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What is the best live bait for ice fishing? My Top 6!

There is an endless list of live baits and artificial lures when it comes to ice fishing. I bet there are still many that we are unaware of. Sometimes, we even end up spending so much time picking the right bait because there are just too many options available.

But let me narrow it down for you, in case of ice fishing, you might want to stick with live baits instead of lures. I’ve been in the game of ice fishing for over two decades. And yes! Sometimes, just to spice things up or whenever I’m having a slow day, I tip an artificial lure along with my live bait.

What is the best live bait for ice fishing?

But when it comes to ice fishing, there’s not a single fishing trip where I haven’t used live baits. Trust me! Live baits and ice fishing are like “bread and butter.” However, not all live baits work well.

So, after years of ice fishing experience and getting my hands on uncountable live baits, I’ve come up with the top six live baits that are sure to enhance your next ice fishing expedition. Sounds interesting? Then you might want to continue reading.

In this article, I will share with you some of my favorite live baits with which I’ve had some of the most plentiful catches. So, without further ado, let’s get started:


I’m sure the first species that comes to almost everybody’s mind are minnows when they hear the word “bait.” And yes, there’s no denial! Minnows are one of the most popular and successful live baits in the world of ice fishing.

Most game fishes include minnows in their natural diet. Thus, the sight of a struggling live minnow on a hook is one of your biggest shot to catch your targets. Minnows are excellent live baits if you are fishing for fishes like pike, walleye, perch, crappie, etc.

Some of the most commonly used minnows include shiners, fatheads, and sucker minnows. If you want, you can also tip some artificial lures like the Ice Fishing Spoons along with minnows.

Make sure to take care of your minnows if you’re planning to use them alive. If you want a proper bucket to store your minnows, you can check out the Frabill 4825 Bait Bucket. Since it comes with an Insulated Liner, it has aided me in keeping my minnows alive for longer.

But before anything else, remember that some states do not allow using minnow as baits.

So, you can check here to see if it is permissible in your state.

Meal Worms

Mealworms are one of the most classic and versatile live baits among ice anglers. It refers to the larva of a darkling beetle. You can use mealworms either hooked or jigged, but they work best alongside a tipped rattling spoon or ice jigs.

Mealworms are great for attracting panfish and trout. However, mealworms cannot withstand extreme cold water temperatures. So, maybe you can use them during the day when there’s a little sunshine or when the ice-cold water started to warm up.

The best way to use mealworms is to hook them in bulk and squeeze them a little. This way, their scent increases, and thus, you have better chances of attracting a catch.

Cut Bait

Cut bait simply means cutting a larger fish into pieces and using it as bait. You can hook the pieces in a hook and drop it in the ice hole. Or, you can drop some pieces in the desired location to attract schools of fishes. This process is also called chumming. For this method, consult with the local authorities first to check if chumming is permitted in your region.

The main benefit of using cut bait is the extra oomph of scent they give out. This scent works great for attracting fishes in ice-cold water.


Spikes are also known as silver wigglers and typically consist of blowfly maggots. Spikes are smaller in size, but they have hard skin on their exterior. Thus, keeping them hooked won’t be a challenge.

Spikes work great for luring fishes like sunfish, bluegill, etc. But you can use them to attract larger fishes as well. For this, you will have to put several spikes in a single hook.

Wax Worms

All ice anglers can definitely agree on this one – wax worms are classic live baits. These are the larvae of bee moths and are also commonly known as waxies. Waxworms are not a natural diet of game fishes. However, most fishes are lured by the sight and scent of waxies, even more so in cold water.

Waxies are about ½ to 1 inch long and are usually used as baits for catching smaller fishes like panfish.


Mousies are the larvae of bees. They are called mousies because they have tails and thus have the resemblance of a mouse. Because of their structure, they are also often referred to as rat-tailed maggots.

They are usually about ½ inch long. So, they work well to catch small fishes. Since they are relatively smaller than other baits, you can hook multiple of them in a single setting. Also, along with their small bodies, even their outer skin is delicate. So you need to be extra careful while hooking a mousie.

Benefits of Ice Fishing with Live Baits

Both artificial lures and live baits have their own places in the ice fishing realm. However, when it comes to live baits, there are some major benefits that you just cannot ignore. Let me point out some:

As compared to artificial lures, live baits have better chances of catching something. Since most live baits are included in the natural diet of game fishes, one or the other predator is sure to go for the bite.

Live bait is freely available. Also, if you opt for buying them, you’ll get them at relatively lower prices than lures.

With live baits, you have an endless array of options. So, whether you want minnows, worms, or crawlers, you’ll never run out of choices.


Ice fishing with live baits can be your best bet to end up with one or more catches. Also, since there are several options out there, you can always switch things up when you feel like your bait is not getting the job done.

Along with the above mentioned live baits, you can also bring along your own choices of live baits and try new ways to always keep your targets attracted.

1 thought on “What is the best live bait for ice fishing? My Top 6!”

  1. Try scaled crappie skin. 1/4″ by 1″. That’s the most durable bait I’ve ever used and it’s practically free.

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