Artificial Lures vs Live Bait – Which is Better? (The Big Debate Settled!)


We, as anglers, are constantly on the lookout for that bait that will give us the ‘edge’. Back in the days, the live stuff was best. People made artificial lures, then we switched back to live bait… the cycle continues.

Today I want to put the debate of lures vs live bait to rest once and for all.

I will talk through both methods, discuss what’s great and not so great about each, and offer some expert guidance on when to use either method.

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Lures vs Live bait – What’s the Difference?

The truth is that it depends who you ask. Some anglers claim that naturally found bait is the best. In contrast, others find that they catch more using artificial replicas of the real thing.

To get to the heart of the issue, let us take a look at both disciplines to get a good overview:

different types of fishing lures in tackle box

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing isn’t a new phenomenon. Even the Romans used to catch fish using feathers!

If you haven’t tried lure fishing before, then here is what it is all about.

Lures are man-made objects tied or attached to a hook designed to invoke a natural predatory response from the fish. This is encouraged in several different ways:

  • The lure looks like something that the fish would eat naturally.
  • The movement of the lure replicates a natural behavior.
  • The lure looks nothing like anything natural but triggers an instinctual response.
  • The lure creates vibration and/or noise that allows the fish to easily locate it.

The term ‘lure’ is quite a large umbrella, with several hook-mounted attractors falling under the definition. Here are some examples of lures:

  • Plugs
  • Spoons
  • Jigs
  • Jelly worms
  • Soft Plastics
  • Poppers
  • Buzzbaits
  • Flies

And many more…

If you want to see some other great examples of lures, I’ve got a great article – follow that link.

different types of fishing lures on wooden background

What’s so Great about Lures?

Good Value

Once you’ve bought a lure, you can be reasonably assured that it will last as long as you keep it on the line. Considering that some lures cost $1 or less, this is pretty great value.

Low Odor

Let’s be honest. Live bait stinks. That funky smell could be a good thing. In fact, certain fish species, such as catfish, love a nice smelly bait.

However, we are not catfish, and as a result, I completely resent having hands that hum after the end of a long day’s fishing. And God help you if your bait spills in your tackle bag!

With lures, you don’t tend to get this. They are made of hard materials that have no natural odor. Occasionally you will find artificial lures that are impregnated with a smell, but they are fairly rare.

Easy to Find/Purchase

Aside from driving to the store or ordering online, getting hold of a few artificial lures is super easy. You can choose what you like, buy it and that’s you ready to fish, whenever you’d like.

Reusable

Perhaps one of the best things about lures is that you can use them time after time. If a fish eats your lure, then you can unhook it and start casting right away. At the end of the day, just snip the lure off, dry it, and it is ready to go for next time.

Lots of Variation and Choice

Let’s say you are fishing for bass and want to use a frog imitation…

(PS. If you didn’t know, bass love frogs, especially in spring; here’s proof).

Are you going to go for a black frog, a white frog, a green frog, a pink frog?

The answer to the above is ‘yes.

Why?

Because you can! Most artificial lures come in different variations. This gives you a choice. When one isn’t working, you can just tie on another and succeed through trial and error!

hanging different types of fishing lures

What’s Not so Great about Lures?

Too much Choice

Sometimes you can find that there are too many options when lure fishing. Because there is so much choice, you can wonder if what you are using is right. It can also make choosing difficult…

Dang, I knew I should have bought silver instead of white!

Avoiding Gimmicks

Lures catch more anglers than they do fish. You’ll often find ‘gimmicks’ in lures. In fact, some are just outlandish!

Be wary of a lure that promises the earth and looks like a Christmas tree! They normally cost as much too!

They Can be Expensive

Speaking of which…

Lures can get a little pricey. I’ve paid over $20 for certain lures. The difference between one and another… The name.

OK, so you want to fish with confidence. But let me tell you something. The fish have never heard of Abu Garcia or Rapala, so you don’t have to spend a fortune to catch!

You Might have to find the Fish!

Remember when I was talking about live bait being a bit stinky? Because lures don’t have this, they often don’t naturally attract fish from long distances. This might mean that you have to travel around until you find the fish!

Live Bait Fishing

Live baits can be anything that has grown naturally on God’s green earth. Basically, if a fish is carnivorous and eats it, it counts as live bait.

Want some examples of live bait. Here you go:

  • Frogs
  • Worms
  • Baitfish
  • Crabs
  • Shellfish
  • Shrimp
  • Crawfish
  • Insects
  • Grubs

Live baiting aims to make sure your live baited hook lands in the middle of a dinner party and is taken because the hook isn’t noticed. Or, you make the fish an offer that is too good to pass up!

Why would you want to use live bait?

Well, here are some good reasons:

boat fishing rod and reel for saltwater fishing

What’s so Great about Live bait?

Live Bait is Cheap!

In fact, scratch that. Often live bait is free. Provided you are willing to put in the work, you could easily go down to the lake with an absolute bucketload of fresh bait!

Live Bait Matches What the Fish Eat Naturally

There’s a good chance that if you have done your homework, you will catch. By using bait that is found naturally, you can expect to catch more fish.

It is Environmentally Friendly

If you’ve ever lost a plug or plastic worm at the bottom of a lake, I’ve got some bad news for you.

It’s probably still there and always will be.

Suddenly that trip doesn’t seem as ‘back to nature’ as you thought, eh?

