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Live Bait Fishing vs Artificial Lures: Which is Best?

Live bait fishing or fishing with artificial lures is a question that every angler must face before hitting the water. There are many times when live bait is superior, and many other times when artificial lures work just as well, if not better than live bait. Like most things in fishing, the bait you use is a matter of personal preference, but if you're not yet sure whether you prefer live bait or artificial lures, use this article to help you decide.

Live Bait

Most anglers would agree that live bait is incredibly effective. But why?

The vast majority of game fish are carnivores. They eat other fish. Fishing with live bait works so well because you're giving the fish something they already eat naturally. You don't have to work as hard trying to convince a fish to eat your live minnow as you do when fishing artificial lures.

That's not to say there isn't any work involved in fishing live bait. You have to know which live bait to use, how to rig it, and how to present the bait in order to be successful.

Baitfish — minnows, shiners, pogies, mullet, and shad, among others — are by far the most popular type of live bait and are used to catch a wide variety of both freshwater and saltwater species. Crustaceans such as live shrimp and crabs are very effective live baits used in saltwater fishing. Night crawlers and crickets are classic live baits that conjure up fond memories of childhood fishing.

Pros of Live Bait Fishing

  • Takes advantage of a fish's carnivorous nature. Fish eat other fish. The easiest way to get a hook in a fish's mouth is by sneaking it in with a meal. Plus, you can "match the hatch" exactly by using the same baitfish found in the water you're fishing.

  • Attracts fish with scent. This is especially helpful when fishing large, open water or when you aren't sure where the fish are. Fish can smell your live bait from far away, and the scent will draw them in.

  • Fish are always looking for an easy meal. Many artificial lures imitate wounded baitfish. Why not use real wounded baitfish? No matter how fresh your live minnows are, once you stick them with a hook they'll be severely handicapped, making an easy meal for any hungry fish nearby.

Cons

  • Messy. You have to be okay with jamming a hook through the back or lips of a live fish, shrimp, or crab. You'll probably get slime, blood, and possibly guts on your hands and clothes using live bait.

  • Can be expensive. Unless you use a cast net to catch your own live bait, you'll be patronizing your local bait shop frequently. Depending on how often you fish, your live bait bill can add up fast.

  • Live bait must be kept alive. Instead of throwing your tackle box full of lures in the boat, you need to have a means to keep your bait alive. A simple bucket won't do; the water in which you keep your bait needs to be oxygenated. Some boats have built-in live bait wells, but most don't and a separate live bait tank with a pump is required.

Artificial Lures

While live bait is very effective on its own, artificial lures require much more involvement on behalf of the angler. Fishing with artificial lures is physically demanding, technical, and there are many variables to consider.

First, you have to know what lure will work best in a given fishing situation. Selecting the right lure can be very challenging simply due to the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of lures to choose from. Size, color, and action in the water are the most important variables when selecting lures, and the effective lure angler knows what to use at the right time.

Second, you have to know how to fish the lure. With live bait, your main worry is getting the bait to the right depth; the smell and wiggle of a live minnow does the rest. With artificial lures, you have to impart action to the lure to convince a fish to eat it or strike it.

Fishing with artificial lures can be quite a challenge. But, for many anglers, the challenge is half the fun. It turns fishing from a relatively passive pursuit (read: drinking beer and watching a bobber) to a very active sport that’s physical, mentally stimulating, and immensely rewarding when cast after cast eventually results in a fish caught.

Pros of Fishing With Artificial Lures

  • Active and engaging. Unlike live bait fishing, it is up to the angler to animate a lure to convince a fish to bite. The process of selecting the right lure and experimenting with presentation can be a very exciting way to spend a day on the water. Fishing becomes a game of action.

  • Can trigger predatory and territorial responses. While live bait capitalizes on a fish's carnivorous hunger, artificial lures take advantage of a fish's predatory nature. You can get a fish to rush out and ambush your lure, or chase it down and engulf it. There are times when a fish will attack a lure not out of hunger, but out of territorial defense, like during spawning season when a bass is protecting its nest.

  • Clean and easy. You don't have to worry about an artificial lure dying on you. Grab your tackle box and you're good to go. And, you won't get covered in blood and slime.

Cons of Artificial Lures

  • Can get expensive. While you can reuse artificial lures, you'll find that the number of lures you own frequently multiplies. There are always new styles and colors to try. Shopping for and trying new lures is fun, but can turn into a very expensive habit.

  • Challenging. Becoming effective with artificial lures takes a lot of trial and error. You have to put in the hours to figure out what lure to use in any given situation and how to fish it. When you first start fishing with lures, you may want to bring along some live bait in case you strike out with your spinnerbaits.

  • You have to know where the fish are (or at least have a pretty good idea.) It’s quite possible to catch fish by blind casting lures. But, blind casting can get exhausting and discouraging if nothing is biting. With live bait, you can cast out, let it sit, and there's a good chance a fish will find it. Artificial lures, however, require that you get your lure in front of a fish's nose to entice a strike. Knowing where in the lake to go, what depths to fish, and what sort of structures to target becomes critically important when fishing with artificial lures.

So Which is the Best?

In terms of fish-catching ability, it's hard to argue with the effectiveness of live bait. In terms of sport, artificial lures present more of a challenge, require more skill, and offer a bigger payoff. From a cost standpoint, there's arguably no difference between live bait and artificial lures — they both can get expensive!

It's difficult to conclude the debate of live bait fishing vs. fishing with artificial lures and which is best, but often times a successful angler is a versatile angler. If you really want to get into some fish, bring along both live bait and artificial lures. Then, you'll be ready for anything conditions dictate.

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