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Best Bait for Lake Fishing: 9 Live Bait Options for Minnesota Lakes

Minnesota proudly bears the moniker “the land of 10,000 lakes.” In truth, it’s actually more like “the land of 12,000 lakes.” With thousands of lakes, there are thousands of prime fishing spots, and a day on the lake is time well spent.

The experience is idyllic. The sun warms your skin, gentle waves lap the side of the boat, and the fish jump as herons skim the surface of the water. There’s a rod in one hand, a beer in the other, and your friend across from you.

The best bait for lake fishing

As nice as it may be just to get out there, you want to actually catch something.

To do this, you need quality bait. You may have tried out some lures, but these metal, cork, rubber, or plastic “facsimiles” never seem to work as well as the real deal. So, here we will discuss some of your options to help you find your best bait for lake fishing.

1. Nightcrawlers/Earthworms

When you think about what goes on a fishing hook, there’s a good chance that it’s a worm that first comes to mind. Indeed, the worm is universally favored as one of the best baits for lake fishing.

There are good reasons for this.

First, they’re cheap. It likely won’t cost you more than a few cents per worm. Second, they’re easy to find. Find a nice, damp patch of earth in your yard or garden and you’ll probably be able to excavate a few right there. Third, they’re very effective.

There are very few fish that won’t snatch up a worm, especially in freshwater, making them one of the best baits for lake fishing. Furthermore, they’re available for purchase all year long.

When you’re ready to cast out your line, you have a couple of ways you can set your worm on the hook. One good way, that’s particularly effective for catching panfish, is to pierce the worm near the head and thread it along so that it goes up the shank of the hook.

When you get near the end of the tail, let the hook poke back out of the worm leaving it covering the majority of the hook while both ends of the worm can still wriggle about. This will not only help prevent the fish from completely tearing the worm from the hook without being ensnared, but the wriggling ends will work great to help entice the fish.

If you’re wondering what the difference between a nightcrawler and an earthworm is, they’re virtually the same thing, nightcrawlers are just bigger versions. That’s why they share a spot on this guide on the best bait for lake fishing. Select the size of the worm that you want to use with the kind of fish you’re after in mind.

2. Wax Worms

Wax worms, or “waxies” are wax moth larvae. These little bugs are small, soft, squishy, and make for some of the best bait for lake fishing.

They are frequently the bait of choice for anglers who are after trout, so if you’re fishing on a lake in Minnesota, such as Lake Superior, where trout are king, you may want to give wax worms a try.

In truth, they’ll work great on most freshwater fish. From the hook, they give off a highly enticing scent that’ll attract just about any piscine creatures nearby.


Wax worms are highly versatile and can be bought year-round. Pet owners do so all the time as they are a common food for various reptiles and amphibians.

They are excellent for ice fishing as the moth larvae resemble the kinds of critters that fish typically feed on in the winter months.

There are a couple of ways to set a waxworm on your hook. One way is to “T-bone” it by piercing it through the center, allowing both ends to wriggle temptingly in the water. Otherwise, you can just thread it straight onto the hook. Try both to see which works best for you.

3. Maggots

Our next choice for the best bait for lake fishing is maggots. Maggots are fly larvae. They are small, wriggly, and typically a shade of white, brown, or pink.

Most importantly though, they are highly sought after by nearly all lake fish. In fact, a maggot on the hook is unlikely to be the first maggot a fish encounters.

Maggots are packed with protein and fats and serve as a staple in the diets of fish living in ponds and lakes everywhere.

This is yet another kind of best bait for lake fishing that you can purchase any time of the year. You can also raise them yourself, but they’re widely available as they’re commercially farmed for a variety of purposes including fish bait and animal feed.

Maggots really make for one of the best baits for lake fishing. If it swims in freshwater and has gills, odds are it won’t be able to resist a nice juicy maggot. Just jam one on your hook and watch it get greedily gobbled up.

4. Leeches

A leech can be among the best bait for lake fishing, but it depends on what kind of leech you use as fish won’t find every species of leech appealing.

Typically, the leech that you can find in stores is a ribbon leech. While these leeches are attractive to a variety of different fish, they’re particularly effective for catching walleyes as well as Smallmouth and Largemouth bass.

Leeches store very well as they don’t require much oxygen and they’re hardy in fluctuating water temperatures.

Leeches are some of the best bait for lake fishing

If you’re looking to find a leech, you can find them in streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds everywhere. They begin hatching in the spring so the summer months will be the best time to go leech hunting.

When setting a leech on your hook, thread the hook through the head of the leech and out through the midsection allowing the tail to maintain some movement action.

5. Minnows

Next up on this guide for the best bait for lake fishing are minnows. There are various kinds of minnows that can be bought year-round.

Most commonly are shiners, but in Minnesota, fatheads are also common. The crappies, trout, bass, pike, stripers, walleyes, catfish, and other species of fish that love minnows won’t be choosy about which particular species of minnow you have on the hook.

Some species of minnow, such as creek chubs, which grow a bit larger, are great if you’re after some of the bigger game fish.

