Ice fishing takes a certain mindset reserved for dedicated anglers and those who enjoy the peace out on a frozen lake. If you are preparing to go ice fishing, you might wonder: Do I need live bait for ice fishing?
You don’t need to use live bait for ice fishing, as people have plenty of success using jigs and other artificial lures to entice fish. Live bait is, however, the best option for beginners due to its simplicity and is irresistible to fish, leading to more bites when fishing is tough otherwise.
Below are the pros and cons of using live bait for ice fishing to help you decide if it is the right choice for you.
Live bait has been a fishing staple for one reason: it works. The natural fish diet includes insects and smaller fish, so using these makes it as irresistible as possible for the fish.
A common phrase you’ll hear when talking about fishing is “match the hatch,” which means to use baits and lures similar to what the fish are already eating.
Using live bait is the most accurate way to do this since that is what the fish are eating anyways!
Live bait may be the way to go if all your friends are using lures and aren’t having any luck.
Most people going ice fishing will say that they have the most confidence in using live bait, and those that have been ice fishing for a long time likely caught their personal best on live bait.
Live bait works so well for ice fishing because of the natural movement and smells that the bait puts off. Artificial lures simply cannot match the exact way a bait fish or a worm wiggles around in the water.
Hungry fish can’t pass up the opportunity for an easy meal dangling in their face, making live bait the ideal choice if you are going to have the best chance at getting a bite.
If you are a beginner at ice fishing or are bringing a friend or child who doesn’t yet know the techniques associated with lure fishing, they’ll probably have a better time with live bait.
One of the best parts of using live bait for ice fishing is that the bait will do most of the work for you!
Minnows will swim around in the water like an injured fish (because they are), or worms will wiggle around on the hook, and this movement will attract fish.
Compare this to using lures which is somewhat more of an art where you need to jig with a bit of finesse; otherwise, you might scare the fish away.
Selecting the right bait to use will depend on the species you’re targeting, but live bait will attract a broader range of fish than using a lure.
Proper bait selection is especially relevant to fish that are very line sensitive and weary to bite. A minnow on the end of a hook will attract bluegill to pike, while a spoon might not seem so appealing to the fish.
An injured fish will attract more bites from fish of all sizes, which may or may not be what you’re after if you’re trying to avoid catching tiny panfish or if you’re going strictly for quantity.
Sizing up or down your bait choice will help with that, but if you use only a large type of bait, you’ll only be able to catch the fish that can fit your bait in their mouth.
Since the fish taking the bait react in a highly food-motivated way, they’ll take live bait much more aggressively than when they only nibble at an artificial lure.
More aggressive strikes increase hook-up ratios since you’re setting the hook much deeper in the fish’s mouth, and they’re almost guaranteed not to get off.
As long as you are planning on keeping the fish you catch while ice fishing, this is a good thing, but if you’re planning on catch and release, this may be a downside since gut-hooked fish are less likely to survive when released.
If you only go ice fishing a few times a year, buying live bait can be much cheaper than buying lures.
A tub of mealworms or spikes won’t cost more than a few dollars, and you can get a dozen minnows for less than $10 in most places.
Compare this to the cost of lures, where you can spend $5-8 for a single lure that you risk breaking off if you get snagged.
While there are many great reasons to use live bait, there are a few drawbacks to using live bait as well.
The first major drawback of using live bait is that there can be a lot of extra equipment you take with you on the ice.
If you use insects in tubs, these don’t take up a lot of extra space, but using minnows and other fish can require additional equipment.
A bubbler and a bucket full of water are about the minimum amount of equipment you’ll need to hold fish, which can add a lot of additional weight to your trip.
Most live bait is only effective under one condition: it is still alive. If something goes wrong with your live bait container, you risk losing all of the bait you brought with you for the trip.
The other problem is that you might use up all the bait-catching fish or have a problem with the bait coming off the hook.
Before you know it, you might be all out of usable bait, and you have to make a run to the bait shop to pick up more.
Depending on how far away you are and the timing, you might be unable to pick up more bait easily, and then you’re out of luck.
The stinkier the bait, the more scents there are for the fish to follow and will get you more bites, but you also will wind up smelling like the bait you use.
There aren’t many ways to hook bait onto a hook without getting all those oils over your hands and possibly your clothes.
On top of the smell, you’re guaranteed to make a bit of a mess when hooking live bait, which comes with the territory.
For most fishermen, this is expected, but if you’re new to ice fishing, this is something to keep in mind.
Another drawback of using live bait is that not every body of water will allow the use of it. Some places will require lures and flies only, even in the winter.
While this is an uncommon rule, sticking to a live bait plan can limit the waters you have available to fish.
Always check local regulations and rules for the specific body of water you are planning on fishing to ensure that you’re following all the rules.
Ice fishing with live bait is probably the easiest way to do so and will help you catch more fish, whether you’re brand new or have been doing it your whole life.
Live bait is recommended for people catching to keep, beginners, and those trying to catch as many fish as possible!
If you are looking for the most active form of fishing and something a little bit sportier, then lure fishing might be the right choice.