As I explained in a recent post on the best live bait for trout, live bait is the most effective approach to catching fish in the majority of situations. Still, anglers aren’t always able to find or use live bait. There are places with no bait shops around and waterways where the use of live bait is prohibited. On top of that, some anglers simply prefer to use other types of baits and lures. Thankfully there are many alternatives to live bait ranging from scented plastics to unscented artificial that look or even act like the real thing in the water.
That doesn’t mean that every scented plastic or artificial lure is effective. Some seem to have been manufactured to catch anglers rather than fish. One may even wonder if some of the baits and lures on the market today have even been tested in actual waterways. It appears at least a few were rushed out to sale with the sole purpose of making a quick buck.
There are effective substitutes for live bait. They come in a variety of forms and each have their own practical uses. For those unable or unwilling to use live bait, here is a detailed lists of the best alternatives.
Berkley Gulp! Maggots
Berkley Gulp! Maggots are an example of an artificial bait that is almost as good as the real thing. These maggots come packed in a small jar and can last for quite a long time if properly stored. They are packed with scent and literally dripping in the Gulp! juices that can really fool fish.
For those who don’t want to deal with live maggots, Berkley Gulp! Maggots are a great alternative. They can easily be placed on the back of a microjig to add scent and attractiveness for trout and salmon or fished on small hooks or jigs for panfish. They have a number of applications. They even come in a range of colors including natural and pink. Pink is especially good on trout, steelhead and crappie.
The Berkley company is known for making effective bait. Everything from their trout paste baits to their soft plastics are widely used and respected. That said, the Berkley Gulp! minnows don’t seem to be nearly as effective though countless anglers swear by them.
Power Wigglers are another Berkley product. Power Wigglers have been around much longer than the Gulp! formulation but these little soft plastic baits continue to work. They mimic wax worms and they are a lot more durable than the softer but more realistic Gulp! baits.
Power Wigglers are great for panfish and trout whether they are fished on their own or used to tip jigs. They also work equally well under the ice or out in open water. A pack of several Power Wigglers only costs a few dollars and each piece can withstand several catches.
When artificial wax worms won’t cut it but live wax worms are unavailable or undesirable, the next logical step is to fish with mummy worms. These “mummified” wax worms are preserved in a way that keeps them supple and fresh for up to two years. At the same time they don’t smell of chemicals in the way some other preserved bait do.
The mummy worms sold by the Mummy company come in a wide variety of colors. Like power wigglers and real living wax worms, mummy worms work well in open water or when fished through the ice. They’re nice to have on hand in case you need them.
Soft plastic nymphs
While most fish are partial to large live baits like earthworms and minnows, the bulk of the invertebrates eaten by many fish are actually smaller nymphs. Caddis larva, mayfly nymphs, stonefly nymphs, damselfly nymphs and other small aquatic creatures are an easy and common meal for trout and many other species of fish.
Most people don’t think of using soft plastics for trout, but they work. There are a lot of small soft plastic nymphs on the market including several that are marketed mainly to ice fisherman. A lot of the small soft plastics mimic the same creatures that flies are meant to imitate.
It is a lot easier to get a Nikko Mayfly Nymph on a hook than the real thing. Besides that, in some places anglers are not even allowed to collect mayfly nymphs and similar creatures let alone use them for bait.
Zoom Chunk Bait
The alternatives to live bait aren’t limited to small grubs and nymphs. There are artificial or enhanced versions of nearly every living thing that fish eat. That includes frogs, lizards and crayfish. In fact, more people probably use artificial frogs and crayfish than the real thing. In some cases that is accordance with the law. In others, anglers may just be unable or unwilling to find living frogs or crayfish and impale them on a hook.
There are a lot of chunk baits on the market. They are often used to tip big jigs or spinner baits for bass, but they can also be fished on their own. They come in soft plastic and the older but more traditional pork varieties.
The chunk baits manufactured by the Zoom company are some of the most popular. There is a good reason for that. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and they’re packed with salt to draw fish in and make them hold on longer.
There are times when you want or need an alternative to live bait that is not scented. For example, some special regulation waters in the United States specifically prohibit the use of scented baits. Since most soft plastic lures are scented, that’s when flies come in handy.
It is actually not that difficult to fish weighted flies with a spinning rod. You can fish beadhead and weighted flies under a small float in the same way that you would fish a trout worm or microjig. It’s really no different.
The squirmy wormy is a popular if controversial fly that has taken fish around the world. It is more or less a small rubber worm tied on a fly hook. It comes in a variety of colors and they all work, but red and pink seem to the best in most situations.
The squirmy wormy works just as well when fished on a spinning rod as it does on a fly rod. Under a float or fished on a free line, the worm tumbles along through the water and catches its fair share of fish. Everything from trout to panfish and even bass have been known to crush the squirmy worm.