Freshwater Bait Fishing Rigs

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Bait fishing tips

for Ponds, Lakes and Slow Moving Streams

  1. Thin wire aberdeen style hooks in size 6 are usually a good choice for the casual fisherman.
  2. You will generally be more successful if you can get your bait within a foot of the bottom.
  3. When bait fishing don't start reeling in until the fish takes the bobber under and starts running with it. Many people make the mistake of trying to set the hook too soon resulting in the bait being taken from the fish's mouth.

Basic Freshwater Rig

One of the simplest rigs used for freshwater fishing in shallow water (5 feet or less) is a snap on float with a hook tied at the end of the line. A little tip is to clip enough split shot below the bobber to expose less than an inch of bobber above the surface. This will allow wary fish to take the bait under without undue resistance.

Often you will see people using big hollow plastic red and white bobbers which is generally a mistake. These cheaply made plastic floats have a great deal of air resistance, resulting in reduced casting distances. Their buoyancy in the water is off putting for wary fish. A more streamlined float will likely be a better choice unless you are using particulary large baits such as large live minnows.

Slip Float

A popular method for fishing deeper water and suspended fish is the slip float rig which allows the fisherman to adjust the depth at which the bait is suspended from 18 inches to 30 feet. A slip float bobber is hollow in the center allowing it to freely slide up an down the line until it contacts the bobber stop. The fishing depth is controlled by a stopper knot which can be moved up or down on the line.

These stop knots can be purchased or hand tied. If you wish to tie them by hand, use a 20 - 30 lb braided dacron line. To save time when I am fishing, I will have several of these knots already tied onto a hollow plastic coffee stirrer. Then it is only necessary to slip the fishing line through the tube and slide off a knot onto the line. Carefully tighten the knot and cut off most of the tag ends.

Tying on Terminal Tackle

An improved clinch knot is one of the easier knots to use to tie on terminal tackle.

Image of how to tie an improved clinch knot

Natural Baits

Earthworms and nightcrawlers

Earthworms and nightcrawlers can be kept for weeks in a cool place and a proper bedding. ie shredded leaves, spagnum moss or a commercial worm bedding. Every week or two sprinkle a little cornmeal or bread crumbs on top of the material for them to feed on. The bedding should be moist but not saturated.


Crickets can be kept in a coffee can sealed with the plastic lid. Small holes should be punched in the lid for air. A piece of fresh apple should be added to provide moisture and a couple of breadcrusts for food.

Minnows and Shiners

Minnows will catch a variety of fish. Those in 1 to 3 inch range will attract crappie, bass, catfish and even sunfish. Larger ones are better for bass, catfish and walleye. Hook them through the lips or behind the dorsal fin in order to enable them to swim freely.

An aerator pump should be used if minnows are to be kept for more than a day.


Crayfish are eaten by bass, walleye, crappie, catfish and most other freshwater species. They are generally hooked through the tail with a sharp thin wire hook of size 4 or larger. Crayfish can be kept for several days in moist spagnum moss.

Insect larvae and grubs

Mealworms and maggots are used by some fishermen. Mealworms are often a good bait for trout particularly in clear water.

Maggots are popular in the winter when the fish are somewhat sluggish and tend to prefer small baits. Use thin wire hooks with maggots as it gives a more natural presentation.