Ultimate Guide to Fishing with Minnows for Bass
Nowadays, lures are the go-to method for bass fishing. If you sit down with just about any bass angler and start talking about gear and tactics, they’re likely to run through a massive list of lures ranging from $80 swimbaits to your run-of-the-mill trick worms.
However, just because something has become more popular doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. In fact, there’s some good fishing to be had by going back in time a bit and hooking into some live bait rather than shaking a rattle trap around the pond for hours.
Today, we want to take a break from lure reviews, presentation tutorials, and other modern-day necessities to introduce you to the joy of traditional live bait fishing. Specifically, we want to cover minnows.
Let’s get started.
What are Minnows and Why Should You Try Them?
Basically, anyone who has been on the water for more than five minutes knows what a minnow is, but this wouldn’t be the ultimate guide if we skipped the little details.
Minnows are the tiny whitish silver fish that you see swimming around in schools near the bank. If you look down and see a bunch of tiny fish just off the bank, those are minnows.
There’s a reason they’re some of the most popular bait fish in the United States, though. In fact, there are a couple.
First, they’re super easy to get. You don’t have to spend any money. We’ll go over a few ways you can get minnows later on but trust us. It’s not a problem. Then, there’s the fact that they’re basically the lowest fish on the food chain in any North American pond, lake, or river. So, they can get bites from the vast majority of fish if you use them right. Again, we’ll go over that later on.
Essentially, this is the easiest and cheapest live bait to get in bulk, and it’s effective enough that you can use it throughout your entire time as an angler.
How to Get Minnows
There are two main types of minnows you can use while fishing for bass. You can use live minnows, or you can use preserved minnows. Both have their own pros and cons.
Let's go over how to do each one, first.
How to Get Live Minnows:
Live minnows are extremely easy to get your hands on. First of all, you can stop by any decent bait shop and buy a bucket of them extremely cheaply.
You can also buy a minnow trap from the vast majority of outdoor retailers. These are usually mesh baskets that are designed to let fish enter through a funneled hole, and then they’re essentially too dumb to get out. You place some bait such as corn in the basket, sit it in the water, and eventually, you pull it out to find plenty of live bait. You can even keep it in the water to slowly refill and keep the fish alive while you fish.
You don’t have to spend a single dime, though. There are plenty of tutorials online to create your own minnow trap from 2-liter bottles, and those work just fine. If you have ten minutes to spare, and you want to make something useful from trash, this is a good way to do it.
The only problem with catching your own minnows is that it is possible to get skunked. That happens to every angler. Luckily, minnows are so plentiful and easy to catch via traps that it’s not a common occurrence. Just bring along a box of worms or some lures in case your minnow-trapping endeavor goes south.
How to Get Preserved Minnows:
Preserved minnows are exactly what they sound like. They’re minnows that are dead, and they’ve been preserved with a mixture of salt and other ingredients. There are a few types of these.
The most common form of preserved minnows is purchased from any tackle shop. They come in plastic bags, and they are almost always scented and dyed. This is usually a little more expensive than buying live minnows, but they’re still cheap enough that the average fisherman can easily add a couple of varieties to their tackle box.
Then, you can make them yourself. That’s right. If you use live minnows, and they die during your fishing trip, you don’t have to toss them out. The easiest way is to put them in a freezer bag with a bit of vodka, and then toss them in the freezer. They’ll last for a year without breaking down.
There are more complex preservation methods that allow you to add flavoring and dyes, but you can find those recipes all over the internet. This is a great way to get the most out of your live bait because you won’t need to start every trip by sitting around waiting for your trap to fill up. Just bring your preserved buddies along, set your trap for some fresh bait, and use the preserved bait while you wait. If you keep this cycle up, you can go without buying bait for a long time.
How to Use Minnows for Bass Fishing
Just as there are two main types of minnows you can use, there are two main methods to using them. We’re going to cover both of those and a couple of variations on each.
You don’t need any special equipment for this. Even most beginner tackle boxes will have the gear necessary to rig up some minnows and start fishing, and there aren’t a lot of complex methods that will require anything else.
How to Use Live Minnows for Bass Fishing:
Your options for presentation are a little more restricted when you work with live minnows. After all, when you go pushing hooks through living organisms, there are only so many ways you can do it without your live bait, well, not being alive anymore.
Basically, you’re going to want to hook the fish one of two ways on a bait-keeper J-hook. If you want a more natural, lively presentation, you can hook them through the lips. Keep in mind that this requires smaller hooks due to how small their mouths are, and that limits your ability to hook bigger bass without them snapping the hook in half. You can also hook them right beneath the spine along their dorsal fin.
