Fishermen have been using bait to help them catch fish for centuries.
It’s a tried and tested technique that’s been honed to perfection over the years.
In this all-inclusive guide on selecting the best bait for fishing, we’re going to help you understand how best to use bait, and what bait you should be using.
We’re going to deliver a deep dive into all of the best methods of rigging, the various baits available, what baits are best for different types of fish, and much more to boot.
Stick around until the very end to discover what locations are best to use specific baits in and the different types of rig available.
- 1 A Brief History of Bait Fishing
- 2 The Different Types of Bait
- 3 The Best Baits for Trout
- 4 The Best Baits for Bass
- 5 The Best Baits for Crappie
- 6 The Best Baits for Catfish
- 7 The Best Baits for Bluegill
- 8 Where to Buy Baits
- 9 Catching your own Bait
- 10 The Different Techniques to Rig your Bait
- 11 Where to Use Baits
- 12 Conclusion
First, though, let’s take a look at how baits came into popular use.
A Brief History of Bait Fishing
Natural baits (both alive and dead) have often been the most commonplace method of catching fish. There are, however, references to artificial lures being used as far back as 2,000 BC. For example, early Chinese and Egyptian cultures were known to have used lures made from bronze and bone.
The more complex artificial lures came into fashion properly a few hundred years ago. Fishing lures similar to modern day spoons seem to have been used in Scandinavia in the late 1700s. English tackle shops in the 1800s even sold replica fish to be used as lures and imitation grubs and worms.
Over the years, bait has become a huge industry and there are more options on the market than ever before. In this next section, we’re going to be exploring what can be found out there.
The Different Types of Bait
In this section, we’re going to list a few of the most common artificial and natural baits that are used in modern day fishing. We’d need weeks to be able to list EVERY single bait available, so this is just the most popular and widely used.
For years now, live baits have been used to lure fish. When using live bait, the fish will often keep coming back to try and get them and strike harder, leaving them more open to getting caught.
Of course, with these benefits come several disadvantages, mainly the time and money that it takes to obtain live bait, and the short lifespan of them. Live baits are, obviously, only good for single use only. They can also be troublesome to store and keep alive.
- Worms – As relatively inexpensive and versatile baits, worms are definitely one of the most popular live baits used by fishermen all over the world. Some worms can fall off the hook easily if they’re not rigged properly, so it may take a little bit of time before you get used to using them.
- Leeches – If the water or is rough or fish keep nibbling away at the worms and dislodging them from a hook, leeches are a brilliant alternative to look into. They’re much more durable than worms and can last longer under the water. However, it has been noted that they can draw fewer strikes in certain conditions.
- Minnows – These are probably the most commonly used live bait and are excellent at catching near enough any type of fish. They can be purchased in a fishing store or caught yourself, so they’re an inexpensive solution to live bait. They range in size and shape, so consider what type of fish you’re hoping to hook before purchasing them and adjust what size you buy accordingly.
- Crickets – They’re not as common as they once used to be, but certain species of fish go absolutely crazy for crickets. Bass, for example, absolutely love crickets and can’t get enough of them. They’re easy to source and quite inexpensive, so they won’t break the bank.
- Crayfish – These are another bait that bass love, so if that’s the main species you’re hoping on catching, you might want to try and get hold of some. Unfortunately, they’re much more difficult to obtain than other baits, so they’ve fallen out of fashion in recent years. They’re also hard to hook and many give up on using them because of how fiddly they can get.
- Wax Worms – If it’s big fish you’re after, you’ll want to stay well clear of wax worms. They’re mostly only used only smaller species of fish with smaller mouths. It’s not a very popular option nowadays, but you’ll still find many fishermen out there who swear by them.
Over the years, artificial baits and lures have evolved into a complex and varied market. There are hundreds of different products out there and they are a brilliant way of fishing if you’re not a fan of live/dead bait.
Of course, artificial bait might not be able to catch every single fish that you’d like. That’s why it’s best to mix it up and use different baits at different times and in different areas. Keeping things fresh and trying new tactics is the best way to improve your odds of catching the fish you want.
- Spinners – Spinners come in a variety of shiny colors and reflect sunlight off themselves when the blade spins. They’re simply cast out and slowly retried to ensure the blade spins and the movement attracts fish.
- Plastic – There are hundreds of different plastic versions of popular bait out there. You can purchase plastic replicas of everything from minnows to worms and crayfish to mice. These plastic lures replicate the look and movement of the bait they’re emulating, and in some cases, they even contain a similar scent to the real version. These are inexpensive and effective at catching a multitude of fish.
