If you ask any angler whether they prefer fishing with artificial lures or bait, they’re going to have a lot to say. Their perceptions are based on personal experiences and preferences, though. You want a clear-cut answer once and for all whether artificial lures are better than bait. Are they?
Artificial lures are not better than bait and vice-versa. As an angler, you should be ready to use both depending on the light levels, fish activity, water clarity, and water temperature. It’s only then that you can be your most successful at fishing!
This guide will put artificial lures and live bait to the test, comparing the pros and cons of each. We’ll also talk further about when to use artificial lures over bait and vice-versa. Make sure you keep reading, as there’s lots of great information to come!
The Pros of Artificial Lures
Let’s start by discussing artificial lures. If you need a recap, an artificial lure is a non-living source of fishing bait. You can select from a multitude of bait styles, including:
- Crankbaits: Plugs or crankbaits are lures that look like minnows or other small fish. They’re built from plastic with a hollow core. On the front of the lure is a lip, a specialized sheet made of plastic or metal that can add to the wobble of the crankbait.
- Flies: Exclusive to fly fishing, a fly features a skirt, or an extended fringed area around the lure. The rest of the fly is comprised of a hook. You can add thread, feathers, or fur to increase the accuracy of a fly so it looks just like a crustacean or insect.
- Soft plastics: An inexpensive favorite, soft plastic lures resemble frogs, lizards, crayfish, worms, minnows, and other live bait, but in plastic form. These translucent, neon-colored lures often feature glitter throughout.
- Spoon lures: Favored for trolling, spoon lures have excellent retrieval up to 20 feet out. These concave, curvy lures feature a sturdy metal body that makes them look a lot like spoons. They wobble in the water, and the shine from the sun glinting off the metal is appealing to fish as well.
- Spinnerbait: Spinnerbaits rely on motion to bring the fish towards the lure. The horizontal movement occurs due to the inclusion of propeller-like metal blades. Between the blades and the skirt, spinnerbaits move like minnows in the water.
- Jigs: A plastic artificial lure meant to look like a grub with a feathered skirt and a hook, jigs will sink in the water when dropped. If you’re trying to catch fish nearer the water’s bottom, a jig is an ideal choice.
Now that you’re refamiliarized with the types of artificial lures, let’s delve into the pros of these lures as your choice of bait.
Unless a fish happens to destroy your artificial lure or make off with it, then you can assume that at the end of a fishing day, you’ll still have your lure.
Sure, you’ll have to clean it up so it’s ready to go for next time, but there will be a next time. Further, there will be a time after that and then a time after that. As we’ll talk more about in the next section, artificial lures usually aren’t that cheap, so reusability is a nice feature.
No Special Care
Live bait does admittedly have many advantages, but one of the worst parts of keeping live bait is that you need to take care of it. It’s almost like having a pet, except not exactly, as your intention all along is to thread your pet on a fishing hook and send it out to sea.
So what live bait really is then is a responsibility, another in a long line of responsibilities you have to take care of in your day-to-day life. Since your artificial bait is not alive, you never have to feed it or check that its temperature is comfortable.
You can leave the bait in the tacklebox for the next time, or in your garage or your kitchen, wherever you want, really.
That’s not to say that artificial bait doesn’t require some care. For example, you don’t want to leave your lures in the sun.
If you do, the UV rays can fade the colors so your lures aren’t as effective. The sunlight can also degrade the integrity of some lure materials such as plastic. In high heat, plastic and rubber lures can even melt!
Even still, that’s a small consideration to keep in mind compared to taking care of live bait day in and day out.
Yes, you’re going to see this on both the pros and cons list for artificial lures, but first, let’s begin with why no odors are a good thing when fishing.
You’re going to be out on a fishing boat for hours at a time with no overhead protection. Whatever you have on your boat is going to bake in the sun. The stinky smells from worms and crustaceans can be most unappealing.
Worse yet, there’s no way to escape it, as the odor can seemingly permeate everything. When you combine that with the fishy odor as you accumulate fish throughout the day, your nostrils are going to be begging for a break by lunchtime!
Artificial lures do not smell. Sure, there’s a slight rubber odor if you use soft lures, but this is nothing offensive. Your olfactory senses can take a much-needed break and breathe in some of that fresh sea air uninterrupted.
Reduces the Rate of Unwanted Catches
We’ll talk more about this when we get into our section on live bait, but live bait is attractive to a wide range of fish. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good in that your cooler will fill up fast, but it’s bad because you maybe don’t get the fish you want.
With artificial lures, you have more control over your catches. You can select a lure that’s known to drawn in certain species of fish. This doesn’t guarantee that only those fish will come your way, of course, but more of those fish should.
Lessens the Risk of Deep Hooking
One of the top advantages of using artificial lures over live bait is reducing the risk of deep hooking. If you’re not familiar, deep hooking occurs when your hook goes too deep into the fish’s throat.
