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Catch More Northern Pike, Bass, and Other Game Fish With Live Bait

Updated on July 18, 2013

Many people think that bait fishing is just a worm and a hook, but savvy anglers know that bait fishing offers some of the best, most consistent fishing action you'll find. If you think bait fishing is just for beginners, think again.

For decades, anglers have been pushing aside live bait, in favor of the shiny new artificial lures that are constantly bombarding the market. Every year, millions of dollars go into research and development to create new lures that look and act just like the real thing. Why? Because the real thing works!

Before you go spending a bunch of money on that new crankbait that promises "lifelike action" to attract more and bigger fish, why not get back to the basics and try the old standbys that grandpa always swore by? You can still buy live bait pretty cheaply or, if you know where to look, you can gather your own live bait for free.

Worm Grunting

Worm grunting is one of the most effective methods for gathering free live bait. There are probably thousands of fishing worms right in your back yard, and all it takes to get to them is a couple of pieces of 2x4. Learn how to grunt for worms, and you'll have free live bait for life. Worm grunting often brings hundreds of big, juicy night crawlers or earthworms to the surface in a matter of minutes. All you have to do is pick them up and head for the water. It's so effective, in fact, that it gave birth to an entire live bait industry in Florida in the 1960's.

Photo Courtesy of cygnus921 on Flickr
Photo Courtesy of cygnus921 on Flickr

Favorite Bass Baits

Now that you have all of those free worms, pick one up and push a hook through one end. Thread enough of the worm onto the hook to cover the entire shank, and leave the rest to dangle. With a split-shot sinker placed about a foot above the worm, throw it into an area that you suspect is holding bass. Slowly inch it across the bottom, and no self respecting largemouth will be able to resist. This technique can be particularly deadly around weed beds; especially along the edges. You can also drag this rig across the tops of lily pads (without the sinker), and let it gently drop off the edge, and into the water.

If worms aren't getting the job done, one of the most productive bass fishing baits around is crawfish. Like worms, you can find bait crawfish for free, and in huge numbers, if you know where to look. Crawfish thrive in the muddy banks of lakes, rivers, and streams throughout most of the world.

Big bass love to feed in the shallows, especially around the dusk and dawn hours. Bait up a hook with a big crawfish crawl it along the shoreline. In the daytime, throw bait crawfish in the usual bass hideouts. Fish along the weedlines, drop-offs, and other submerged structure.

Live Bait For Trout

Try hooking a large cricket through the collar with a light-wire hook. Mealworms, wax worms and small night crawlers also big producers, but a finicky trout will often take an insect over a worm. Try casting from upstream, and letting the current float your bait toward a pocket of slack water. Large trout often hide out there to escape strong current and wait for an easy meal to float past.

Popular Bait Fish Rigs

Killer Walleye Baits

Use an eighth ounce jig to hook a three inch fathead minnow through the head. Big, river dwelling walleye eat these like candy, especially right after the spawn. If you find a riffle, this rig can be particularly effective. On cloudy days, walleye often feed over the hard bottomed areas that cause riffles in a shallow stream or river.

In stronger current, fish the downstream end of a riffle. There's almost always a hole at the end of a riffle, and they often hold lazy walleye that don't like the current. Holes like this are an ideal place for walleye to snatch a free meal.

Combine Live Bait With Panfish Jigs

Threading small garden worms onto panfish jigs is a deadly tactic. Work the worm onto the panfish jig far enough to cover the shank, and let both ends dangle. Fish baited panfish jigs around weeds, spawning beds, or pretty much any known panfish habitat. This fishing tip is guaranteed to deliver a knockout punch to bluegill and crappie, but remember, small fish have small mouths. If you're using a hook that's too big, they'll take the bait but not the hook.

Big Baits Catch Big Fish

Live Bait Fishing For Northern Pike

Northern pike are opportunistic feeders, and are not always picky. They'll usually eat almost anything that moves, and even some things that don't. That's right, when you're northern pike fishing, live bait doesn't necessarily have to be alive.

Shiners, chubs and suckers are great northern pike bait for most of the summer; but in the early spring and late fall, big northerns are less active. In these situations, a dead bait fish can tempt stubborn pike to bite. The scent is irresistible and they don't have to expend precious energy to catch it.

Bait Fishing Regulations

Never fish without a license, and always check the local fishing regulations before using live bait. The rules for using live bait vary widely from state to state and even from one fishery to the next. Fines for poaching can be steep, so make sure you know the rules before you fish.


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