Live Bait for Lake Erie Ice Fishing

By Andy Whitcomb

Jan 12, 2021

Lake Erie ice fishing is widely popular as a winter fishing destination! Read more on why live bait increases your chances of catching fish while ice fishing. 

Lake Erie is one of the premier fisheries in the U.S. Even during the winter, Lake Erie ice fishing is a great attraction. There is a great variety of species to target and plenty of room on that massive lake. One way to help narrow down how to fish when ice fishing on Lake Erie, is to consider what live bait is available.

Small minnows

To a great extent, everything eats small minnows. However, when ice fishing Lake Erie perch (yellow perch) and walleye, a bucket of small minnows certainly increases your chances of success. Light line and small hooks or jigs are used with small minnows and a depth finder will help get you in the right spot, which could be well off shore. If you’d rather not venture out so far, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and crappie can be caught in the bays.

Large minnows

“The larger the bait, the larger the fish” is a general rule. Because of the very large fish potential when ice fishing on Lake Erie, you’ll need to upsize the hook and line to 8 or 10 pounds. Double digit walleye and lake trout lurk offshore; while pike and largemouth bass hang around the remaining vegetation closer to shore.

Wax worms and maggots

There are containers of these tiny bits of bait in refrigerators in bait shops, but also most big box and convenience stores near Lake Erie. Tipped on mini sized hooks or micro jigs, these morsels will catch not only yellow perch, sunfish, and smelt, but steelhead. A steelhead on a tiny ice fishing rod is something you’ll never forget.

Before venturing out, be sure to check the Lake Erie ice fishing report, not just for the fishing action but for the conditions of the ice. Four inches is a general minimum for “safe ice.” However, ice strength varies and all standard ice fishing safety precautions should be taken such as life jackets, ice picks, cell phones, and a buddy willing to venture out with you. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York state DNR and fish and wildlife department web sites provide Lake Erie ice fishing reports and conditions. Bait shops and fishing guides often post these conditions to their customers on social media platforms also.

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.