FISHING

How to Catch Minnows: Baiting Your Hook

Catching Minnows
Neal Walker
Written by Neal Walker

Most of us think of catching minnows as something we did as kids while exploring streams and lakes, but these small fish are great bait when you are out fishing for a larger catch. Many stores will stock minnows to be used as bait, but it’s much cheaper (and more fun) to catch your own!

The only trouble? These little fish are quick and are usually found in shallow murky water that clouds up quickly, making them hard to see. This makes them difficult to catch unless you have a few tricks up your sleeve.

This article will teach you how to catch minnows using three different techniques, each of which will be explained, along with the pros and cons of each.

Before You Start Fishing

If you’re planning to catch minnows to use as bait fish, it is always important to check the laws in the areas you are in. Conservation authorities may restrict the use of minnows as bait, and so to avoid any fines or penalties you should always ask to make sure that you are allowed to fish with live bait.

Once you know you are able to use minnows for fishing bait, you’ll want to find places where minnows are abundant. The best places to look are in small creeks and rivers, with shallow beds and lots of plant life that the minnows can feed on.

Minnows in the hand

Minnows are easiest to find during the afternoon on sunny days when they move into the warmer shallow water. However, they can also be found in the deeper water of lakes and rivers.

There are several species of minnows found commonly in lakes and rivers. Most of the minnows that are used for bait are quite small, often no bigger than two inches long. However, there are some species of minnows that are much larger and can be easier to use for bait when fishing.

The Creek Chub species, which can grow up to 12 inches long, is often caught in deeper water. Because of their size, it’s more difficult to use conventional fishing gear to catch them.

Some micro-fishing enthusiasts have dedicated a lot of time to figuring out the best way to catch these small fish, but if you’re looking for a quick bait fish catch before your next fishing trip, you’ll want to pick one of the following three methods to capture them.

The Easy Way: Using A Seine

Most fishermen are familiar with the use of a seine. Seines are small nets that have weights attached to the bottom which allows you to catch fish in moving water, or by skimming it through the water. These seines are like large trolling nets used on commercial fishing barges.

The most common way to use a seine when catching minnows is to have two people in a body of water where minnows have been located. There should be one person on either end of the netting.

The netting is dipped into the water and one person pulls their end of the netting out into the water. In a smooth motion, the person who is standing furthest in the water should begin to walk back in a wide semi-circle towards the first person who is standing on the shore.

Using A Seine

The person in the water should focus on disturbing as much of the bottom as possible to encourage the minnows to flee toward the netting. It is important to keep the netting low in the water while walking.

Once both sides of the net are even, the net should be brought forward and scooped up. If done correctly, there should be lots of minnows and other bait fish lying in the middle of the netting. Be sure to carry the net onto shore in order to transfer the fish into the bait bucket.

If you don’t have a fishing partner to help you out, another option to use a seine is to set up a rigging in advance.

To do this, you must attach one side of the seine to a large piece of wood, for example, a 4” by 4”, and anchor it into the river bank. Once the wood is secure, you can walk the other end of the seine out into the water and use it the same way described above.

Some retailers sell smaller seines that can be used by one person. These are handy in you are catching minnows in a smaller stream. However, they can be hard to use by yourself unless you have had a lot of practice, and will not capture as many minnows at the larger seines. Because of this, the larger seine is usually recommended.

Pros:

  • Easy to use if you have a partner to help you, or rigging set up in advance
  • Can be purchased easily at most outdoors retailers
  • Catch large number of bait fish quickly, not only minnows
  • Able to catch all sizes of minnows

Cons:

  • Must be purchased in advance
  • Need to have two people to work the large netting
  • May catch other animals, such as snakes, in the netting

The Waiting Game: Setting A Bait Trap

Another common way to catch minnows is to use a bait trap. You may have seen some traps available in retail stores, but it’s just as easy to make your own.

