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Best Bait For Lake Fishing

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There are so many baits out on the market, How does anyone even know where to start? Every lake is different, and it’s hard to say which specific bait is best for fishing in your lake. I want to take you through my process for choosing what bait to use when I show up to a new lake. I’ll tell you my go-to all around baits and how to find fish.

In reality, becoming a good lake fisherman has just as much to do with finding the fish as it does the bait you use. The two go together hand in hand.

You can cast out the best bait in the world, but if there aren’t fish around to see or smell it, then you’re out of luck.

On the other hand, if you find an area full of trout but throw them catfish bait, then you may have a hard time getting them to bite.

So I’ll start off with the best all around bait, but suggest you keep reading to learn how to best utilize it to get more fish in the net!

Best All Around Bait For Lake Fishing

Worms… yeah sorry it’s not some secret magical bait that nobody knows about.

But honestly, humans have been experimenting with fishing bait for thousands of years, and there is a reason why worms are the most widely known fishing bait in the world. Fish love worms. That’s all there is to it.

Now I’m not saying that worms are the best bait for every species of fish, but almost all fish will eat a worm. What I’m saying is that if I went to a fishing competition without a clue what type of fish were in the lake, and I was only allowed to bring one type of fishing bait, then I’d bring worms.

If I knew specifically what species of fish was in the lake, then my answer would most likely change.

So, if you want to really master your lake (or any fishing spot), then you need to start by knowing what fish you want to catch.

What Fish Do You Want To Catch?

First you need to know what type of fish are in the lake. This should be easy. Go to Google or look through your local fishing forums, if you don’t already know.

Different species of fish have different diets. Trout like to eat insects, and bass like to eat fish. So, choosing your fish is the first step, and now we need to know what that fish likes to eat.

What Do Fish Eat in the Wild?

To choose the best bait for your target species, you should know what they like to eat naturally.

Below I made a list of some of the most common fish species and what they like to eat naturally.

Find what your target fish likes to eat, then choose a bait that is either on the list, or closely mimics it.

Wild Trout

  • Insects
  • Small fish
  • Worms

Stocked Trout

  • Fish pellets
  • Anything that seems edible and fits in their mouth


  • Smaller fish like shad and bluegill
  • Dead fish
  • Worms
  • Channel catfish will eat anything that seems like food


  • Smaller fish like shad and bluegill
  • Crawdads
  • Worms


  • Vegetation
  • Crawdads
  • Mussels
  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Fruits that fall into the water


  • Insects
  • They’ll mouth anything that fits and looks like it might be food


  • Small fish
  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Crawdads

Where Do Those Fish Feed?

Ok, so here is the real challenge of lake fishing. Lakes are just so big, how do you know if you are fishing in the right spot?

There are so many variables such as air temperature, water temperature, time of year, species of fish… the list goes on and on.

Don’t get overwhelmed though! I’ll tell you some tips to get you started, but it’s always best to talk to people who are already experienced on your lake. That will cut down your learning curve big time. You can talk to people on the forums, or anglers on the banks and boat docks.

Wild Trout

Trout like cold, well oxygenated water. This can be around vegetation and incoming streams.

If it’s a hot day and the sun is high, then they’ll often go deep where the water is cooler. But if you fish early morning and in the evening, you’ll still have a chance at them in the shallows.

Trout also feel safer in deeper water. It’s a great idea to fish on the edge of a drop off where trout can easily access both deep water for safety, and shallow water for food.

Stocked Trout

Stocked trout are similar to wild trout, except not as smart.

They have been well protected throughout their life, and their only concern in life has been being the first one to the food.

If the trout were recently stocked, then the best place in the lake to start fishing would be near where they got dumped in.

Otherwise, fish the same places you’d fish for wild trout.


Catfish prefer warm water. In the winter time when the air is cold, they’ll move deep where the temperatures are more constant.

When the water is cold, they won’t move around as much. This means you need to get your bait right in front of their nose.

The best time to catch catfish is during the summer months. They will be the most active and come into the shallows to hunt.

During the evenings and nights, catfish will come into the shallows to find food. I have found that the best time to catch catfish is about an hour before and after sunset.


Bass, particularly largemouth bass, prefer warm waters. But they can still be found in colder climates. Some of the best smallmouth bass fishing is in the cold northern lakes of America.

In the early spring when the weather is first starting to warm up, it’s usually best to fish on the north end of the lake. The north end gets the most sun during the day, and will warm up first.

For the most part, bass like to ambush their prey. They’ll find a spot where they can hide out and wait for a fish to swim by. You should target bass near weeds and trees that have fallen into the water. They can also be found around rock piles and drop offs.


Carp are extremely hardy fish. They can be found just about anywhere. But if they have a choice, they’ll choose warm water.

During colder weather, find the warmest part of the lake. This could be deep, near an inlet, or it could be in the shallows during spring.

Carp can usually be found in the shallows. They like to eat vegetation and aquatic insects which are usually found in shallower water.

Fish for carp right up along weeds and near drop offs. Keep an eye out. Often you’ll see them moving in the weeds, or jumping out of the water.


