Fishing with live bait

Experienced anglers know that fishing with healthy live bait will catch many fish. Live bait attracts all types of game fish. As a result, bait fishing has become a popular sport. Millions of baitfish are sold to anglers each year. Many anglers also catch their own bait.

The term “baitfish” refers to any type of fish used as bait. Some of the most common are minnows, chub, shiners or carp. To be effective, a baitfish does not have to be native to the waters being fished. As long as it is active, it will look appetizing to many types of game fish even if that particular type of baitfish is not on the game fish’s regular diet. Most game fish prefer long, slender-bodied baitfish that are easy to swallow. Baitfish with silvery bodies that flash in the water when the sun shines typically catch more fish than dull-colored baitfish.

It is important to match the size of baitfish to the size of fish you want to catch. Using too large of a baitfish will only cause a bluegill to nibble, while using a minnow to catch a pike is useless, as the pike won’t even blink at a baitfish of that size.

Some baitfish produce a more appetizing scent than others. The madtom, for instance, releases a scent that smallmouth bass and walleyes find hard to resist. Catfish prefer shad or smelt because of their strong oily odor.

Keeping baitfish healthy is important to landing those big fish. Would you be interested in a limp, dull minnow if you were a fish? Not likely. Check the bait often to improve your chances of catching a fish. As long as the bait is active, it will attract any fish in the vicinity. When transporting baitfish, keep them in cool water around 55 degrees. For the best possible condition, use lake water. If that’s not possible, use dechlorinated water and change the water every two days.

Baitfish bred in captivity are under a great deal of stress and more prone to disease if not cared for properly. Here’s a tip for buying baitfish. Healthy baitfish will crowd into a corner of the tank, forming a dense mass. These are the ones you want to purchase. If the baitfish are swimming randomly around the tank or are a dark color, avoid them. When transferring baitfish to your live well, give them time to get acclimated to the water temperature. Even a 10-degree temperature change can be a fatal shock.

Successful anglers know some of the best baitfish cannot be purchased, however. They are difficult to catch and don’t survive long in tanks. Anglers must catch them themselves if they want to use these species for live bait. Check your local fishing regulations to make sure it is legal to trap or net baitfish before proceeding.

The type of baitfish you use depends on the type of fish you would like to catch. According to experts, if you’re fishing for smallmouth bass, use minnows. A two- to three-inch minnow is a good size, but try a slightly larger minnow if you’re going for a trophy-sized smallmouth. Largemouth bass typically feed on bluegills and yellow perch, but many have been caught with shad or golden shiners. All trout will eat minnows, but the biggest eat even bigger fish and are not opposed to eating others of their kind.

Leeches are another popular type of live bait. They tolerate temperature changes well, and as long as they are not left in the sun, they can live for months. There many different types of leeches, but most anglers prefer tiger or ribbon leeches. They are very active in the water and have firmer bodies than some of the other types. Check your leech often in panfish territory. They are notorious nibblers and will whittle away at your leech if it is too large to be eaten whole. Remember panfish have very small mouths. The optimum size of bait should be one inch long. Some anglers declare that fishing with a one- to two-inch leech will produce far better results than the same size of worm bait. Take both worms and leeches next time you fish and decide for yourself.

Frogs and toads have been used as live bait for centuries. Due to declining wetland and overuse of pesticides, they are not as abundant, nor as popular, as they once were. But frogs and toads will work quite nicely to catch walleyes, northern pike or largemouth bass.

Crustaceans are standard fare for many fish. Experts believe it is their unique scent that attracts fish. They live abundantly along riverbeds, lakes and streams. Crayfish can be found in almost all freshwater locations. They are easy to spot around rocks or logs along the bottom of shallow streams. Some anglers remove the claws of large crayfish to better entice the quarry. Trout, catfish, perch and crappies are especially fond of crayfish. Several types of shrimp make good bait as well. Grass shrimp, freshwater shrimp, saltwater shrimp and mud shrimp are all excellent choices. Scuds are another common crustacean used as bait. They have even been used to stock lakes as a supplemental food for trout.

As with all live bait, keeping crustaceans alive and healthy until you reach your destination is crucial to successful fishing. Like baitfish, crustaceans do best in cool water and will live longer if kept in styrofoam containers where air can pass through the sides, giving them life-sustaining oxygen.

The next time you go fishing, try some of these live baits. Experiment with different types to determine what will work best in your particular situation and remember to use the right size of bait. Keep a fishing log of the results and don’t hesitate to ask other anglers what they use and what has worked best for them. It’s no guarantee that you’ll catch a whopper, but it is a good place to start.

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