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Fishing Hard Baits Can Make Your Fishing Trip More Successful

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Fishing hard baits, which resemble local bait fish, can be easily done because you can get a variety of them that are capable of diving, floating or suspending at various levels, where the fish might be feeding. Many of the artificial lure manufacturers have developed innovative designs, colors and features to make hard baits more effective than ever before because they are so life-like, in appearance and movement. Not only does this mean there is no need to find a local bait shop, but it also means you can carry a variety of these artificial lures with you and accumulate them over a period of time.

Fishing hard baits takes a variety of techniques because they can be trolled, casted and retrieved slowly, “jerked,” “cranked” or rigged in tandem with live baits, for finicky fish. While there are soft baits that resemble worms, lizards or snakes and crawdads or squid, most hard baits will resemble baitfish that are native to many waters, such as minnows, shad and perch. There are some artificial lures that will include rattles, lips for deeper-diving or popping surface noises and you can find jointed hard baits for more movement and life-like action.

While some fishermen might not start out fishing hard baits because they don’t think the fish will be fooled by them, you just have to take a look at some of the paint jobs on today’s most popular artificial lures, especially those that are used for bass fishing. If you tie one of these on your spin casting or bait casting reel, you are likely to catch some fish, if you choose those that will reach the area they are suspended in and find those that resemble some of the local food sources for the fish you are after.

There are a variety of body shapes and sizes to choose from and you will find them referred to by a variety of names. Whether you are fishing with a hard-bodied crankbait, plug, wobbler, jerkbait, stickbait, floater, suspending or jointed-minnow, you will be most successful if you start out with the most realistic colors and sizes, when imitating local baitfish. The vivid colors are helpful during times when fresh water clarity isn’t the best or for deeper diving lures, but you will find many saltwater lures in much brighter colors. The type of fishing can dictate the most effective selection, but one thing is certain-fishing hard baits can make your next fishing trip more successful.

The ULTIMATE Bait Guide

After location bait and it’s correct presentation is the most important factor governing success or failure. No matter how expensive your tackle is, if the fish won’t bite you go home empty. Freshwater fish can go several months without eating, most marine fish can not, indeed many marine fish will die if not fed several times a day( a big problem for aquarists rather than anglers). Fish will eat a wide range of prey as cutting open the stomach will show but these are not always the best baits to use. Remember your bait is not the only piece of food in the water, the secret of angling is to make the fish ignore everything else and take your bait instead.

Fish are not stupid, they want as much food as possible for as little effort as possible. This is known as optimal foraging theory, and although a contraversial subject amongst ethologists it’s well worth remembering. Imagine a bass spotting a sandeel some distance away, first he calculates the energy he’ll use to catch it then balances it against the energy gained by eating it, only if the pay off is greater than the effort will he bother. No fish is going to swim very far off course to pick up a puny little worm on your hook, imagine driving to the out of town supermarket just for one can of beans. This is the first rule DO NOT SKIMP WITH BAIT. Be generous, make it worth the fishes while to stop chasing that shoal and pick up your static large portion.

A fish can be said to show a preference for a food if it seeks out that item despite other food items being more available. This is the second rule STICK WITH THE WELL KNOWN BAITS (Yes we’ve all heard stories of some guy sticking a cream bun on a hook for a laugh and landing 30 lb cod). If one bait does not work try another as different species prefer different food and the colour of the water can play a big part. If you have an idea for a new bait try it out when the fishings good, if everybody else is catching bag fulls and your frozen fishfingers are too then your on to something.

Rule number three is MATCH THE SIZE OF YOUR BAIT TO THE SIZE OF THE FISH YOU EXPECT TO CATCH. Cod have large mouths and appetites to match, flatties have little mouths and cannot fit a size 6/0 hook laden with a mussel and lug cocktail in their gobs. Match the size of the hook with the size of the bait, a small hook buried deep inside a bait is well protected and the fish will not be impaled. If you are fishing for the smaller species it is better to use a 2-4 hook paternoster and spread the bait out rather than lump it on one hook. A pennel rig is two hooks in the same bait and increases the chance of contact when large baits are used.

The final rule is PRESENT IT PROPERLY . A lugworm suspended 3 ft above the seabed will set alarm bells ringing that somethings not quite right.

Worm Baits

Worm baits fall into two groups Ragworms and lugworms. All are treat in much the same way, stick the hook in the tail end and thread up the line till you reach the desired size. A pennel rig should be used when fishing multiple worms.


