Live Bait vs Lures

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts. Today sees us return to the debating ring with my look at another age-old ‘argument’ for fisherman that is the live bait vs lures discussion. I admit to only moving over to the lure side of things in the past few years as to be honest, when you fish in a spot where you can literally dig up Pippis for bait with your feet, lures are not something you really worry about.

However, as I have moved to a new area and started fishing in a few different environments, I have been playing with lures a lot more. If I am being honest, I probably enjoy fishing with bait a little more than lures however I have certainly had some good luck on both. The people I fish with also use a mixture of both and it is definitely something that they experiment with as well. So let’s check it all out below…

Bait and Lures

Ok, so the first thing we probably need to do here is quickly outline what each comprises of so we are clear on exactly what it is that we are comparing. So here is what you are looking at when it comes to the bait versus lure debate…

Live bait

live bait vs lures - live bait

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 (I use live yabbies when out on the kayak), fresh but dead or even frozen. And you can also throw stuff for the herbivores here too such as seaweed and even garden vegetables.

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

  1. Use local bait if possible – Fish eat it naturally so they will more likely take it on a hook as well.
  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.

Examples of live bait include:

  • Worms (sea and/or garden)
  • Squid
  • Bait fish (whitebait, pilchards etc.)
  • Fillets of larger fish
  • Chicken
  • Red meat chunks
  • Insects
  • Crabs
  • Prawns/shrimp and other crustaceans
  • Sea weed and other rock plants


live bait vs lures - lures

Perhaps the easiest way to describe a fishing lure is as ‘fake bait’. They can be made from a number materials such as metal, plastic, fiberglass or even wood and are designed to look and behave like natural baits that fish would generally take (i.e. a fake live bait.). There are lures available that can mirror and mimic just about any type of natural bait you can think of either to look like a bait fish is swimming or even injured. The main types include:

  • Spoons – These are fairly straight forward lures made of a shiny metal usually with a reflective tape down the side and a three-pronged hook at the back. I had always known them as ‘spinners’ and they work in a fast cast and retrieve option designed to mimic fast moving bait fish. These are my favourite and there is not much that I have not seen caught on these.
  • Soft Plastics – Often also called ‘Jigging’ lures, soft plastics comprise of a lead ‘sinker’ as the head with a hook attached. From there a ‘plastic’ body is attached to mimic pretty much any type of bait that you can think of from bait fish, prawns, worms, crustaceans, crabs and even frogs. The lure is then cast and slowly retrieved in a jigging motion (hence the name) to attract fish to it. Some plastics are even coated with a smelly ‘liquid’ to enhance fish attraction.
  • Plugs – I have always known these as Jerkbaits however most of my research calls them plug lures so I guess that is what they are called. Anyway, these are long slender bait fish looking lures usually with a plastic flap at the front that looks a little like a duck bill. Their design is that they tend to float around the surface and then once the line is retrieved, will dive down to the bottom (via the duck bill) twitching and jigging around along the way. When retrieving the line with these you can usually feel a vibration in the line as well which is also a fish attractant design.
  • Straight metal lures – Another common type of lure is sort of mixture between a Spoon and a Plug in that it is generally a long straight metal lure with one or more hook sets (at back and bottom) that is painted to look like a live bait. In general, they are designed to either dive (called poppers) or twist as the line is retrieved in order to look like it is injured.
  • Swimbaits – Whist technically all of lures above can be classified as swimbaits, I am using the name here to describe the options that are made to specifically look like a fish that is swimming. They are often made of fiberglass or plastic and separated into two or more pieces so that they ‘swim’ around like a fish would when retrieved. These are particularly popular if you are fishing in fresh water for such species as Bass or Cod however they can be just as effective in saltwater as well.

What should you choose?

This is where the debate begins. I have mentioned above that I tend to prefer bait over lures when I fish and I will elaborate on that below however for now I am going to simply outline the pros and cons of each. That way, you can hopefully make your choice based on the fishing you plan to do.

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

Use bait when:

I would recommend mono lines for the following:

  • It is dark or the water is murky (fish can smell it better without having to see it)
  • Fishing with kids (as above)
  • You aren’t targeting a particular species
  • Fishing in areas where snags are common

Lure Pros

  • You can generally cast a lure further than bait
  • Lures can be swapped more easily if one type is not working
  • Cleaner than bait
  • You do not need to get new bait every time you fish
  • Fish generally cannot often swallow a lure – easier for catch and release
  • You don’t waste as much time getting ‘baited’ by small fish
  • There is a real sense of satisfaction to targeting and catching fish on a lure

Lure Cons

  • You generally can’t throw in and leave the rod on a holder with a lure
  • Lures can be harder to master – meaning not great for beginners
  • Lures can be expensive – especially if the hooks go blunt or rust
  • Lures are more prone to snags than general hooks

Best for:

I would recommend lures for the following:

  • Targeting specific species
  • If you are constantly drifting in a boat or kayak
  • Fishing in clear water or where fish are particularly active
  • You are fishing in an area where there are a lot of small fish as well
  • Those who like to fish on a whim – i.e. you can always carry a rod and a lure without needing to stop for messy bait.

Check out these: Lures for Surf Fishing


Is live bait better than lures?

This is a matter of preference however many pundits believe that fish prefer a live bait as it most matches what they eat naturally. However modern lures can be just as effective and a popular choice if you generally need to try different types or want to protect the environment a little better as well.

What do I use?

As I mentioned above, I tend to drift towards bait over a lure for general fishing if I want to relax with the rod in a holder or lightly drifting on the kayak. However if I have working in really fast moving water or chasing some fast moving surface species in the surf, then it is a lure all the way.

For my bait, I always try and go with the local stuff so will pump some live yabbies (small crustaceans) or use frozen white bait (this will obviously change depending on where you are fishing). On a kayak I like a soft plastic lure or a jerkbait and in the surf, it is a spoon every time.


And there it is – my take on the live bait vs lure argument. I know I probably didn’t do anything to really answer the question here and that is because there are definite uses for both and both are loved by many.

I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them. I would love to hear why you love one over the other below!

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.