- Spoons – These lures come in many different sizes and can be used for both small and large fish. They’re usually silver in color and are shaped like a spoon (hence the name). They’re usually a fairly cheap option and they work amazingly well in deeper waters – due to their weight. Their spinning movement and color are intended to replicate the look of a small injured fish, like a minnow.
- Flies – Over the past few years, fly fishing has risen in popularity enormously. Flies are small, cheap lures which replicate the movement of flies along the surface of the water. These are perfect for catching fish who consume flies regularly and who emerge from the surface of the water to feed. Fly fishing involves using a specialized rod setup, so they’re not something you can necessarily use with just any rod.
- Plus and Crankbaits – These are considered some of the most effective and sought after artificial lures in the world of fishing. They come in a variety of sizes and colors which make them ideal for catching any size species of fish. They have flat fronts or plastic lips which allow them to dive underneath the water to the exact depth you desire. Many of them wobble and move in the same manner as an injured fish. They are usually more expensive than other baits and lures, though.
Here is a debate on jerkbait vs crankbait bait.
For a variety of reasons, be it budgetary or location, some people aren’t able to get their hands on live bait or fancy artificial lures. There are many other types of bait that you can use to try and catch a fish – some of which have been in use for decades (if not centuries).
- Luncheon Meat – This type of meat has been used for years in fishing. It’s relatively expensive and easy to handle. Most people cube the luncheon meat and then use it directly on the hook or in a hair rig (we’ll explore a few of the different types of rig for baiting later on in this guide).
- Sweetcorn – As a relatively cheap and common source of food, sweetcorn has long been used as bait when fishing. It can be used in a variety of rigs and attracts many fish due to its bright color.
- Bread – For hundreds of years, bread has been a simple and quick go-to for catching fish. Most people simply add a drop of water to some bread and then roll it into a ball (the size of the ball depending on the size of the fish they want to catch). If you don’t have the cash to be purchasing fancy baits and lures, bread can be an excellent budget option.
- Pellets – Pellets are small, hardened baits that fish love to gobble up. They’re usually made from vegetable matter and fishmeal and most people scatter a few around while they’re fishing to get the fish used to them and looking for more.
- Boilies – These are hardened spherical balls made out of a number of ingredients. They’re inexpensive to purchase, but they’re also relatively easy to make yourself. A lot of folks out there love making their own, so they know exactly what they’re using.
Of course, all of these baits we have listed don’t represent even a tiny fraction of the vast amount that is out there on the market. You can find all manner of fanciful and useful baits by just asking around and seeing what other people prefer to use.
In the next few sections, we’re going to explore the best types of bait to use for specific fish and why they work so well. Feel free to revisit this part of the guide whenever you want and use it as a reference for each fishing trip you go on.
The Best Baits for Trout
As trout are natural born predators, using natural and live bait can very often be the best route to success when fishing for them.
Here are a few of the best baits you can use if you’re trying to catch a trout:
- Nightcrawlers – As you’re probably already aware, nightcrawlers are one of the most widely available and cheapest forms of bait. Trout love nightcrawlers because they stay alive for a long time in the water and the movement attracts them. They can also be used already dead, but they don’t leave much of a trail scent, so the loss of movement does diminish their effectiveness.
- Minnows – Because trout are – in nature – such fierce predators, small fish like minnows are an excellent type of bait to use. Minnows are one of the natural food sources for trouts anyway, so they’re always effective to use. They’re shiny and quick movers, so very eye-catching for a trout. Because they need to be kept alive, however, they can be awkward to keep store, as you’ll need a box full of water to travel with them.
- Salmon Eggs – If you’re squeamish about using live bait, one of the best alternatives is salmon eggs. These are also one of the favorite foods of trout in their natural environment, so it’s something they would be seeking anyway – meaning the chances of catching with them are high. The one negative to using salmon eggs is that they can come off the hook easily if you’re casting particularly far away, so they’re best used in smaller lakes, rivers, and ponds.
Here is a crash course on trout fishing, I highly recommend this for any trout anglers.
The Best Baits for Bass
As one of the most competitive, yet accessible, types of fish to begin catching, bass fishing features many options for bait. You’ll find lots of professionals sticking to the same tried and tested method, as well as others who are willing to experiment.
Here are a few of the most common and popular baits to use when bass fishing (here is the full list):
- Crawfish – These are hands-down one of the best live/dead baits to use in your hunt for bass. They go crazy for crawfish and will be biting the end of your line in no time at all. Watch out for other fish trying to steal the tasty treat.