Lots of species available all make good bait. The big one is the king rag Nereis virens reaching 40 cm in length. Paddle, rock and cat worms are similar in appearance and should not be ignored. Many species have jaws (nippers), these can give a very mild nip. Can be dug up or found under rocks. Cultured ragworm is readily available all year round from most bait suppliers. Do not freeze ragworms.


Two species are used as bait The common lugworm Arenicola marina which lives in sheltered sandy beaches in a U shaped burrow with a cast and hole at each end. And Black lug Arenicola defodiens (also called runnydown) is much larger and does not form a hole next to the cast. There can be a lot of local names for lugworms runnydown, yellowtails, blowlug etc. To dig up the common lugworm dig a trench and work along it filling it in as you go. This produces the greatest number of worms for the least effort and prevents the beach looking like the surface of the moon. Much is said baout the environmental impact of bait digging by anti-angling idiots. However it must be remembered that a single rough sea can strip an entire beach of lugworms and all its sub-sand organisms which I think puts my dozen worms in perspective. Do not dig around boat moorings for obvious reasons. A while back someone got into bother for bait digging in Duridge Bay (around the time vast quantities of sand were being removed for commercial purposes). Black lug have to be dug out individually, always handle with wet hands to prevent them busting.

Black lug can be frozen easily.

Pop them and squeeze the guts out.

Lie them straight on a couple of layers of newspaper.

Cover with a generous layer of salt for about 3 hours

Shake off the salt and repeat steps 2 and 3.

Shake off the salt and lie the worms one inch apart on a length of newspaper

Roll up the paper and freeze.

Frozen black lug is ok when you fancy a nights fishing and you’ve missed the bait shop but it can’t beat fresh bait.

Mussels and Razorfish

Mussels can be bought alive from fishmongers or frozen from bait shops and pet shops. Most housewives know to reject mussels that don’t clamp shut when tapped but anglers need not worry about this as mussels which are “off” often make the best bait. Live mussels can be parted from there shells by severing the anterior and posterior adductor muscles and scooping out, or leaving to die in a bucket (helps bring out the flavour). Mussels are not on the menu normally as they are protected by a hard shell, those which are eaten have normally died and have been washed out. Tie mussels on to the hook with thread, taking care not to pull to tight. I like to freeze them on the hook and keep them wrapped separately until needed, this allows them to be cast further, they will defrost quickly once they hit the water. Adding pilchard oil to the mussel before freezing increases its effectiveness. Although the edible mussel Mytilus edulis is the one normally used as bait the horse mussels Modiolus modiolus can also be used. Other native species are too small to bother with. Mussels bought frozen pet shops are very small and make good lugworm and mussel cocktails. Mussel beds are also good places to fish.

Razorfish Ensis siliqua, also called pod razor and spouter fish are rarely for sale so have to be gather by hand. Walk along the low tide mark without shoes on very softly and look for keyhole shaped holes in the sand. Pour salt down the hole and grab tightly when it pops out. The smaller Sword razor is also suitable. Treat as mussels for bait.

Many species of bivalves can be found buried in the sand e.g. gapers, scallops, tellins, cockles, oysters, etc and are worth trying for bait where they are abundant.

Do not bother with limpets

Fish as bait
Big fish eat little fish, but which ones are best for bait. Whilst many fish will eat anything that fits in their mouths not all are suitable for bait. When there is a lot of undersize fish about nicking the bait the use of small baitfish can help target out the bigger specimens


Grouped here together because they are treat in much the same way. Use whole fish for shark and conger, Conger are a rare catch in north east england, although the rocks off Craster and Dunstanburgh have been know to produce. Removing the backbone so the two flanks are separate and can flap freely is a good way to present this bait. Shark fishing is unheard of from the beaches around here. More commonly these fish are cut into bite size strips before use. They give off a lot of scent and are unbeatable for coalies in the summer. Thin strips fished with a float will produce bags full of mackerel from almost any pier in the summer. When the shoals are in it is worth taken a few for dinner and bait but don’t go crazy, dozens of dead fish next to you impresses no one and you risk a earful from more conservation minded anglers. Mackerel are also caught using feathers or any small shiny lure on light tackle. Although mackerel and herring can be bought frozen from bait shops they often turn to a mush when defrosted. Fish mongers are a better source but buy ready filleted as you will get more for your money and make sure they have not been smoked.


