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Best Bait For Fishing On Lakes In The USA

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America is a nation of anglers, with fishing being one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities. The U.S.A. also has numerous lakes to be able to fish from, so the opportunities to try your luck are as plentiful as the fish. 

Before heading out to the lake, it is always best to know your adversary. The fish are going to try to stay in the water just as hard as you are going to try to get them out. 

Depending on which region of the U.S. you are fishing in, you will need to present your potential dinner with the bait that will entice them to bite. One size, or one kind of bait, does not fit all. 

Knowing what to choose as bait will increase your chances of being successful. Whether you are going to break out the tartar sauce or catch and release, the best bait will make all the difference. 

The Five Regions Of The United States

Our amazing country is divided into five regions and each region consists of land that has common features. The regions are grouped according to their geographic position on the continent. The regions are the West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast and Northeast. 

Black and white map of the United States with bolded black borders surrounding the 5 regions - West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast and Southwest
Credit: National Geographic

The numerous freshwater lakes in each region are home to over 1,000 different species of fish. In the U.S. large and smallmouth bass tend to be angler’s most popular fish, and panfish like crappies and bluegills runs a close second.

Catfish and walleye run third and fourth most popular followed by cold-water trout and salmon. Trout fishing tends to be one of the go-to fish because they are abundant, naturally elusive and give the angler a good challenge.

Each region of the U.S. has its favorite fish for anglers, and success catching these favorites depends on certain factors, with one of those being the bait you use.

Here are the baits that work best for whichever one of the five regions in the U.S. you are fishing in.

Best Bait For Fishing In The West Region Of The U.S.

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The West region of the U.S. sees a wide variety of fish species, but two of the main types are salmon and trout.

The Chinook salmon is also called the king salmon because of its large size. One of the largest weighed in at over 97 pounds. The Chinook can be found from California to Alaska and even in Idaho. 

They prefer rivers, but these salmon have been introduced into numerous bodies of water, including the Great Lakes. While young Chinook salmons eat insects and small crustaceans, the adults will dine mostly on other fish. The best bait for Chinooks is salmon eggs and sand shrimp. 

Trout are found in lakes all across the U.S. The West region has steelhead, cutthroat and golden trout. These fish like both aquatic and terrestrial insects, mollusks, crustaceans, fish eggs, minnows, worms, and other small fish. 

One of the best baits for steelheads is roe, also known as roe bags, spawn sacks or spawn bags. Roe is fish eggs and roe or spawn bags are fish eggs tied in a specialized mesh. 

Cutthroat trout like bait that imitates nymphs and larvae. The Golden trout will bite on crickets, salmon eggs, nightcrawlers, and mealworms.

Best Bait For Fishing In The Southwest Region Of The U.S.

The Southeast region of the U.S. is full of its share of trout and bass. There are the Apache trout, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, white bass, and Guadalupe bass. 

Like their relatives across the country, Apache trout will bite on a bait that looks natural. Worms and grasshoppers imitate the natural food that is part of a trout’s diet. The Apache trout, like their cousins, will also eat small fish. 

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout are generalist feeds, eating insects and the occasional fish. Named cutthroat because of a distinctive red-orange slash along their jawline, these trout can be baited with imitation nymphs and larvae. 

Man holding a trout with two hands
Photo by sawyer on Unsplash

Bass, both the white and Guadalupe, have a diet that consists of worms, crayfish, golden shiners, gizzard shad, and insect larvae. Neither one of the basses will turn down a minnow, either. The best bait to use for bass are minnows, worms, and crayfish.

Best Baits For Fishing In The Midwest Region Of The U.S.

The Midwest region includes the Great Lakes with their abundance of fish. Rainbow trout, muskie, Northern Pike, and Coho Salmon are just a few species found in the Great Lakes. Channel catfish are prevalent in Kansas and walleye can be found in lakes throughout the Midwest. 

Trout, a favorite of anglers everywhere, are going to respond to worms, fish eggs, flies, minnows, and live baits. 

