When we are out fishing, bait is one of our more crucial elements. It is one of the main things that can help us entice fish to bite. Fish are creatures that follow their instincts and they are very opportunistic. Even if they aren’t feeding, they are hard wired to take an easy meal if it presents itself. Depending on the species you are after, the best ice fishing baits may vary quite a bit. Let’s talk about some of the live baits that can be used for a wide variety of fish.
Minnows- Use a fish to catch a fish
Minnows are one of my favorite live baits to use. These can be purchased from your local bait shop or netted at your local lake if you want to do more work. You will need a bucket with water to keep them alive. They also sell buckets with water aerators to help keep your minnows alive for longer.
Minnows are great because they do most of the work for you. Typically you can hook them through the lip or under their dorsal fins and they will stay alive on your hook. This keeps some action on the end of your line and helps entice the fish. I like to put a minnow on a small jig and jig it frequently or even dead stick with it. There are different minnows you can use depending on what species you are after. Typically, I try to go for smaller minnows around 2 inches but it depends on what you are fishing for.
Minnow heads are also quite popular for tipping jigging spoons or jigging raps. Many people who fish for walleye swear by using just the head of the minnow. If you are targeting walleye, give this a try.
The main drawback with minnows is that they are harder to keep alive than most live bait. You have to keep the water from freezing and without having an aerator (which adds oxygen to the water) your minnows will only live somewhere between a couple days and a couple weeks.
Nightcrawlers are probably the most popular worm species for fishing. You can catch every species where I am from using these. They are quite versatile and can be presented on the end of a lure or as a stand alone bait.
Nightcrawlers are easy to find in your backyard if you water or after it rains. Once the ground becomes saturated they will come to the surface. They can also be purchased at almost any bait shop, and most covenience stores near lakes will have them too.
Nightcrawlers are very low maintenance and can survive in your fridge for several months without much effort.
Mealworms and Waxworms
Both meal worms and wax worms make for a solid bait. These serve as a nice alternative to standard nightcrawlers. More often than not I use one of these two for ice fishing as opposed to nightcrawlers. These also last a while if you keep their bedding moist. This can be done by removing them from fridge putting a sliced carrot in the container and letting it sit in there for a day. Make sure that you remove the carrot before putting it back in the fridge.
Corn off the cob
Corn is actually an effective bait for catching a wide variety of fish as well. Canned corn works just fine. The benefits are pretty obvious here; cheap, easy to find and store, and will last a long time. If your local regulations allow for it, drop some in the hole before you drop your bait down. Don’t forget the can opener.
Doughball is another bait that can be used for a variety of different species and something that you can make at home pretty easily. This works great for catfish and carp, but I’ve heard this can work for lots of different species. This can be done by taking a loaf of soft bread or canned biscuits (already baked) and adding honey (to keep them together) and different ingredients for scent in the water. I have made these in the past by simply taking soft white bread and slowly adding bacon grease until it is soft enough to mold, but also firm enugh stay on the hook for casting. If you are combining the ingredients by hand, you should be able to tell when you reach this point. There are a variety of different recipes online.
The gullet is a soft piece of flesh located on the bottom of the fish head directly underneath the gills. This is very smelly part of the fish and many anglers recommend using this to catch more fish. Walleye is one species where you will see a lot of people recommending this. Simply remove the gullet and use it to tip your jig or lure with. This is a tip I rarely see but many top anglers swear by this trick.
Salmon eggs are collected from spawning salmon and then cured and put in jars. These can also be put into small sacks called spawn sacks. Salmon eggs are generally used for a large variety of fish. They are generally used for cold water species in places where salmon could reside, but they are not limited to these species alone. They do work very vell for trout species such as rainbows, lake trout, browns, and brookies. Salmon species love them as well. Through my research, I have also found cases of people catching perch, bass, and mony other species on them.
The bait list never ends
Researching baits is a great reminder that there are literally hundreds of different varieties of bait that can be used, and hundreds of ways to present these baits. The important thing to remember is that you should always have a couple bait options and experiment with them.
Sometimes we get too comfortable with what we know and it can end up costing us fish. Next time you get out on your favorite body of water, I challenge you to look for a different bait option and presentation. Especially if the fishing is slow, why not experiment? Maybe we can find some new ways to put more fish on the ice.
If you have any other favorite baits that you love to use or presentations that you swear by, I would love to hear about it in the comments!