This method gives you a little more room to work with bigger hooks, but don’t get overzealous, or you’ll puncture something important, and the bait won’t last more than a minute or two in the water.
Once you have that part down, you have a couple of options. You can toss the minnow weightless and use a bobber to keep it from going too deep (as well as to signal bites), or you can use a bit of weight to suspend the minnow below a bobber and restrict its movement. In any situation, the minnow isn’t going to be able to move a bobber around significantly, but you might want to give it a wounded look by holding it in place with a weight.
There is the option to just toss it out on a hook without a weight or bobber, though. This lets it swim around and present itself most naturally. However, you won’t get much distance on your cast, because it’s simply not heavy enough to drag a lot of line out.
Another keynote is that you should be a bit wary about using the lip-hook method on minnows. It’s more popular with panfish because they have more substantial flesh to keep it from being ripped out. With a minnow, you should expect a few of them to essentially get their lips ripped off, costing you bait and fish.
Finally, you can use your live minnows for the same techniques we’ll be covering with preserved minnows in the following section. As you’ll see, they will no longer be alive once you set up the rigs we’ll be talking about, but it does ensure that you are using fresh bait.
How to Fish with Preserved Minnows:
Fishing with preserved minnows can use two main tactics that split off into different variations.
First, you can just use it like any other dead bait. You slap it on a hook, set up your favorite bait rig, and chuck it in the water. This is popular among those targeting catfish, but it’s not common for bass anglers to use this technique. Like most other traditional bait fishing, this is a bunch of sitting around. It also doesn’t give the bait any action, and that's what tends to trigger bites the most when you’re bass fishing.
You can also jig your minnows. Just take the preserved minnow, slip the hook of a jig through its mouth and out its back, and then bop it around like you would a soft plastic lure. This is our recommended way to do it. You gain the scent and natural look of real bait, but you’re still able to present it as if it’s a lively fish that triggers reaction bites. In some cases, this can be more effective than using a soft plastic lure.
The trick with jigging a minnow is using the right size of jig head. You don’t want to make a tiny minnow plunge to the bottom of the water channel the second you drop it in. That’s not a realistic presentation. It’s also less effective to chuck them out into the middle of the lake and bounce them around the bottom. Minnows tend to stick towards the shallower areas and close to cover. If you can cover those two checkboxes with your presentation, you'll trick the bass every time.
Finally, you can use your minnows as “tippers”. This is when you take a piece of the minnow and “tip” the exposed hook of a lure with it to add scent to the lure. If you’re using something such as a spinnerbait or a larger jig, you can also thread the whole minnow onto those lures to give them more fish-like features as well as a great scent.
Again, you can use your live minnows for any of these methods, too. You just lose the “automatic action” that casting them out properly provides. If you’re used to bass fishing lures, that’s not much of a loss at all, though.
Pros and Cons of Bass Fishing with Minnows
Minnows are just like any other piece of kit. They can be amazing in some situations, but they can have some major drawbacks in others.
To wrap this all up, the team here at BassForecast would like to go over those pros and cons so you can choose the right time and place to chuck a few minnows into the mix.
1: Free and Easy
Unless you buy a commercial product or live minnows from a shop, minnows are free. You just have to set a trap down and collect them. You can even re-use the minnows that die by making preserved baits out of them or jigging them like lures.
2: Lack of Presentation Options
There are a few ways we highlighted to present your minnows, but those are about all you’re going to do. With lures, you have a nearly endless variety of presentations you can make to fit the exact situation you’re in.
3: A Single Profile
Unless you slip a minnow into the skirt of a skirted jig or spinnerbait, that minnow is just going to look like a minnow.
In contrast, there are some lures that are technically smaller, but they can attract bigger fish by creating a bigger visual profile. This is common with skirted lures like the ones mentioned above. The skirts fluctuate in a way that can make something that is smaller than crawfish look like a fairly bulky bluegill. Some soft plastic lures with different arms and such do the same thing.
4: Key to the Food Chain
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of using minnows is that you don’t have to try to mimic specific bait fish that are native to your favorite fishing hole. Minnows are already there, and the fish actively eat them.
If you use a soft plastic crawfish in a pond that simply doesn’t have them naturally, you’re taking a gamble, because that’s not part of the localized food chain. With minnows, you can guarantee the fish see your presentation as food instead of a weird flappy thing in their space.
To enhance your catch during bass fishing with minnows you can also rely on our #1 anglers tool — The BassForcast fishing app.