If you go after Northern Pike, just remember that these fish need to be handled carefully. They have needle teeth and will latch onto anything they can, especially your fingers. This is why most anglers remove their hooks from a pike’s mouth with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Pike prefers bait like ciscos, suckers, alewives, chad, yellow perch and bluegill.

Coho Salmon will go after bait in the form of small spawn sacs, salmon skein, small pieces of shrimp, nightcrawlers or minnows. 

Channel catfish will go after almost any kind of bait. Worms, shad, or minnows will work well, or anything that really stinks will draw a catfish. 

Walleye prefer minnows, both shiner, and flathead. If you are going after larger walleyes, use the shiners. Walleyes won’t turn down leeches or worms, either, especially if the bait is on the larger side. 

Best Bait For Fishing In The Southeast Region Of The U.S.

There are those that feel America’s national game fish is the Largemouth Bass. Growing to about 20 pounds, it has an aggressive nature and attacks a lure with an explosive force that is fun for the angler. 

Largemouth bass like warm, shallow water and prefer to hide in rocks, weed beds and over sand and mud. They like areas of rooted vegetation. Bass will, by habit, tend to let food come to them while they stay in the cover of vegetation. 

Bass prefer to feed on small fish like perch, sunfish and minnows. They are also not adverse to eating crayfish, insects, frogs and even small aquatic birds. 

When fishing for Largemouth bass, your best bet is to use worms, fish eggs, flies, minnows and live baits. 

You can also use a product called dough bait, or power bait. Powerbait is made from oil-based resin and PVC. A range of scents are added to the bait to make it attractive to the fish. 

Best Bait For Fishing In The Northeast Region Of The U.S.

Trout reigns king in the Northeast region, with several species like brook, rainbow, and brown trout. These fish are native to cold water lakes and streams. 

The average adult trout will weigh between nine and ten pounds, and a record trout weighed in at 61 pounds 8 ounces. Trout can live up to 20 to 25 years, but 95% of trout never make it past their first year. If they all did, there would be standing room only in the lakes of the Northwest.

When fishing for trout, it is best to use bait that imitates the natural food that is in their diet. Trout eat aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, crustaceans, leeches, worms and other fish. When fishing for trout, it is best to use worms, fish eggs, flies, minnows and live baits.

Fishing in the Winter Months

With the exception of the southernmost regions of the U.S. where water temperatures don’t get below 35°, the colder months in the northern regions can have an effect on fish. 

For example, the amount of food consumed by bass will change depending on the season. Bass will consume the most food in the summer months. In the winter, bass will become almost dormant when water temperatures are 40°F or lower.  That means that fishing for bass in the winter will be a hard proposition. 

Trout, on the other hand, don’t hibernate and will eat regardless of the water temperature. Spring is the ideal time for trout fishing, but trout will still bite in cold weather. Some anglers feel that while they will catch fewer trout in winter, they tend to be larger.  

Man bundled up in winter clothes sitting on a bucket on a frozen lake ice fishing. An Ice fishing hut is in the distance
Photo by Glenna Haug on Unsplash

The Chinook Salmon can also be fished all year round. Chinooks actively and aggressively feed in the winter, which can make them a challenge to land. 

There are many anglers who love fishing in the winter and lots of  Midwesterners have an ice shanty for when the lake freezes over. There is less competition in the winter, and this can increase your chances of being successful.

Fishing in the winter can require you to use a different strategy. Fish tend, with the exception of chinooks, to be slower-paced and have less energy in colder months. At the same time, fish-like Northern Pike and Perch can be more difficult to catch in the summer and so the cold gives you an advantage.

In Conclusion

According to Statista, there were about 55 million Americans that engaged in freshwater, saltwater and fly-fishing activities in 2020. We know some people had more time on their hands at that time, but it is still indicative of fishing’s popularity.

Anglers cite fishing as a sport that is both relaxing and exciting. It gets you outside and active. If you go with friends or family, fishing can be a great time to bond over a shared experience. 

Whatever reason you have for fishing, it is an activity that has been around forever and is sure to continue to be a rewarding sport.