The Best Times for Live Bait and Artificial Bait (Freshwater & Saltwater)

Live or artificial bait

All my life, I have fished both artificial and live bait. Of course, I seem to have more bites and catches with live, but artificial have yielded some great fish for me as well. To make a fish “take the bait,” we must make the bait look and act like the real thing. With today’s artificial, that has become much easier.

For beginners, live bait is the go-to bait because it takes a little time to learn to work artificial bait. The beginner may not have the ability to put the bait in the right spot, but live bait will sometimes pull the fish from their comfort areas. For more experienced anglers, they can easily go with either, but time may determine their ultimate lure. I’ll explain later how time plays into all of this.

As a beginner, you must study the movement of the minnow, shrimp, frog, crawfish or fly to help you fish the artificial. Also, knowing where the fish are moving (or sitting), with regard to the depth of water, is key. With that, you’ll learn to fish your bait on top, just under the surface or near the bottom. Local knowledge found from guides online notes to local fish & tackle shops is your best tip when fishing a new area.

When live bait is best

Live baits have the movement and smell that seems to attract fish better. We’ve all been told that action breeds action. The movements of the live bait attract the fish. For minnows, their desire to get off your hook puts the focus of fish directly on them. They not only make a commotion, but they give off the signal of a dying minnow with their struggle. The fish just know this is an easier take than chasing a healthy minnow through the water. The same goes with crawfish and shrimp. The one great asset of live bait is that it will catch a minnow to a ten pounder.

There are certain times where live just seems to be the better solution. These include:

  • You are or have a beginner and catching fish is the key.
  • Fishing late evening to night time.
  • Water is cloudy or muddy.
  • The weather has turned colder or is colder. Cold fronts tend to slow the fish down and push them down.
  • You have limited access to some structure or areas of moving water around a pier, dock or bridge.

When fishing live bait, be sure to take a towel and hand sanitizer or soap. No one likes to smell cut fish and worms on the ride home.

When artificials are best

Today’s artificial baits are so well made that then moving them properly through the water, you can’t tell if it’s a live bait or artificial. Here is what knowing how to fish the lure is key. The people that create these lures aren’t dummies. They’ve created this lure to move and look just like the real thing when fished properly.

Fishing artificials can be more fun too. Catching a bass or red on a top water lure is addictive. Most like the hunting aspect of artificials. So when is it best to fish artificials?

  • You want to cover a lot of area on the water.
  • You have clear water conditions.
  • A warm front has set in (cold fronts push the fish down and slow their eating pattern).
  • You are fishing aggressive species like bass, redfish and snook.
  • You don’t have time to go to the bait shop.

Companies like Gulp not only have created artificials to look like the real thing, but to emit a smell to attract the fish even more. Scents do play a role in artificials, but movement (action) is the key aspect to get a fish to move on your bait.

When live is not the best solution

For live bait, there are several drawbacks. These include:

  • Finding the bait store within proximity of where you’ll fish.
  • Keeping the bait alive for the entire time you are fishing.
  • Purchasing the right amount (and not too much on slow days).
  • Recurring costs with purchasing bait.
  • Buying the wrong live bait. You get out there and realize their hitting shrimp, not mud minnows or live worms versus minnows.
  • Kids can become bored watching a bobber.

While there are some downsides to live bait, it will generally yield more bites and give the young/novice angler more of an opportunity to find success. Also, if you can begin to catch your own bait, this will further reduce your costs and increase your opportunities.

When artificials are not the best solution

Artificial lures, as said, have come a long way over the years. The innovations and numerous choices give anglers the opportunity for greater success. However, there are still some drawbacks that can’t be overlooked. These include:

  • They can be expensive, especially if you are a novice to testing a new reel.
  • More easily caught on limbs, grass, lily pads, especially treble hooks.
  • You have the wrong color artificial. Yes, color does matter.
  • You need to be good at fishing your equipment.
  • No rest. You are constantly fishing that lure as constant motion is required.
  • You generally need a cleared embankment, access or some type of vehicle (boat, kayak or paddle board) to reach areas where these fish reside.

For saltwater anglers, frozen bait is a good in-between solution. Cut shrimp, squid and mullet are great attractants and can be easily stored in your home freezer. At our home in Charleston, we keep a few in the freezer for those quick trips. To increase our opportunities on these trips, we’ll fish both the cut bait and artificials.

As you can tell, there are good times and not so good times for both baits. Having two younger children, I adapt to both, but spend ample time teaching my kids how to successfully fish their artificial lures. For most of us, we need to ask ourselves the following questions to determine your direction that day:

  1. What – What am I fishing for?
  2. Time – Do I have time to go get live bait?
  3. Who – Am I fishing with a younger, less experienced angler?
  4. Where – Where am I fishing and if I have access, how much area do I want to cover?
  5. Goal – Catch fish or catch big enough fish for dinner?

With what has been presented above, you should have a good indication to your direction. However, if your answer is “I am a beginner or novice,” then you need to always take a tackle box with the artificials and learn. Again, watch the water.

The three ways to learn are (in order):

  1. Go with a guide and let him/her teach you. It is worth it.
  2. Ask the local tackle shop to show you the lure(s) to buy and how to use them.
  3. YouTube- Watch a fishing show and learn by being on the water. That is how most of us learned before TV shows and YouTube.

Spring is soon here and the fish will be spawning and moving. Take this time to research and learn. On days when warmer weather sits in for three steady days, get to your closest body of water and have fun. GoRule!

Mitch Smith
Mitch Smith
Mitch Smith is passionate about the outdoors. Raised on farm land in Kershaw, SC, he loved the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing. The outdoors is a great classroom for learning truths about life. Today, he is passing on this passion to his children, as well as other youth. He launched the non-profit GoRule in the hopes of helping youth, and their families, get outdoors and enjoy hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and other outdoor activities. He has launched multiple technology companies and is a published author, national speaker, coach to executive leaders and mentor to young businessmen.