Ice Fishing Guru

What are the best live baits to use for successful ice fishing

As the winter season approaches, ice fishing enthusiasts eagerly prepare for their favorite pastime. But what’s the secret to a successful ice fishing expedition? The answer lies in the choice of live baits.

Whether you’re a seasoned angler or new to the sport, selecting the right live bait can make all the difference in attracting and hooking those elusive fish beneath the frozen surface.

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of ice fishing and reveal the best live baits to use for a fruitful outing. From maggots to minnows, we’ll explore each option’s unique advantages and share tips on how to maximize their effectiveness.

Get ready to enhance your ice fishing game with these top-notch live baits!

II. Minnows

A. Explanation of why minnows are a top choice for many ice fishermen

When it comes to ice fishing, minnows are often considered one of the top live bait choices for a variety of reasons. As a professional angler with years of experience, I can provide you with a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of using minnows as live bait for ice fishing. Understanding these factors will help increase your chances of a successful ice fishing trip.

B. Tips on how to use minnows effectively when ice fishing

When using minnows as bait for ice fishing, it’s important to follow these tips to maximize your success:

  1. Choose the right size: Select minnows that are appropriate for the size of the fish you are targeting. Larger minnows, such as fatheads or shiners, are ideal for catching predatory fish like walleye or northern pike, while smaller minnows, such as golden shiners or emerald shiners, are better suited for panfish like perch or crappie.
  2. Keep minnows lively: Active and lively minnows are more likely to attract fish. Use a bait bucket with an aerator to maintain oxygen levels and keep the minnows healthy and energetic.
  3. Use the right rigging technique: There are various rigging techniques for using minnows in ice fishing. Common methods include using a small jighead, a tip-up rig, or a bobber rig. Experiment with different setups to see what works best for your fishing conditions and target species.
  4. Present the minnow naturally: When rigging the minnow, make sure it looks as natural as possible. Hook the minnow through the back or lips to allow it to swim freely. Avoid rigging the minnow too deeply, as it may hinder its movement and reduce its appeal to fish.
  5. Keep an eye on your bait: Stay vigilant and watch for any signs of fish activity near your bait. If a fish is showing interest but not taking the bait, try twitching or gently jigging the minnow to simulate movement and entice the fish to strike.

C. Different species of minnows that are preferred for ice fishing

When it comes to selecting the right minnows for ice fishing, there are several species that are commonly preferred:

  1. Fathead Minnows: Fathead minnows are widely used for ice fishing due to their hardiness and availability. They are particularly effective for catching walleye, northern pike, and bass.
  2. Shiners: Shiners, such as golden shiners or emerald shiners, are popular choices for targeting larger predatory fish like muskie or lake trout. Their larger size and strong scent make them enticing to these species.
  3. Roach: Roach minnows are commonly used for ice fishing in European countries and have gained popularity in North America as well. They are effective for catching a variety of fish, including pike, perch, or zander.
  4. Sucker Minnows: Sucker minnows, such as creek chubs, are often used when targeting larger fish like pike or muskie. Their larger size and strong odor make them an irresistible meal for these predator species.

Before using live minnows for ice fishing, it is essential to check local regulations regarding baitfish usage and transportation restrictions. Some areas may have specific rules to prevent the spread of invasive species or diseases.

III. Waxworms

A. Details about waxworms and why they make a good bait choice

Waxworms, the larvae of the wax moth, are a popular live bait choice for ice fishing enthusiasts. These small, cream-colored worms have a soft body and are readily available at bait shops and online suppliers. Here are some reasons why waxworms are an excellent bait choice for ice fishing:

  • Attractive scent and taste: Waxworms emit a natural scent that can attract fish from a distance. Many fish species are instinctively drawn to the smell and taste of these worms, making them highly effective as bait.
  • Longevity: Waxworms have a relatively long lifespan compared to other live baits, allowing them to remain active in the water for extended periods. This makes them an ideal choice for anglers who prefer to keep their lines in the water for longer durations.
  • Easy to handle: Waxworms are user-friendly for anglers of all skill levels. They are small and can be easily hooked, which makes them a convenient bait option when ice fishing.
  • Versatility: Waxworms can be used to target a wide range of fish species, including panfish such as bluegill and crappie, as well as larger predator fish like walleye and trout. Their versatility and effectiveness make waxworms a go-to bait for many ice fishermen.

