Canadian nightcrawlers catch about everything with fins, even though some youngsters still squirm with fear about dipping their hands into bait containers full of the wiggling creatures. From bass and panfish, to walleyes, trout and pike, a large healthy nightcrawler is a ringing dinner bell.
While no natural bait used for fishing is going to win any beauty contest, the ones included here are as ugly as Osama bin Laden in a dress. Frankly, If Ugly Betty fishes, these are the baits she’d send down for a lunker. But they all catch fish, and that’s what’s important. So take note of these butt-ugly baits, and get over your natural repulsion as you catch them, handle them, and thread them on hooks for a multitude of piscatorial prizes. American eels are fish, or so say biologists. But they are more like snakes than something with gills, and they are as slimy and wiggly as anything on earth. But for fish like striped bass and cobia, NOTHING comes close to duping the biggest of those species than a live eel. Largemouth bass living in coastal waters love ’em, too.
Canadian nightcrawlers catch about everything with fins, even though some youngsters still squirm with fear about dipping their hands into bait containers full of the wiggling creatures. From bass and panfish, to walleyes, trout and pike, a large healthy nightcrawler is a ringing dinner bell.
Leopard frogs are caught by youngsters walking river and lake edges throughout the country. And while they make fun pets, they are excellent live baits for bass and pike. Hooked through the lips or one hind leg, they live a long time, and tempt finicky fish.
Fiddler crabs get their name from the one oversize pincher claw that looks a bit like a fiddle the crustacean is playing. But remove the big claw, thread the crab on a hook, and a number of inshore marine fish are the result, including sheepshead, black drum and redfish.
Crayfish of many species inhabit creeks and rivers, lakes and ponds throughout the nation, and everywhere they’re found fish go bonkers for them. Softshell crawfish are perhaps the best smallmouth bass bait of all time. Largemouths, walleyes, pike and striped bass love them, too.
The sandworm may be the ugliest of the ugly baits. But surf fishermen have used them for almost every coastal species available along the northeast Atlantic shoreline.
Aahhhhh, grasshopper…you tempt so many fish in summer, especially near grassy banks where wind blows bugs into the waiting maws of trout, panfish and bass. These easy-to-catch-in-the-cool-of-the-morning baits can be fished many ways, but a small, single hook threaded crosswise through the back works great.
The coastal, saltwater-living mantis shrimp has no chance of winning a beauty contest. But for fishermen working inlet waters for redfish and black drum, the baits are deadly effective. Threaded onto a hook, bait-stealers like pinfish and crabs can’t pull the hard-shell mantis shrimp away from the steel. So when a drum or redfish happens along, the mantis shrimp bait is still intact, and dupes the gamefish into taking.
Salamanders, sirens, mudpuppies and waterdogs are all effective baits, and are especially popular with bass anglers in the Deep South. Many varieties of salamanders (and their larva form, waterdogs) are found throughout the U.S., and are effective also for smallmouth bass, walleyes, pike, pickerel and catfish.
Sting rays are dangerous and pack a powerful wallop from their stinger (remember crocodile hunter Steve Irwin’s death from a stinger through the heart). But they are one of the best baits available for giant sharks. Fished whole with multiple hooks, they dupe colossal sharps, like the world record hammerhead caught by Captain Bucky Dennis at Florida’s Boca Grande Pass in 2006. That fish took a 20-pound stingray bait, and the 1,282-pound hammerhead set an IGFA world record.
Catalpa worms feed on catalpa (“Catawba”) trees and are easy to find, spot and catch. A tree with worms may yield hundreds of baits, which are excellent for nearly all types of panfish and small bass.
Bloodworms are icky to look at, weird to the touch, but they slam a multitude of Atlantic Coast saltwater fish, including bluefish, striped bass, weakfish and fluke.
Be careful how you get wasp larva, as adults usually are guarding the nest. But once the stinging protectors are dispatched, dozens of grub-like wasp larva are available for fish bait. Panfish and trout are suckers for these grubs.
Atlantic and Gulf coast areas teem with blue crabs, and they made superior marine fishing baits almost everywhere they’re found. Small whole crabs 2 to 3 inches wide are tops for permit, tarpon, cobia and other species. Larger crabs broken into pieces score big on bottom feeders like black drum and redfish. Softshell blue crabs are hard to beat for striped bass.
Hellgrammites are fierce-looking creatures common to many rocky-bottom freshwater rivers and lakes. They have a pair of large pinchers at the head and can bite, so be careful. A fine-wire hook threaded under the hard “collar” just behind the head is the place to barb them for bait. Smallmouth and largemouth bass, pickerel, rock bass and other panfish find hellgrammites irresistible.
Squid are among the most common and popular of all marine baits. They’re also one of the ugliest — and yes, they have ink. Used whole for trolling they catch everything from billfish to cobia. Cut into pieces, they produce all manner of bottomfish, including snapper and grouper.
Leeches are loved by most people about as much as other blood suckers like Dracula. But for fishing, they are choice, particularly for walleyes, smallmouth bass, trout and many panfish species like yellow perch and rock bass. Ribbon leeches are best, but even large “horse” leeches can be used for catfish and freshwater drum.
The little sand flea is found in coastal beaches throughout much of the East and Gulf coasts. A bit of digging produces plenty of the hard-shell fleas, which when threaded onto a hook and cast into surf, produces drum and good-eating pompano.
Crickets of several varieties make remarkable panfish baits that are especially popular with Southern bream fishermen. Crickets also are good stream smallmouth offerings.
Tiny grass shrimp are extremely abundant in southern waters where hydrilla, water lettuce, milfoil and other plants abound. Shake some plants over a white bucket, and grass shrimp baits for the asking usually rain down. Most grass shrimp measure about ½-inch in length, but several threaded onto a hook score big on panfish – including crappies in some waters.
It’s hard to love a maggot, unless you’re a panfisherman. These fly larva are wiggly, ugly, and pretty icky, but threaded onto a hook and fished under a bobber, they produce bluegills, perch, rock bass and sunfish like few other baits. Some commercially-produced maggots come in colors, like bright pink, which is believed to be more attractive to fish.
Meal worms are commonly found in America’s bait shops, and this beetle larva works well for trout, panfish and catfish throughout the country.