Bait Fish I Have Known

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Whitcomb is a columnist, outdoor humorist, and stressed-out Dad. He says there are “people who fish”… and there are “fishermen”.  One of the few things he knows is that he is a “fisherman”...  To the point it could be classified as borderline illness.  Sharing this obsession is rewarding, therapeutic. He likes to encourage people to “stop and smell the crappie."  Enjoys catching fish, but gets a greater thrill out of helping someone else hook up.
Born in Florida, but raised on the banks of Oklahoma farm ponds. Now relocated to western Pennsylvania. He has fished, worked, lived all around the US.  He has a B.S. in Zoology from Oklahoma State as well...
And he met his wife while electrofishing. He has been contributing weekly to www.takemefishing.org since 2011.