- Peeler Crab – If it’s a larger-sized bass you’re after, you might want to try out using peeler crab as bait. Bass see these crab as a tasty and easy meal, so they’ll try and snatch them right up. These are quite cheap crabs to purchase as bait and can be kept alive for a decent amount of time after purchase.
- Ragworm – This type of worm is seen as a quintessential all-around when it comes to catching many different types of fish. The reason being, they work well! You can hook multiple ragworms on to your rig and spread the scent, which should hopefully increase your chances of catching a large bass!
Check this article I wrote on fishing for bass in deep water for more bait tips!
Check this other article I wrote to see what the best time to fish for bass is.
The Best Baits for Crappie
As with all of these fish, you could (feasibly) catch them with essentially any bait or lure out there.
We’re just going to cover a few of the most popular baits below:
- Minnow – Small fish, like the minnow, are extremely popular when it comes to catching fish like crappies. Placing the hook through the back (near the dorsal fin) allows the minnow to stay alive for as long as possible and increases your chances of getting a catch.
- Spinners – These are some of the most popular artificial lures in use for crappies. They allow you to cover a much larger area and are simple to retrieve if you want to move around spots often. As with a lot of artificial lures, a steady retrieve with occasional pauses is the best way to land yourself a crappie.
- Crankbaits – Much like spinners, crankbaits are excellent for catching crappies because they can cover a much wider area than other lures. They’re also excellent for catching crappie because of their weight, which means they’ll sink further than others.
Here are some great rods for crankbait fishing.
The Best Baits for Catfish
As such a large species of fish, catfish are considered to be some of the most fun to catch. Many people out there have a number of techniques and favorite baits that they use to increase their chances of securing a catfish.
We’re just going to go through a few of the most popular baits:
- Shad – Because they’re such large predators, catfish are particularly drawn to small to medium sized fish, like shad. These are perfect for luring in a catfish, whether they’re hooked alive or dead. Larger catfish have no interest in dead, sliced shad – whereas the smaller catfish don’t mind them. Decide which you’d like to catch before deciding on how to rig them.
- Chicken Livers – Perhaps the bait most widely associated with catfish is the chicken liver. The strong, meaty smell draws in many catfish and it’s a bait that they often find too hard to resist. Be prepared to go through a lot of livers if you’re planning on using them, as they do lose some of their potency and draw after spending too much time in the water.
- Crawfish – These are some of the most overlooked baits used when catching a catfish, but once you’ve tried them, you’re going to want to keep coming back. Catfish love crawfish and they can be used both alive and dead. Be aware, though, as pretty much every species of fish can be tempted by crawfish, so you might end up going through a lot of them before you snag the catfish you’re after.
The Best Baits for Bluegill
Bluegills are one of the most widely-fished species across America and with good reason. They’re easy to catch, the population is high, and they’re delicious to fry up right next to your rod.
Many people started their fishing experience by catching bluegills, but there is still some technique in deciding what bait to use:
- Crickets – Setting a cricket a few feet below the surface with a bobber is a surefire way to catch yourself some bluegills. They’re only small fish, with small mouths, so crickets (and the two other items in this list) are the ideal size to use as bait. They can easily be purchased in bulk and they don’t cost much at all.
- Worms – There are few baits more attractive to smaller fish like the bluegill than good old-fashioned worms. Whether live or ground, worms are the perfect inexpensive bait to use while fishing for bluegill. There are several different types of worms you can use while fishing, so find out which ones work best for you.
- Grasshoppers – These are easy to catch yourself and cheap to purchase if you don’t want to. Bluegills go wild for grasshoppers as they move around a lot and are a very attractive mean. They can be hard for newcomers to hook without killing them immediately, though, so may take some trial and error.
Where to Buy Baits
Obvious, supporting your local fishing store is a great way to engage with the fishing community and help small businesses. Some stores simply won’t carry everything that you wish to try, though. In these cases, there are many online stores that will stock more specialty items or items at a cheaper price.
Everything from boilies to base mixes and particles to pellets can be ordered online and delivered to your door in a matter of days. Of course, live bait isn’t something that you can buy online, so if this is the type of bait you’re looking for, it’s best for you to ask around and search for local fishing vendors and stores where you can purchase the worms, fish etc.
Certain baits, like minnows, can even be caught yourself. This is a great way to save yourself a little cash and be more economic. You can easily use a small net or fly fishing equipment to catch several minnows to be used on your next trip. We’ll explain more about this in the following section.
