Saltwater Fishing: Natural and Live Bait Guide

Though many people love fishing in freshwater, there is just that added element of excitement when you are near a body of salty water. Both the size of the oceans and seas, the amount of fish waiting to be caught, and also the challenge itself, all have a specific charm to them. 

In this article, we will talk about live and natural baits, and also some about spinnerbaits, fake baits, and their efficacy in saltwater environments. If you are interested in learning more about the type of lures and bait you can use to be an even more effective fisherman or fisherwoman on the seas, this article is meant for you!

Best Live Bait for Saltwater Fishing

Best Live Bait for Saltwater Fishing

There are a couple of different live baits used for fishing, but in this section, we will provide a run-down of some of the most useful ones for saltwater purposes. However, we will first discuss what live bait even is. 

Live bait, as the name says, is the bait that is used for fishing, which is actually alive. This means live animals, like smaller fish, crabs, worms, and more. 

Though we have a personal favorite, which is mole crabs, the situation and the goal greatly determine what is the best live bait for you, which is why we will mention what the target fish can be for every bait we mention.

The specific choice depends on the fish you are looking for and the waters you are fishing in. After this brief introduction, let’s dive right in!


The primary live bait people use for saltwater fishing is baitfish. There are many different types used, and generally, they are fish that cannot really be sold or not for a good price and are not used in gastronomy, all while being fished in massive amounts by commercial ships. 

This combination of being undesirable for selling and being abundant makes baitfish incredible options for saltwater fishing, and the variety there also allows for fishing different types and sizes of fish. Here are a couple of the most commonly used ones. 


One of the absolute most common baitfish is Menhaden. They are the typical “byproduct of commercial fishing”, which means that there is a lot of it around, and they are not needed for anything else. 

They are considered larger baitfish since they can range anywhere from 10 inches to sometimes 17 inches. This makes them one of the larger baitfish, which is then in turn perfect for fishing for fish like king mackerel, redfish, or cobia.

The easiest and most efficient way to fish menhaden is by using fishing nets, which can be used to catch many of them at once. They can often be seen rippling the water’s surface as the sun rises within a couple of miles of shore or under groups of pelicans.


Sardines are known by nearly everyone, not only fishermen. They are tasty, small fish, that can, incidentally, be used for fishing as well, especially in the form of live bait. 

They are incredible bait for fish like striped bass, salmon, or hardhead catfish. 


There is a massive mullet run during Autumn along the Atlantic coast, where thousands and millions of mullets push through the waters toward the Southern beaches. This is often the inspiration for many youtube videos and Instagram stories since it looks incredible. 

They are smaller than menhaden, with the majority of them being around 8-10 inches, with the smallest and youngest ones being 3 inches long while the largest, most mature ones can grow as large as 19.5 inches. 

They are great bait for catching similar sorts of fish like the ones you can target with Menhaden. Redfish, bluefish, flounder, and other similarly large fish are the best to target with these live baitfish. 


Crabs are another popular choice for live bait fishing. What is great about them is that they are easier for the unskilled person to catch, and might even be more abundant in some places than baitfish. 

They can be found along almost the entire East Coast of the U.S., from the regions of New York and Maryland, all the way to Texas. This makes crabs readily available as live bait. 

Fiddler crab

Fiddler crabs are excellent live bait for fish like the previously mentioned redfish, or perhaps others like black drum or tautog. These crabs (especially the male fiddlers) are easily recognizable by their lopsided bodies, with one claw being proportional to the body and the other being disproportionately large and pronounced. 

They can be found in warmer weather along the East Coast, with a majority being in the Southern regions, but some species populate nearly the entire coast. 

Mole Crabs

Mole crabs are smaller, more rounded crabs that can be found near almost all coasts in the U.S., though predominantly on the West Coast. They are great for catching larger fish like the ones mentioned earlier, but somewhat smaller saltwater fish like surfperches are also good targets. 

Also called sand fleas or sand moles, they are also really abundant and thus economic choices for live bait. Just like with most live bait, the familiar taste and texture will not make fish wary to swim in for the bait, making sand fleas effective options. 


Eels, just like leeches, are amazing live bait, since they are quite easy to keep alive. Depending on their size, they can be used for fishing for smaller and medium-sized fish, though larger eels can sometimes be used for larger gamefish as well. 

The selling point of eels is that they are lively. They have large movements and will usually thrash around when placed on the hook, thus attracting fish from larger distances by making more sound and being more visible.

They are also a part of the diets of many fish in salty waters, so they will be familiar with, and most fish will go for the kill. 


The last live bait option we will mention is shrimp. Shrimp are also an excellent choice for catching a variety of saltwater fish, like black drum, bonefish, flounder, jackfish, or whiting. 

Best Natural Bait for Saltwater Fishing

Best Natural Bait for Saltwater Fishing

The difference between live and natural bait is not much, but it is useful to know. Basically, live bait is a subcategory within natural bait. Natural baits are all baits used for fishing that have a natural origin. 

Most of these are usually animal products, both from land and sea. The list here will be shorter, since some of the most popular natural (but not live) baits used are the same baits as we mentioned earlier, with the difference being that they are not used while alive, but either frozen or preserved in some other way. 

We will, however, talk about a couple of baits that are more popular when talking about natural bait as opposed to living bait. 


Squids are widely known dwellers of water and are also tasty. However, they aren’t only tasty for us humans, but also for fish. The thing is, however, that they are both more economical and easier to come to buy in stores and work just as well frozen as they do fresh, with an impalpable difference in efficiency. 

