Live Bait Basics

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Published on: May. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 13, 2010

rubber skirt. He used grasshoppers—and caught four fish to my one.

“Country boys and country ways are sometimes tough to beat,” he told me later.

Both grasshoppers and crickets will catch most any game fish in Missouri. In early spring, young grasshoppers, recently hatched from eggs laid during fall, are not large enough for fishing, so I’ll use crickets, which I usually buy at a bait shop.

Both crickets and grasshoppers can be fished beneath a bobber or by tight-lining on the bottom with a sinker or two. With a bobber, cast toward likely cover, let the bobber settle for several moments, then begin a slow retrieve. If fish are around, they’ll usually strike.

Tight-lining on the bottom typically works best when midsummer heat drives fish to deeper, cooler water. When tight-lining, let the cricket or grasshopper sit in one place, or slowly reel it in. This tight-lining technique is a good way to catch red-ear sunfish and channel catfish, which tend to feed close to the bottom.

Both crickets and grasshoppers can be kept in commercial cricket baskets. Store them in a cool place. Put a potato slice into the container and don’t overcrowd them. With good care, they should last several days.


Minnows are a “natural” for most game fish. The most common minnow sold in bait shops in Missouri is the golden shiner. These hardy minnows work well as bait.

You can catch your own minnows in a seine or a minnow trap. Larger seines require two people, one for each pole. They are best used going downstream, with one person stopping and anchoring one seine pole at stream’s edge with the other person swinging the other end around, encircling the minnows.

Some seines are small enough for one person to use. Hold the seine poles in front of you, with the poles touching the stream bottom, then pull it upstream while kicking and shuffling the gravel with your feet. The seine captures minnows, along with invertebrates, that head downstream to escape the ruckus.

Use these seines at the head of holes where water tapers down to riffles so that you can corral the minnows. Through trial and error, you’ll quickly learn a lot about capturing minnows

Commercial minnow traps and jug traps also are effective. I like to use a Mason jar equipped with a plastic funnel and baited with a few finely crushed saltine crackers. I fill the jar with stream water and face the

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