Fishing With Live Bait Can Save The Day When Artificial Bait Fails

Fishing With Live Bait. Good or Bad?

What's the best bait for bass? Without question the best way to catch bass as well as most freshwater fish is by fishing with live bait. Many die-hard bass fishermen feel this is sort of like "cheating" and that "real (fisher)men don't use live bait".

If you're familiar with this site you know I am student of the sport of bass fishing and that I fish for them every way I can. I am also a dedicated "catch and release" guy. Whether caught on artificial bait or when fishing live bait it makes no difference. They go back into the water after weighing, measuring and photographing. No harm no foul as they say.

There is a legitimate complaint, however, that bass tend to swallow hooks more readily with live bait than with artificials. I think this may well be true, at least in my personal experience. But if an angler is "paying attention" the hook set can take place before the bait and hook are swallowed. Even better is the use of circle hooks.

If an angler is passively fishing with live bait, that is, sitting back eating a sandwich or drinking a beer with his rod resting on the deck allowing his live bait to meander around in the water column or on the bottom, a bass will very likely bite his bait and have it swallowed it before the angler can react.

So, when fishing live bait "pay attention" and be prepared to set the hook! If you're using circle hooks, just tighten the line and start reeling.

What Live Baits Appeal To The Palates Of Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass?

On The Live Bait Menu For Largemouth And Smallmouth Bass

  • Baitfish
  • Crustaceans
  • Salamanders
  • Worms
  • Leeches
  • Frogs
  • Insects and their larvae

What do bass eat? The two leaders on the "live bait" menu for bass are baitfish and crustaceans, that is, minnows, crawfish, crayfish or crawdads. Take your pick.

Most of us refer to baitfish as minnows, be they shiners, creek chubs, shad or any other of the some 250 species of minnows in the United States. The "Judge", well he calls them "minners" regardless. Now "Mitch", he is the "minnow connoisseur" and knows all the intimate details of shiners versus creek minnows versus "tuffies", etc.


Live Bait - Shiner

Creek Minnow or Chub

Live Bait - Creek Chub

There are many types of minnows. But to "Mitch", a bass minnow is one to be chosen with the utmost scrutiny and care. If it's not a creek minnow or shiner, "forget about it".

Live Bait - Crawfish

We're lucky here in America for we have the greatest number and type crawfish of any country on the planet. Just so happens they are a favorite food of smallmouth and largemouth bass. Convenient Uh? The good lord must love live bait fishing bass anglers here in America.

Of course, smallmouth and largemouth will also slurp up salamanders (lizards), worms, leeches, frogs and any number of insects.

Catching and Keeping Live Bait

I consider this to be a minor disadvantage of fishing with live bait. Many buy the live bait they use, as I do sometimes. I like to trade with the local bait shops so they will hopefully stay in business. By the way, it's very important we all support our small, local bait and tackle shops. Nothing against the big guys, I trade with them too. Both big and small have their place and value to bass fishermen.

However, it can be quite enjoyable to catch your own as well as a money saver. Additionally, the bait will be guaranteed fresh. This is not always the case when you buy them from a local bait shop. We've all used shiners that seemed to die the first time we put one in the water. Why? They had most likely been held several days in the commercial minnow tank before you bought them. This takes its toll on them.

What do you use to catch live bait?

  • Traps
  • Seines
  • Cast Nets
  • By Hand

After you've caught your live bait of choice you must keep it alive. There are several ways to do this using home made and "store bought" devices.

How Do You Keep Bait Alive?

  • Commercial Bait Buckets With Aerators
  • Homemade Cooler Tank With Aerator
  • Worm Boxes, Homemade and Commercial,
  • Plastic Insect Containers, Homemade and Commercial
  • For long stays at the lake make a minnow cage like the PVC version below. It holds many dozen minnows in good shape for a week.

Minnow Cage - PVC Homemade

Gear For Fishing With Live Bait

If you don't really care what you catch when fishing with live bait but are just seeking to have a relaxing day catching whatever decides to take your bait, just about any old rod and reel will do for fishing with live bait. However, If you're targeting smallmouth and largemouth bass you should use "specialized tackle" matching it to the size and fighting spunk of your target.

Generally speaking, when fishing with live bait for bass you can't go wrong if you stay within the following guidelines.

  • Rod - A 6 to 7 1/2´ long, light to medium action, soft tip rod is a good choice. Longer rods work well for long casts and fighting bigger fish.
  • Reel - either a baitcaster, especially if you're trolling, or spinning reel rated for 10lb line will do. Of course with kids get them a closed face reel to use.
  • Line - When fishing with live bait I usually stick to 10lb monofilament or fluorocarbon line. The latter has the benefit of reduced visibility to the bass and it sinks so will help take your bait down.
  • If you use heavier line you will inhibit your bait's ability to move naturally.

Other items that come in handy are bobbers and sinkers. Yea, I know, tough bass fishermen don't use sissy bobbers. If you feel that way you're selling yourself short.

Bobbers are an important tool when fishing live bait. Bobbers bring many benefits to live bait presentation. Also, there are few of us that don't still get the same thrill we did as kids when we see that bobber go below the water. Don't deny yourself.

"Freelining", meaning without use of a sinker, is the most natural way to present live bait. It allows live bait to behave naturally and in doing so will better attract bass.

Be aware that there are some hook styles better suited to live bait than others. When rigging live bait, be sure to use a hook designed for live bait and that is not to large, otherwise you will diminish your baits ability to move and attract bass.

Scents That Mimic Live Bait - Kind Of Like Live Bait, Uh?

Listen, I use scents but it's really a matter of blind faith. From what we know about bass and their sense of smell it seems logical to assume they might work. Not sure about that but they certainly don't hurt so why not hedge your bet.

I also use the new baits that are made from material that is touted to be the closest thing to live bait since sliced bread. I have a good bit more faith in these than I do spraying or rubbing on scent because the scent is impregnated in the materiel thereby retaining the effectiveness of the scent.

With Live Bait, Smallmouth Aren't Largemouth and Vice Versa

There are distinct differences in the prey these two prefer given the weather, water temperature and time of year. It will be to your benefit to understand these seasonal influences on the feeding habits of each. Bait types and their presentation will change with the seasons based on the seasonal preferences of the bass. It's only logical that these preferences change as does the availability of natural prey. The live bait you use should also change accordingly.

What's The Number One Live Bait For Bass Fishing?

Bass Love These Crunchy Critters So They Make For A Great Live Bait.

Save Money and Have Some Fun, Catch Your own Live Bait

Techniques For Correctly Hooking Live Bait

Fish Scents, Not Exactly Live Bait, But Close, Sort Of

Return To Bass Fishing And Catching From Fishing With Live Bait

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