To do this, you’ll need:

  • Two empty 2 liter pop bottles with the lids
  • Scissors or a knife
  • Twine
  • Rope
  • Lighter
  • Nail
  • Crackers or dog food

To make the trap, you’ll need to follow the next steps:

  • Using the scissors or knife, cut the first pop bottle a few inches above the bottom and recycle the bottom part. Be sure to keep the lid on this bottle.
  • Using the scissors or knife, cut the second pop bottle just below the “neck” of the bottle and recycle the bottom part. You can take the lid off of this bottle.
  • Put the second, shorter bottle into the bottom of the first, taller bottle with the spout facing into the larger bottle. This should look like a funnel leading into the larger pop bottle.
  • Use the lighter to heat the pointy end of the nail. Once the nail is hot, hold the bottles together and press the tip of the nail through the plastic of both bottles, about half an inch from the edge to create a hole. Repeat this step along the edge of the entire bottle.
  • Using the hot nail, push a few holes (not too many!) through the plastic of the larger bottle near the top. This will allow the water to flow through both of the pop bottles while it is in the river. This will make sure that air continues to circulate, keeping the minnows caught in the trap alive.
  • Using the twine, tie the two bottles together. You can do this by cutting individual pieces of twine and lacing them through the holes one by one, securing them with a double knot. You can also lace the twine through each of the holes, as if you were sewing them together, and then tie the twine off with a double knot to make it secure.
  • To make the trap easier to pull out of the water, tie a piece of twine around the lip under the cap of the second bottle. Leave a long tail attached! You may want to attach one end of the tail to a cork so that it floats in the water and marks where you have placed the trap.
  • Your trap is now ready to be used! Add some crackers or dog food through the funnel to attract the minnows in. You can experiment with other types of bait as well. Some people even recommend using strawberries or other fruits.
  • Place the trap in the water, being sure to sink it in an area where you know that minnows are likely to gather. Leave it for a least a few hours, but overnight is generally best.
  • Once the trap has been set for a period of time, pull it out of the water, unscrew the cap at the top of the trap and dump the trapped minnows into your bait bucket.

Pros:

  • Able to make with limited materials
  • Only need one person to use
  • Very cost effective

Cons:

  • Takes much longer to catch bait, between a few hours and overnight
  • Need to build the trap first

Catching Larger Minnows: The Old Fashioned Way

While most minnow species are quite small, there are also a few larger species that can be used for bait. While conventional fishing gear makes it difficult to catch small minnows, for the larger species it’s not impossible.

Some fishermen suggest using a smaller hook and small amount of bait. Usually, a size 32 is called for because the minnow’s mouths are not much larger than a medium-sized pea. When looking for hooks, it may be helpful to ask for assistance in finding a tackle that can be used for micro fishing.

Catching minnows one at a time can get frustrating fairly quickly. In cases where you need to catch a large number of minnows, but don’t have access to a seine or the materials to make a trap, you can also use a tightly woven net designed to catch smaller fish.

Catching Larger Minnows

Image credit: pautzke.com

In order to do this, find a place where minnows are suspected to be and place some bait in the water, crackers or other food will do in a pinch, wait until the fish come to the surface, and then quickly dip the net deeply into the water and trap the fish before pulling the net back to the surface.

If you do not have a net, you may be able to create a makeshift net using a t-shirt. You can either sew or knot the arm and neck holes shut, and use the torso as the scoop. If you have a wire coat hanger handy, you can use the hanger to provide stability to the net by undoing the wire hanger and pushing the sharp end through the torso hole of the shirt, and then reconnecting the hanger.

If you are planning to use either a net or a shirt while you’re in a boat, it’s important to keep proper boat safety in mind! Don’t lean over the sides of the boat to use the net. If you’re in a small motorboat, canoe, or kayak, be sure to center your weight in the middle of the boat to decrease the chances of tipping the boat over.

Pros:

  • Can be done anywhere, helpful when you out of bait and are not near a retailer to purchase more

Cons:

  • It feels as though you are fishing in order to go out fishing
  • It takes much longer time for a very low quantity of fish for bait

You’ve Caught Minnows! Now What?

Once you’ve caught your minnows, you’ll want to be sure to keep them alive to use as bait while you fish. There are a few ways to do this. The first is to put them in a bucket full of water from the same source you found the minnows in.

