Bait selection is an important part of fishing – many consider it the first step to success. After all, how can you reel in the big one if it never bites first? Most fishermen have two major options – natural bait and artificial bait called lures. Natural bait can be alive or dead, although most agree live is far better. Lures are artificial devices that include plugs, spinners, and flies.
Dead bait is far easier to hook, lasts longer, and obviously you need not worry about keeping it alive while out on your trip. However, most fishermen agree that live bait is better if you can use it. It may be a little more work, but live bait has the benefit of being natural (experienced fish in large lakes that see lures everyday may recognize an artificial lure, but they will not expect that worm to be hooked!). Also, you can get a greater fishing experience catching small fish and using them as bait for a trophy.
Fish are creatures that are used to seeking out their dinner, so go with their predatory instincts. Bait species that inhabit the area you intend to fish are great to use – the fish expect them, and are used to eating them! Still living bait triggers a fish’s instincts due to its movement. However, if you use live bait be sure to find a shady part of your boat to store it or you will quickly end up with dead bait!
Any live bait can also fall under the category of dead bait. Buying dead bait tends to cut down on the cost while still yielding the natural benefits of live bait, most notably its odorous qualities. In fact, with cut bait (which is dead bait that is, well, cut!) you release more of the natural oils so the scent is far greater than it would be using the bait whole. Just remember to size the bait according to your fish of choice – big fish need big bait, but if the bait is too large to get to the hook all you will get are nibbles!
Bait has several benefits over using lures. First and foremost they are natural – if a fish has always eaten worms before it will not be suspicious of your worm-covered hook. Also, lures can only be useful if they are seen and appear to move in a lifelike way, but bait engages multiple senses. Smell can be a powerful tool – use a little liver on a hook for catfish and you will see what we mean! Bait can also be free if you go out and catch it yourself.
Yet lures have the benefit of being the most practical because they are a one-time purchase, while bait usually needs to be bought or collected for each fishing trip. Artificial lures need more skill to use and are a great way to pit yourself against the fish directly – many people enjoy the challenge that comes from having to make your artificial bait appear alive. Inversely, since lures require specialized casting techniques to ensure that the movement appears natural, newbie fishermen are better off sticking with bait.
The visibility of the water is an important factor in choosing lures – use brighter colors for murky water, and light, natural colors in clear waters. At night use dark colored lures to blend with the water – their silhouettes will be enough to attract big fish. Oftentimes color is not too important, as with surface lures; These lures gain more success having a lot of movement, so the color is almost irrelevant. To create the illusion of life, many lures are made to appear like small bait fish, feature feathers so that they move as if alive, or have shiny surfaces to catch a passing fish’s eye.
When choosing a live, dead, or artificial bait the biggest influence is how comfortable you are – if you cannot hook a crawdad, then obviously do not use that bait; Fishing is a fun recreational hobby, not something stress yourself out over!
When selecting bait another major concern is to decide what you are casting for – some fish will not bother with certain baits. However that is not all bad – in fact, sometimes this works to your advantage if you are trying to avoid a particular fish in favor of another! Many fishermen, especially those new to fishing or to a particular type of game fish, will fail to realize this and ruin their fishing trip by casting with something that their fish of choice does not eat or cannot see – always remember that a fish has to realize your lure is there before they can bite it.
Also, most fish alter their eating habits based on time of year – before spawning they may want small prey, and after will seek larger prey that resembles small fish. Understanding the normal feeding habits of your particular type of game fish is the best way to have a successful fishing trip.
However, the best choice is multiple choice! Always bring more than one type of bait along so that you have a back-up if fish do not feel like your first choice – experiment with different types of bait to see what works best where. Fish may change their preferences as the day (or night) wears on, or if water conditions change, so be ready with other types of bait on hand.
If you are traveling to an unfamiliar lake, river, etc, then head into the nearest bait shop. Locals know the ins and outs of their home’s territory, and they tend to have their finger on the pulse of the fishing community. When you are not sure have them point you in the right direction, and most will do so quite happily!
One important thing to note is regulations – many states outline specific areas that cannot use certain types of bait, be it one particular kind or all live bait. An excellent example is using live shad for bait – Due to their propensity to hop off the hook and establish themselves, thus taking over the food supply, they can displace other sport fish species. Before using a particular bait check the regulations for that area!
Hopefully we have given you plenty to think about, so that the next time you go to choose a bait you pick something that lands you a whopper!