What Bait to Use for Ice Fishing? [Best Ideas for Beginners]

What Bait to Use for Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is one of the most exciting, but also the most demanding forms of fishing. Harsh winter conditions hide some dangers too.

But, for a well-prepared angler it can be a great adventure. Choosing a proper bait, among other ice fishing essentials, will have a great influence on your fishing success.

So, what bait to use for ice fishing? Both live baits (if allowed), and artificial ones will work great for the majority of fish species frequently caught underneath the ice. Jigs, spoons, worms and live baitfish are your best options. The more flutter and vibration they produce, the better it is.

Of course, using artificial baits has some advantages, because you do not have to take care of the proper storage and hooking. Despite that, many anglers prefer live ones, and those too have their own advantages.

If you were asking what bait should I use for ice fishing, read the following chapters, where I mentioned their differences, together with some pros and cons.

And before going deeper into the subject, I have to tell you to always follow safety rules for ice fishing to avoid any kind of accidents.



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What Bait to Use for Ice Fishing? [Different Ideas]

Under the ice, anglers fish through small holes, and covering a lot of water with baits is not an option.

This is why you have to focus on lures that are presented up and down the water column. These lures have to attract fish in lower visibility conditions, and to be interesting enough for them, motion and vibrations are the key.

So, here are the best ice fishing bait ideas:


Jigs in jigging are one of the best options, as many anglers use them, and they have been tried and tested more than anything else.

Standard jigs, when paired with jigging rods, can be used in the majority of ice fishing situations. Spicing up your jig with a piece of worm is excellent, as the smell will attract fish in addition to the motion.

Present your bait lower in the water column and start with slower presentation. If there is no activity, you can work its way up, or speed up the presentation.


Flutter spoons have a bit different shape, and due to their wider body, their flashes and flutter are going to have a great effect.

Jigging spoons attract fish with their swift motion.


Minnows are always a great option as the mimic the local baitfish.

Make sure that they are similar to the real baitfish living in the local waters. Of course, live ones may be better, but sometimes that is against the rules, so you will have to adapt and use the plastic ones.


Live bait moves and smells in a way that is irresistible to fish, and no matter how good artificial lures are, there is a high chance that the live one will work better. Just make sure that you hook it right.


Worms are a great option, and can even be combined with artificial lures.

They are easier to hook than minnows, and there is something in their wiggling motion that drives the fish crazy.

Cutting them will result in releasing more smell, so I would advise you to do so.

Not all worms can withstand cold conditions well, but sometimes you have limited options. Visit your local bait shop, and try to find some nightcrawlers, wax worms, or even mealworms.

Of course, some fish species will react better to certain baits. Pike is most likely to bite on minnows, while walleyes like spoons / jiggsWorms are great for trout, or even bass if you are lucky.

If the chosen lure doesn’t work in your location, always have a few spare ones to change on the spot. What is the best bait for ice fishing depends partially on you, your preferred techniques, abilities and personal preference. If you wish you can check my best secret baits for rainbow trout.

What Bait to Use for Ice Fishing - Live vs Artificial

What is the Best Live Bait for Ice Fishing?

When it comes to live bait, majority of anglers will say that live bait is the best, but when you ask them which one is the best live bait for ice fishing, they will all tell you differently.

The reason for that is based on their experience on local waters, and these waters and fish that live in them are not the same. What works for you may not work for someone else. But, ...

If I had to single out just one live bait to use, it would be the minnows. They are a natural food source to the majority of fish species, and swimming of an injured minnow will attract even the laziest fish. If hooked right, it will almost do the bait presentation instead of you, and if you are not very handy with jigging or other techniques, don’t worry, live minnow will do the trick.

Fish are not very suspicious towards it and it works at all times. Worms are also great, but in my experience, minnows are better.

When talking about live bait, depending on a specie you are trying to catch, you should think about using tip ups for ice fishing, which are excellent for larger fish, or tip downs for ice fishing that are great for smaller fish. Both will enable you to cover more water, and work excellent with live bait.

Ice Fishing Live Bait vs Artificial? Which one to Choose?

There are a lot of debates about ice fishing live bait vs artificial ones.

I can’t tell you what bait for ice fishing to choose, however, I can tell you what are the pros and cons of both options.

No matter how well can you present your baits, they will never move or smell exactly like the real ones. Their scent and motion are irresistible to fish, and those have been used long before the modern artificial baits even existed.

The downside is that you have to store them correctly, hooking them is not easy for beginners (at least proper hooking), and in some locations using them is forbidden.

Artificial lures are easy to transport and store, you can always have a few different ones in your tackle box to change on the spot, and beginners don’t have to worry about accidentally killing them.

However, their presentation is a bit harder, and they will never be able to completely imitate the live ones.

I would advise you to try both, to explore all possibilities, and to keep practice. Eventually, you will figure out what works for you.

How to Store Ice Fishing Live Bait? Best Way ...

Knowing how to store ice fishing live bait is very important. You want it to stay fresh and healthy so that it can do the job.

Good thing about live bait during winter is that you do not have to worry that sunlight and high temperatures will kill them.

However, there are a few things to consider. Minnows should be kept in buckets with clean water, and if you are on a multi-day fishing expedition, make sure that the water does not freeze.

Oxygen content is important, and some anglers like to use aerators to keep them in good condition.

When it comes to worms, they have to be stored in containers that have a moist bedding. Make sure that the container has a few small holes for air circulation. Significant temperature changes should be avoided, any many worm species live well in lower temperatures, but same as minnows, they could freeze if you leave them outside when the temperatures are below 0. Top up the bedding if necessary.

Well kept live baits can survive for days, sometimes even weeks.

What Bait to Use for Ice Fishing - Ideas


I can’t tell you exactly what bait to use for ice fishing, because it depends on local rules and regulations, bait availability, and your own skills and personal preferences.

However, by choosing any bait form the list mention here, you will not go wrong. Just make sure that your presentation is natural, and if using artificial baitfish, make sure that it resembles the real one.

Oh yes, feel free to experiment with brighter colors of other lures, or choose the metallic ones that make a lot of flashes!

About Me

Slo-fishing - About Us


I am Siniša Pintar (friends call me Sina), the guy behind Slo-fishing.si and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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