Fishing is one of the most widespread activities around the world. Anglers are fishing at ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, the sea, and the ocean. However, knowing what your bait should be can drastically improve your catch frequency. There is a constant debate regarding artificial and live bait. So, which one is better?
Live bait is known to attract more fish, but it takes away some of the control you have with the line. On the other hand, artificial bait (lures) usually attracts bigger fish, depending on the size of the lure. The bigger the lure, the bigger the fish you’ll catch.
In reality, there’s no simple answer that can say with 100% certainty that live bait is better than artificial lures or vice versa. It all depends on the area you’re fishing, the species you are trying to catch, the techniques you’ll use when fishing, etc. It would probably be best if you tried both options out and tested what works the best.
To help you know what to look for, we’ll do a complete breakdown and compare artificial baits versus live baits, what they are suitable for, and how to use them. That way, you’ll have all the information you need to be as successful as possible on your next fishing trip.
Artificial baits, or lures, are human-made baits that attract gamefish and make them attack. They are almost always made to resemble a type of food that the fish would usually attack and eat, such as crawfish, shrimps, worms, etc. They come in various shapes and sizes, and, depending on the type of lure, they are used in different ways and methods.
The bigger the lure is, the bigger the fish you’ll catch with it. What you catch will also depend on the type of artificial bait you are using, as not all the fish eat the same things.
To make everything easier to follow, we’ll break down artificial lures by types. There are many variations and combinations, but the most common types are plugs, spinners, jigs, spoons, and flies.
Plugs are also known as crankbaits and most commonly resemble smaller baitfish. They come in all sizes and colors. The bigger the crankbait, the larger the fish you can catch with it. They’re known as very versatile artificial lures that can go deep or working at the surface, depending on what you need and what fish you’re trying to get.
The body of a crankbait is almost always made of plastic. Sometimes it’s hollow to make it lighter and stay afloat, while sometimes, it’s solid to enable it to go deeper without any sinkers. The hooks are always attached to the body, and there are usually at least two.
At the front of a plug lure, you’ll find the lip. It resembles a large tongue because it’s flat and wide. It’s usually made out of thin metal or plastic. It allows you to steer and navigate the lure right where you want it to go. Some lips are highly adjustable to make your crankbait wobble, spin, etc.
So, how do you use a plug? Most crankbaits are designed to stay afloat, or at least close to the surface. However, the momentum when you retrieve them (reeling the bait in) tends to make them sink deep, so the best technique to use would be the reel-and-stop movement.
Continuously reel the bait to make it sink, and then stop to make it go afloat.
It will resemble live fish and attract gamefish to come hunting. The technique is sometimes called cranking, too, which is where the name crankbait is coming from.
Spinnerbaits, commonly referred to as spinners, are different from plugs in several ways. As their name suggests, they are designed to spin as you reel them in to attract fish. Spinners have a pretty specific look but can be designed to resemble various live baits.
Spinners are usually made of metal to reflect colors and light better. That’s the whole point of the spinning motion. As they spin, they reflect light and look like natural live baitfish, which attracts predators.
As for fishing with a spinner, the technique is always the same. But, the depth on which they operate is different, depending on what type of spinner you’re using. They tend to move horizontally through the water as you reel them in.
When you reel faster, the spinner will get closer to the surface. Slower retrieving will make them go deeper, but that heightens the risk of getting snagged on the sea bottom or river bed, depending on where you’re fishing.
Spinners will work incredibly well in clear waters but can be used effectively in murky water, too. Spinning near the surface will cause flashes of light underwater, which will attract fish even if they are hiding in deeper waters. If the water is too murky and the visibility underneath is close to zero, spinners are a great option.
The spinning creates a clicking sound that attracts fish as well. If you’re using a silent spinner, though, the vibrations these lures produce when retrieved will undoubtedly attract attention.