B. Instructions on properly hooking and presenting waxworms

When using waxworms as bait for ice fishing, it’s important to present them in a way that maximizes their appeal to fish. Follow these steps to properly hook and present waxworms:

  1. Thread the worm onto the hook: Take a small, sharp ice fishing hook and carefully thread the body of the waxworm onto it. Be cautious not to damage or tear the worm during this process.
  2. Expose the hook point: Ensure that the hook point is fully exposed to increase the chances of a successful hookset. This can be done by piercing the worm near its head and guiding the hook point out of the body.
  3. Adjust the hooks placement: Depending on the size and behavior of the fish you are targeting, you can place the hook either through the middle or towards the end of the waxworm. Experiment with different placements to find the most effective presentation.
  4. Suspend the bait: Waxworms can be suspended at various depths in the water column, depending on the target fish species. Attach a split shot sinker or use a specialized ice fishing jig to provide weight and control the depth at which the waxworm is presented.

C. Types of fish that are attracted to waxworms

Waxworms are a versatile bait that can attract a variety of fish species under the ice. Here are some of the common fish species that are attracted to waxworms:

  • Panfish: Bluegill, crappie, perch, and sunfish are particularly fond of waxworms. These small fish have a voracious appetite and are often found in schools, making them ideal targets for waxworm presentations.
  • Trout: Trout, including rainbow trout and brook trout, are known to be attracted to waxworms. These fish are often found in freshwater lakes and ponds and can be enticed by the scent and movement of a properly presented waxworm.
  • Walleye: Walleye are predatory fish that are known to strike at waxworms. When targeting walleye, it is important to present the bait near the bottom of the water column, where these fish typically feed.
  • Perch: Perch are opportunistic feeders and can be easily tempted by a waxworm presentation. These fish are commonly found in schools and can provide an exciting ice fishing experience when using waxworms.

IV. Mealworms

A. Highlighting the appeal of mealworms as a bait in ice fishing

Mealworms are a popular and effective choice for ice fishing bait. These small, elongated, and wriggly larvae of darkling beetles have several characteristics that make them appealing to ice fishermen. Understanding the benefits of using mealworms can help increase your chances of success on the ice.

  • Availability: Mealworms are readily available at bait shops, pet stores, and online. Their popularity as a bait option ensures that you can easily find and purchase them in large quantities, making them convenient for ice fishing trips.
  • Longevity: Mealworms have a relatively long lifespan compared to other live bait options. When kept in a cool environment, such as a refrigerator, mealworms can stay alive for several weeks. This extended lifespan allows anglers to use the same batch of mealworms for multiple fishing outings, reducing the need for constant bait replenishment.
  • Appeal to fish: Many fish species find mealworms irresistible. The natural movement and scent of live mealworms in the water are highly attractive to fish, enticing them to bite. The soft body and small size of mealworms make them an enticing and easily digestible prey option for a variety of fish species.

B. Suggestions on how to utilize mealworms to attract fish under the ice

Using mealworms effectively requires proper presentation and technique. Follow these suggestions to maximize the effectiveness of mealworms as bait for ice fishing:

  • Rigging: When rigging mealworms, use a small hook appropriate for the size of the bait. Thread the mealworm onto the hook, ensuring that it is secure and the hook is fully exposed. This presentation allows the mealworm to move naturally in the water, attracting fish to strike.
  • Depth: Experiment with different depths to find where the fish are biting. Start by fishing near the bottom and gradually adjust your depth until you find the most productive zone. Fish tend to be more active and aggressive towards mealworms during certain times of the day, so be prepared to adjust your depth accordingly.
  • Tip-ups: Consider using mealworms on a tip-up line. Tip-ups are ice fishing traps that suspend your baited hook beneath the ice. The natural movement of the mealworms in the water can attract fish from a distance. Ensure that your tip-up is properly set and regularly check for any flags indicating a fish bite.

C. The types of fish most likely to bite on mealworms

Mealworms are versatile bait options that attract a wide range of fish species. While preferences may vary depending on the location and specific fish population, some common fish that are known to be attracted to mealworms include:

  • Panfish: Bluegill, sunfish, and crappie are commonly enticed by mealworms. These small, aggressive fish species find the movements and scent of mealworms hard to resist, making them excellent targets when using this bait.
  • Trout: Both rainbow trout and brown trout are known to be attracted to mealworms. These popular sportfish are often stocked in ice fishing lakes and ponds, and they readily bite on mealworms presented in a natural and enticing manner.
  • Perch: Perch are voracious feeders and are attracted to the movement of mealworms. Their small mouths make mealworms an ideal-sized bait option, and they often eagerly bite when presented correctly.
  • Walleye: Walleye can also be attracted to mealworms, especially when they are in a feeding frenzy. Experiment with different depths and presentations to entice these elusive predators.

