The bobber goes down, you set the hook but there’s nothing there. You reel in to see that another fish has stolen your bait and got away with it. This can be a pretty common occurrence, and some places are worse than others. However, there are a few things you can do to fight these bait burglars.
How do you prevent fish from stealing your bait?
The most common solution is to use a smaller hook. Unfortunately this means you will be catching smaller fish. If you still want to target big fish, then try using a tougher bait, securing the bait with Magic Thread, or use baitfish. There are many options, keep experimenting and don’t give up!
Here is a list of 11 ideas you can try to use to stop fish from stealing your bait.
1. Use A Smaller Hook
The most common reason for losing bait to fish is that they are just too small to fit the bait and hook in their mouth. Bluegill can be especially annoying as far a stealing bait goes. The smallest ones in particular can be very aggressive and attack whatever hits the water before a bigger fish has a chance to investigate.
But maybe you are fishing for something like catfish and you know bluegill and baitfish aren’t the issue. You may still be dealing with smaller catfish. Even 12 inch catfish could cause a lot of trouble.
One of the ways to prevent small fish from stealing your bait is to catch them. You can downsize your hook until you get something small enough to fit in the fish’s mouth.
Hey, if you can’t beat them, then catch them!
2. Use A Tougher Bait
Not everyone wants to catch small fish all day. If you are determined to catch a big fish through all the little ones, then you can try using a tougher bait that the fish can’t steal off the hook.
For example, instead of using real corn when carp fishing, you can buy plastic imitation corn that will be impossible for fish to steal.
If you are fishing in saltwater, try using squid as bait instead of shrimp. Squid is rubbery and more difficult to steal.
3. Sharpen Your Hooks
Another thing you can do to stop fish from stealing your bait is to sharpen your hooks.
Hooks may seem sharp right out of the box, but almost all hooks can be improved with a fine sharpening stone or 1000 grit sandpaper.
You want that hook to be so sharp that there is no way it’s going to slide out of a fish’s mouth without sticking in somewhere.
4. Use A Bigger Bait
Another way to target bigger fish amongst the bait stealers is to use bigger bait.
Baits such as live minnows or other baitfish are usually left alone by bait smaller fish.
Avoid using baits that are attractive to all fish. Worms are notorious for getting stolen. If I’m fishing for catfish in an area with a lot of bluegill, then I’ll use hotdogs instead of worms. The size and shape of a hotdog makes it very difficult for a bluegill to get a bite out of it.
5. Thread The Bait On To The Line
If you are determined to use softer baits like worms, then consider threading them onto your line. There are some worm threading tools you can buy for a couple bucks that help you to do this. You may also be able to use your hook as a needle and just thread it all the way up the worm.
The problem with this method is that it will kill your worm. Sometimes fish can be picky and will only bite a very live, wiggly worm.
Even if you don’t thread baits all the way up onto your line, you can still do well to thread them onto the hook. This is especially important when using shrimp as bait.
6. Fish A Different Spot
Sometimes the best thing to do is to just pick up and move. If the fish stealing your bait are small, then they are probably gathered close to cover. This is often right up near the bank, or dock. Try casting out further or into deeper water.
Usually there will be big predator fish waiting just outside of the comfort zone of these little bait thieves. They will sit there and wait for one to swim out just a little too far, then pounce on them. If you can cast just beyond these schools of bait eaters, you might just get into some big predator fish.
7. Go Up The Food Chain
Here is an interesting idea I can’t say I have tried personally, but I’ve heard it can work.
First downsize your hook and bait until you actually catch one of the small bait burglars. Then stick him on a bigger hook as bait for a bigger fish.
This could work great, because like I said above, predators are often waiting just outside of these schools. If they see an injured fish enter into their zone, then they will find it hard to resist.
8. Use Magic Thread
Bait thread (aka magic thread) is used a lot by anglers attaching cutbait to pugs or even just securing soft baits like prawns to hooks.
Bait thread is a thin and very stretchy elastic thread. Hook your bait on, then wrap it tight against the hook shank. The stretchiness of the thread helps hold it tight.
9. Time Your Hookset Better
There is the possibility that the fish are actually big enough for your hook and bait, but you are setting the hook either too soon or too late to where you are missing the fish.
Most fish prefer to take a couple hits at the bait before they gulp it down. You may see your bobber or rod tip make some sharp bounces just to pop right back up. Try waiting until the bobber or rod tip goes down and stays down. This way you know the fish has committed to eating the bait, and is now trying to swim off with it.
10. Use A More Sensitive Bobber
Sometimes, you may be waiting for that bobber to go down and stay down, but all you are getting are the short jerks.
In this case, the fish are probably biting at the bait and feeling the pull of the bobber. When they feel that pull, they let go.
This is where having a more sensitive bobber helps. A more sensitive bobber will be smaller and have less resistance when a fish is pulling it under. This will be less noticeable to the fish, and much more noticeable to the angler.
Try using the smallest bobber you can get away with. Stick floats, waggler floats and antenna floats are examples of very sensitive bobbers. If you can’t find these then just go with a small bobber.
11. Use A Sliding Sinker Rig
This is the same principle as using a more sensitive bobber. Except, this has to do with bottom fishing.
Make sure you are using the most sensitive bottom rig that you can. In most cases this will be the sliding sinker rig. The sliding sinker rig is designed to allow the line to slide through the sinker and therefore give you more direct contact between your rod and the hook.
This will help you to detect bites more clearly so that you can time your hooksets better. If something is picking at your bait, then you want to know so that you can hook the fish before it has time to steal your bait.
Although the most common solution to preventing fish from stealing your bait is to downsize, there are quite a few other options. You don’t always have to settle to catching small fish. There is always a solution, it may just take some experimenting to figure it out. But that puzzle solving is a big part of what makes fishing so fun!