Live Bait

24 March 2011 For The Angler
Dew Worms or Night Crawlers

Using live bait is the method of choice for most anglers looking to catch their favourite fish for an afternoon shore lunch or evening dinner. Buying bait is expensive, so keeping it alive and healthy is good for the fishing and the budget.

Dew Worm / Night Crawler

Night Crawlers are arguably the best all-round live bait for fishing.  Fortunately, they are also readily available and easy to catch so you don’t have to spend a fortune on your bait.

Catching Dew Worms

How do you catch night crawlers?  The easiest way to get dew worms is to collect them very early in the morning after a heavy overnight summer rainstorm.  Depending on your location, there will be hundreds of them crawling across the road.

If you don’t have time to wait for a storm, you can collect them at night in your lawn, garden or at the local park or golf course (get permission from the golf course before you go).  It can be back-breaking, mosquito-infested, work but at $5 a dozen, it is well worth it.


Small flashlight or camping head lamp.
Container with dirt, grass, shredded newspaper.
Insect repellent.


During the day, cut the lawn as short as possible and then water the grass or garden for several hours in the afternoon.  Wait until one or two hours after dark before beginning your search.

Night Crawlers are very sensitive to light and are lightning fast so it requires a bit of practice to become an expert night crawler catcher.  If your light is too bright the dew worms will sense it and zip back into their holes.

  • Pick an area of garden or lawn and slowly work your way over it.
  • Look for the glimmer of the light that shines off the slime on the skin of the night crawler.
  • Locate the point where the tail-end of the dew worm is coming out of the ground.
  • Quickly grab the night crawler as close as possible to the hole and try to gently remove it.
  • If it does not come out easily, wait until the night crawler relaxes, and then remove it in a single motion.

Note: Applying the correct amount of pressure is critical.  Too much, and you will break or severely damage the night crawler.  Avoid grabbing the dew worm by the head which is the dark brown end.

Night Crawler Storage

Night crawlers should be stored in cool, damp conditions such as a basement or even a refrigerator.  The easiest way to store them is to buy a night crawler box that comes with the food kit.

Check the night crawlers daily for sick or dead worms and remove the bad ones.  This is especially important in the first few days after you catch the worms because the ones that were damaged will begin to die off.  A foul smell in the box means there is a dead worm.  Search until you find the bad one and remove it.  A dead worm will eventually contaminate then entire batch.

At the cottage, you can add night crawlers to the compost box.  It provides an excellent home for your bait and the worms break down the compost very efficiently.


Minnows are the bait of choice for many anglers.  Finicky fish prefer live minnows over dead ones, but when the feed is on, any minnow will catch fish.

Minnow Fishing Techniques

Using a bobber or float with a minnow is a popular way to fish for bass, crappie, perch, pike and even walleye.  Run the hook through the flesh on the back of the minnow just in front of the dorsal fin so that the shaft of the hook is at a right angle to the fish.  You want to keep the minnow alive for as long as possible, so avoid running the hook through its guts.  Set the line length to place the minnow into the top third of the weed bed.  Fishing with a bobber is also a good way to use up your dead minnows.

Cast and Retrieve is an effective way to fish a rocky drop-off near the shore.  Minnows are fragile so the cast needs a delicate touch to avoid losing the minnow.  Use a simple spinner with a single hook.  Run the hook through the lips from the lower lip to the upper lip as close to the head as possible without killing the minnow.  Add a small split shot about 2 feet up the line if a bit of extra weight is needed to reach the fish.  Retrieve the minnow at a pace that is just fast enough to enable the spinner to flutter properly.

Bottom Fishing with minnows is fantastic for enticing walleye and perch that are sitting on the bottom.  Use a bottom bouncer when fishing out of the boat.  From shore, a simple hook and slip sinker or split shot set-up may be all you need to catch fish sitting in a hole or in the current of a river.  Use a small hook and run it through the flesh on the back of the fish near the tail so that the shaft of the hook is parallel to the fish.

Storage Tips

Keeping minnows alive is a big challenge.  The best container is a minnow bucket that you can place in the water beside the dock or hang off the side of the boat.  The holes in the bucket allow fresh water and oxygen to flow into the container.  Otherwise, use a cooler and cold water with a few ice cubes.  Be sure to change the water frequently and keep the cooler in a shaded spot.


The idea of a container of writhing leeches may turn your stomach, but these durable critters are fantastic bait for catching walleye and bass.

Leech Fishing Technique

All of the techniques used for fishing with minnows will work for leeches.  Most leeches have a suction cup on both the head and tail.  The head end is for attaching to its meal and feeding.  The other end is used for attaching to rocks or its meal.  Run the hook just under one of the suction cups.  Check the bait regularly to make sure the leech hasn’t wrapped itself around the hook.


A leech bucket is the best option for keeping leeches alive at the cottage.  Just attach it to the dock and let it sit in the water.  If you plan to keep them for a long time, try throwing a dead fish or a few pieces of meat into the bucket for the leeches to feed on.
Leeches can be kept in the fridge or a cooler for a short time but the water must be changed regularly.


Crayfish or Crawfish or Crawdad
Crayfish are not very popular with anglers yet they make up a large part of a fish’s diet in many places.  Walleye, bass and perch love crayfish.

If you have a shallow and rocky shoreline, you can catch your own crayfish by simply putting a few pieces of fresh fish guts and fish heads in a crayfish trap.  Place the trap on the bottom in 2 to 4 feet of water overnight.  Attach it with a string to the dock or a log on the shore.
If you want to catch them by hand, or using a small net just remember that crayfish can only swim backwards.

Crayfish / Crawfish Fishing Technique

Crayfish are usually found in shallow water near shorelines with rocky bottoms and moving water.  They are active at night and the walleye and bass move close to the shore in the evening to feed on them.

Crayfish swim backwards so the best way to hook them is from the bottom to the top in the tail, through the flesh at the second or third segment. You want to avoid piercing the guts and killing the crayfish. Fish usually swallow a crayfish tail-first, so turn the hook so that it points towards the head. Some anglers cut off the claws to keep the crayfish from being able to grab onto weeds and stones.

While it can be effective during the day, fishing with crayfish is best done at night.   The easiest arrangement is with a single hook and no weight or a very small slip sinker or split shot when extra weight is needed to get the crayfish to the bottom in moving water.

Cast the crayfish out and let it walk around or drift in the current.  After a few minutes slowly reel it in two or three feet to keep the crayfish from hiding under rocks.  Let it sit or drift again and repeat the process until you get a bite or fully retrieve the bait.

Special Note
Always buy your live bait from a local bait shop near the water you are planning to fish.  Never dump left-over minnows, leeches, or crayfish into the lake or river.  It is important to avoid introducing non-native species into a water system.  Bait shops are only allowed to sell native species but not everyone follows the rules.  To be safe, walk 30 metres from the shore and dump the bait bucket in the woods.  It is required by law in some areas.

Go to the Beginner Fishing Techniques page.
Go to the Beginner Fishing Equipment page.