You’ll often hear of anglers using live bait versus artificial bait. If you’re brand new to the world of fishing, you might not be sure what one type of bait is compared to the other. Which baits are considered live?
The following types of bait are all examples of live bait:
- Mussels and clams
In this introductory guide to live bait, we’ll explain what live bait is in more detail, including more information on the examples above. We’ll also discuss whether live bait is better than artificial bait with an extensive pros and cons list.
Let’s get started!
What Is Live Bait? + Examples
Let’s start by explaining what live bait is.
Live bait is any fishing bait that is currently alive. By putting live bait on the end of a fishing hook, the natural wriggling motion of the creature on the hook is going to attract fish, as will the smell. That explains why live bait is so appealing to anglers.
The opposite of live bait is artificial bait. These are usually lures that are painted up to look like live creatures. The artificial lures might spin, look flashy, or make noise to enchant fish to come over.
Here are some examples of live bait per the intro.
Leeches have a reputation for being blood-suckers. While that’s not untrue, in reality, they barely suck any blood, and they’re not disease-spreaders either. Even still, leeches are not the most popular choice among anglers.
For those who are willing to take the chance and use leeches as live bait, the ribbon leech is a good species to use. In warmer waters where the temperature exceeds 50 degrees Fahrenheit, leeches will be more comfortable and exhibit a wider range of motion.
This increases your chances of catching something!
From the least-beginner friendly live bait option to the most so, shrimps are recommended as live bait for children who are just getting started fishing and adult anglers trying to learn their craft.
Shrimp is a very common live bait source, and they cast exceptionally easily. Even if you don’t have a lot of fishing experience, you can feel like a pro by the end of the day by using shrimps as live bait.
Worms are widely available if you’re willing to dig around in your backyard (especially after it rains). We wrote an extensive guide on catching a species of worm known as the nightcrawler, and it’s practically free to hunt for your own. Give that post a read if you missed it!
Many artificial bait manufacturers try hard to replicate a worm’s natural undulating and wriggling with their lures. The real deal is just as effective, if not more so!
Crayfish is akin to shrimp in that it also makes an excellent choice for live bait. Whether you call these creatures mudbugs or crawdads, the best way to rig a crayfish to your hook is to insert the hook a half-inch from the end of the crayfish’s tail.
You can dig up crayfish in local bodies of water provided your parks and rec association doesn’t have anything to say about it.
Mussels and Clams
A more advanced live bait option, mussels require you to get your hands dirty if you want to use this small creature as bait. You can’t exactly thread the hard shell onto your fishing hook, so you’d have to open up the creature’s shell.
The same goes for clams, which you can use readily when fishing in saltwater with live bait. You can find mussels and clams in most bodies of water along the shoreline.
Although minnows are a species of fish, when anglers refer to minnows as live bait, they’re not talking about only one species. They collectively mean any small fish.
Tiny fish naturally call out a fish’s urge to feed along the food chain, as bigger fish consume smaller ones, and so on.
As an FYI, once your live bait is dead, it’s not technically live bait anymore. That said, if it’s freshly dead, you can still fish with it and potentially reel in some incredible catches! Time is certainly of the essence, though. Once your bait begins rotting and decaying, it’s game over.
Which Fish Are the Most Responsive to Live Bait?
If you decide to thread live bait on your fishing hook, what can you hope to fish up? We’re so glad you asked, as the answer is a lot!
Let’s take a closer look.
Leeches – Yellow Perch, Bluegill, Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass
Once you get past the ick factor of leeches, you’ll realize what an excellent bait choice they are. One such fish you can hope to catch a lot of is the yellow perch, which is commonly referred to as walleye. These are large fish, about 22 inches long!
The much smaller bluegill (which is often not blue, despite the name), is a panfish that’s about eight inches long if you catch one that’s on the bigger side.
Are you a bass fan? With a leech as your live bait, you increase your chances of catching both largemouth and smallmouth bass. On top of that, you might see more catfish. This isn’t surprising considering that catfish respond to almost any bait, alive or dead, edible or inedible!
Shrimps – Redfish, Sheepshead, Lane Snapper, Tiger Trout, Snook
Fishing with shrimps as live bait will lead to a satisfactorily long list of fish you might catch, beginning with redfish. The redfish is a deep-sea fish with an orange hue that can be 28 to 33 inches long if they’re between three and five years old.
The sheepshead is another fish that bite for shrimps. These fish have long, zebra-like stripes across their bodies, oh, and they possess very human-like teeth too.
Lane snapper aka Mexican snapper or redtail snapper is also attracted to shrimps. The lane snapper, despite the name, is not the same as the redfish. This is a 14-inch fish often found around the western Atlantic Ocean.
With shrimps, you could even catch the colorful tiger trout, which is a hybrid of the brook and brown trout species. In maturity, the tiger trout can reach sizes of 20 inches, so it’d make for a very satisfying fish to reel in.
Finally, with shrimp on your line, you might get more snook biting. The common snook is a smaller fish that shouldn’t be too challenging for beginners to catch.
