5 Best Live Bait Options For Muskie

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post covering my 5 best live bait options for Muskie to chow down on this year. Now I have to admit to being a traditional bait user for most of my fishing life as I like to find a good spot and then see what I can attract. Of course there is maybe not the excitement of attracting and working a fish as there is with lures, however it can be just as much fun for sure.

There are however other aspects to it such as matching the bait to the location and presenting it in a manner that will make it attractive to the fish as well. The thing then is that there are so many different factors to consider that it can all get a bit confusing after a while. So let’s check it all out …

What is Livebait?

For the purposes of this post I am going to give the name live bait to anything that is, or has at some point been alive (often referred to as ‘natural bait’). This means that it can actually be alive (often kept in an aerated cooler for example), fresh but dead or even frozen. This is opposed to lures, which are artificial creations designed to mimic live bait.

Obviously the type you choose will vary based on local conditions however when it comes to using live bait, I would stick to the following two rules:

  1. Use local bait if possible – Live bait can be found and trapped in all lakes and rivers that Muskie inhabit so there can be a variation on what is available to them within their local habitats.
  2. Go to a local bait shop – In most cases, the local bait shop will sell bait that is good for local conditions. If in doubt, ask the shop keeper or a local.

Now, if I am being honest, in my experience and research there doesn’t really appear to be a bait fish that a Muskie does not like. And as with other freshwater predators such as Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass and Crappie, Muskie will also take worms, lamprey, small rodents, frogs and insects as well.

However, baitfish are generally easier to acquire and hook as opposed to anything else so I have listed the five most popular options for catching Muskie below.

Bait Pros

  • You can match exactly to what fish eat naturally
  • Generally easy to use
  • Often cheaper than lures
  • Most fish will take a bait
  • You can cast and let the bait sit in the water (i.e. no need to cast and retrieve)
  • Bait is great for kids (meaning they can at least catch something)

Bait Cons

  • It is smelly and gets all over your clothes, tackle box and everything else take with you
  • Will deteriorate in the sun
  • Fish tend to swallow the hook more with bait (making catch and release more difficult)
  • You can lose a lot more to smaller or vermin species
  • Bait can come off hook easier in faster moving water
  • You need to make more tools with you such as a knife and cutting board

My recommended live bait options for Muskie

Let’s have a look at the main 5 options I have listed above in more detail:


best live bait for Peacock Bass - Golden Shiner

Shiners are an commonly used and popular baitfish for catching Muskies. They are a golden color with a lateral line that curves down into the lower third of its body. Part of the Minnow species, they are native to northern and eastern North America.

They are one of the most commonly used baitfish and due to this are widely pond-cultured to maintain their stocks for Bass and Musky fishers all over the country.


live bait options for Northern Pike - Suckers

Suckers are a slower moving species that feed on the bottom of lakes and rivers and found across Asia and the United States. Often called sucker Minnows as they look almost identical, they make a good bait for Musky as they share the same shallow, slow moving waterways.

As they don’t tend to school as much as some other bait fish, suckers are best caught in fish traps placed along the bottom of the waterway. Once caught however, they will last well in a aerated well or cooler.


Best Bait For Largemouth Bass- Shad

Also often referred to as Herring or River Herring, Shad is a species native to the northern hemisphere and hence share many waterways with Musky. Many sub species are ocean based but return to freshwater rivers as the waters warm to breed. At these times they can be caught in casting nets or via the use of a light and live bait rig over the side of a boat or kayak.

As with Yellow Perch below, full-grown Shad are a good catching and table fish in their own right however as they school as juveniles, they make good live bait for Musky in the months covering Spring and Summer.

Yellow Perch

live bait options for Northern Pike - yellow perch

Although considered a good sport and eating fish in their own right, juvenile Yellow Perch are also a great live bait for Muskies as well. They are native to the northern region east of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River and Mississippi River basins and extending throughout Nova Scotia and Quebec north to the Mackenzie River. In recent times they have also been introduced into much of Europe too.

They spawn once a year in spring in large schools found within shallow areas of a lake or low-current tributary streams – funnily enough in the same spot where you will find Muskies as well. If chasing as live bait, use a casting net.

Rainbow Trout

Best Bait For Largemouth Bass - Bluegill

Juvenile Rainbow Trout are another fantastic bait for Muskie as they are extremely hardy and will swim around a lot longer than may other bait types (if rigged properly of course). They are often considered the best option for winter Muskie fishing in winter as well.

The only thing to consider here however is that many states prohibit the use of Rainbow Trout for live bait. So always check local regulations before you use them but if it allowable, get on them as Musky love them!


Look, as above, if none of these option are available then look for any other type of bait fish such as:

  • Minnows
  • Bluegill
  • Smelt
  • Alewives
  • Whitebait
  • Chubs

They have also been known to take cut bait such as Crappie or Walleye fillets as well.

Check out these: Portable Aerators for Live Bait

What should you be looking for?

As you look to source and use your own live bait, below are some things that you may want to consider when using bait for Musky:

Where the fish are – We have touched on this above however the type of bait you choose can depend on where you are trying to catch your fish. For example if you are working in shallow waters, then suckers would work well. Keep in mind here that unlike lures, you are generally not casting and retrieving a bait so you will need to match your bait to the species that are found in that area.

Weight requirements – Bait weight, usually determined by the size or amount of bait you use, is important for a number of reasons including:

  • Heavier baits can be cast a little further – this may include rigging with a sinker.
  • Heavier baits will anchor and drag on the bottom more effectively (which is good if you are in a kayak or on a boat).
  • Lighter weights are easier to jig and ‘flick’ around.
  • Lighter baits will float better than their heavier counterparts – which is where insects can work.

Again, do your research into the environment that you are fishing in. If you are working in shallower waters – which is common for Musky, then a light weighted bait will work very well. Heaver options may be needed in deeper areas however they will ‘catch’ on the bottom a lot more often and fall off if you are drifting.

Rod specifications – The next consideration (and a very important one) is to ensure that any bait size you use fits within the specification details of your fishing rod. In some cases, rod specs include a tackle weight which is the highest designated weight that the rod can handle.

In most cases, however, you are going to be looking at this from the power rating of the rod. This is effectively a measure of how ‘bendy’ it is. Light power rods bend with little force and heavy ones need a lot of pressure to bend. So, in short:

  • Light – very bendy – even whippy – will bend a lot with even the smallest fish. Use these for light baits only.
  • Medium – needs a bit more pressure to bend – In general, this is a good measure for all-round use with light to medium-weighted baits for Musky fishing.
  • Heavy – takes a lot to make it bend – I would probably avoid these for Musky fishing unless you are working in particularly deep water.

Tackle Requirements

In general, the main rule of thumb when it comes to using bait is to match your hook to its size. As Musky have big mouths, I would err on the side of a larger hook as well meaning you will avoid getting caught up with smaller species.

Stick to a 1/0 to 3/0 hook with a bait size to match with the hook set through the snout (or head of crayfish) on a running sinker or running float rig.

Local knowledge – As mentioned a number of times in this post, when I discuss live bait options for any fishing type, I always say to check with the locals to see what is found in the local system. The idea behind this is that you want to match your bait to what it is that the fish eat naturally.

Muskellunge - Muskie in weeds


And there it is – my post covering the best bait for Musky this year. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time

Have fun


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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.