One friendly tip – if your spinner doesn’t work when going close to the surface, add a sinker to get more depth. It’ll also allow you to cast further, giving you a higher chance for a catch.
Jigs might be the most common artificial lure out there. It’s essential to differentiate them from soft plastic lures, even though they look very similar. Jigs have a weighted head at the front that allows them to be cast further and sink deeper.
The hook is on the rear end, usually covered in soft rubber with a wiggly tail. They can resemble small baitfish such as minnows or crawfish, but they’re also frequently designed to resemble worms and other bottom-dwelling water creatures.
The weighted head, as we mentioned, allows jigs to sink deep, which makes them the perfect bait if you’re going for the bottom feeders. You might have difficulty catching fish that feeds near the surface if you’re using a jig lure, but if you’re an experienced angler, you can use its unique design to your advantage.
The name jigs came from the technique used to fish with these lures. First, you let it sink to the bottom (when the line loses tension, you’ll know it hit bottom. Then, you pull your rod up to make the jig rise and then start retrieving the line as you slowly lower your rod near the water. Combine faster and slower movement to make the jig jump up and down near the surface.
It’ll resemble the natural motion of bottom-dwelling creatures and attract a lot of attention from bottom-feeding fish. One thing to be aware of when fishing with jigs is that the bottom feeders are usually slow, so the strike may not be as apparent as when you get a bite from a hungry pike. Try to watch the line closely at all times, and feel even the slightest pull when using a jig.
Spoons got their name because, at first, they were literally that – fishers recognized that a spoon with the handle cut off can attract big game fish, and there’s a good reason. The shape makes the spoons wobble as you retrieve them, while the metal material they’re made of makes them reflect light in different directions as they wobble.
First, the shiny lights attract the fish, and then the wobbling makes them go for it at a very high rate because it resembles the movement of an injured baitfish.
Nowadays, spoons are more sophisticated and more carefully designed. The shape and size of the spoon will highly affect the way it moves through the water and how much it wobbles. That will consequentially affect the type of fish it attracts, as different fish eat different stuff.
When fishing with a spoon, movement is vital. Therefore, try to cast a bit further than your target spot and then reel the lure right through the desired area. You must be careful not to pull it too fast nor too slow, as it won’t move properly in either scenario.
Finally, we’ll mention flies, as they are also quite common among anglers, but they are specifically designed for fly fishing. It includes a whole different setup – a different rod, reel, and even line is needed. The flies are very lightweight artificial lures that usually resemble insects dwelling around the surface of the water.
Many consider art typing to be a form of art. Using light materials such as fur, feathers, and threads to create a fly that uncannily resembles an insect or another invertebrate is super tricky. Still, the results are almost always worth it.
There are also different types of flies. Dry flies stay on the surface and never sink. On the other hand, nymphs sink right below the surface or even to the bottom, but they are still very lightweight. The type of fly determines the species you can catch with them.
Fly fishing is widespread primarily on streams and rivers with a fast current, but the development of fishing technology enables anglers to go fly fishing anywhere nowadays.
What Fish Can You Catch With Artificial Lures?
Jigs, plugs, spinners, spoons – every option is designed to be more effective for a particular fish family. When you put it all together, there’s virtually no salt or freshwater fish you can’t catch with artificial lures. It’s not about what fish you can catch, but what fish do you want to catch.
Your choice of lure will determine what you can catch. Also, the location you choose will determine your catch. When fishing in saltwater, the most common targets are mackerel, pollocks, bass, herrings, and sea trouts. How deep your lure goes will determine what kind of fish you’ll get.
If you go fishing in freshwater, the most common targets will be freshwater bass, catfish, pikes, bluegills, perch, etc. When going fly fishing, the main targets usually are trouts and salmon.
As much as it’s essential to know what fish are even there for you to catch, it’s also important to know where they live and why they bite. For instance, cod is a winter fish, so if you want to catch it in the summer, you’ll go home empty-handed.
