Brad Laabs: Be willing to fish with both live and artificial bait

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Brad Laabs

Over the last couple of weeks I have been asked several times by different customers, from different areas of the country, variations of the same question: “What is better, live bait or artificial bait?”

I have answered “yes,” to that question, and then try to explain that it is not an “either/or” situation. They both have their place, and at times one will outperform the other.

The last few years, there has definitely been an increase in the number of artificial baits that have become a part of anglers staple “go to” presentations, especially when it comes to walleye fishing.

Bass, northern, and muskie anglers have had artificial baits as primary preferred presentation tactics for many, many years.

Artificial baits include a wide range of choices for anglers, including (but not limited to) spoons, crank baits (with multiple types/styles made for trolling or casting), spinner baits, jigging spoons, skirted jigs, hair jigs, and huge assortments and choices of plastics that can go on jig heads, or be added to other lures like spoons or spinners.


The modern plastics come in many shapes, styles, sizes, and colors. For a novice it can at times seem overwhelming to make choices about what catches fish -- or what catches fisherman!

Talk to other experienced anglers that use plastics, or pay attention to what is selling at the bait shops, to point you in the right direction. Then practice, practice, practice -- success will build confidence, and you become your own teacher.

The modern plastics include some that are scent impregnated, and even some that are biodegradable. Most will mimic a crawler, leech, or frog, but most will mimic a minnow.

The minnow-imitating plastics come in two primary shapes, the slender minnow or the shad shape. They will have a slender single tail, a forked tail, a swirl-type tail, or the boot/paddle tail. They all have a slightly different action when fished on a jig.

I believe that the shape and size are important to match to the similar forage fish are keying in on at the time/season they are being fished. Color can also be a factor, to not only match the color of the forage, but the light conditions and water clarity or color as well.

Plastics need to be fished more aggressively than you will typically fish with a live bait such as a minnow. You will also want to upsize the weight and the hook size when fishing plastics on a jig. Jigs with a more pronounced bait holder, or a wire holder work best for keeping plastics on the jig and working effectively.

Other considerations will be for the fish species targeted, time of year, presentation strategy, and even the bodies of water fished. All can be factors in making choices for live bait or artificial.

For example, in my opinion, it is hard to reproduce the quality a leech provides on a jig or hook under a bobber. Live bait rigging with a blown up crawler might not be as tempting with the artificial crawlers, but then trolling them on a spinner with a bottom bouncer could lead to an advantage for a fake crawler if perch and sunfish are a nuisance in the lake you are trying to catch walleyes.


I have been using artificial baits of one kind or another for as many years as I can remember, but I am also more of a live bait guy. I believe in both, and I think it can be limiting to not be willing to use both. When fishing with two or more anglers, a chance to experiment and try both presents itself to see what might be working best -- at least for the moment!

(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)

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