V. Shrimp

A. Discussion on the effectiveness of shrimp as ice fishing bait

Shrimp are not only a delicious seafood delicacy but also an effective bait choice for ice fishing. These crustaceans offer several advantages that make them enticing to fish species beneath the ice.

One of the primary reasons shrimp are a popular live bait option is their strong scent. Shrimp have a distinct odor that can attract fish from a distance, especially those with a keen sense of smell. The scent of shrimp can quickly pique the interest of various fish species lurking beneath the icy surface, increasing your chances of a successful catch.

Additionally, shrimp have vibrant colors and a realistic appearance, mimicking the natural prey of many fish species. This visual appeal can trigger a predatory response from fish, enticing them to strike. The realistic movement of the shrimp as it is presented in the water can further attract fish, making it a highly effective bait choice.

B. Tips for preparing and presenting shrimp to entice fish

When using shrimp as ice fishing bait, it is essential to prepare and present it in a way that maximizes its effectiveness. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of using shrimp as bait:

  1. Freshness matters: Use fresh or frozen shrimp for the best results. Avoid using shrimp that have been sitting in your tackle box for an extended period, as they may lose their scent and appeal.
  2. Tail-on or tail-off: Depending on the fish species you are targeting, you can choose to present shrimp with the tail intact or remove it. Some fish, like panfish and trout, are more inclined to bite on shrimp with the tail attached, as it provides extra movement and visual appeal.
  3. Hook placement: When hooking shrimp, it is crucial to insert the hook through the tough part of the shrimp’s body, ensuring it stays securely on the hook. Avoid hooking the shrimp near the tail, as it may affect its natural movement in the water.
  4. Experiment with presentation: Shrimp can be presented in various ways, depending on the fishing conditions and the behavior of the target fish. You can thread the shrimp onto a small jig head, attach it as a trailer on a spoon or jigging lure, or even use a small hook to present it on its own. Experiment with different presentations to see what works best for the fish you are targeting.

C. Information on the species of fish that favor shrimp

Shrimp are known to attract a wide range of freshwater fish species under the ice. Some of the fish species that are particularly fond of shrimp as bait include:

  • Walleye: Walleye have a keen sense of smell and are attracted to the scent of shrimp. They are often found in deeper water and can be enticed by the realistic movement and scent of shrimp.
  • Perch: Perch are opportunistic feeders and will readily bite on shrimp. The vibrant colors and movement of shrimp can attract perch from a distance, making them a top choice for many ice anglers.
  • Northern Pike: Northern pike are aggressive predators and are known to strike at shrimp. Their predatory instincts are triggered by the movement and realistic appearance of shrimp, making them an ideal target when using this bait.
  • Lake Trout: Lake trout are known to feed on shrimp in their natural habitat, making them an excellent target species for shrimp bait. The scent and visual appeal of shrimp can entice lake trout to strike.

These are just a few examples of fish species that favor shrimp as bait. However, it is important to note that fish preferences can vary depending on the region and specific fishing conditions. It is always a good idea to research the target fish species in your area and adjust your bait choices accordingly.

VI. Nightcrawlers

A. The reasons why nightcrawlers are a common and effective bait choice

Nightcrawlers are one of the most popular and effective live baits for ice fishing. Their effectiveness can be attributed to several factors:

  • Availability and affordability: Nightcrawlers are readily available at most bait shops and are relatively inexpensive compared to other live baits. This makes them a convenient and cost-effective choice for ice anglers.
  • Natural movement: Nightcrawlers have a natural squirming and wiggling motion that attracts predatory fish. This movement mimics live insects and triggers the predatory instincts of fish, making them more likely to bite.
  • Scent and taste: Nightcrawlers emit a distinct odor that fish find irresistible. The scent and taste of the worm can attract a wide variety of fish species, making them a versatile bait option.
  • Hardiness: Nightcrawlers are known for their durability and ability to stay alive in cold water. This makes them particularly suitable for ice fishing, where the water temperatures are low. They can withstand the cold temperatures and continue to attract fish throughout the day.

