BlogAugust 2016

5 Popular Bait Fish you can use

5 Popular Bait Fish you can use

By Andy Whitcomb

Aug 08, 2016

Learn how to catch more fish by using live bait. Skilled angler describes five popular bait fish and what they catch, including key details such as size, strength, and oxygen tolerance. What do big bass find irresistible? Find out here.

Perhaps the most sure-fire way to consistently catch fish is to use live bait. Big fish eat little fish. That’s just the way it is. The angler just goes along for the ride. Depending on your part of the country, available bait fish may vary. What live bait to use depends on what you want to catch. Your choice also may be influenced by factors such as size, oxygen tolerance, strength, and castability.

5 Popular Bait Fish you can use

  1. Fathead minnows. Small, usually about 2 inches but tough and one of the most tolerant of low oxygen minnow bucket conditions. Popular for sunfish and crappie under a bobber. They are also commonly paired with a jig to catch walleye. You may be able to find some brighter colored fathead minnows called “rosy reds” in your area.
  2. Golden Shiners. Larger. Average about 4 inches but may reach 8-10 inches which are irresistible for big bass. Stronger swimmers but need plenty of aeration.
  3. Gizzard shad. Larger still, but thin and soft, making them difficult to cast. Also, if you look at them crossed-eyed, they will all roll belly up in the bucket. Make sure you have a big live well and tons of aeration. Alive, these are striper candy. Gizzard shad that have expired will still catch any channel or blue catfish in the area.
  4. Sunfish. Check your state regulations. Where legal, a 4-inch bluegill is dynamite for big bass, flathead catfish, channel catfish, and pike. These are the strongest swimmers and have the best casting distance.
  5. Regional favorites. Visit with the locals. For example, there is a darter species in the Allegheny River locally referred to as a “river runner” which is highly prized by walleye anglers.

Before you choose a bait fish, make sure you check your state regulations carefully. Live bait may not even be allowed in many waters. The accidental introduction of a bait fish in a body of water either through release or escape can disrupt the balance. But with the right choice, it is easy to get your fishing license and “fish on!”

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.