On the other hand, most species prefer warmer waters and weather and come closer to the shore when feeding in the summer. Cast artificial lures near spots where there are underwater structures, such as rock formations or weeds. Baitfish comes there to hide, while game fish comes there to feed. It’s a win-win for you, no matter what you’re gunning for.
Best Artificial Lures You Should Have
As we said numerous times, there are no clear answers when choosing the right lure. However, some are known to work better than others, so we’ll suggest a few that we’ve tried out and know work well.
TRUSCEND Multi Jointed lures are fantastic both in fresh and saltwater. Their design makes them resemble real fish, as their movement appears a lot more natural. We’ve had success with bass, pikes, and trouts, but those are the species that were available to me. We are sure these lures would work on other species as well, as they are versatile and realistic.
If you’re going for a soft lure, we suggest the Strike King Rage Tail Bug Lure. There are dozens of different colors and shapes of these soft lures, making them a perfect choice for any location. Find one that resembles bugs living in your area, as those are the ones the fish will most likely react to.
Pros And Cons Of Artificial Lures
Artificial lures are incredibly versatile, and they can prove to be the superior choice compared to live bait. However, that’s not always the case. There are many pros, but more cons might sway you to consider live bait instead.
The first and obvious pro is that artificial lures will eventually cost you less. Once you buy them, you can reuse them until they break or until they get snagged, and you lose them. They aren’t messy at all, nor smelly as some live bait tends to be. You only need a tackle box – no dirt for worms, no water for baitfish.
They offer you the chance to switch your setup in a matter of minutes, making it more possible to get a bit. Also, some think that lures are more ethical, as you don’t have to hook something alive and use it as bait until it dies. It also reduces the overharvesting of baitfish species and reduces mortality rates in fish, too, as deep hooks are rarer.
On the other hand, the variety of choices can prove to be more than some inexperienced anglers can handle. You might try this and that and eventually end up with nothing.
Also, if you’re not careful, you’ll lose them quickly. It’s not live bait, so they won’t dodge any obstacles underwater, meaning they’ll get stuck to weeds, branches, and rocks a lot more often.
But, possibly the worst part about artificial lures for me is looking at them from an ecological standpoint. Think about it. They are a lot easier to lose underwater, but they are usually made out of plastic or metal, making them pollute the water a lot easier.
As the name suggests, live bait is a live creature such as a small fish or a worm placed on a hook to entice the desired prey (game fish). There are all kinds of live bait.
Virtually any fish, worm, crab, or insect you can put on a hook can be used as live bait. The ethical part of using live bait is questionable to some, but we’ll talk about that a bit more later on in the article.
The most common live bait is baitfish – that is, small fish that live in the same body of water as the species you’re aiming to catch. Usually, it’s one of many species of minnows, such as a creek minnow or a shiner. If you’re not catching live bait yourself, make sure to buy bait that your target fish would commonly eat in nature.
Other live baits include small crawfish such as crawdads, all kinds of insects, frogs, even salamanders.
But, if you’re not using baitfish, you’ll most likely opt for worms or leeches. They work incredibly because they wiggle naturally and have a scent that’s familiar to game fish. Almost every finishing shop sells all kinds of live bait, but the best part about live bait is that it’s free if you know how to catch it yourself.
You can find worms and leeches in moist soil, especially right before dawn or overnight. Baitfish tend to navigate towards the shore and bite on virtually anything small enough for them to eat, so catching it shouldn’t be a problem as well.
The bigger problem comes when you need to keep the live bait – alive, be it while placing it onto a hook or storing it before use.
How To Keep Live Bait Alive When Storing And Hooking It?
Worms will need soil to keep them alive, so you’ll probably need a bucket of soil where you’ll keep the worms. As for the fish, having a bucket of water with you always helps, but you should know that they can’t survive like that for too long. If you have a bucket or a cooler tank with aerators, it’ll keep your live bait alive for longer.
