Do You Need Live Bait For Ice Fishing?

Ice fishing is very popular in areas with frigid winters, and several ice fishing techniques and methods date back multiple generations. Live bait is traditionally the best bait for ice fishing and is the bait of choice for most ice anglers, but the development of modern lures and other bait options has led many anglers to wonder if you need live bait for ice fishing.

You do not need live bait for ice fishing. Live bait is the best option for ice fishing when targeting larger game and predatory fish, but artificial lures work very well, too, and are the better option when targeting smaller fish. Artificial bait is a very viable option for modern ice anglers.

Live bait is the traditional choice for ice fishing because it is very effective and highly reliable. However, live bait is not as accessible as it used to be, and many new ice anglers wonder if they need to use live bait or if other bait options will work well for this type of fishing. Let’s find out!

Do You Need Live Bait For Ice Fishing?

small perch fish being used as live bait

Ice fishing is a generations-old fishing method. There are several ways and techniques used for ice fishing, but the most widely used and trusted method is using live bait.

Most fish that bite during winter are looking for prey items, such as baitfish, larvae, worms, fish fry, and insects. This makes fishing with live bait very successful and reliable.

However, modern ice anglers find themselves leaning toward artificial bait more than ever before, as this method has become more successful and easily accessible.

The development of modern artificial fishing lures has changed the ice fishing landscape, and anglers no longer need to rely on live bait for ice fishing.

You do not need live bait for ice fishing. There are several fishing lures that have been proven to be highly successful for ice fishing, and many ice anglers have switched to using artificial bait for the sake of accessibility, ease of use, mobility, and the ability to target specific fish more easily.

Live bait has been the standard ice fishing bait for generations, as fishing lures were never reliable or successful enough to compete, but modern versions of ice fishing-specific lures have made it possible for ice anglers to steer away from live bait, and many now use artificial bait instead.

Is Live Or Artificial Bait Better For Ice Fishing?

perch fish being pulled from ice fishing hole

We have learned that it is no longer necessary to rely on live bait for ice fishing, but is live bait still a better option than artificial bait? Is live bait or artificial bait better and more successful for ice fishing?

Modern artificial bait is very good. Modern lures have been designed well and are very good at mimicking the movements and actions of several prey items that fish target when in the water.

Several companies specialize in developing and producing artificial baits and lures that are very good for ice fishing. Some lures are even made with the same scent as prey items such as baitfish or larvae to attract fish more effectively.

However, the success of artificial lures is dependent on the target fish and the fish that are available in the area.

The advantage of using live bait is that almost all fish that are looking for food will take almost all forms of live bait. Lures and other artificial baits target specific fish species, and if they are not biting, it can be very challenging to find a lure that works on the day.

With that said, if you happen to choose the right lure to target the right fish in a lake or river while ice fishing, it can be substantially more effective than live bait, as the fish are more likely to take bait that is designed for them, rather than live bait that they may not usually eat.

This means that live bait is still more effective and successful for general ice fishing, but if you are targeting specific fish while ice fishing, using artificial bait has a much higher chance of success.

Both artificial and live bait are excellent options for modern ice anglers, but the better bait for the day depends on what the fish are after at the time.

When To Use Live Bait Vs. Artificial Bait

walleye being pulled from ice fishing hole

Live and artificial bait are both very viable options for ice fishing, and both can be highly successful depending on how they are used, but how do you really know when to use live bait or artificial bait?

Artificial bait and live bait are both good ice-fishing bait options, but they are best used in specific circumstances.

It is best to use artificial bait when targeting specific fish species or when fishing for smaller fish. The best modern artificial baits are those that replace micro-baits and attract smaller fish that target smaller food or prey items.

These small artificial baits are highly successful, and many ice anglers prefer them to use live micro-baits such as large and mealworms.

Lures and plastic baits are also better when replacing live bait that tends to go limp in frigid water, such as bloodworms, and can even look more alive and realistic than some live bait items.

It is also far easier to use artificial bait to target specific fish species by using the right lures, as finding the exact right live bait for target specific fish can be challenging, as certain live bait items are difficult to find, even from bait shops.

For these reasons, artificial baits are better to use when targeting specific fish or when fishing for fish species that eat micro-baits.

Live bait is still the better option when targeting larger fish species, especially pike, crappies, walleye, and bass.

Using live bait such as baitfish is especially effective when ice fishing for these species, as these fish are looking for small fish to eat as a primary food source.

Artificial bait cannot replicate the liveliness and movement of a swimming baitfish, and nothing attracts predatory fish like live baitfish do.

In this circumstance, using live bait is better and is likely to be much more successful.

Should You Use Live Or Artificial Bait For Ice Fishing?

two men drilling ice fishing hole with auger

We now arrive at the most important question that any ice angler can ask right now: should you be using live bait for artificial bait?

The answer is determined by the type of fish you are likely to catch, the water you fish in, the area you fish in, and your fishing styles and techniques.

If you prefer fishing for numbers and do not mind what size fish you catch, it is a good idea to use a combination of live and artificial bait. Set a tip up over a fishing hole with live bait on the rig, and use a fishing rod with a lure as a second rig.

The live bait on the tip-up will attract anything looking for fish to eat, and the lure will target anything else that may be in the water. With this combination method, you are likely to catch a lot of fish while ice fishing.

However, if the fish in your area tend to only take micro-baits such as worms and larvae, it is a far better and more sustainable option to use artificial lures designed to mimic these bait items. These lures are very successful and very reliable.

The same is true if you want to target specific fish and not catch any others. Artificial baits are great for this.

If you would rather catch some larger fish and are more interested in game or predatory fish, the best bait option for you is live bait, especially baitfish. Live bait is much more successful for catching larger fish specimens.

Live and artificial bait are good for ice fishing, but the bait you should use is based on the fish you are likely to catch.


Ice fishing is unlike any other form of fishing, and it requires specific skills and techniques to be successful. Live bait is traditionally the best bait option for ice fishing, but modern artificial bait is becoming more successful in some situations.

Explore the bait options for yourself, and you are sure to find the best bait for your ice fishing trips. Live and artificial baits are both good options, but the ultimate decision regarding which to use is your own, based on your fishing style and the fish you are likely to catch.

Tommy Bull
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