How to Bait Live Minnows

Are you tired of using artificial baits and want to use live minnows?

Live baits have long produced some of the best results in both sport and recreational fishing.

A live minnow ready to be baited on a hook.
A minnow that’s ready to be baited up. Source: Eric Herot

There are a variety of live baits that work well in most fishing situations. In this article, I am going to cover how to fish with live minnows.

Recommended Minnow Gear

What Are Minnows

Contrary to some beliefs, minnows are not a specific species of fish, but the common name for a number of species of small freshwater fish.

Just about any fish that is of the “fingerling” or smaller size is considered a minnow. Shiners are more commonly known as bait minnows in many parts of the world.

However, there are a few exceptions to this.

For, example mud minnows and topminnows, even though they have the name “minnow” in their name, are not considered minnows per se.

live minnows near the surface
A bunch of minnows at the surface. Source: Christa R.


Some fish species can be easily confused as to what are considered minnows and what is not. An example of this is carp vs suckers.

Carp have hard and spiny first dorsal rays, as do goldfish, where suckers do not.

When you get to the saltwater variety one sure way to know a true minnow which is also known as “freshwater’ or “sweetwater’ minnow is, they can not survive in high salinity waters.

Some can thrive in very brackish areas where the salinity content is lower but the true bait minnows are more common to freshwater.

How to Use Live Minnows as Bait

Minnows are very fragile bait to use. To begin with, you will want to use the smallest of split shot lead due to the fact they will not hold up under much weight.

How to Rig a Live Minnow for Maximum Action - Different Ways to Hook Minnows

You will need to use a light wire hook when fishing with live minnows. This again is due to how fragile minnows are. If the hook is too big, it will simply tear out.

It can be quite difficult to hook minnows through the back as you might an artificial bait. For this reason, it is advisable to hook them through both lips.

Lip Hook Method

By using the lip hook method, it gives a more realistic presentation in the water when retrieving or simply letting it sink under the split shot weight.

Should you run out of living minnows, dead ones will work just as well. Use the same method of hooking through the lips and add more action to your presentation by using slight twitching motions.

This will resemble the lifelike movement of a live minnow while giving the same scent also as a live minnow vs an artificial minnow.

When to Use Live Minnows

While most fish species will respond well to live minnows, there are a few that most anglers agree are the absolute best.

Crappie, also known as speckled perch, also respond very well to live minnows. In some cases even better than other lures. This can especially be true in lakes.

Bream and warmouth also respond well to live minnow presentations. White Bass and Striped Bass can also be included in this list.

Pickerel and catfish will readily take minnows easily, live or dead. Catfish, for example, can be caught easily on dead minnows by just “letting them sit.”

While many species will strike live minnows, these are among the top of the list that seems to actually prefer them.

How to Keep Live Minnows

Minnows are not only fragile to put on a hook, but they can also prove quite difficult to keep alive in a live well or minnow bucket.

There are pumps available that can be purchased fairly cheaply, that work well in keeping the water oxygenated enough for minnows to survive.

Refrain from Changing Water

It is advisable to keep them in the water they were originally purchased or caught in. If you must change the water, make sure the water temperature is as close to the current temperature of the water they are in as possible. This will lessen the threat of shock that will lead to a bucket full of dead minnows very quickly.

Throughout the trip, keep a check on the temperature of the water the minnows are in. Minnow buckets, for example, can heat up quite rapidly in the summer sun.

Finally, use a pump to keep the water as oxygenated as possible. This will lengthen the life of the minnows considerably. It does not take many minnows in a small area to completely consume the oxygen supply in the water.

Where to Find Minnows

There are a few options here. You can find live minnows at most all bait shops that carry live bait.

These minnows are usually quite healthy and kept in well-oxygenated tanks and survive fairly well.

Another option is to catch them yourself. Minnows can be found in many most freshwater streams. A minnow basket comes in handy here.

A minnow basket is a fairly simple device that allows only minnow sized fish to enter but not escape.

Use Bread

The most common bait to use here is simply bread. Any fish bait can be used but most anglers who catch their own minnows find bread to be very effective, cheap and usually readily available.

While it does not take long for minnows to find their way into a minnow basket, it is a good idea to leave it out in the water overnight for the maximum outcome.

Use the same water that the minnows are caught in to keep them until you can get them into well-oxygenated water.

Note: Make sure to anchor your minnow basket down very well because you are sure to encounter some turtles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long do minnows live?

A: It depends on a multitude of factors such as water quality, temperature, aeration, and the health of the fish. In a proper baitwell, your minnows should at least last as long as your fishing adventure.

Q: Are minnows hard to keep alive?

A: It depends on the environment they are kept in. If they are in good oxygen and constant temperature water, minnows do very well.

Q: Is there a special way to use live minnows?

A: If the minnows are alive and healthy, they will produce their own natural movement. There is not any special finesse type fishing technique to use.

Q: Do dead minnows work?

A: Yes. Here, you will need to incorporate some techniques to make the minnow look more lifelike to produce a strike.

Insider Advice

Fishing with live minnows can be traced back many years and is still very much a productive way of sport, competition, and recreational fishing.

If purchased, live minnows are a cheap live bait and in the case you catch them yourself, free.

When given the choice, most fish prefer other smaller fish as a food source. This makes live minnows a great go-to choice for just about any species of fish you are going after.

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Johnny Harvill

Johanes Godoy

Sushmita Lo

Jon Stenstrom

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