If you’re opting for insects as your live bait, you’ll need plastic insect containers. You can buy them or make them yourself. The best option you can make with live bait, though, is to give it conditions as close to what they’d have in nature as you can. That’s why anglers use “bait nets” or cages and put them directly in the body of water near them when they’re fishing.
The tricky part about live bait is how to hook it to keep it alive and keep it moving naturally. It’s easier with worms, as they continue to wiggle no matter where you put the hook. But, with live fish, where you place the hook will determine how the bait moves in the water.
Your safest bet would be to pierce the hook through the back, around the chest area. That’ll keep the bait alive for a long time. However, it’ll also make it try to run away and move fast, so it’s the best option when going for predator species such as pikes.
Other standard techniques are pinning the hooks through the nostrils or right at the base of the tail. This makes the bait go slower, enabling more fish species to catch it, but it also makes it die faster. Every species has a particular way of hooking that works the best, but you’ll probably have to test what works the best if you want the best results.
What Fish Can You Catch With Live Bait?
Quite possibly, the best thing about live bait is that you can catch anything and everything with it. It has the natural scent and movement that triggers fish to attack just as they would if your bait was free.
The trickier part is to find the bait that your desired game fish loves to eat the most. That shouldn’t be a problem, too, though, if you’re willing to do some research about the area you’re fishing at. See what species of insects and bugs can be found there. Fish tend to react more frequently to things that they can see and eat daily.
Also, know where your fish is living and how it feeds. Does it dwell on the bottom trying to find food, or does it hunt near the shores, amongst underwater debris, rocks, or weeds? Just like with artificial lures, experience and knowledge are more important than the bait itself.
Pros And Cons Of Live Bait
First and foremost, live bait is more effective. It’s real food they’d usually naturally eat that moves and smells natural, attracting fish to strike. All kinds of species will attack and hunt your bait, making your catch rate a lot higher.
Also, live bait is usually cheaper than artificial lures. It can be free if you catch or find some yourself. If you are irritated by fish falling off your hook, live bait will increase your chances of deep hooking, as fish strike live bait more ferociously, trying to eat it.
However, that can be viewed as a con, too. Deep hooks mean a larger mortality rate among the fish. If you’re doing catch-and-release, this will be a problem for you.
The second con that pops into the picture is the ethical standpoint. Hooking a fish through the back of the nose and using it as bait seems brutal, but then again – you’re fishing, right?
One of the biggest cons of live baits for me is that they are messier and smelly. We tend to go fishing in the middle of the week because there’s less crowd. But, going to work smelling like fish isn’t an option, so it might be tricky for you like it is for me.
You also need special storage for live bait, making it an inconvenience. Live bait fishing contributes to the overharvesting of natural fish prey, endangering the entire flora and fauna of a specific body of water.
Finally, the live bait will always attract more species, making it harder to aim for a specific type of fish you’re trying to catch.
Artificial Vs. Live bait: Which One Is Better?
Now you know everything you need to know about both artificial lures and live bait. So, which is actually better? As we said, there are no clear answers, but both have some advantages when compared to the other.
Live bait is better if you’re going for quantity. It will attract more fish, and from further away, as the scent will also trigger fish to strike. However, the fact that it attracts more fish means it’s a lot harder to aim for a specific species, while artificial lures allow you to target exactly what you want.
Also, you have much more control of your bait and line when fishing with artificial lures. They have no free will when it comes to where they’ll go, which is great if you know what you’re doing.
Live bait is better for fishing around underwater formations, as it can get into hidden spots that artificial lures can’t get to. But, artificial bait can be reused numerous times and is a lot less messy and smelly to work with, which is perfect if you’re doing mid-week fishing like me.
Finally, we prefer artificial lures a lot more because of all the advantages we mentioned. For me, they outweigh the advantages of live bait by a landslide, but in the end, it’s all a matter of preference and taste. We almost always catch-and-release, which is a lot harder if you are fishing with live bait.