No not the tinned ones, I’ve tried them they don’t work. These can be bought frozen in many supermarkets and fish mongers. Like mackerel and herring they are an oily fish giving off plently of scent. Being smaller they can be used whole when a mackeral would be too large or cut into strips. Warning, it is a good idea to keep the bag marked “pilchards” with you when fishing in case someone accuses you of killing undersized fish for bait.


Sandeels can be used live by hooking threw the upper lip or threw the base of the eye socket using a fine wire hook. There is a space here so little damage is done. Dead sandeels are hooked by sliding them mouth first on to the hook and turning so the hook comes out the anal area. The quality of frozen sandeels varies from bait shop to bait shop with those which turn mushy best avoided in future. Sandeels are best fished with a light rig with a long snood that moves around giving the impression that the sandeel is struggling in the surf. It is common to find cod and whiting stuffed full of sandeels. Live Sandeels cast poorly, ripping lose if any real power is applied. Live sandeels are caught in seine nets or found buried in the sand along the low watermark. Keep cold and well aerated in a non metal container.

Lance fish are bought frozen from pet shops. Make sure you get the larger size (about 2 inches) and make a good alternative to sandeels when a smaller bait is needed. Unlike sandeels they may be fed to pet fish at home. If the fishing tackle shop is closed or out of bait pet shops can be a good alternative


Bags of these little silver fish can be bought cheaply from fishmongers. Defrost enough for your trip because they dont refreeze well.


Rock pools are full of small fish which at first though could be used as bait. However unless you know what is what it is best to leave them alone. Some may be rare or endangered species, others will may have defensive mechanisms to deter predators and all will have cryptic colouration for camouflage. Undersized fish should be returned alive to the water and not rehooked as live bait unless there is a very good chance it will be taken. Estuaries in late summer are often jammed packed with very small flounder (often making fishing impossible) and although we’ve all found them inside cod and whiting should be left alone. Many aquarists buy or breed goldfish and livebearers (guppies, mollies etc) to feed to pet fish but these are too expensive for fishing.

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Squid is readily available from fishmongers, supermarkets and of course your local bait shop. It can be used whole or cut in to strips for the smaller species. Strips can seem a tad thin so cutting twice the length and folding in half is a good idea. Squid is a tough bait which lasts a long time in the water and withstands hard casting making it suitable for tipping off other baits, lug and squid cocktails being an all time cod classic. It is a decent winter bait particularly for whiting but in my opinion nothing special. I have never caught a fish on squid in the summer months, even when anglers around me have been pulling them out like no tomorrow on other baits. Squid is not a food source readily available to fish in the UK so they are probably a little reluctant to try it although crabs seem to be more attracted to squid than any other bait. As a note of interest I have tried feeding both marine and freshwater fish in my aquariums with squid from the petshop and have found that while the marine fish largely ignore it freshwater fish go crazy for it. Should I ever take up course fishing I will certainly be giving squid a try. Those little plastic squids (muppets) are popular with local boat anglers but are not suitable for shore fishing.

Peeler Crab

The outer shell (carapace) of the common shore crab Carcinus maenas needs to be cast if the crab is to grow. During this stage the crab becomes known to anglers as peeler crab and to cod as dinner. I have been told that fish in aquariums seem to know when the carpace is due to come off and hang around the rock impatiently, it is rumoured the crab always leaves it’s shelter after casting and seeks new shelter.

Look for crabs in areas with lots of rock and weed, children seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing which rocks to look under. Look for medium sized crabs, large ones moult less frequently and small specimens should be left till another day. Crabs that are ready to peel will have a hairline crack near the tail end, be dull in colour with a soapy feel. A discarded shell nearby often indicates a freshly peeled crab is nearby. Those not quite ready can be hurried along by storing in seaweed (change regularly) in a cool spot. Never keep soft crabs in the same container as peelers. Leave females with eggs alone. If you intend to lay a bit pipe to catch crabs put it in an difficult to reach place out of site to prevent your crabs from been stolen.

To use remove the legs (use to make cocktails), bung on a hook and tie with thread (elasticated bait thread is best but ordinary will do). Large specimens can be cut into smaller pieces. To freeze crab remove the lungs first, I like to freeze them on the hook and pack individually, store in a thermos flask when fishing.

