Fishing Tips

Stop Fish From Stealing Worms and Bait

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It’s so exciting to see your bobber start bouncing in the water. But the disappointment can be big when you reel in and see the fish stole your worm without getting hooked. I experienced this a lot in my early years of fishing. Here is what I have learned about how to stop fish from stealing bait. And I can promise these tips will help you hook more fish.

There are three steps to take when fish are stealing worms and bait. First, you should downsize your hook to one that fits in the fish’s mouth. Second, use a more sensitive bobber to help time the hookset sooner. Third, use a smaller piece of worm so the fish has to bite the hook.

Now let’s go more in depth with each of these three steps.

Downsize Your Hook to Prevent Fish From Stealing Worms

Best hook sizes for trout and panfish
When bait fishing for trout or panfish, stick with sizes 8, 10, 12 and 14

The first and most effective way to catch the fish that are stealing your bait is to use a smaller hook.

If you have fish biting but not getting hooked, it is probably because either your hook isn’t sharp enough, or it’s too big to fit in the fish’s mouth.

It’s likely that the fish stealing your worms and bait are either small, or smart enough to avoid your hook when they see it. Using a smaller hook will help to hide the hook from the fish’s view, and be small enough to easily fit into the fish’s mouth.

This tip is helpful with all fish and fishing methods. I’ve done this on catfish, bluegill, trout, and many others.

Along with using a smaller hook, be sure that it is very sharp. A sharper hook will do a better job of sticking in the fish’s mouth so they have a hard time spitting it back out and stealing the bait.

Use a More Sensitive Bobber

foam fishing bobbers are durable and can be more sensitive
Small or cigar shaped bobbers are more sensitive than big round bobbers.

If you have already downsized your hook, but fish are still stealing your worm or bait, then try using a smaller bobber.

A smaller bobber will not only help you see the bite sooner, but it won’t be as noticeable to the fish.

When a fish takes a bite at the worm and feels the pull of a bobber, it will spit it back out immediately. Then instead of trying to get the whole worm in it’s mouth, it will just pick at it and try to get it free. The fish is basically eating the worm off the hook.

This is why you may see your bobber bouncing but when you reel in there is no fish, and maybe even no bait.

When you use a small bobber, the fish won’t feel as much of a pull when it bites the bait. This will make it more comfortable to really suck in the whole bait and hook.

Bottom Fishing

Of course this works great if you are bobber fishing. But if you aren’t using a bobber and are bottom fishing with a sliding sinker rig, simply let just a little slack in your line. This will make it so that the fish doesn’t feel the pull of your rod when it takes it’s first bite. Just know that with this method you’ll likely gut hook the fish, so only do this if you know you will be keeping the fish to eat.

Use Smaller Worms and Less Bait

how to hook a worm so fish can't steal it.
The piece of worm is threaded over the hook so that only the hook point is showing.

One way to prevent fish from eating your bait but not your hook, is to use small bite sized pieces of worm. If it’s just enough to cover the hook, then when a fish wants to eat the worm, it has no choice but to eat the hook as well.

This can also apply to other baits. If fish are just picking your bait off, then try using just enough bait to cover the hook.

Another way this helps is that fish will usually be more comfortable eating something smaller. They are more likely to hit it hard rather than just taste test it.

Use Lighter Line

This is one more thing you can consider doing to prevent fish from stealing your bait. It really only makes a difference in the extremes, but it is worth considering.

If you are fishing for panfish, trout, or other small species, then try to use 4 lb. test fishing line. What you don’t want is a thick curly fishing line between your bobber and your hook. This will not be sensitive enough to transfer the bite to the bobber. Fish may be picking at your bait without you even seeing it.

Bonus Tip

If you have done everything above and you’re still having fish steal your worms, here is one more trick you can try.

how to hook a worm

Thread the worm end to end over your hook and up onto your line. This makes it impossible for a fish to steal your worm.

You can do this by either using the hook as a needle and thread it all the way through the worm, or you can use a special tool called a worm threader. If you are using a full size worm, a worm threader will make things so much easier.

Here is a very well done video explaining how to use one…

The downside to this method, is that it kills your worm so you don’t have the attractive wiggles of a live worm. Some fish won’t touch a worm that doesn’t look alive. It just doesn’t look natural when it’s threaded on a line. It does work better in a river where the current will give it some action.

On the other hand, some fish don’t care, so it’s worth a try. But if the bite totally stops, then you might have to go back to live worms.


Oftentimes, fish like to taste test something before they eat it. They’ll put it in their mouth and feel the texture, have a taste and decide if it is food or not. They can do this surprisingly quick. That’s why it’s important to use small hooks, sensitive bobbers, and be ready when the fish bites.

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.

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