While you can buy and keep minnows in a tank ahead of your next fishing trip, if you don’t want the hassle, consider either purchasing them immediately before your trip or catching them yourself.

Minnow traps are inexpensive and can provide you with a means of obtaining free, fresh minnows in perpetuity.

There are a few good ways to set your minnow on the hook. However you do it though, be sure that you don’t cause it such an injury that it will quickly die. You may find that a dead minnow floating in the water is not quite among the best baits for lake fishing. Avoid puncturing the minnow’s guts, spine, or brain.

minnows make some of the best bait for lake fishing

When you examine your minnows, you’ll notice that there’s a line that separates the darker coloration at the top of the back from the lighter coloration below. This is where the spine is.

Place the hook either above it or below it. If you place it below, hook the fish above the bottom fins that are in front of the tail so that you avoid stabbing any vital organs. You can also hook the minnow through the roof of the mouth. Just be careful to avoid the brain.

6. Suckers

The best bait for lake fishing is the bait that’s right for the kind of fish you’re after. Often, that means that it’s best to use a bait that will attract most fish.

Other times, however, the question you should ask is not, “what’s the best bait for lake fishing,” but “what’s the best bait to catch the kind of fish I’m after?” If you’re trying to hook big pike, or muskies in particular, fishing with suckers is an excellent way to go.

Although they can sometimes be tough to find, particularly in the winter, give your local bait and tackle shops a call. Otherwise, you can try catching some yourself.

Unlike most of the bait on this guide, you can’t just set a sucker on a hook. You need a rig for it. Ideally, choose one with nostril clamps. They tend to work really well and don’t seriously hurt the fish. As for the hooks that will be on the rig, it’s recommended that you shave off some scales before setting them. Otherwise, it can be rather difficult to set them properly.

The payoff is worth the effort. Muskies are an incredible fish to catch. They’re the big, apex predators in the waters where they occur naturally, and they absolutely love to devour suckers. Get a sucker on your line and haul yourself a big one.

7. Crayfish

Crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, mudbugs, or whatever you call them, they’re one of the best baits for lake fishing out there. It may be tougher to catch them in stores or find them in the wild during winter, but there’s usually a bait shop relatively nearby that sells them year-round.

In the event you can’t find any in stores, crayfish inhabit creeks and streams all over the country, so if you have a minnow trap and some bait, (they love fish guts), you’ll probably have some luck catching them yourself.

Crayfish for lake fishing

When putting it on your hook, hold the crawfish by the abdomen with your fingers positioned so that it can’t pinch you. Holding it so that its belly is facing you, push the hook through the tail just above the tailfin so that it comes out the other side. This will keep it snugly on the hook while allowing it plenty of action in the water.

This addition to our list of the best bait for lake fishing presents a lively, natural target for the bass, catfish, trout, crappie, salmon, and other fish that love to snap them up.

8. Insects

One can’t overlook insects when discussing the best bait for lake fishing. In nature, freshwater fish everywhere regularly feed on a variety of insects that find their way a little too close to the surface of the water. They’re packed with nutrients. In fact, pound for pound, insects have more protein than beef.

Crickets make for some of the best bait for lake fishing. They often are a good size and have long legs that allow for lots of action when they’re in the water. Bluegill and trout often snatch them up shortly after they hit the water.

Push the hook through the abdomen of the bug. It should stay alive long enough that any nearby fish that are large enough to swallow it will take notice and go straight for it.

9. Bread

Bread may be for making sandwiches and French toast, but it’s actually also one of the best baits for lake fishing. Not only is it plentiful, (you almost certainly have some in your home right now), cheap, and available in a store near you, but fish absolutely love it.

When used as bait, bread works well to catch a variety of fish from catfish to sunfish, and carp to perch. It’s highly effective, and any bait that is both attractive to freshwater fish and readily available wherever you are, deserves a place among the best bait for lake fishing.

Bread as fishing bait

You may be wondering how long bread could realistically remain on your hook before it gets too soggy and simply falls away. Well, it actually holds together better than you might expect once you squish it on the hook. That’s why anglers who have tried using bread as bait keep using it again and again.

You can also maximize its effectiveness by preparing your bread ahead of time. You can make a potent bread paste by removing the crust and leaving it out to stale. Then, crush it. Once it’s a powder you can add a little water and roll it into dense little balls that can go straight on your hook.

Try Out the Best Bait for Lake Fishing at the Best Minnesota Lakes

The best bait for lake fishing is the bait that works for you. Odds are you’ll find the bait options listed in this article to do just that. Furthermore, it is highly likely that they’ll be far more appealing to the fish that you’re after than any artificial lure.

At Life in Minnesota, we have lots of content that you can peruse to continue learning about fishing in Minnesota. They make for great supplemental reading to this guide on the best bait for lake fishing. For example, now that you have some ideas about how to bait your hook, try this article on great fishing spots in Minneapolis.

Want to learn more about fishing, discover more fishing spots, and or read up on the best fishing gear? Then continue your fishing adventure with our comprehensive guides, info posts, and more!

Need some more Minnesota gear? Trust our recommendations to guide your next shopping trip!