Catching your own Bait
If you’re hoping for a more cost-effective form of bait, then fishing for your own bait can certainly be the ideal solution. This certainly isn’t something that everyone is going to be interested in, but much like making your own boilies and pellets, it’s a great way to become more adept at all fishing techniques and expand your hobby.
An important thing to learn when catching and using your own bait is to try and not be squeamish. This is definitely the wrong hobby to have if you’re squeamish around animals like this.
Here are a few different types of bait you can catch yourself and how to go about it:
Worms / Nightcrawlers
Catching worms couldn’t be any easier, it’s something most people have tried back when they were children. After a heavy rain is usually the best time to grab a handful of them, but it’s still possible to collect them even if the weather is dry. These could be great for fishing while camping or backpacking.
If it has been raining, you don’t even have to dig them up usually. Head outside with a flashlight in the night and you’ll be bound to find various worms writhing around in the damp mud. Bring along a bucket or a bag and spend a few minutes collecting as many as you can to use as bait.
If it hasn’t been raining, you can still convince the worms to rise to the surface. If you create enough vibration on the surface of the ground, the worms will believe it’s raining and begin to rise to the surface. There is even special equipment to do this, or you could just drive a stake into the ground and run a dull handsaw across it to produce enough vibrations to trick the worms.
If all else fails, you can simply dig a small hole in the ground. As long as the ground is moist enough, you’re bound to find at least a handful of worms. This bait should keep for quite some time and can be used both dead and alive for catching near enough any type of fish.
If you don’t fancy purchasing crickets from the tackle store, it’s simple enough to catch them yourself. There are actually several different techniques for catching crickets to use as bait, much like there is with worms.
The first – and easiest – technique is just laying out a large piece of cardboard (or some other board) in your garden overnight. The crickets will shelter underneath the cardboard and when you wake up of a morning all you have to do is lift it up and try and catch as many as possible before they all scatter.
One of the stranger ways of catching crickets is by hollowing out a whole loaf of bread and sprinkling sugar inside of it. If you leave this outside all night, by the morning time there should be plenty of crickets within. Place a container over the hole in the loaf and just shake them all inside (and try not to drop any).
One of the most interesting ways you can go about catching grasshoppers is by recruiting a friend, grabbing a large wool blanket, and heading to the nearest field infested with them. The legs of grasshoppers stick to wool, so if you and your friend hold one end of the blanket each and run through the field, you’ll soon find your blanket overrun with grasshoppers.
To get the grasshoppers off the blanket you can use a brush and push them into a bag or container. If you want to wait until you’re home to place them in a container, you can simply put the blanket in a large zip-tie bag and secure the grasshoppers inside.
As one of the best baits out there, for many different types of fish, being able to catch your own minnow is a wonderful way to cut down on the costs associated with fishing. These small fish can be caught in specially made nets, or in minnow traps.
You might not want to shell out on traps specifically designed for catching a minnow, but if you use a lot of them as bait when you’re fishing, it could end up saving you quite a bit of money in the long run. Minnow trips only need to be baited with bread, so they’re inexpensive to operate and well worth the time and effort.
Now that you know how to catch your own bait (or where to purchase, if you don’t feel like getting your own), let’s take a look at the different types of rigs you can use with your bait.
The Different Techniques to Rig your Bait
Just like any other aspect of fishing, how to rig your baits is an often discussed area of catching fish. A rig is basically just how your bait/hook/line/sinker/lure is arranged or assembled. Many people have a favorite way to go about this, while to others it’s an unnecessary area to focus on.
In this section, we’re going to explain four of the most popular and widely-used types of rig.
- Texas Rig – This is probably the most common rig used in the fishing world. It has a number of variations and is an extremely versatile rig. In essence, it involves inserting a hook into the bait, pulling it through, and then embedding the point once more into the surface of the bait. Many people will then add a weight to the end of the line also, although this isn’t always the case.
- Carolina Rig – In many ways, the Carolina rig is just the same as a Texas rig, except weights are added above the hook and bait. By doing this, anglers are able to catch bottom-feeding fish (such as bass) with more ease. The bait (if it’s artificial) will move horizontally in a more natural movement using the Carolina rig. It’s also a common type of rig to use in colder seasons when fish typically stay in deeper waters.
- Hair Rig – This method of attaching bait to your line involves not having the bait sit directly on the hook. Instead, bait is attached to the hook through a thin braided thread (originally, the inventors of this technique used their own hair instead of a thread – hence the name). In many ways, the hair rig is a kind of confidence trick. The fish can’t taste or feel a hook when it approached the bait, so is more inclined to greedily swallow it down without hesitation. This rig is great for setting the hook.
