Here are some live bait rigs to keep your rod bent at all times.
I know we all think it's a little dirty, but there are times when live bait rigs may be the way to go for bass fishing. They are highly effective (hence the stigma since some fishermen think it's cheating), and if you're fishing with children it can help nurture a long-term interest. Live bait rigs can also be a last resort during the worst fishing conditions.
You can still go fish-less if you bait fish wrong. To keep that from happening, we've put together some tips for rigging live bait.
What to Fish
There seems to be a small canon of effective live bait species: minnows, night crawlers, and crayfish. In addition to that, there's shad and shiner for attracting larger fish, and hellgrammites.
Night crawlers should be struck off the list altogether. The problem is that they work too well--they can hook large bass, but you'll land a dozen panfish for every bass that strikes. If you're targeting bass specifically, this is a hassle.
As for the others, all can work well, keeping in mind that minnows will work best for smaller bass in shallow water, while shiner and shad are meant for larger bass in deeper water. Crayfish and hellgrammites are native to shallow water and streams, but fish don't seem to be too suspicious if you fish them out on the lake. For obvious reasons, you'll want to fish nearly all of these on a drift--an active retrieve will look just plain weird to the fish, and put stress on the bait.
Hooks to Use
For best results with live bait rigs, it's critical that you treat the bait as gently as possible. For most bait rigs you want to be careful not to impale the bait on an oversized hook. Practically speaking, hook sizes will range from size 4 for the smallest minnows to a maximum 4/0 for crayfish. Baitfish should be hooked through both jaws, crayfish through the tails, and hellgrammites at the joint between the head and the abdomen, often called the "collar."
Purpose-made live bait hooks obviously work best, but in a pinch you can go with fly hooks. It's highly recommended that you not use a treble.
Following the same principle above, a lot of live bait fishermen recommend fishing without weights wherever possible. Natural movement is the biggest advantage to live bait, and a sinker can hinder their ability to move. Sometimes a drop shot will be necessary to get the bait to the right depth. If you need to do this, fish the lightest dropper you can get away with. Experts also recommend fishing with bobbers or indicators.
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Pre-packaged or Captured on Site?
If you have the patience and the tools, it's worth your time to try and catch bait live on site. Fresh bait will be better at attracting fish. For shallow water the simplest way to gather bait fish is with a torpedo trap, which is usually very affordable.
Shad and other deepwater baitfish may require a casting net to harvest efficiently. Crayfish and hellgrammites can be found under rocks and other obstructions in shallow water. Crayfish can be gathered using a special trap. Hellgrammites can be seined or picked up by hand. To seine them, have one person scrape the undersides of rocks and logs, while another holds the seine downstream. Hopefully the hellgrammites will come loose and drift into the net.
Live bait rigging can sometimes be a pain, and a bit gross, but it's worth it in the end. It makes sense to fish with the food the bass are actually eating and you won't be disappointed at the end of the day.
Live bait rigging will get you bass every time.