Is it Better to Use Live Bait or Lures for Bass?


Bass anglers young and old have differing views on the use of live versus artificial baits for bass fishing.  The debate is as old as bass fishing and many hold strong and lasting opinions for a variety of well-thought-out reasons.

It’s better to use live bait for bass fishing when you’re new, fishing recreationally, or looking for any way to get more bites because bass prefer natural bait.  Lures are better for bass fishing in tournaments (required), provide a bigger challenge, and may be a cheaper long-term option.

Clearly, there are solid arguments to be made in favor of and against both live baits and artificial lures for bass fishing.  Read on below to check out the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches to bass fishing.  

Live BaitLure
Convenience
Versatility
Cover water
Transportation and Storage
Heavy Cover
Cost
Challenging
Tournaments
Easier to Handle
Catch Other Species
Catch and Release
Easy to Learn
Easy to Use/Effort
Catches More Fish
Is it Better to Use Live Bait or Lures for Bass?

What’s a More Convenient Choice for Bass Fishing Lures or Live Bait?

Unlike live bait, lures are always at the ready.  At a moment’s notice, you’re able to grab your rod, reel, and tackle box, head to the lake, and get fishing. 

Not so with live bait.  With live bait, you need prep time, gathering time and/or purchase time.  Live bait also requires maintenance to keep bait alive or fresh.  You’ll often need an aerator to preserve minnows or shiners and a cooler to keep things like crickets or live worms alive and frisky.

Winner: Lures

Are Lures or Live Bait More Versatile for Bass Fishing?

Lures offer more versatility than live bait.  It’s easy to change to different colors, characteristics, and sizes with artificial baits.  Trying different cadences and retrievals is a breeze with lures.  You can easily change from a super-fast retrieve that you’ve been trying to elicit a reaction bite to a slow, methodical one that might be better to tempt finicky fish.  

Winner: Lures

Which Covers Water Better for Bass Fishing Live Bait or Lures?

Many lures are made to find fish by covering water quickly.  Live bait is, for the most part, fished at one speed and is subject to the limitations of how fast or slow your live bait wants to move.

Artificials like spinnerbaits, wake baits, topwaters, buzzbaits, and more are great ways to cover a ton of water when you don’t know where the fish are and you’re trying to locate their preferred area.

Winner: Lures

Which is Easier to Transport and Store, Artificial Bait or Live Bait?

Storage for lures is fairly straightforward .. .in a tackle box.  Live bait, on the other hand, can be a pain to maintain.  You may need special livewells or other bait preserving tanks with aerators for baitfish or refrigeration and/or coolers for things like live worms or crickets.

Winner: Artificial Bait

Are Lures or Live Bait Better for Heavy Cover?

Certain types of cover may limit your ability to use live bait.  Some live bait like minnows and shiners have a mind of their own.  They’re going to want to swim wherever they want so thick weeds, sticks, stumps, grass and matted vegetation make live bait fishing difficult sometimes.  In situations like these, you may want to choose an artificial lure that you can fish weedless and snagless.  

During some seasons or even certain parts of the day, bass will retreat to thick cover like matted vegetation or under docks.  Live bait can be virtually impossible to fish in these types of settings.  Choosing an artificial might make the best sense to fish in these situations.

Winner: Lures

Are Natural Baits or Artificial Baits Cheaper?

Although some lures cost a pretty penny upfront, you’ll save money in the long run with artificials if you take care of them.  Needless to say, live bait is either eaten or expires so it’s a one-time use kind of bait.  

Lures like hard plastics, spinnerbaits, and jigs are meant to be used over and over so your initial cost is spread out over the life of the lure.  Soft plastics like worms are generally not reusable but are so relatively cheap that they’ll also save you money.

If you’re new to bass fishing, you may have some costly days up front with lures because they are susceptible to being lost underwater via snags on logs, bushes, grass, rocks or other underwater cover.   

Finally, if you’re willing, most live bait can be found for free if you like to dig for bait or catch your own baitfish, however, the time it takes to get your own bait WILL cut into bass fishing time.

Winner: This one is a tie.

Which One Issues More of a Challenge live bait or lures? 

