.  Once you get fish accustomed to a certain area for feeding, you can just throw enough bread in the water to get them excited.  Don’t throw a ton of bread in the water, just enough to get them excited.  Get your baits out where the fish are and you should have some success.

*Make sure you check the fishing regulations because chumming is illegal in some states.

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Chicken liver is a very popular bait for catfish, especially channel catfish.  Once you realize how to get the liver to stay on your hook, it’s pretty easy to fish with.  Just find a good spot and fish with your chicken liver on the bottom and you’re ready to catch some catfish.  On some waters, chicken liver works really well for striped bass as well.

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Corn is one of the best baits for catching carp.  It will also catch catfish, but this is an unbelievable bait for carp.  You can use a few kernels of corn on a single hook and it will out fish most other baits day in and day out.  If you pour a can of corn into a sandwich bag, add a little vanilla extract, close the bag and shake it up, you will have a whole can of corn that is flavored with vanilla extract.  Just add a tablespoon or less per can and you will have a lot more success.  Carp love this deadly combination and they will hold onto this bait longer allowing you to get a good hook set.

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cut-baitCut Baits are types of fish, crustaceans or other live baits that have been cut up to be used as bait.  Many anglers will store their cut bait in the freezer, while others buy it frozen from the store or bait shop and some anglers prefer catching live bait and cutting it up for bait as they need it to ensure their bait has the scent of a fresh bait.  Cut baits are very common and effective baits for catfish, but cut baits are much more prevalent in the salt water fishing community.  If you were to go to most fishing piers and check what anglers are using for bait, you will find that the majority of them are using some type of cut bait.  It can be pieces of shrimp, squid or any other type of live bait that has been cut up and used for bait.  Cut baits are very effective for a variety of saltwater species and as we said above, very effective baits for fresh water catfish.

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Dough baits are popular baits for carp, catfish and trout.  While there are literally thousands of different recipes for these types of baits, most catfish and carp dough baits consist of cereal, bread and flour.  You can add many different ingredients to give it a unique flavor and texture.  Since many carp and catfish anglers make their own recipes, we could easily list 50 additional ingredients that are added to liver or cheese for catfish and carp anglers like adding corn, vanilla extract, strawberry pop, pet food, oatmeal and crackers.  Wheaties is probably the most popular cereal used for making your catfish and carp dough bait.  The majority of trout baits are bought.  Manufacturers, such as Berkley, have made some amazing products for trout so most anglers just purchase them from their local retailer.

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Believe it or not, hot dogs can be a very effective bait for carp and catfish.  To many experienced anglers, this is no surprise, but to others, this might sound kind of bizarre.  Hot dogs do work.  You don’t have to heat them up.  Just take them out of the package, put a 2 or 3 inch piece on your hook, toss your line out into the water and wait for a bite.  There are many other baits that work better for carp and catfish, but you never know what will work best on any given day until you try it.

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Salmon eggs are one of the best baits for catching salmon and trout during the spawning period when they head upstream into the rivers, creeks and streams.  Salmon eggs are also very effective in lakes for trout.  Many smaller lakes are stocked yearly with trout and salmon eggs will catch a lot of trout in these lakes.  In very deep water where fish are suspended, salmon eggs will not be as effective, but in the shallower areas where trout can easily grab a meal off of the bottom, salmon eggs will definitely work.

There are two different forms of salmon eggs to use as bait:  salmon roe and single eggs.  The salmon roe is more popular because it is easier to use.  You can get the salmon roe from bait shops or from a fish that just entered the river.  The salmon eggs will still be held together in the early stages of spawning and you can take the entire roe, cut it into small pieces and use as bait.  You can also make spawn sacs with the salmon roe, which is also very popular.  The single eggs can be found in fish that are getting close to releasing their eggs.  Many salmon and trout are caught and the eggs will actually fall out of the fish as the angler picks up the fish.  These loose eggs can be effective, but you will need to cure them to be able to use them as bait.  Many anglers prefer to use artificial salmon eggs when fishing in the rivers.  The single egg pattern is one of the most popular presentations for salmon and trout during their spawning runs.

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Stink baits are similar to dough baits, except that they smell horrible and they are used mostly for catfish, although you can also catch plenty of carp on stink baits.  To make your own stink bait, take a look at how to make dough balls and then start adding ingredients that give it a distinct or even awful smell.  Many anglers believe the stronger the better.  By stronger, we mean that the smell is so bad that you don’t even want to touch your own bait.

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