When it comes to fishing, there is no denying that even with the most advanced artificial baits on the market, nothing really compares to the action of live bait. If you have mastered the basics of fishing and are ready to up your fishing game with live bait, then you may be wondering what baits you should target for teasing the fish to strike, where you can find the bait, and how you can catch it. This quick how-to guide will walk you through the basics of fishing with live bait.
Gear for Catching Live Bait
Before you can catch live bait, you may need to pick up a few things. What you need largely depends on what kind of bait you want and how you plan to get it. If you plan to use a sabiki rig, then you will need a light rod, a sinker, the sabiki rig itself and maybe some bait (unless your rig already has flies). For netting, you will need a cast net – we recommend practicing this one before you go out on the water. If you want to trap the bait, then you will need a bait trap. There is a wide range of options available to you for traps, but a quick online search should steer you in the right direction. In addition to these tools you'll also want to be sure you have some bait rigging tools to make preparing your bait easy. Once you have this basic gear, the next thing you need to think about is how you are going to keep your live bait alive.
How to Store Live Bait
To store your live bait, you will need a live well. If you have a fishing boat, then you likely already have a built-in live bait well. If not, then you will want to purchase one or make your own (there are guides out there for handy DIYers). The ultimate goal of a live well is to ensure the bait has water and enough oxygen to breathe in order to keep them alive. If you can accomplish those two things, then your live well is probably good to go, and you are ready to try your hand at catching bait.
Techniques for Catching Live Bait
There are different techniques for catching live bait, and over time you will find that some work better for certain types of bait than others. Here, we will briefly discuss three different techniques: catching bait with a sabiki rig, a net, or a trap.
A sabiki rig is a single line with anywhere from 6 to 10 small hooks and a weight. These come in a wide variety of designs and can be effective for catching specific types of bait, such as pinfish or minnows. To use it, add a sinker, make sure the hooks are baited (either with the flies it came with or your own bait), drop it into the water and lightly jig to entice nearby bait. Wait for a few moments after you feel the first bite, and then reel it in. We suggest having a dehooker when using this technique, to save yourself time and reduce potential harm to the bait.
If you have ever seen someone on the shore, a low dock, or a boat tossing a net into the water, then you are familiar with netting. Nets are affordable and have the potential to catch a lot of live bait all at once – once you know how to properly cast it. Nets come in a range of different meshes, sizes and weights, so if you go with this technique, we recommend visiting a local shop to check what is available, ask questions, and talk to locals about what they use.
Trapping will require the use of a trap in order to catch live bait. This is a more hands-off approach to catching bait, as you will set the trap, leave it alone, and then return to it later. However, this also means it is one of the easier techniques and can be very effective at catching larger amounts of bait when left in the right place. To find the right location, try asking locals or scan the waters for areas that would be enticing for the smaller fish you want to catch.
Choosing Live Bait
How do you know what bait you should go for? That comes down to knowing what fish you plan to target. Here’s a quick overview of different baits you might want to consider for different freshwater versus saltwater fish.
Best Freshwater Bait
Freshwater fishing often means targeting fish like bass, crappie, pike or muskie, among others. Several of these fish are hard hitting, offering exciting strikes for the right freshwater live bait. Aside from worms and insects, minnows are an incredibly popular bait choice for freshwater fishermen.
Best Saltwater Bait
Popular saltwater fish species to target include redfish, grouper, snapper, mackerel, and salmon. Each of these fish preys on different kinds of saltwater live bait, with some overlap, so when you are saltwater fishing, you definitely want to make plans ahead of time to ensure you have the right gear and know where to go.
When and Where to Catch Bait Fish
After you have narrowed down what fish you are targeting, know what bait you should get, have a technique in mind and gear at the ready, you need to decide where you are going to catch your bait, and when you should go look for it. The guides we included above will help you make these decisions based on targeted species, but here are some general recommendations. Since live bait can be rather difficult to keep alive, aim to catch them the night before or the morning of your fishing trip. Smaller fish tend to hide in structures and foliage, so look for shallow waters with good hiding spots and aim to cast net or use a trap there. An exception would be a sabiki rig, which can be used in deeper waters. What you target will change seasonally as well, so keep that in mind. And as always, do not be afraid to talk to local anglers to see what live bait is working before you go fishing!