Take a close look at the bait options open to you, and you notice that they basically fall into two camps: live bait and artificial bait. Even as there are some hybrids between the two, the choice of the right fishing bait for all kinds of fishing is dependent on the target fish species' preferences, the amount of time and effort you are willing to expend on bait preparation and any restrictions the lake or stream may have against certain types of bait. These restrictions usually apply to live bait, but in some cases, they may also be aimed at artificial baits that might give you an unfair advantage and cause one type of fish to get overfished at the venue.
Live Bait vs. Artificial Bait
Live bait is defined as any kind of attractant that is still alive at the time you affix it to the hook. The most traditional form of live bait is the night crawler, but bait fish, large insects, leeches and shrimp also qualify. Some lakes and streams may have regulations against the use of certain fish as live bait, and it is a good idea to check in with a game warden before buying the bait. For example, Devils Lake in North Dakota allows only specifically fathead minnows but also sticklebacks as live bait, while all other species are expressly forbidden.
Fishermen who do not want to worry about keeping live bait alive and thriving until use--and who also do not want to worry about restrictions--rely on artificial bait. In some cases, this might be plastic bait made to look like a night crawler or shrimp, but it also refers to commercially manufactured bait that may be molded into the shape of a ball and placed on the fishing hook before casting the line.
Ground Bait and Chum
Chum and ground bait are not actually attached to the fishing hook but instead are used to attract fish to the area where you plan to fish. Ground bait may be made up of bread crumbs, ground meat, fish meal, sugar and a variety of other ingredients that are pressed together and then simply tossed overboard. Before long, the balls or cakes dissolve, and fish are attracted to the area. Because this practice makes it possible to target certain fish, such as trout, it increases the odds of hooking a fish.
Chum is generally used in saltwater and works along the same lines, except it is commonly associated with shark baiting. Chum is made up of fish or chicken parts, blood and guts. Unlike ground bait, chum does not necessarily sink to the bottom but floats toward the top of the water, attracting the fish from the depths to come up. Due to the danger that sharks represent to humans, Alabama regulates offshore chumming.
Homemade vs. Commercial Fishing Bait
Hobbyists enjoy a wide array of commercially available fishing bait. These baits are usually targeted to the species you are trying to hook. One of the well-known commercial fishing bait manufacturers is Berkley, which is famous for its Power Bait. Power Bait is soft bait that comes in a rainbow of colors, fortified with scents and glitter, and is aimed at catfish, carp, trout and other fish.
On the flipside, devoted anglers who frequent a certain fishing hole or who go after a particular species of fish for a prolonged period of time, tend to come up with their own recipes for homemade baits they swear by. For example, some catfish anglers swear by homemade balls crafted from American cheese slices studded with hot dog pieces.