Worms – Trout, Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Yellow Perch
If you’d rather fish with worms than leeches, we have some good news for you! The range of fish you’d catch with live worms is about the same as using leeches as bait. Those fish include trout, catfish, largemouth bass, bluegill, and yellow perch.
Crayfish – Trout, Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass
Reeling in a bass is always very impressive, especially if it’s largemouth bass. You feel like the king or queen of the water for the rest of the day!
Crayfish is alluring to smallmouth and largemouth bass alike. Trout bite for this crustacean too, as do the very non-picky catfish.
Mussels and Clams – Rockfish, Whiting, Porgy, Sea Trout, Flounder
If you’re using mussels or clams as live bait, then you’re probably fishing in saltwater bodies such as the ocean. In that case, then what you’ll catch completely changes.
For instance, the whiting is one species that eats live mussels and clams. This fish is native to the Black Sea, western Baltic, northern Mediterranean, and eastern North Atlantic Ocean. In maturity, the whiting can reach sizes of three feet!
Porgy fish or sea breams are found in shallow waters, making it easy to reel in. Rockfish, which we talked about before, will go for either mussels or clams on the end of your fishing line. The same is true of sea trout, a fish akin in size to the Atlantic salmon.
You’ll have flounder fillets for days too, as mussels and clams lure in this species.
Minnows – Muskellunge, Northern Pike, Walleye, Brown Trout
Minnows–which you should recall refer to any small fish used as live bait–also attract their fair share of unique fish species. The muskellunge or muskie is a long, lean fish that can reach lengths of nearly 38 inches. Imagine catching one of those!
Northern pike is quite interested in live minnows on a fishing hook, as are walleye. You could even catch some brown trout, a European fish species that grows between 14 and 20 inches long in maturity.
Is Live Bait Better Than Artificial Bait? The Pros and Cons
Is fishing with live bait more advantageous than using artificial lures? Both can have their benefits (and downsides), so let’s explore the pros and cons of these two styles of bait in this section.
Pros and Cons of Live Bait
Let’s begin with talking about live bait as we have throughout this article. As we mentioned before, live bait has natural motions that artificial lure manufacturers try very hard to recreate.
Rather than require you to trail or wiggle your line to get the lure to move, live bait doesn’t need your manual involvement.
One of the biggest plusses of live bait over artificial lures is the scent. Fish are attracted to what’s on your hook as much by its looks as its smell, but artificial bait does not have a scent.
You might be able to obtain live bait for free depending on the type of bait you want, which is awesome. You can spend money on higher-quality hooks or fishing line with the cash you save by not having to buy bait. You could even save up for a brand-new fishing rod.
If you must buy your live bait, you can usually do so in bulk, so it’s quite cost-effective.
As great as live bait is, it’s not perfect. Whether you catch or buy your live bait, it’s on you to keep it alive. This will require you to set up an enclosure for your bait, find out the kind of food it likes, and provide optimal conditions such as the proper lighting and temperature.
It can kind of feel like having a pet, except you don’t really bond with your live bait because you’re going to put it on a fishing hook.
Speaking of that, some beginner anglers might feel grossed out at the thought of threading a hook through a living creature. It gets easier to do the longer you fish, but we can understand where that might be unappealing to some anglers.
Live bait is not reusable. Once the bait dies, it has a very limited shelf life. Except for maybe catfish and a few other species, very few fish are going to bite for rotting, dead carcasses, as we’ve touched on.
Pros and Cons of Artificial Lures
Artificial lures might not smell like live bait, but advancements in how these baits are produced have allowed for very realistic-looking live bait. It doesn’t have to be complex or expensive, either.
Take, for example, rubber worms. You can buy these artificial lures for very cheap, and they get the job done exceptionally well.
Unlike fishing with a real worm, you can reuse that rubber worm for as long as you need to provided it’s in good enough condition. That’s true of any artificial lure.
Thus, even though you might spend more money for an artificial lure initially, you recoup your costs through the lure’s reusability.
You don’t have to worry about handling live bait with an artificial lure, nor do you have to care for the lure to keep it alive. If you’re trying to target specific fish species, you’ll have better luck in doing so.
Sometimes using live bait leads to unintended fish catches. That’s fine if you just want to reel in something, but it’s not so great if you intended to fish for bass or trout.
Okay, so onto the downsides of using artificial lures.
First, there are so many styles and types of lures out there that you can get overwhelmed. You might have to buy several types and try them out, which can be expensive unless you can borrow lures from a fishing buddy.
Live bait can attract fish from a distance due to the smell while artificial lures cannot. Also, the effectiveness of the lure’s bright colors, flashing, or spinning is drastically reduced in murky waters, overcast conditions, or when fishing very early or very late in the day.
Related Reading: Are Artificial Lures Better Than Bait?
Live bait is any fishing bait that’s still alive when you thread it on your hook, such as shrimps, crayfish, mussels and clams, minnows, worms, and leeches. Using live bait certainly has its benefits compared to artificial lures, but the latter has advantages too.
We recommend using both types of bait for different fishing situations. Good luck!