Artificial bait

Artifical bait is a waste of money. Ignore claims that fish can’t tell the difference or they taste just like the real thing (mmm I can’t believe it’s not lugworm, yeah right). The only artificial bait worth it place in my tackle box are lures, I obtain all my Lures on eBay. Spinning is best done when you know fish are about and where deep water is close in e.g. steep beaches, rocks, piers etc. I like to spin when I prematurely run out of bait. Children who do not yet developed the virtue of patience and winge to check the bait every three seconds can be kept quiet by spinning.

It has been said a million times that most lure are designed to catch anglers not fish. One summer I walked along Whitby pier which was packed with people fishing for mackerel. The mackerel shoals could easily be seen yet only a few anglers were landing them. Many lures on sale are designed for the American market. Americans are blessed with shores full of huge predatory fish, we are not. These lures may mimick the baitfish living in the USA quite well but can be of little use in the UK. Also remember that the bass swimming around the UK coastline are a different species from those found in the American lakes. When visiting websites selling lures, claims such as “Best lure in the world” should be taken with a pinch of salt as these claims are impossible to prove. Remember the description was probably written by a marketing executive who has never held a rod in his life. Instead use your own instinct and past experience before parting with your cash.

Be sensible with size. The lure should look like potential prey. I have caught very small fish on lures that were bigger than they were and believe this may be due to the lure triggering an attack response rather than feeding one.

Use tackle capable of casting a light weight. a drilled bullet or a barrel lead 2ft up the line can be used to gain extra weight.

When fishing from a high platform point the rod tip downwards to give more natural movement to the lure.

A sink and draw method works best. Cast out let it sink reel in and stop, let it sink and reel in….

Red rubber sandeels are best during the day, Black at night with a full moon.

The best colour for other types varies according to weather conditions and visability, if one colour isn’t working switch to another.Keep an eye on other anglers spinning to see which colours are producing on the day.

Always incorporate a swivel to prevent line twist.

Expect to lose lures. Yes I know they are expensive but so is bait.

In bright conditions fish head to weedbeds. Work the lure around weedbeds not through them.

Seagulls picking off small fish often indicates the fish have been driven to the surface by larger fish.

Reel in the correct speed. Too fast the fish will not attempt to chase, too slow the lure may not move the way it was designed to.

Lines of debris on the surface are good places to try, particularly for mackerel.

On the tidal run spin so the lure moves in the direction of the current.

Dead sandeels move unnaturally through the water when spun.

Do not stop working the lure until it is out of the water.

When Fishing over rough ground a float can be used to prevent loss.

Painting your lead sinker to look like a small fish can attract fish to your bait.

Spinning is more energetic than bait fishing and your muscles will quickly become fatiqued reducing your casting distance. Don’t take too much tackle with you, rest every ten casts or so for a few minutes or alternate between bait and spinning duty with a friend. Drinking a glucose based sports drink can help. Powerlifters often take creatine monohydrate as an energy source for explosive movements. I have tried this and found no difference to distance cast or time for fatique to set in.

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What Bait Should You Use For Fish?

If you talk to the locals where you are fishing they will all recommend different bait. What is known though is that certain fish like certain bait, and you need to find out what this is. Some will bite on both prawns and squid, whilst others won’t touch squid and much prefer crabs and other seafood. Learning to use the right bait can take a bit of time, but its trial and error anyway. You never know what fish is going to be under you anyway, so experiment with a range of bait. When I go fishing, I take a few different types so that I am able to change bait if I am not getting any bites.

If you are using more than just one hook, you can put two types of bait onto the rig to double your chance of success. Over a little bit of time, you will soon learn what likes to eat what and you can buy more specific bait for where you are going. When you are fishing for larger fish, using small mullies, big lumps of squid or even live bait will usually get you the best results, but it’s the locals with years of experience that you should learn from.

When you bait up, you want to try and cover the hook as best as possible. If the fish see the hook often they will be deterred from having a go at it, and then you lose a potential fish. At the same time, don’t put a massive amount of bait on a small hook as the fish will bite it off in chunks and not go anywhere near the hook! Bait works well, regardless of whether it is alive or dead. If you aren’t having any success with bait then lures are a great option as well. These are cheaper and sometimes you won’t need bait anyway, especially when the fish are in frenzy.

Buy the Award Winning ‘Esca Lures’ online at http://www.innovativefishingtackle.co.uk/


Originally posted 2005-09-30 23:40:22.