Bluegill love warmer water, and can be difficult to catch during cold months.

When the sun is out and the water warms up you can find them gathered in schools in shallow water.

They are prey to a lot of other fish as well as birds, so they like to stay near cover where they feel safe. Fish for them around sunken tree branches, logs, rocks, and under overhanging trees. They also love hanging out under docks.


Crappie can be found in similar places to bluegill. They are very similar except bigger.

Look for crappie around cover like sunken branches and bushes.

Since they are bigger than bluegill, they can be targeted with bigger baits.

Best Fishing Bait for Trout in Lakes

The best fishing bait to catch a trout in a lake would have to be worms. Just make sure you use a small worm about 2-3 inches in length. If you only have big worms, then you can cut one up.

The problem with big worms is that it’s hard for a fish to get the whole thing in it’s mouth. It’ll more likely just grab the tail and pull it off the hook.

Use a Gamakatsu size 12 bait holder hook. Good sharp hooks are extremely important. You can sharpen your hooks to make them even better. Here’s an article if you want to learn more about trout hooks.

For your line use 4 pound test. Here’s a whole article on trout fishing line.

Use a small foam bobber. The more sensitive the better.

My second choice for fishing bait in a lake would be Power Bait. But only if I’m targeting stocked trout. Power Bait would probably be too foreign for a wild trout.

Power Bait Floats so it should be used with a sliding sinker rig.

powerbait on sliding sinker rig

If you want to learn more about trout bait check out this page.

Best Fishing Bait For Catfish in Lakes

I need to split this one into three species. Channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. They each have different preferences so you want to make sure you are using the right bait for the right fish.

Channel Catfish

community ponds catfish

Channel cats are the least picky of the three. When you see catfish baits in the tackle shop, they are usually designed for channel cats.

The best fishing bait to catch a channel catfish in a lake would be chicken liver. It’s not my favorite for the fact that it’s messy, smelly, and difficult to work with. But chicken livers are definitely proven to catch lots of channel cats.

If you want my favorite less messy bait then try jello hotdogs! They work great, and I’d rather have my hands smelling like strawberry jello than chicken liver.

jello hotdogs for lake fishing
Jello hotdog

Blue Catfish

Blue catfish are a bit more picky than channels. They like fresh fish dead or alive. Their main diet is made up of smaller fish like shad and bluegill.

The best fishing bait to catch a blue catfish in a lake is whatever baitfish is most common in the same lake. If the lake is full of bluegill, use bluegill. If there is a good population of shad, then use shad.

Fish these on the bottom dead or alive on a sliding sinker rig.

Sliding sinker rig

Flathead Catfish

Some people say that flatheads are the most picky. They like their food to be so fresh it’s still alive.

The best fishing bait to catch a flathead in a lake is whatever baitfish is most common in the same lake. And make sure it is lively! Live Bluegill are very hardy fish and will stay alive on the hook for longer than shad.

Here is a page all about catfish baits. And another one about rigs.

Best Fishing Bait For Bass in Lakes

Bait fishing for bass actually isn’t very popular. They can be caught on worms and live bait, but you’ll probably have better luck with something artificial like soft plastics and lures.

That being said… The best fishing bait to catch a bass in a lake is a live baitfish. This could be minnows, bluegill, or small shad.

Fish live baitfish under a bobber so that they can move around and hopefully pass in front of a bass waiting to ambush.

live bait rig for bass
The sinker at the bottom is optional and is used to control the depth of your live bait.

Cast near cover, but be careful not to let your bait swim into the cover and get snagged.

If you don’t want to use live bait for bass, then I love the Storm 360 GT swimbait. Just cast it out near cover and reel it right back in. It has a really good swim to it and works great for finding bass!

Best Fishing Bait For Carp in Lakes

grass carp fishing
Amur Carp aka Grass Carp

Carp like fruity flavors. You’ll see that a lot of commercial baits have flavors like pineapple, strawberry, and tootie frootie.

The best fishing bait to catch a carp in a lake is any type of pack bait. Luke Nichols from teaches to use a panko, sweetcorn, and strawberry jello pack bait. I have used this pack bait with great success!

Just mix Panko bread crumbs with a can of sweetcorn and a pack of strawberry jello powder. Get it to a consistency that it can be packed into a ball.

To fish it, pack it into a ball around your sinker.

Best bait for lake fishing
best bait for lake fishing

Then put a couple pieces of corn on your hook and stick the hook into the ball of pack bait.

When you cast out, the pack bait ball will sink to the bottom and slowly break apart to leave a nice pile of chum with your hook sitting right on top.

For more ideas and recipes on carp baits, check out this page!

By John

Hi I'm John. I'm the author of I have been obsessed with fishing since my dad took me to catch bluegill in the creek as a little kid, over 20 years ago. I love learning and perfecting all kinds of fishing techniques. I have spent time living in different countries learning their unique traditional fishing methods, and then combining the best of all worlds to catch as many fish as possible. My hope is that this website can help you, or someone you are teaching, to have a better fishing experience early on so that you too can be hooked into this wonderful sport.