You could accidentally kill a fish this way. That’s no big deal if you plan on bringing the fish home for tonight’s dinner, but what if you’re doing catch and release fishing? You don’t want to go around killing fish.
You could incur a fine or penalty if you do, and you might not be allowed to return to the lake or river to fish again.
Fishing with artificial lures cuts down on your deep hooking risk so you’re less likely to kill fish (unless you intend to).
The Cons of Artificial Lures
The last section proved that artificial lures certainly have a lot of upsides. However, it’s not all great. Here are some issues with artificial lures that you must keep in mind should you decide to use these lures when fishing.
Of all the types of bait you can use, artificial lures are undoubtedly the costliest. Sure, the cheap rubber worms cost maybe $6 for a container, but a single bait meant to look like a small minnow or crustacean can run you up $37. Yes, for one bait.
We mentioned before about how artificial lures are reusable, but even still, they won’t last forever. When the time comes to replace yours, you’re going to have to shell out that money all over again.
May Require Trial and Error
Further compounding how much money you’re going to spend on artificial lures is the fact that few anglers find the right bait for them the first time around. You might get lucky and do just that, but don’t count on it.
Instead, you’ll want to explore all the various types of artificial lures to find which work best in your favorite rivers and lakes and which catch you the most fish. This will require you to buy cheap to expensive artificial lures unless a fellow fishing buddy doesn’t mind lending you theirs for a little while.
Since most of the lures you buy might not stick, this is money you won’t recoup over time.
Mandates Manual Movement (Most of the Time)
The whole point of artificial lures is to mimic what live bait does but without the need to use live bait. While some types of artificial lures can spin to look like it’s swimming in the water, in the case of rubber worms or similar types of artificial bait, they don’t move at all.
A real worm in the water would move, so it’s up to you to learn how a worm would move and then execute that accurately if you hope to catch fish. You have to do this while tracking the fish and being ready to rotate your fishing reel at a moment’s notice.
It’s a lot of responsibility, especially if you’re new to fishing. You will become a better angler for your efforts at least!
Ineffective in Dark Conditions
From brightly-colored soft plastics to flashy spoon lures and spinnerbaits, these lures all rely on sight.
If you’re fishing very early in the morning before the sun comes up or later in the day after dusk, you likely won’t catch as many fish since they can’t see your artificial lure.
You might also have to forego fishing with lures on overcast or rainy days. The lures are harder to see, so fish will miss them. Even the sounds and motions of the bait might not be enough to bring fish towards your line.
No Smell to Lure in Fish
We had mentioned that the lack of smell that artificial lures possess was both a good thing and a bad thing. Now let’s discuss why it’s not great.
Although it’s not something that people usually credit them for, fish have a good sense of smell. Fish might be able to pick up on a scent that’s miles away from their current location. Thus, even if you’re not in an ideal spot, if you have live bait, a fish can find you.
Without that scent, artificial lures are only effective for short-range fishing. The fish will not come from miles away to check out your lure except by accident.
The Pros of Bait
Now let’s switch gears and talk about bait.
Bait, in this case, refers to living bait that you thread onto your hook and use to fish. We just wrote a great introductory post on what constitutes live bait, so please give that a read if you need the refresher.
To recap, live bait can include shrimps, minnows, worms, crayfish, clams, mussels, and leeches. We should note that for many anglers, when referring to minnows, they mean any small fish, not solely those in the minnow family.
Okay, with that out of the way, we can dive right into the pros of using live bait.
Free or Inexpensive to Procure
Fishing can be an expensive hobby to pursue, which you’ll discover for yourself if you do it for long enough. If you want to give your wallet a much-needed break, try using live bait.
Many sources of live bait are huntable right in your neighborhood. We again want to refer you to our guide on digging up nightcrawlers, a common worm species. They’re often hiding in your yard!
You can find crayfish in shallow waters near a creek or stream and then snatch them by hand (if you’re feeling brave).
Of course, we always recommend getting the correct permissions if you’re digging or looking for creatures on public property such as a park. Also, refrain from venturing onto your neighbor’s property even if they have a bigger yard than yours. That’s private property, and invading it leaves you prosecutable to the full extent of the law.
You can’t find every type of live bait around town, and that’s okay. In those cases, you can always shop for live bait online or at your favorite fishing supply store. Even pet stores might carry some sources of live bait if they’re common food for snakes and other exotic creatures.
Compared to spending $35 for one artificial lure, you can usually buy most types of live bait for $5 and in large quantities too.
Has a Scent That Fish Enjoy
Unlike artificial lures, live bait has a natural scent that fish will salivate for…well, if fish could salivate, that is (that’s right, fish don’t have salivary glands). As we established in the last section, fish can smell prey from at least a mile away.
If they pick up on the natural scent of a worm or crustacean and they haven’t had a meal yet today, they could make their way towards your bait. You’ll recall that you don’t get that kind of luck when fishing with artificial lures unless incidentally.
Natural Movements Minimize Your Required Effort
Here’s another obvious plus of using live bait over artificial lures. We mentioned before that with many types of artificial lures, it’s on you to create natural movements that look like what a real worm or crayfish would do.
