Live Bait for Freshwater Fishing (Top Baits Explained)

Live Bait for Freshwater Fishing (Top Baits Explained)

by | May 21, 2017 | Freshwater | 0 comments

Live bait for freshwater fishing can be anything from live minnows to live leeches.  We will explore some of the common live baits that produce and catch fish in freshwater.  Bass to trout feed on live bait so keep reading to find out what these baits are and how to rig them.

Live Worms

When thinking about live bait for freshwater fishing Live worms are the most common.  Live worms are one of the most used live baits to fish in freshwater.  If you have access to a shovel and a moist place to dig around your yard there is a good chance that you can find these worms to fish with.   If not, a quick trip to your local tackle store should provide all the worms you need.

If fishing for sunfish and other small fish you will want to use a small hook.  Size 2 and 3 will work.  Pair this with a small split shot up your line about 1 to 2 feet.   You can also fish these on a small bobber.

Live Shiner

Shiner are great bait and most freshwater fish like largemouth bass, peacock bass, and other freshwater game fish love eating them.  Golden shiner are top baits when you can catch them.  They like to hang around weedy areas and when you catch one there are usually more to get.

If finding live shiner is not working for you a quick trip to your local bait store should do the trick.   Depending how large the bait is pair the right size hook and you can free line (using just a hook with no weight) or fish these baits under a float.

Sunfish and Brim

Sunfish are a staple diet of most freshwater fish like largemouth bass.   Catching these fish are easy.  Use small live worms, bread, or dough balls on a very small bait hook.

We prefer to free line our bait out using no weight.  Chum the area with small pieces of bread and when you see a sunfish start to eat cast your line out and free line it to them.

Live Shad

live shad are a top bait when you can get them and it is not uncommon to catch dozens of fish from schooling shad.  To catch these bait fish you will need a cast net.  Watch for tails flickering at the surface, or look for  shinning bait fish under the water.  They will look like dozens of diamonds shimmering just under the surface.

Keeping shad alive are somewhat difficult and you should not overcrowd your live well when keeping them.   You can nose hook these baits, hook them right below the dorsal fin or hook them under the anal fin.

Free lining is the preferred method when fishing with live shad. Bass and other freshwater fish go bonkers for these baits.  Catching live bait for freshwater fishing can be just as fun as catching the fish that eats them.


Crickets catch a variety of freshwater fish from sunfish to largemouth bass.  Depending on your location most tackle stores should have a supply of crickets available for you.

You can fish these by free lining your bait without no weight or bobber.  Or you can fish these with a bobber and small weight just above your bait.


Crayfish are a favorite food source to smallmouth and largemouth bass.  Finding these crayfish can be done by finding small rocks and logs close to the shallows that you can lift up and move finding crayfish underneath them.

Slowly lift up smaller rocks and logs that could be home to these live baits.  Be careful when lifting up rocks and logs as other creatures like snakes could also call those areas home.

When you find a crayfish remember that they move backwards so position your net or hand behind the crayfish and spook it into the net.


Leeches are plentiful and probably the most easy bait to keep alive as they do not need a lot of food and are not as susceptible to cold temperature changes as are live minnows and white bait. Actually you should keep your live leeches in the refrigerator or on ice in containers with clean water.

Ribbon Leeches are the most common leaches that are used in fishing.  Walleye love leeches and should be tried if you have not used them yet.  Largemouth, smallmouth bass, and sunfish also love these baits.

Live Bait for Freshwater Fishing: How to rig your live bait

Take your live worm and thread it onto your hook.  Worms will try and wiggle off your hook.  Threading is necessary to keep the worm firmly on your hook.

Rigging Live Shiner

  1.  Nose Hooking your bait is ideal when there is current and you want to be able to freely retrieve your bait back to you.  Or if you are site casting to fish and need to drag your bait in front of  a moving target.
  2. Hooking your live bait towards the back of the tail will instinctively away from you.  Depending on how you move your rod you can make your bait dive deeper by lifting the tail higher driving the baits head down.
  3. Hook your shiner in the back.  This will work well if your fishing a float or balloon.
  4. Behind the ventral fin,  This method is great when fishing with a sinker off the bottom as your bait will constantly want to swim off the bottom.

Rigging Live Brim

Same rules apply as rigging a live shiner.

Rigging Live Brim

Same rules apply as rigging a live shiner.

Rigging Live Cricket

Take a long shank hook and run your hook up the back of the cricket and out its head.   You can fish these crickets on a small boober.

Rigging Live Crayfish

Hook a live crayfish in the horn right in front of the crayfish eyes.  You can also hook the crayfish through its back tail.  Rig these with a weight 2 feet up your line.

Rigging Live Leech

Hook a live leech through its suction cup.  use light line and small hooks.   Here is a great video on live leeches.

In closing

live bait for freshwater fishing isn’t that hard and can turn a bad day of fishing into a trip of a lifetime. Remember to follow these tips and keep your bait in the best shape you can by allowing for proper water flow and temperature.

Do not overcrowd live wells and buckets. Use hooks that match the size of your bait and you could have some stellar days on the water.

About The Author

Anthony Arcodia

A Florida Native, Anthony has been a lifelong fisherman and outdoorsman. As a child, he started fishing lakes around the South Florida area chasing bass which quickly spread to chasing snook and tarpon in the 10 thousand islands. Anthony has passed his love of the outdoors and fishing to his son and both continue to enjoy the great outdoors together while pursuing their passion of fishing.

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