Picking The Right Bait: The Most Common Baits And When To Use Them

fishing baits

Picking the right bait for the fish you’re targeting is crucial to being successful as a fisherman. However, there are a lot of different types of edible baits, and each one has its own use. It can be difficult to understand when it’s the right time to use each bait, and when it’s best to go a different route. A lot of this has to do with the diet of the fish you’re targeting.

That’s why I’m writing this guide about edible baits. These are consumable items, and they’ll have to be replaced regularly. A lot of them will have to be replaced each time you go fishing. Others have a longer shelf life, and you can typically make a single package last several fishing trips. I’ll make sure to warn you when I’m talking about a bait that has to be replaced very quickly.

Live Bait

Live baits don’t last very long at all, and it’s typically best to catch them on-site, or buy them the day you go fishing. These typically have to be very fresh to work properly, and it’s unlikely that you have the necessary equipment to keep any of these baits alive and healthy for extended periods of time.

It’s important to note that this type of bait isn’t for the type of fisherman that doesn’t like to injure living creatures. It’s a non-issue with most people in the fishing community, but more sensitive beginners should know what using live bait entails before deciding to use it.

Small Baits

Smaller live baits are used to catch small fish. This includes worms, crickets, beetles, minnows, small frogs, and other bite-sized animals. Which one you use is entirely dependent on the species that you’re targeting.


Worms for FishingWorms are great for catching sunfish, and they occasionally entice small channel catfish and bass. They’re best used on a basic bobber rig when targeting different sunfish.

Worms are pretty durable baits, and they don’t require as much attention and care as other live baits. You can typically keep them alive for days just by throwing them in your refrigerator. The only thing you have to watch out for is the sun. If you leave your worm box open while you’re fishing, you’ll have a bunch of worm jerky before you know it.

Threading a worm on a hook is fairly simple. All you have to do is take an Aberdeen or J-hook, and insert it into one end of the worm. From there, you just push the worm up the hook and leave a little off of the end to wiggle.


Crickets for fishingA lot of different insects can be used for fishing, but I’m going to cover the two most common varieties. Crickets and beetles are used the exact same ways, and they typically catch the same fish.

They can be used for bass, trout, large sunfish, and other fish that are about the same size. Occasionally, they’ll even manage to help you catch small catfish. That’s not a common occurrence, though.

There are two main ways to use insects for fishing. The first way is to set them up on a basic bobber rig like you would a worm. I don’t really need to explain how to do that, again. However, I prefer to throw them out weightless. That means that I don’t use a bobber, sinker, splitshot, swivel, or anything else besides a hook and the bait.

Throwing insects in this manner requires a light setup because there is almost no weight to the rig, and the thicker lines used with bigger rods are actually heavier than the rig itself. I like to hook the insect with a basic J-hook in an area of its body that won’t outright kill it. That typically means right above the thorax. After that, I simply cast it out, and let it freely swim around on the surface.

As I’ve said, I like to use these baits as surface baits. That means that they’re a bait that is best to use in the early morning and in the evening.

Crickets and beetles can last a while without having any special equipment. They do require food if you plan on keeping them longer than a few days, but I don’t see a reason to buy live bait that far ahead of a fishing trip.


MinnowsMinnows are the best live bait to use for bass. I prefer to use lures when bass fishing because they present a different kind of challenge, and they’re a lot more engaging to use. However, minnows can often catch bass with the same amount of consistency as a seasoned fisherman using his best lures.

Minnows are pretty delicate fish, and they require a livewell if you plan on keeping them alive for more than a couple of hours. If you’re just going to use them for a short fishing trip, you can get away with using the container that they’re sold in.

You can also catch minnows at your local fishing spot, and throw them in a regular bucket. However, it’s a good idea to only use minnows acquired in this way at the lake or pond that you catch them in. In fact, you should do that with any live bait that you catch in the wild. Spreading fish between bodies of water can easily cause a massive outbreak of fish-killing diseases.

Minnows are pretty easy to fish with. You can keep them alive by using your favorite bass fishing hook. Just pop it right underneath their dorsal fin. Be careful not to hit their spine. They’re fragile enough as is, and they can’t survive a broken back.

Fresh minnows can be used when they’re dead, too. All you need is a jig head and a minnow. I recommend inserting the hook through the minnow’s mouth until it pops out just before the tail. Leaving the tail unsupported will give it the action of a soft-plastic swimbait. After that, you fish with it the same way you would a normal soft-plastic bait. You just bounce it around in the water, and vary your retrieval method until you catch a fish.

Large Baits

Large Baits
By Floridasportsman.com

Large baits don’t require as many sections to cover. They all typically catch the same types of fish, and they’re all fished the same way. I like to use bluegill and shiners for freshwater, and mullet works great for saltwater fishing expeditions.

Bluegill and shiners are fished the exact same way when they’re alive. You have to set up a weighted rig, and you have to slip your favorite hook underneath their dorsal fin. I prefer to use a circle hook because I primarily use this method to catch trophy-sized catfish, and circle hooks make that a lot easier to do.

Mullet are fished in a similar fashion, but you’ll need heavier weights to get them into deeper parts of the ocean.

Dead Baits

Dead baits are the same as live baits, but the fish are already dead. I prefer this type of natural bait because I can reliably keep it where I want it, I can store it longer, and I don’t have to feel bad about leaving a fish swimming around with a hook in its back.

Cut Bait

Illustration of Cutbait
By Fishingmoz.com

Cut bait is any type of usual bait fish, but it’s cut into chunks. I prefer to use the head of the fish first because the eyes tend to reflect light that attracts my target species.