Many veteran bass anglers have strong opinions on the issue of live bait fishing versus artificials for bass. The biggest bone of contention is that live bait fishing takes the science, art, intuition, experience, and know-how out of the equation.  They feel that fishing with artificial baits and lures is the way to go if you’re looking for a serious challenge.

I have mixed feelings. While I fish with artificials exclusively, I see a place for live bait and know that it will catch more fish.  I say, “go for it”.  Do what you like. It’s all about getting outside, enjoying the great outdoors and having some good, clean fun.

Winner: Lures

Is Live Bait Allowed in Bass Tournaments?

Live bait is not allowed in bass fishing tournaments.   Most tournaments allow only artificial lures and baits.  Some even prohibit or limit the use of certain lures like Alabama Rigs.

Not necessarily a winner, but tournaments only allow lures and artificial baits.

Is it Easier to Handle Live Bait or Lures?

Many kids (and adults) are not particularly fond of handling live bait like shiners, earthworms, and other things that might make some want to wash their hands after every touch.  If you or your friends or loved ones are a little skittish, then you may want to opt for artificials.

Winner: Lures

Which Catches More Species Lures or Live Bait?

Live bait can be highly effective for bass but can also open up the proverbial “can of worms” for fishing in general.  

With live bait, you may catch a lot more fish, but, often, you’ll end up catching fish that you may not be targeting like catfish, mudfish, and other non-game fish.  Of course, the same thing can happen with artificials, but I’ve noticed that it happens more often with live bait.

Winner: Live bait.

Which is Better for Catch and Release, Live Bait or Lures?

As I’ve observed, live bait tends to lead to bigger issues with catch and release.  Oftentimes, bass tend to get a better hold on and/or swallow live bait a little deeper than artificials which can make hook removal an issue.   When anglers have a difficult time removing a hook, they can damage fish during the process which results in a chance of lasting injury to a fish adversely affecting their survival.

Winner: Lures

Is it Easier to Learn How to Use Artificial or Real Baits?

The easiest way to start fishing for bass fast is with real baits like live worms, minnows, crickets, or, my favorite, wild shiners.  

While artificials can certainly be effective, they require quite a big learning curve.  To use them in the right situations, anglers should have a decent understanding of how variables like the weather, cover, structure, season and more may impact proper lure selection.  

Additionally, unlike their live bait counterparts, there are many variations for lure retrieval whereas live bait fishing is pretty straightforward. With live bait, your best retrieval is usually no retrieval at all because natural bait works best when left alone.

Finally, learning to hook and land fish can be a little tricky with artificial lures.   Fish are usually not as eager to eat lures so there are some tactics that you’ll need to employ to hook up better.  Live bait fishing means easier hookups and better hookup ratios.

Winner: Live bait.

Which is Better for Chilling out?

Working a topwater lure or plastic worm requires more effort and thought than hanging on to a shiner rod.  For chilling out and relaxed fishing, live bait is the better bet.

Winner: Live bait.

Do Bass Prefer Live Bait or Lures? Which One Catches More Fish?

Bass clearly prefer live bait over lures which means catch rates are higher.  If presented side by side, bass will almost always choose the real and natural option.

Although fishing with a live bait offers bass and undoubtedly more natural presentation, lures certainly have their place.    Lures are manufactured with high-end technology and made to entice bass to bite because of their life-like, bait imitating qualities.  However, there’s no way for companies to perfect the science of smell, movement, and feel for artificial baits compared to live baits.

Winner: Live bait.

Bass Line. The Final Word

Deciding whether or not to use live bait or lures is dependent on a number of variables as discussed above.  It all comes down to your purpose and what you’re looking to get out of your bass fishing experience.

The crux of the issue is simple: do what it takes to have some fun and catch some fish.  It’s that easy.  

Head to your lake and be one with nature, whether you’re on the live bait or artificial side or BOTH.

Fish on!

Jason Bradstreet

I’m Jason Bradstreet. I grew up fishing tournaments with my Dad who was a well-known Central Florida Bass Guide and tournament angler. I have been bass fishing for all of my life am passing the love on to my family. Now, I serve as a bass fishing coach and captain to my kids who fish tournaments in the Bass Nation circuit. Our family loves to fish. We research, practice together, and enjoy both recreational and tournament bass fishing as a family. We are excited to share what we’ve learned on this site!

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