Not with live bait! Since your bait is very much alive, it will move in a way that’s natural for its species. You don’t have to do anything. You can just focus on waiting until that moment when you feel a tug on your line and then begin reeling in your glorious catch.
Considered Easier to Use
Beginner anglers should start with live bait. As the above two reasons prove, using live bait is a lot simpler and produces more results than fishing with artificial lures.
That said, it’s not completely foolproof. You need to know exactly when to reel in your line, and you must be fast about it. Hesitating for too long can cause the fish to eat your live bait fight off your hook and then swim away!
The Cons of Bait
As we did when discussing artificial lures, we want to explore the downsides of using live bait. This isn’t to dissuade you from considering this bait option, but rather, to give you the full picture of what to expect when you go fishing.
We’re sure it’s clear enough to you, but we must mention that you can’t reuse live bait. Once you pierce through the creature’s body with your fishing hook, the creature is going to die. If being hooked doesn’t kill them, then being consumed by a fish would.
Let’s say your bait dies on the hook but doesn’t get eaten by a fish because you’re not getting a lot of bites that day. Well, live bait is only live for as long as the bait is living. That said, dead bait can be an advantageous option too, at least for a little while.
There’s a fine line between the dead bait still smelling like the creature it once was and it reeking of carrion. The former period can still attract fish while the latter will not except for the least picky bottom-feeding scavengers.
We mentioned before the strange dichotomy of caring for live bait. On the one hand, you have to raise them like a pet. That requires you creating an environment for the live bait that usually has soil but sometimes sand, and water too, of course.
You must find food that the live bait will eat to sustain it, whether that’s leaves or small insects. You’ll have to provide adequate conditions for the live bait as well, such as putting the bait in the sun or even in the refrigerator.
You could grow an affinity for your live bait, especially if you care for the little creatures for several weeks at a time. Yet the fate of your bait is just to be used as fish food. Then you have to turn around and do it all over again.
This can be time-consuming and expensive, which can negate much of the benefits of fishing with live bait.
Stinky Bait Smell
Allow us to reiterate that live bait can smell, especially if you bring a lot of it with you on your fishing boat.
Maybe worms don’t have an odor, but shrimps do, as do small minnows. As we already made clear, the smell of live bait can get rather gross after a while, especially when you add a fishy smell on top of it.
Maybe some anglers won’t mind, but others will be very eager for the moment when they can get home and shower off the smell!
Can Attract More Fish Than You Want
This goes back to a point we made earlier. Different types of live bait do attract various fish species, but fish aren’t always so discerning. If a fish is hungry and it sees live food in front of it, of course, it’s going to try to bite.
If you’re hoping to just fish for trout or bass, that’s not always doable with live bait. You could catch catfish or panfish you didn’t really want.
In a catch-and-release situation, that’s not such a big deal, but in waters where you keep what you catch, you end up with a lot of fish you’re not really interested in.
Artificial Lures vs. Bait – Which Will It Be?
Now that you fully understand what’s good and not so good about artificial lures and live bait, you can use both to your advantage. After all, you will indeed have to use both to be a good angler.
Here is an overview of the kinds of fishing conditions you might experience and when it’s better to use artificial lures versus live bait.
Colder Waters – Dead Bait
Most types of live bait can’t survive in cold water conditions anyway, so if your bait is recently dead, head to a cold river or lake. The stronger the odor of the dead lure, the more responsive the fish will be despite the cold water temperatures.
Warmer Waters – Live Bait or Faster Lures
When fishing in warm water, the fish will usually be out and about. If you’re using artificial lures, you need fast-moving selections such as metal lures, plugs, faux minnows, and jigs. Live bait works in this scenario as well, as the fish will sure be biting!
Dirtier Waters – Dead Bait
The dirtier the waters are, the less likely artificial lures are to work, and we already explained why. These lures rely so much on bright colors or reflecting light that in murky waters, they’re as good as useless.
Live bait is better if the water is somewhat dirty. Once the waters are so brown you can’t see what you drop into them, dead bait with a strong smell is about all that’s going to work.
Cleaner Waters – Live Bait or Faster Lures
In clean waters when you can see through to the bottom (or you nearly can), you can bring out the artificial lures. We again recommend fast-moving lures that will captivate a fish’s attention before it swims by, possibly not to return.
Live bait is perfectly suitable in clean water as well.
Inactive Waters – Live Bait
Although you might think that rotating a spinnerbait in a still body of water ought to get the fish moving, it might not be enough to inspire them out of their inactivity. Instead, the combination of motion plus scent ought to get even lazy fish swimming your way. Use live bait.
Active Waters – Artificial Lures
When the waters are more active, you can use artificial lures or live bait and still fill your tacklebox with fish.
Artificial lures and live bait are two options anglers have when fishing. One is not necessarily better than the other, as you should use both bait styles interchangeably depending on the fishing conditions. Best of luck!