There isn’t much else to it. You catch a bait fish, cut it into chunks, and throw those chunks on heavy catfish rigs. Catfish are the species that are most commonly fished for with cut bait, but it can also be used for gar. Gar put up a really hard fight, and they’re known for cutting lines with their sharp teeth. So, you have to approach them differently. I suggest using wire leaders and a bobber setup with very little weight. Cut bait is heavy enough to sink several feet to reach where the gar tend to hang out.

Preserved Bait

Preserved Emerald Shiners for FishingPreserved bait can be purchased in a store or made at home. I suggest simply buying it from the store. It’s cheap, effective, and easy to use. Making it at home tends to take a lot more time, and it is usually more expensive when you consider all of the ingredients that are necessary.

Most preserved baits are made from small bait fish such as minnows. Shiners are pretty common if you want larger bait. They usually come in a sealed bag, and they’re covered in a revolting oil that attracts fish and keeps the bait from spoiling.

Preserved baits are typically only good for one fishing trip. Once the seal on the package is broken, the bait is exposed to contaminates in the air, and it will rot very quickly. This leads to a horrible smell in your tackle box, and it’s pretty much unbearable to use.

I like to fish preserved fish the same way I do freshly killed minnows. A simple jig head is good enough, and I fish it like I do swimbaits. They can also be thrown on a circle hook or J-hook as a part of a bobber rig, though. I have had a little bit of success with that method, but other fishermen swear by it.

Formulated Baits

Formulated baits are edible, but they’re made from different compounds and scents. Most of them have a dough base, and some of them do include real foods such as corn. These are a little more expensive than preserved baits, but they typically last a very long time. I have a year-old bag of stink bait in my tackle box right now, and it still molds around my hooks with ease, and it definitely stinks.

Stink Bait

Stink bait is commonly used by fishermen that target catfish. It’s a dough-like substance, and it tends to be scented with blood and other nasty things that catfish like.

To use it, you really need to buy some treble hooks that are made to hold on to it. They’re not expensive, but they’ll keep you from wasting bait. You need to look for treble hooks that have a spring wrapped around their shank. To put the bait on the hook, you just push a ball of it onto the hook, and make sure that it’s stuck inside of the spring.

Punch Bait

Catfish Punch BaitPunch bait releases its scent faster than dough-style stink bait, but it’s used the same way. It’s a catfish bait, and it requires some special equipment to use.

Punch bait is a lot like a viscous wax. You have to purchase special chambers for your hooks, or you can buy hooks with those chambers pre-installed. Then, you push the hook into the tub of punch bait.

Without those pieces of equipment, the punch bait will simply spread out into the water. It’ll attract catfish, but they’ll have no reason to bite the hook because none of the bait will be on it.

I really don’t like using punch bait because it has to be reapplied constantly, and it’s hard to tell just how quickly it wears off. If you don’t reel your line in frequently, you can end up spending thirty minutes staring at a bait-free hook, and that is essentially a waste of time.

Crappie Bites

Bites for Crappie (Crappie Bites)Crappie bites are multi-colored balls the size of a pebble. Most brands sell them in little jars, and they last a long time. As long as you manage your bait effectively, and bluegill don’t steal all of it, you can use the same jar of crappie bites for months without needing to replace it.

Despite their commonly-used name, crappie bites can be used for pretty much any sunfish. They won’t catch much outside of sunfish, but they’re a great way to get coolers full of crappie, bluegill, green sunfish, and other small species within a couple of hours.

To use them, you just set up the same rig you would use for a worm. Then, you gently slide a few crappie bites onto the hook. If you’re targeting bluegill, I recommend only using one crappie bite near the tip of the hook. Bluegill will bite quickly, and you don’t want to waste several pieces of expensive bait on the world’s easiest to catch fish. They’re also fairly good at nibbling pieces off of the shank without actually getting hooked, and that’s extremely annoying.

Carp Balls

Carp Balls for Carp Fishing Carp balls are only used to catch carp. They’re popular in the United Kingdom, but it’s hard to find them in the United States. They’re essentially a large ball of corn, cornmeal, dye, and other nonsense. They’re pretty much useless if you’re not trying to catch carp, but they make carp fishing easy.

It’s important to check your local laws before using these baits. They’re outlawed in some areas because they’re considered a method of unfair feeding. Think of throwing handfuls of corn into the pond to attract fish to one area. That’s what some areas are trying to fight against because it disturbs some fish populations, and it’s actually unfair in a lot of fishermen’s eyes.

To use these large balls of bait, you typically have to use multiple hooks that are connected to the main line via leaders and splitters. The hooks are embedded into the ball, and unwary fish accidentally bite them as they nibble away. That’s another regulation to look into. Some fishing spots limit the amount of hooks that you can have on a single rig. It helps to keep people from simple raking in fish by casting out a ridiculous amount of hooks.

I don’t like this method, and I don’t really fish for carp very often. However, if you want to go after carp, you will be surprised by the fight they can put up since they’re such docile fish. They’re not particularly easy to filet and cook, though.


There are a lot of different baits that can be used for fishing the old fashioned way. I prefer to use lures in most instances, but these are the main forms of natural baits that you can use on your next fishing expedition.


My love for fishing started when I was a little boy. My local park had a children's fishing event where I caught my first bluegill. Ever since then, I've pushed myself to learn more about fishing, and I've targeted a large variety of fresh and saltwater game fish, across the majority of the United States, for the last twenty years. While my writing career keeps me very busy, I still find time to throw a line in at least three times a week.

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ContentsLive BaitSmall BaitsLarge BaitsDead BaitsCut BaitPreserved BaitFormulated BaitsStink BaitPunch BaitCrappie BitesCarp BallsConclusion Even as I write this article out, I’m being bothered by a particularly irritating mosquito welt on the inside of my elbow. Mosquitos, along with other insects, are all too happy to take a bite out of us if they think we can […]