Freshwater game fish, from crappies and bluegills, to walleyes, pikes, catfish, and bass, each have their preferences when it comes to meals. When fish are hungry, they will invariably try to eat nearly anything that looks interesting to them. If the object is alive and moving or if the bait appears to look like a natural food source in the fish’s environment, all the better. What constitutes “good fishing bait” depends on the species being stalked and numerous environmental conditions. But there are several general guidelines about what baits are good for what fishing.
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Whether they are live earthworms, grubs or redworms, worms are interesting food to most species of game fish. The smallest, scrappiest bluegill fry will go after a small portion of an earthworm like gangbusters. Catfish are known to bite on big globs of worms, including relatively dead earthworms. Soft plastic worms, which come in dozens of sizes and colors, are very good baits for most larger game fish like bass.
Many species of game fish actively feed on smaller fish found in their environment, including shad, minnows and small fry of bass, crappie, carp and bluegills. The world's record bass -- 22 pounds, 4 ounces, as of May 2010 -- was caught in July 2009 using a baby bluegill as bait.
Most game fish are also happy eating tadpoles, frogs, lizards and crayfish, amphibians often found in lake, pond and stream eco-systems. Live specimens are going to be very popular with the fish, but soft plastic artificial lures that look like the real thing can be equally effective.
Game fish eat bugs. Flies, grasshoppers, butterflies and even bees make attractive meals. When live, bugs can be irresistible to fish, but they can be just as effective in the soft plastic form when they are presented properly with good casting and retrieval techniques.
Stink or Dough Baits
Catfish in particular love smelly things, since they have a highly developed sense of smell, and are drawn to what the rest of the fish world would consider pure garbage. Stink baits made from aged chicken livers, aged cheeses and other unsavory food products make a lethal catfish bait when rolled into a dough ball and pressed around a large hook.
Artificial Jigs and Flies
Lures designed to mimic insects are effective on game fish found in lakes and streams, like trout. Jigs come in all sizes, from small rigs meant for panfish such as crappie and bluegill, to larger rigs more appropriate for lunker bass. Delicate hand-tied flies are the bait of choice for the fly fisherman.
There are hundreds of different kinds of artificial lures, so many that it is indeed hard to tell sometimes which are effective in catching fish and which are wash-outs. But spinner baits and crank baits continue to be popular. Each local or national fishing pro will have her preference in lure makes and models: Research about the properties of these lures, and how they should be presented to the fish is important.