Live bait is the solution. It will be absorbed back into the ecosystem, meaning you have left the place exactly as you found it.

It Wiggles on its Own!

If you’ve lure fished properly, you’ll know that it is serious work. You don’t need to be as active with live bait. It does all the hard work for you! And what’s more, it isn’t imitating anything. It is about as natural as it gets!

More Species Eat Live Bait

Look, there are days when a few scrappy fish have saved me from having a ‘blank’ day.

But here’s the thing…

Had I been fishing with a lure, I wouldn’t have caught them. Most fish will eat a live bait. This means that you broaden your horizons when it comes to what species you might catch.

It is an Attractor

Remember how I said live bait can tend to stink a bit?

This is good.

Why? Because some species locate their food by smell!

Examples?

Well, Carp love a nice smelly bait. Here’s the proof!

When you use live bait, you release a trail of scent into the water that fish can follow, all the way to its source.

fishing from boat in lake with spinning reel

What’s Not so Great about Live Bait?

Hey, that rhymes!

Nothing is perfect. Here are a few downsides to consider.

Live Bait Stinks

Think it doesn’t? Think again! Live bait can really kick up a smell depending on what type you use. And if any of it dies in storage, you are going to know about it! You’ll have to store your fishing gear outside if you have been using it.

It Doesn’t Store Well

While it can depend on what bait you use, keeping your live bait, erm, alive can be difficult. In particular, frogs and fish need to have a constant clean supply of aerated water, or they soon expire!

Worms can keep for a few days, but they turn rather funky if they decide to depart to worm heaven early.

It can be a Nuisance to Gather

Not only do you have to catch the fish, but you also have to catch the bait! If you are relying on catching bait for a day trip and the bait has other ideas (can’t say we blame them), then you may be out of luck.

The other option is to head down to the fishing store for bait. This is OK, but have you got any guarantees on how fresh that bait is?

You can’t Always Target an Individual Species

If it is one of God’s creatures, then there is a good chance that something, somewhere, will eat it. This includes tiny fish and pests (I’m looking at you, crabs).

It can be frustrating if you are fishing for one species, yet the other lake creatures also find your live bait appealing.

crappie hooked and being reeled in with bait in it's mouth

Lure or Bait – Which is Better?

Do you want the truth?

The true answer is…

It depends. On what exactly? Well, what you would define as ‘success’.

If you want to catch many fish, then I find that live bait tends to be more productive than artificial lures. With lures, there is a lot that can go wrong. Is your lure the right color, the right shape, swimming too fast, too slow, deep enough, etc…? These are all things that you need to work out.

With live bait, it is different.

You don’t need to worry about any of the above because it is as natural as it gets, both in its look, taste, smell, and behavior.

But…

If you measure success as using the most convenient bait, then artificial lures win by a country mile! Why? They can be used whenever, are easy to store, and they don’t stink… Oh, and they also catch a fair share of fish! So all in all, I think that is a pretty great package too!

fishing lures in white plastic tackle container

When to use Lures and When to Use Live Bait

Alright, you need something to ‘hang your hat on’…

I get it.

Here are times when you should consider picking one or the other when it comes to live bait vs artificial lures:

Use Live Bait When…

There is Plenty of Bait to be Found Around

If it’s there and near your swim, use it. You’ll be amazed at the results!

When Visibility in The Water is Poor

Fish don’t stop feeding when the water turns a bit dark. Instead, they switch to ‘scent mode’. With any luck, your hook with a juicy live creature on will be at the end of the road!

At Night-Time

As with the above, fish switch senses and use what they can to find food. Lures can work in the dark, but you’ll find live bait brings better results.

During The Winter

Fish are less inclined to chase a lure when the water is cold. They also become warier. The best way around this is to put something slow-moving and natural on your hook.

The Catch Rate Slow Down

If the catch rate slows down, it is time to take a break. Put something natural on to see if it tempts them. Remember, however, you can’t catch every time, so be patient.

You Notice Fish Eating Something Naturally

If baitfish are jumping or you see bass tearing into frogs, then it could be time to introduce a live one or two simultaneously.

Use Lures When…

There is Clear Water

For sight hunters, your flashy, shiny lure will be just what they are after. With clear water, they’ll spot it from a greater distance. Take advantage!

During The Summer

When summer is in full swing, the fish go into a frenzy and will attack practically anything! Make sure that your lure is amongst the mayhem!

You Want to Target a Specific Species

With lures, you get to be a little more selective in what species you can target. If you are looking to catch a bass, and only a bass, then a lure might be the way to go.

You are Being Bothered by Smaller Fish

If you keep finding your hook coming up bare but haven’t managed to catch you might find that it is being stripped by tiny fish. Do you know what tiny fish don’t eat? Hard plastic!

When You Want to be Active

I know some of you guys like to sit and fish all day, but for others, they want to be out and wandering around. What better way to do it than with a rod in your hand? Lure fishing gives you a good reason to get out and about on the water.

Conclusion

When it comes to lures vs live bait, there are upsides and downsides to each. I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other. It all depends on how you like to fish, what you want to catch, and when you intend to fish.

Whether you are fishing with real worms, fish, crabs, or creatures, or much prefer casting a few soft plastics amongst the reeds, I hope you have a great time!

Which do you think is best? Lures or live bait? Let me know in the comments.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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