Ice fishing bait guide

In freezing climates, particularly during winter, fish tend to be less active and more reluctant to bite. This poses a challenge for ice fishing enthusiasts. When artificial lures fail to attract fish, switching to live bait can be a game-changer. Live bait, with its natural scent, is often more enticing to fish under the ice. Among the most effective techniques in ice fishing is jigging, where live bait is commonly used to enhance the chances of a successful catch. Knowing the right bait to use is crucial. Here’s a expert guide to the top live baits for ice fishing.


Often considered one of the best ice fishing baits, spikes, a type of maggot, are highly effective in attracting fish. Although they might seem unappealing to us, fish find them irresistible. Spikes are small, making them ideal for catching smaller fish like panfish, though they can also lure larger species. For bigger fish, it’s advisable to use multiple spikes on the hook. Other larvae also serve as excellent bait.


These classic fishing worms are incredibly versatile, making them suitable for ice fishing too. Nightcrawlers are easy to use, affordable, and their movement and shape are particularly effective in attracting fish. They are excellent for targeting species like walleye, trout, perch, or pike. Their larger size compared to other live baits like spikes makes them more effective for bigger fish.

Wax Worms

Known affectionately as waxies, these are the larvae of bee moths and are a favorite among ice fishers. Despite not being natural prey for fish, wax worms are highly effective in attracting them, especially in ice fishing scenarios. These small worms, about an inch in length, are commonly used for smaller species but can also attract larger fish.


As a natural prey for many fish species, minnows are a popular and versatile bait choice. They are particularly effective for catching species like perch, pike, walleye, and crappie. However, it’s important to check local regulations as some states restrict the use of live minnows. If live minnows are not allowed, dead minnows can be used as an alternative.

Cut Bait

This bait is made from small pieces of larger fish, with whitefish or shad being popular choices for ice fishing. Cut bait is particularly effective in winter, as the additional scent from the fresh fish meat can be more enticing to fish in colder temperatures.

Each of these baits has unique qualities that make them effective for ice fishing. By understanding the preferences and behaviors of the target fish species, anglers can choose the most suitable bait to increase their chances of a successful catch under the ice.

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