Bait Fishing for Freshwater Fish

There’s nothing more relaxing than soaking a bait in freshwater. You can do a lot of thinking staring at a rod tip awaiting a bite. Wedging a rod in a holder also frees the hands up for more important things such as sausages and cool drinks. Add friends, a radio and it will be a good day.

Tackle required is cheap, simple and it’s also a heck of a lot easier for those starting out fishing. Buying bait anywhere can get costly – especially if you’re spending some time at a location or the particular bait is difficult to come by at said location. Bait comes in many different sizes and shapes and thus require different hooks for optimal presentation.

Catching your own on site can be simple and gives you the very best quality available. Bait traps are very effective, cheap and don’t take up much space if they are the collapsible variety. These vary a bit in price but can be as cheap as six dollars. Make sure you check your state’s regulations as there are strict guidelines for them.

These traps can be set with a wide variety of morsels to attract your bait. White bread works well for galaxid minnow, bullhead gudgeon and small shrimp on occasions. When on waterways that contain large shrimp such as the Murray River, you can use meat or gum leaves.

Soap was also a popular attractor for traps although this is a known pollutant so best avoided. I’ve seen many others that also work well such as cat food containing fish, pilchards, dry dog food and a sponge soaked in tuna oil. So the message here is that anything that does stink may work!

Some readers may be thinking, “oh, but I once caught this fish on that bait”. Anomalies are always going to happen so I’ll focus on the most common baits for selected target species. If you find yourself without bait, don’t be frightened to try something weird or just convenient. I have seen 70cm plus cod caught on a cooked sausage.

Golden perch

Baits: GPs or “yellas” love a fat scrub worm, yabbies and shrimp

Rigs: running sinker with about 20 to 25cm of leader if you’re from the bank or a paternoster if you’re fishing from a boat or pier in deep water. If it’s snaggy e.g. the Murray River, try a running sinker where the sinker runs all the way to the hook as this can help reduce snag ups. Three kilo line is about minimum in open water while five kilo and up is best for snaggy waters.

Murray cod

Baits: bardi grub, large yabbies, shrimp and scrub worms. Bardi grubs are the larval stage of the ghost moth.

I’m not sure what they smell like underwater but cod go nuts for them. Cod are not shy when it comes to odd baits either. Cheese is a known cod catcher as are cooked eggs and other weird stuff. Rigs: as per golden perch while an upgrade to 10 kilogram line is good insurance.

Australian bass

Bass are found in east Victorian rivers, Lake Bullen Merri in Victoria’s west and in stocked impoundments of New South Wales and Queensland thanks to relevant fisheries management for those states.

Rigs, line and baits as per golden perch with the addition of a quill float can be an advantage when fishing over snags.


Carp can be caught on a very wide variety of baits. They’ll gleefully scoff your mudeye, yabbies, worms and shrimp you may have cast out for more desirable species too. To selectively target carp, use corn or bread. To include other species in your possible catch window, use worms, shrimp etc.

Due to their abundance in some waterways and their willingness to eat anything, carp are one of the easiest fish to bait fish for.

Bait: sweet corn kernels, white bread, worms, shrimp, anything edible.

Rigs: anything. Running sinker, paternoster – just get it in the water. Line can be as light as you like for fun or up to 10kg although heavier lines will discourage bites.


Yep, there are plenty of people who love catching and eating eels. They inhabit most waterways and are best targeted from dusk and throughout the night.

Baits: any meat or worms.

Rigs: as per carp.


Trout can be very fussy. If they are chomping things off the top, they’ll often swim around your offering to grab some tiny insect off the surface. However, they love a well presented mudeye or live minnow. Baits: mudeye, live minnow, wood grubs, worms. Mudeye is to trout as bardi grubs are to cod and smarties are to kids.

They love them and are the top bait for trout but they do require specialist rigs due to their small, fragile form. Mudeye are best used with a bubble or quill float rig and a small, fine hook.