B. Guidance on the proper use of nightcrawlers in ice fishing

When using nightcrawlers as bait for ice fishing, it’s important to follow some best practices to increase your chances of success:

  • Rigging: Attach the nightcrawler to your hook using a threading technique to keep it secure. Start by inserting the hook through the tip of the worm and sliding it up the shank, leaving the tail free. Ensure that the hook is exposed so that the fish can easily bite into it.
  • Presentation: For ice fishing, it’s best to present the nightcrawler close to the bottom of the water column. Predatory fish often lurk near the lake or riverbed, so dropping your bait to the bottom can increase your chances of attracting them. Use a small weight or jig to help sink the bait to the desired depth.
  • Depth: Experiment with different depths to find where the fish are actively feeding. Start by fishing closer to the bottom and gradually work your way up the water column if you don’t get any bites. Pay attention to any signs of fish activity, such as sonar readings or other anglers having success at a certain depth.
  • Retrieve: Once you have dropped your bait to the desired depth, maintain a steady retrieve to mimic the natural movement of a live worm. This can be achieved by gently jigging the rod tip or using a slow, consistent reel-in motion. The key is to create subtle movements that attract fish without scaring them away.
  • Keep the bait fresh: Nightcrawlers can become sluggish or less enticing to fish if they are not kept in optimal conditions. Keep them cool and moist in a container with damp soil or bedding material. Replace any dead or inactive worms with fresh ones to ensure maximum effectiveness.

C. Understanding which fish species are most attracted to nightcrawlers

Nightcrawlers are effective at attracting a wide range of fish species, both large and small. Some of the fish species commonly caught using nightcrawlers as bait during ice fishing include:

  • Walleye: Walleye are known to be particularly fond of nightcrawlers. They are attracted to the natural scent and movement of the worm and can often be found near the bottom of the water column.
  • Perch: Perch are voracious feeders and readily strike at nightcrawlers. They can often be found in large schools near the lake or riverbed, making them a popular target for ice anglers.
  • Bluegill and Sunfish: Bluegill and sunfish are attracted to the scent and movement of nightcrawlers. They can be found near underwater structures or weed beds, where they feed on small invertebrates.
  • Catfish: Catfish are scavengers and are attracted to the strong scent of nightcrawlers. They often feed near the bottom of the water column and can be targeted using various techniques, including using nightcrawlers on a bottom rig.
  • Northern Pike: Northern Pike are aggressive predators and are known to strike at large, wiggling baits like nightcrawlers. They can often be found lurking near underwater structures, such as weed beds or submerged logs.

VII. Mussels and Clams

A. The benefits of using mussels and clams as ice fishing bait

Mussels and clams are natural baits that can be highly effective for catching a variety of fish species during ice fishing. Let’s explore the pros and cons of using these mollusks as live bait.


  1. Natural and abundant: Mussels and clams are readily available in many freshwater bodies, making them an easily accessible bait option for ice fishing. Their abundance in lakes and rivers attracts fish, as they are a familiar food source in their natural environment. Using live mussels and clams as bait can mimic the experience of searching for food, increasing the chances of attracting fish to your fishing spot.
  2. Effective for multiple species: Mussels and clams are attractive to a wide range of fish species, including yellow perch, walleye, panfish, and catfish. These mollusks have a strong scent and appeal to bottom-dwelling fish that feed on small invertebrates. The motion of the bait, provided by the fish’s movement and the current, can entice predatory fish to strike.
  3. Durable and long-lasting: Mussels and clams are relatively tough and can stay on the hook for extended periods, allowing you to keep your bait in the water longer. This is particularly beneficial when fish are less active or when you want to attract fish from a distance. The durability of mussels and clams makes them an economical choice, as you can use them for multiple ice fishing trips without needing to constantly replenish your bait supply.


  1. Requires preparation: Using mussels and clams as bait requires some preparation to ensure they are effective. You will need to shuck the shells and cut the meat into small pieces that can be easily swallowed by the fish. This process can be time-consuming, and handling raw mussels and clams can be messy. Additionally, fresh mussels and clams are more appealing to fish, so you will need to ensure you have access to a reliable source.
  2. Careful storage and handling: Mussels and clams should be kept in a cool and moist environment to maintain their freshness. If they are exposed to high temperatures or allowed to dry out, their effectiveness as bait decreases. You may need to invest in a live bait cooler or a container with damp cloth or moss to keep them hydrated and at an optimal temperature during your ice fishing trip.
  3. Variability in success: While mussels and clams can be highly effective, their success as bait may vary depending on factors such as water temperature, fish activity levels, and the specific preferences of the fish species you are targeting. It is essential to experiment with different bait options and techniques to determine if mussels and clams are attracting fish in your chosen ice fishing location.

Reeling In Your Options

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of the best live baits for successful ice fishing, it’s time to hit the frozen waters with confidence.

Which of these live baits are you most excited to try out? Will you be using minnows for their versatility, or perhaps waxworms for their effectiveness in attracting a wide range of fish?

Remember, the key to a successful ice fishing trip lies not only in the bait you choose but also in your technique and understanding of the fish you’re targeting. So grab your gear, bundle up, and get ready to reel in those catches!

Share the Post:

Related Reading