It’s important to know that if you leave minnows in the bucket for too long without circulating the water, or adding more, the minnows will begin to run out of oxygen, and may die. This doesn’t make for good bait!

You can either use a pump to make sure that air is filtered through or occasionally add more water to the bucket. If you notice the minnows beginning to get lethargic, or turning onto their sides or bellies, it’s time to change the water!

You’ve Caught Minnows

Another option is to soak a towel in water and put it over ice in a bait cooler. You can place the bait fish on this towel. The minnows will stay alive throughout the day but will die if left overnight. See our article on how to choose the best handheld GPS for fishing your information.

Picking Which Strategy Works Best for You

We’ve outlined three different ways to catch minnows to use as bait fish. Each of these methods for catching minnows is very different.

It’s important to keep in mind how much time and what resources you have when you are choosing which method is working the best for you. This includes what body of water you will be going to catch bait fish in.

Using a seine is by far the fastest and most profitable method, but it needs to be purchased in advance. It usually requires two people to operate and can be hard to operate on your own. This method generally works best with shallow, moving water.

Bait traps can be easily made with items that most people have in their homes. Once made, the traps can be used in all types of water. However, the traps take at least a few hours before they effectively trap minnows, and are usually best if they are left overnight.

Using micro-fishing lures and hooks is a great way to catch larger sized minnows. If you are not interested in using a fishing rod, you can also use a net. Using a t-shirt can work when you’re in a pinch. For a great review of the bet fishing rod, check out our piece on this topic.

 

Throw The Net!

Now that you know how to catch minnows, you won’t have to waste time and money stopping for live bait at convenience stores or bait shops. Have you ever caught bait fish before? How did you do it? Leave your methods in the comments section below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Neal Walker
Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.

  • Stuart Wood

    Minnows make great live bait for a lot of other species of fish and at some point or another, I’ve tried almost all the ways outlined in this article to catch them. I did, however, want to add my two-cents in terms of the types of bait you can use to catch minnows themselves.

    As is rightly pointed out, dog food, crackers, and even certain berries do work well. For the times when I can only leave a bait trap out for a few hours, I’ve found using bread, stale donuts or ivory soap work particularly well, these, however, don’t work well for overnight as they disintegrate too quickly.

    When leaving a bait trap overnight, my all time favorite has to be canned mackerel. Rather than simply opening the can or pouring into the trap, poke holes in the top and leave the whole can in the trap – works like a charm!

    • Neal Walker

      Great insights, Stuart. What makes minnows a worthy bait is that they are extremely effective provided that you know your target fish, and they are not very hard to catch as long as you know where to find them. They love breads, but these can only be as effective if the mesh trap is properly positioned. You can also use crushed shrimp and crab as an alternative. Mackerel is a great choice too, especially with that tin can method you’ve mentioned.

  • Chris Marks

    When trying to catch minnows, I’ve personally found that it’s not the bait that you use that influences your success, as those little guys will eat just about anything from dog food to styrofoam. Ultimately the location of the trap is the most important, I try to vary the location a little, but generally try to keep it in shallow waters against as much structure as possible, such as rocks, and plenty of growth.

    • Neal Walker

      You can use the most effective bait in the world all you want, but as you’ve mentioned, a strategically-placed trap is already half the battle. I beg to differ on your bait choices though. While minnows eat virtually anything, you should lean towards more effective baits like the bread and shrimps to improve your coverage further.

  • Joseph Peterson

    If I’m in the right spot, in the right time I can catch as many minnows as I want. But if that doesn’t happen, which is rare, I can spend hours waiting like an idiot. I use 2 or 3 mesh traps so that I don’t spend much time on activity I don’t like. Crushed crab or crushed shrimp heads are the best, but if I can’t find other baits I use anything else.

    • Neal Walker

      The strong scent of crushed crab and shrimp make them great bait options for mesh traps, especially if the current is strong enough to cover a large area and attract nearby minnows. When utilizing mesh traps, it is very important to strategically place them to make sure you are maximizing the effectiveness of the trap and the bait.

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