Rigs: bubble float, quill float, running sinker where they sinker is as light as possible or no weight at all. For float rigs, the depth of the bait can be regulated. Night time fishing can be as shallow as 20 centimetres while deeper presentations may be required for daylight hours.

For quill floats, add split shot to the leader so the tip of the float is just visible and there is little to no resistance when the float is pulled under by a fish.

Bubble floats are set up the same as a running sinker where the float is substituted for the sinker. Use a piece of cork about 1cm square with a slit half way through it. Wrap the line through this slit and use the cork to set the bait depth. Float rigs are best used to two kilogram line while three kilogram is ok for rigs using sinkers.


Redfin are very visual hunters. They love anything alive and moving but will happily take a bunch of worms off the bottom. Prime bait are live fish such as minnow or bullhead gudgeon. Light line is best here also.

Baits: live galaxid, gudgeon and worms.

Rigs: running sinker, paternoster or float rigs as per trout.

Hooks: Hook sizes are dictated by your bait’s size and how it will be presented. For this reason, it is critical to select the right sized hook. Sharp hooks are a must and dramatically increase hook up rates.

Live minnow/gudgeon

The use of live fish as bait in freshwater has different regulations in different states so please check your local guides. Minnow and gudgeon are a delicate bait and will not last long if a large hook is used. Small, fine gauge hooks are best used and either pinned through the top lip or just in front of the dorsal fin.

I prefer the top lip as they stay alive longer and the bait can actually be released if you draw a blank. Fine gauge, wide gape hooks are best and Daiichi make some rippers known as 2171. Size 10 or 12 depending on the size of bait.

If you use a size 12 on a large minnow, it can reduce hook ups. If you decide to pin your live fish through the back then select a hook with an offset point such as a size 10 suicide or octopus hook. You’ll notice that when inserted the correct way, the hook point will be pointing up and clear of the fish when it swims forward.


A bunch of worms can slip down the hook exposing the shank and looking unnatural. Baitholder hooks are designed to prevent this and work a treat. For a large scrub worm, select around size 4 while smaller worms can go down to about size 6 or 8 but don’t completely cover the hook and always leave some of the point showing.


Yabbies are best suited to 1/0 octopus or similar and pinned through the tail from underneath through the top so the point is always exposed. Dead yabbies are still top bait when peeled and their tail meat is used for bait.


The shrimp in Geelong’s Barwon River are great bait but very small. They do best in a bunch through their tails on small hooks and quill floats near the reeds. The shrimp found where the water is warmer such as northern

Victoria to southeast Queensland are often quite large and you can use the same hook as per a yabbie. Again, dead shrimp can be peeled and make excellent bait this way as an alternative to live.


Mudeye come in two main species – the couta which is long and the spider which looks pretty much like a small spider. They must be pinned through the wings with a fine gauge hook so they remain alive and swim about. Smaller versions that have not yet developed wing casings can be pinned through the collar on their neck but it is harder.

Again, the Daiichi 2171 has served me well when mudeye fishing. A bubble or quill float goes hand in hand with mudeye fishing and calm or offshore breeze is the only option.

So as you can see, freshwater bait fishing can be as simple as drowning worms or as specialist as mudeye fishing for trout. Either way, it is a very relaxing form of fishing.

Neil Slater

About Neil Slater

Neil Slater grew up in Geelong Victoria and has fished local waters since he could walk. Neil has fished around the country and is always seeking new waters and eager to help anyone he can.

Neil has worked at CSIRO since 1989 and started writing articles for magazines around 2001. Publications ranged from computers to photography and camping plus co-author of a Land Based Fishing Guide for Corio Bay and the Surf Coast. Neil has shot a couple of weddings and has held the odd fishing club presentation but he has gravitated towards fishing articles and local reports over the last ten years.

Neil has amassed a wide variety of fishing gear spanning a few decades from light fly to 24kg spin tackle. “I’m always worried that if I did pass away, my dear wife would sell my fishing tackle for what I told her I paid for it! (I pinched that quote, but one of my favourites)”.

“I love a good joke, campfire and company. Cheese is good too. I love cheese.”


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