Ask any angler whether lures or bait is better, and you’ll probably get a strong opinion. Some would never dream of picking up a hunk of PowerBait or hooking a worm. Others will tell you that nothing beats a live shiner under a bobber.
Whether to use bait or lures comes down to a wide variety of factors, and there’s no clear-cut answer. But there are plenty of questions you can ask yourself to decide which is best for you. Here’s a guide to the main differences.
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Lures Give You More Control
While there are plenty of techniques for fishing with bait, lures offer the most flexibility. They are designed to respond to a wide variety of retrieval methods, from slow to fast to stopping and starting. You can get them deep, you can run them shallow, you can zig them and zag them. An experienced angler can work a lure in dozens of ways, perfecting their technique on every retrieve until it matches what the trout are looking for.
Bait Is More User-Friendly
While lures give you more control, that comes at a cost. Using a lure isn’t quite as easy as “cast it out and reel it in.” It’s not rocket science by any means, but it takes practice to get the presentation right.
There’s a common stereotype that says that bait fishermen are beginners and/or unskilled. This is unfair, since there are plenty of skillful ways to use bait to catch trout. But there is a grain of truth in it. If you’ve never been fishing before and want to catch a trout, putting some bait on a hook and throwing it in the water is as easy as it gets.
For anyone trying to catch a trout in a stocked pond, PowerBait can be the most effective method. It looks, smells, and tastes like the food trout eat in the hatchery before they’re stocked, so they’re primed to bite down on your hook. Worms and minnows offer the same ease of use where trout are more likely to eat natural food.
Bait also usually cuts down on the number of casts you’ll have to make. In fact, you can cast out once and sit around waiting for a bite, if that’s more your speed. Lures require a much more active fishing style. If you’re looking to relax and have the fish come to you, bait is your best bet.
Lures Are Better For Catch and Release
While it’s one of the most popular ways to fish, bait fishing can be bad news for catch and release. Handling time and time out of water are both important factors in whether a caught and released fish will survive. Unlike lures and flies, bait actually tastes like trout food, meaning trout will not spit it out after biting. If you don’t set your hook in their lips quickly, there is a good chance that the trout will swallow it. This makes removing the hook much more difficult, lengthening handling time out of the water. It also carries a higher risk of mortally injuring the trout.
This is exacerbated by passive bait fishing, which adds more time between strike and hook set. Catch and release mortality rates for experienced fly and lure fishermen are generally around 4%, but passive bait fishing can drive that up past 30%.
None of this makes much difference if you’re planning on keeping your fish. Fishing with PowerBait is great for stocked trout, which are generally meant to be kept. But if you’re planning on catch and release, consider switching over to lures.
Lures and Bait Work On Different Senses
Lures are designed to catch a trout’s eye and ear. Both of these senses are highly developed in trout. Trout have remarkably good eyesight, and the flash of a spoon can bring them in front a good distance away. Their ears will tune in to the vibrations from a spinner’s blade and signal that it’s time to eat.
Bait adds a third sense: smell. This is perhaps the most powerful sense on a trout, and they’re capable of sniffing out tiny traces of scent from a long way away. Bait smells like food in the way a lure generally doesn’t, although you can buy sprays that try to replicate this. And while you may not have the same control over the look and sound of bait, you can still stimulate the other two senses plenty.
Of course, if you’re looking to replicate the trout’s food, the best solution is using actual trout food. Minnows, worms, and other live bait look, sound, and smell right to a trout in a way that neither a lure nor an artificial bait can.
Take the water conditions into consideration when you’re trying to decide between bait and lures. Clearer water will make your lures easier to see, as will a brighter day. If both the sky and the water are dark, it may be time to break out the bait and rely on smell to get your trophy trout.
This is a great chart that you can use to help guide your decision:
Source: Fix.com Blog
Both Can Be Cheaper
This boils down to whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. If you see the glass as half full, even though lures can be expensive up-front, they’ll last a long time. Compared to buying bait every time you go out to fish, spend $30 or $40 on a selection of lures and you could be set for years. And once you find that perfect lure for the trout in your area, you won’t even need to buy anything else!
The pessimist sees lures everywhere but in trouts’ mouths. They’re hanging in trees and bushes. They’re caught on underwater rocks and weeds. Even the ones that find their target are snapped off the line by a too-strong fish, never to be seen again. You only need to lose one or two $5+ lures to start thinking that the money might have been better spent on worms. You could have fished for a whole day with those!
Lures Are (Usually) Less Messy and Easier To Store
Because bait is meant to appeal to trout’s sense of smell, it can be, well, smelly. After a while, that smell will get all over your fishing gear. Using PowerBait and other dough-like baits means getting your hands dirty every time you have to re-apply it. And if you don’t close the lid or seal the bag when you’re packing your bait away, it’ll always find a way to spill out.
Using live bait gets even more complicated; after all, you need to keep it alive! If you’re using minnows, you need at least bucket, and you must keep them in a cool, shady spot. Worms are a little hardier, but you’ll still usually need to keep them refrigerated when you’re not out on the water. And it’s definitely harder to put a flopping fish or a squirming worm on a hook properly.
Compare that to simply buying a tackle box and keeping your lures sorted. There is one caveat: the hooks. Put two lures next to each other, and it can be worse than untangling last year’s Christmas lights. You’ll also catch those hooks on anything and everything as you get your lure out and tie it on. But hey, it beats having hands that smell like trout dough!
If you came to this article looking for a definitive answer, it’s just not that easy. There’s a time for everything, and the best way to catch more fish is to be prepared. Keep a variety of lures and baits around, and use whatever the situation calls for. Even better, many areas allow two or more hooks in the water, so you can use both!
In general, there are some guidelines you can follow when deciding whether to use lures or bait.
Use Bait When…
- You want something easy
- You’re just starting out
- The water is cloudy
- The sky is dark
- You’re keeping what you catch
Use Lures When…
- You’re practicing catch and release
- The water is clear
- The weather is bright
- You want more control over your presentation
- You are required to by law
Whatever you use, a day of fishing beats a day doing just about anything else. So don’t spend too much time worrying about what you’re fishing with, and spend more time actually fishing!