The reason squid is the first bait we mention is that they are one of the best and also most common frozen (and fresh, by the way) bait used worldwide for fishing. They can be found worldwide, and a massive amount of fish have them on their menus on a daily basis, making them incredible natural bait. 

Another advantage squid have, as we have touched on earlier, is their price. They are incredibly abundant, and aside from basic bait like corn, worms, or the like, they are probably the cheapest as a result. And also, they are healthy for the fish, they attract a lot of predator fish and can even be used for catching larger fish. 

When used whole, they can be perfect for larger fish like winter cod or big bass, while using the legs or even just the wings can be used to catch smaller fish. 

Clams and Mussels

Clams and Mussels are other great options for natural bait. They are also eaten frequently by fish in the seas and oceans, so they also provide a familiar taste and texture, making them incredible bait. 

Before using them for fishing purposes, it is advised to salt them a few days ahead. This will draw out some of their moisture, making them more firm and thus more likely to stay on the hook while fishing. 

A great thing about these baits is that they have a ton of flavor and aroma, which they slowly let out in the water once the hook is cast. This slow release of aroma makes longer fishing sessions possible since you can keep the bait in the water for longer and thus attract fish for longer stretches of time at once. 

They are great for catching fish like whiting and flatfish species and are also a particularly effective bait for winter cod.

Chicken Liver

An organ with a strong smell and taste, chicken livers are another great natural bait option. They can be used to catch catfish, which is the most popular target for fishermen equipped with chicken liver baits. 

You can buy curing agents specifically designed to cure chicken liver for catfish, but even if you don’t feel like investing in that, you can just cure the livers in salt like mentioned in the part about mussels, and you will have yourself a perfect catfish bait. 

You can also use chicken livers without curing them, by taking a sewing string and tying the liver onto the hook so that it doesn’t come off as easily. 

Are Worms Good for Saltwater Fishing? 

Worms are one of the most iconic baits in the fishing world. This is probably due to the fact that when we were children, all of us had an uncle or grandfather, perhaps a parent, who would take us fishing. The primary bait there would either be corn or worms. They have become a staple. 

However, how do worms stack up against bait actually intended or maybe even caught in saltwater? Earthworms don’t seem to be the best option out there, but just how good are they? 

Earthworms, the classic worms we all used to fish in ponds with, are not really good for saltwater use. That is because first of all, they aren’t meant to live in water, and second of all, they are especially not meant to be in salt water. 

Whenever it rains, you can see earthworms coming up to the surface of the ground, and that is because they suffocate underwater, and oxygen cannot penetrate the ground when it is wet. Add to that the salt found in saltwater, and you will have a shriveled-up, possibly white earthworm in minutes at most. 

However, other types of worms, especially sea worms, can be great bait. They aren’t the preferred bait for most professionals, but if you are starting out, it is easily worth it to experiment around with them. There are many types and a bunch of different sizes, so make sure you figure out which one suits your goals.

Bloodworms, for example, are some of the most popular live and natural baits on the Mid-Atlantic. They have transparent skin, which in turn makes their blood visible, giving these worms a bright, yet deep red color. This, added to the movement of the worms if they are alive at the time of use, allows the bloodworm to be one of the favorite foods of nearly all fish species. 

Another really popular option is using waxworms. They are larger, white-colored worms that have quite large movements if placed on the hook properly. Sometimes, multiple waxworms are placed on a hook at once, but it isn’t always necessary. Their high fat- and protein content make their delicious treats for saltwater fish. 

Can You Use Lures in Saltwater? 

Can You Use Lures in Saltwater

Lures are like artificial fishing bait. They are small and attract the attention of fish with their color, movement, flash, vibration, etc. They are most often used in freshwater since freshwater often has less movement (lakes and ponds). In a body of water with less movement, the flashing, and vibrating lure will have a better-attracting power than in a waving Ocean. 

However, that doesn’t mean you cannot use lures in saltwater. Actually, they are pretty useful and have been used in the past to catch fish like snook, redfish, speckled trout, and many, many more. 

Does Spinnerbaits Work in Saltwater? 

Spinnerbaits tend to be written down as freshwater baits. They have to be used in lakes, ponds, canals, or rivers because that is where they are effective. The issue is, this idea isn’t entirely true. 

Spinnerbaits are artificial baits that have a metal element attached to them, which makes the bait turn and spin rapidly when the lure is in motion This basically mimics the movements of smaller fish, which can seem like prey to many saltwater fish as well. 

They help in cold weather when fish tend to swim deeper into the body of water they are in. The reason spinnerbaits can help is because of their added flair and strong flashing, which can call fish from a way larger distance than a simple hook-and-bait setup could. 

Fish like red drum, redfish, snook, flounder, seatrout, and much more can be effectively caught using spinnerbaits in saltwater. 

Does Fake Bait Work in Saltwater? 

In short: yes! It is a very confident and resounding yes. Fake bait is actually one of the most widely used types of bait in the world, especially in saltwater environments. The jig and grub combo, for example, is one of the most popular ones. 

There are two, very simple reasons why so many people use fake bait in saltwater around the world: they are cheap, and they are effective. The combination of these two attributes can hardly be beaten, especially for the people who are not looking to increase their skills to the pro level but are rather looking to have a fun time exploring the fishing world. 

Professional fishermen often would rather use life or at least natural bait, quite simply because the familiarity of the bait for the fish makes them just that much more effective. They are the “higher quality” baits, so to say, but not all that more effective. 

Fake baits are really effective and economical because you can choose exactly the type you need for the place you are going to fish in, and then you can buy a fake bait for a couple of dollars that fits the given profile. 

There are many different sizes, weights, designs, and colors, which you can choose from to find the best option for you.