- Chod Rig – One of the strongest and most advantageous rigs that can be assembled, a chod rig is mainly used when carp fishing. They can be used in lakes or ponds that are overgrown with soft mud, weed, silt, and debris as they utilize a buoyant bait attached above a hook. Under the hook is a weight, which slowly pulls the rig down until it reaches a surface to rest on.
Part of the fun of fishing is finding a style and technique that suits you and allows you to catch the type of fish you want. Like any hobby, fishing has a lot of intricate and complex components, and what rig you decide on is just one of these components.
As rigs are quite inexpensive to assemble and don’t take too much effort, it’s easy to experiment with new and exciting ways to use your bait and attract fish. One of the greatest pleasures of fishing is trying out a new rig and seeing if your efforts have paid off!
Now that you’ve got a better idea about the various rigs out there, let’s take a look at what kind of baits to use in specific areas.
Where to Use Baits
In this section, we’re going to take a look at the various locations you might choose to go fishing, and what types of bait are best used there. These are just general guidelines about the types of fish you’ll encounter, what baits to use, and how to go about it all.
If you’re only heading to the local creek to engage in a spot of fishing, you’re don’t need to be bringing along the more expensive bait options. You can quite easily catch a multitude of fish with even the simplest of bait choices.
Using higher-end lures or more expensive bait, however, can end up with you hooking a surprisingly large fish. Decide what type of species you want to catch beforehand so that you know what to bring with you.
Most fish in rivers, creeks, and streams will eat small minnows and crawfish. But they also won’t pass up on insects, grasshoppers, and flies etc. The fish which stay closer to the bottom of the currents are best caught with bait such as nightcrawlers and other worms.
Larger predator fish in these environments are best caught with live bait. Fish like trout, walleye, and bass will go for minnows or crawfish, as well as crankbaits and spinners. It’s entirely up to you what to bring along as there is all manner of possibilities when it comes to catching fish in rivers, streams, and creeks.
Ponds are very often a breeding ground for larger species of fish, such as bass, that can grow much bigger than their lake counterparts. This is because there aren’t as many other types of fish fighting for survival and food sources. This is why so many people love to fish in ponds, as you’d be surprised how many amazing catches you can make.
Live bait, such as worms and minnows, are ideal for catching the hungry and predatory bass that can be found in ponds. You can usually catch your bait right there at the edge of the pond with a net, or by using a small shovel to dig up worms. Having fresh bait is often times preferred to store bought.
If you’re planning on using artificial lures, the ones that look most like the natural food source of the fishes in the pond is the best choice. Lures like spinners and shallow crankbaits are ideal for this, as they mimic the look and movement of minnows – what many of the larger fish in ponds like to eat.
Because of the rich variety of fish in lakes, you can use pretty much any type of bait and still be sure to catch something. Minnows, frogs, worms, corn, shrimp, chicken liver- pretty much anything can be used successfully in a lake.
If you don’t want to use live bait (and want to stick to artificial) then you can use any number of lures to still catch fish. Spinners, jigs, spoons, and crankbaits are all viable options for use on a lake.
Depending on the type of fishing you’ll be doing, there are many different types of bait you can use when fishing offshore. Offshore fishing is specialized enough to need its own guide, so make sure to do your research before heading out.
Here are some of the more common baits that are used offshore. As you can see, there are several new baits here that we haven’t spoken about previously:
- Mackerel Strips
- Peeler Crab
- Sand Eels
- Live Prawns
Much larger bait is sometimes used when offshore fishing as you’ll sometimes be trying to catch bigger breeds of fish. Some of the different fish that you can catch include; marlin, mako shark, sailfish, and tuna.
Offshore fishing is a whole new world and there are many differences as opposed to doing it at streams or on the lake. Once you’ve tried it out, though, you’ll quickly discover how exciting it is.
If you want to get into offshore fishing check out these tips for beginners.
Now we reach the end of our epic, all-inclusive guide to selecting the best bait for fishing. Hopefully, all of the information we’ve provided has given you a better idea of how bait fishing works, the best baits you can use for the particular fish you’re hoping to catch, and how to go about using them.
Even if you’ve only ever used – for example – a simple Texas rig with artificial baits and lures, this guide will hopefully have given you the confidence and knowledge needed to explore the wide array of options out there to help you improve your fishing game. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new baits and find which one works best for you.