What is the Best Live Bait for Largemouth Bass Fishing?

live bait for largemouth bass

What is the Best Live Bait for Largemouth Bass Fishing?

This post will discuss the best live bait for largemouth bass fishing. Largemouth bass are arguable the most popular freshwater game fish in North America. While many anglers choose to cast artificial lures for bass, quite a few anglers fish for them using live bait. There are several effective live baits for largemouth bass. However, there is one live bait that clearly stands out above the rest.

The best live bait for largemouth bass fishing is a shiner. As bass grow and mature, they feed primarily on bait fish. A live shiner is the best bait fish that anglers can use when fishing for largemouth bass. The shiner species will vary by location.

live bait for largemouth bass

One note that must be covered before going any further is the importance of checking local regulations went fishing with live bait for largemouth bass. Local regulations vary greatly regarding catching of bait fish as well as transporting and using them in various waters. It is important to know and understand these regulations in order to remain in compliance. These laws are made for the benefit of the fishery and should be adhered to.

Largemouth bass fishing with shiners

The species of shiner that anglers will use will vary depending on geographical location. In the south, the Golden shiner is by far the top largemouth bass fishing bait. It accounts for the vast majority of bass caught in the state over 8 pounds. Further north, Emerald shiners become more popular and prevalent. Most bait shops that cater to largemouth bass fishing carry some type of shiner.

golden shiner

In most situations, wild shiners are far superior to commercially raised shiners. This is especially true for anglers largemouth bass fishing in Florida and the South were anglers use golden shiners. The key to the effectiveness of wild shiners over hatchery raised shiners is the reaction of the bait fish when a bass or other predator fish is nearby. The wild shiner will panic and begin acting erratically. This is the trigger that causes largemouth bass to eat in many instances. Commercially raised shiners just do not exhibit this strike inducing behavior.

Read more about largemouth bass fishing in Capt Jim’s article!

Anglers have two choices when it comes to fishing with shiners for largemouth bass. They can either purchase them or catch their own. For some anglers, catching the bait is part of the fun. For others, they would rather spend the time fishing. Shiners can be caught in traps, with nets, and even by hook and line. In fact, some anglers prefer catching their large golden shiners on hook and line as they feel that it does less damage to the bait.

best live bait for crappie

Keeping shiners alive and frisky

Once the shiners are obtained, they must be kept alive and healthy. This is the one major drawback of fishing with live bait for largemouth bass. They are a bit of a hassle compared to other baits and certainly artificial lures. However, in many situations the chance of catching a trophy bass significantly increases with the use of live shiners. This is especially true in Florida and some other southern states where the majority of truly large fish are caught by anglers using shiners.

The live shiners will need some type of aeration. Anglers from boats almost always have the option of a built-in live well to keep the bait alive and frisky. These live wells will often aerate the water while also constantly changing it. Anglers fishing from shore or in boats without a recirculating live well will do fine with a bucket and a battery-powered aerators. It is just important to not overcrowd the shiners in either situation.

Best tackle when largemouth bass fishing with live bait

fishing for bass with shiners

The tackle that anglers use when fishing for largemouth bass with shiners will vary depending on the size of the fish being pursued in the environment being fished. In the south, heavy bait casting outfits stout braided line are used to winch big bass out of heavy vegetation and cover. Anglers fishing up north in clear water will do fine with a light spinning outfit. It really depends on the environment being fished and angler preference.

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Hooks are also a matter of angler choice. Many have decided to use circle hooks when fishing live shiners as they greatly reduce the chance of the fish being hooked deep. The hook in the side of the mouth or jaw significantly decreases mortality rate of largemouth bass that are being released. Kahle hooks are also popular in some areas and are a bit of a compromise between a circle hook and a regular.

kahle hook

The size of the hook should be matched to the size of the bait being used, not the size of the fish being pursued. Anglers fishing a 2 inch to 3 inch shiner will do fine with a 3/0 circle hook or #1 regular hook. Conversely, those fishing a tenant shiner will need to use a very large hook such as a #8/0 circle hook.

Best methods for hooking live bait when fishing for bass

For the most part, shiners are hooked two different ways; for the back just under the dorsal in and up through the bottom in both lips. Hooking location will usually depend on the type of water being fished. Anglers fishing shiners in shallow water under a float will do best hooking the shiner in the back. This results in the bait fish fighting against a float and putting out distress signals which will attract bass.

Hooking the shiner from the bottom through the lips is a better option when fishing in deeper water or in running water. A shiner hooked through the back in a river situation with some current will result in the shiner being dragged sideways and looking unnatural. The same applies to some degree to fishing the shiner in deeper water.

Best rigs for fishing for largemouth bass with live bait

The three basic rigs that most anglers use when fishing for largemouth bass with shiners is on a free line rig, under a float, and on a drop shot rig. A free line rig is one in which only a hook is used and the shiner is allowed to swim on its own. The shiner can be hooked through the lips or through the back. A split shot or two can be added to get the bait down in the water column if needed.

largemouth bass fishing

Anglers can add a float to the free line rig quite easily. The float serves two functions; it suspends the shiner at the desired depth along with giving a visual indication when a strike occurs. The angler can also see where the shiner is swimming as it will often swim away from the cover. This method of fishing a shiner under a float is by far the most popular method of fishing for largemouth bass and is mostly done in shallow water.

Anglers fishing in deeper water over structure, and this includes ice fishing for bass, will need some type of method to get the shiner to the desired depth. This obviously requires the use of some type of sinker or weight. There are multiple rigs that anglers can use when bottom fishing, however the drop shot rig works very well when fishing a shiner or other bait fish in deeper water.

live bait for largemouth bass

More productive live baits for largemouth bass fishing

While a shiner is the best live bait for largemouth bass fishing, there are certainly other productive live baits as well. These include other types of bait fish, nightcrawlers, and crayfish. Anglers have other choices as well, in reality a largemouth bass will eat just about anything that moves. However, these three other live bait choices are the most popular and readily available options.

Bait fish

As mentioned earlier, most mature bass feed primarily on smaller fish. While shiners are an excellent bait, they are certainly not the only thing that a bass will eat. Shad are a terrific live bait, though they can be difficult to keep alive in a well or bucket. The same applies to herring. Where legal, small sunfish and panfish can make for a terrific live bait for largemouth bass! Finally, local minnow species as well as suckers are commonly used as live bait.

best live bait for freshwater fishing


Nightcrawlers are a fantastic choice for anglers fishing for largemouth bass with live bait. They are readily available, easy to keep alive, and quite productive. One other benefit to using nightcrawlers, though some anglers may consider it a nuisance, is the fact that nightcrawlers will catch many other species as well. The best approach is to hook the worm in the nose and allow it to undulate naturally in the water with little or no weight. It can be fished under a float as well.


live bait fishing

Largemouth bass love crayfish! They are full of protein and are second only to bait fish when it comes to the primary diet of largemouth bass. This is especially true in streams and lakes with a lot of rocky structure and bottom. Crayfish can be purchased at some bait shops. However, in most cases anglers must catch their own. This can be done fairly easily using traps set overnight and baited with a piece of bacon. Crayfish are best finished on or near the bottom around rocky structures and are usually hooked up from the bottom in the tail.

In conclusion, this article on the best live bait for largemouth bass fishing should help anglers experience more success when fishing with live shiners!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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