Bait Basics (Part 3) - Freshwater Baits
  |  First Published: December 2002

IN THIS article I’ll review some of the baits and rigging methods that you can use in Queensland’s freshwater creeks, rivers and impoundments for bass, yellowbelly, silver perch, cod, spangled perch, carp and more.


You can buy earthworms from tackle shops, garages and general stores all over the countryside, or just dig them from your home garden. Many keen anglers have a backyard worm patch fed by mulch and compost scraps.

Earthworms work like a charm on most freshwater species. You can present the worm by either threading or looping it onto a hook. Your worms will last for ages if you keep them in the shade in a ventilated container with moist soil.

Worm kits are also available, and they work just as well as the backyard worm patch.


You don’t need to travel far from home to find great bait – a walk into the kitchen pantry can give you all that you need. Even a simple slice of bread can even be used as bait. The outer crust area makes for great berley, and the softer centre can be used to fold around small hooks rigged on stem floats for gar or mullet.

Kneed in a little cheese, flour and maybe some other ingredients like sardine juice and you’re on your way to making a dough or dough paste to use as bait.


Ewwww! They’re creepy and they’re kooky… but they can work a treat on many freshwater natives. How you’re going to collect them without offending your neighbours is something I’ll up to you, but a hanging meat is sure to attract some egg-laying blowflies.

You can clean maggots by putting them in bran to clear out all the nasties they’ve been munching on. To put them on a hook, bunch a few together and toss the wiggling mass into the water under a stem float rig.

My first experience with maggots was many years ago when I was competing in a course-fishing tournament with my father. My Pommy team mates thought it was really funny to watch me turn green after they asked me how many pints of maggots I’d like while they pointed to a writhing Nally tub on the kitchen table.

These fellows store their maggots in the fridge or a cooler with ice bricks. To get the wrigglers active, these anglers put them in their mouths to bring the maggots up to body temperature. After all, an active and wriggling bunch of white maggots is very attractive to freshwater fish.

Ah, maggots. Definitely not for the faint hearted…


Anglers fishing for European carp often use sweet corn kernels straight from the can. To get the carp into a feeding mood, and to hold them in the area near the bait, berley with a handful of corn kernels thrown into the water nearby.

When buying canned corn, go for a cheap brand because the corn kernels are firmer and stay on the hook for longer. There’s no specific hook to use when carp fishing. We generally stick to ‘the smaller the better’ rule, allowing three to four kernels on the hook. I’ve successfully used size 10 to size 2 hooks for carp. The size 10 short shank hooks (with eyes) are my preferred choice for float fishing.

I’ve found that the most effective rig is a long rod that has a sensitive tip with a fixed float rigged to the line. The float should be set to suspend the hook just above the bottom.

While most anglers have a very low opinion of carp as a fighting fish, many of us find carp to be an excellent recreational fish. They are abundant and will definitely hook up to a corn rig. Carp that are hooked in warm water (such as the Albert and Logan Rivers during Summer) are determined fighters that often head for the nearest snag. So I recommend that you join the crusaders against noxious fish and go out and help our native fish fight off these pests. Take the kids too – they'll love it!

Before you set out, remember that it’s illegal to release carp into the water, and punishable by a hefty fine.


Crayfish (freshwater lobbies, craybobs, yabbies) can be caught in mesh-type traps baited with meat off-cuts. The folding-type mesh traps are space saving and perfect for travellers, but make sure you opt for those with smaller mesh. The larger mesh variants are for eating-size redclaw rather than the smaller bait-sized crays.

Another way to catch yabbies is to let them grab hold of a piece of meat tied to a string. Then you slowly pull the string to the bank where you can scoop up the crayfish with a small hand net. In areas where crays are plentiful and the water is clear, you can catch them with a torch at night with the aid of a scoop net.

Small crayfish are top bait for yellowbelly, and larger ones are a favourite bait amongst cod anglers.


Shrimp are found in most parts of Australia and are usually active during the warmer months. These crustaceans can be caught in a shrimp trap in freshwater lakes and streams. The average size of a shrimp is 4-8cm.

The best spots to look for shrimp are close to the water’s edge near aquatic weeds, around drowned timber covered in algae, in places where there are bushes overhanging the water, and rocky patches – especially if there’s some leaf matter resting on the bottom. Backwaters out of the main current flow, and recently flooded underwater grassed banks are other good spots to try. It’s often a good strategy to leave your traps in overnight. The shrimp are more active at this time, and you’re likely to have a better catch.

Traps work best when used in still water. The plastic Alvey Bait Trap and the Gansel Mesh Trap are two traps that I’ve used to catch heaps of shrimp. You can buy these traps from tackle stores and some camping stores.

The best way to keep your shrimp alive is to keep them in freshwater in a cool shady area. When rigging a live shrimp I prefer to use a small short-shanked hook. With live shrimp it’s best to pass the hook once through the tail section. I use a no. 8 for the smaller shrimp and work up from there.

If your shrimp has died, use a baitholder pattern hook and rig the shrimp by passing the hook along the body from the tail to the head.

Shrimp are great baits for trout, yellowbelly, catfish, bass and spangled perch.

For trout and bass, live shrimp are generally fished under a bubble float. For bottom dwellers, the conventional rig of a sinker above the swivel and a 45cm trace has served me well when fishing from the bank.

When fishing from the boat, the 'bobbing' rig (drop shot) is hard to beat for yellowbelly. The bobbing rig (paternoster) has a ball sinker on the bottom and a hook 40-60cm above it. Fish your shrimp beside snags and bounce the sinker along the bottom. The puffs of sediment from the bouncing sinker arouse the yellowbelly's feeding instincts.

After testing the latest G. Loomis ‘drop shot’ rods – a baitcaster and threadline 6’10” model – I’ve found them to be perfect for fishing paternoster-style rigs. The extra-fast taper creates a fine tip that’s ideal for detecting subtle bites.


You can gather freshwater mussels using a variety of methods. The mussels burrow into the mud but leave a little of themselves sticking up, and you can collect them by raking across the bottom of the river bed, feeling for them as you walk around barefooted, or just digging them up with your hands.

Use the mussels whole for cod and cut them into skinny strips for catfish.


Grubs make fantastic baits for yellowbelly and trout. A good place to dig for grubs is in the soil around the base of trees, and it’s even better to have a dig under dead timberfall. Simply roll the log over and dig through the top 10cm of newly-exposed soil. Many of the grubs will show themselves as soon as you roll the timber over. They’ll either be attached to the wood (just lift the wood piece and pull them off), on the soil’s surface or buried a little way down.

As with most baits, store your grubs in a cool, shady area. A container with some moist soil and/or wood shavings is ideal.

When putting the wood grub on a hook, thread the grub on lengthways, letting the hook pass through the body once. It’s that easy.

Grubs can be suspended under a float at varying depths, depending on which layer of water the fish are patrolling in. Having the grub in the right zone is very important, especially when trout fishing. When trout are patrolling the shallow margins, an unweighted grub cast into the fringes will often prove successful.


One of the thrills in learning to fish is learning to collect bait. The habits of the bait help build the picture of fish behaviour, and will make you a better angler.

1) The humble backyard earthworm is a freshwater bait that’s easy to get hold of.

2) The crawfish is a favourite bait of anglers who target big freshwater fish.

3) Shrimps and prawns make great bait for almost anything that swims.

4) It’s easy to catch garfish and mullet on bread and dough baits. Bread makes great berley too.

5) This wood grub was dug from the soil under the deadfall of a riverside gum. Stream fish like to eat wood grubs that have been washed into the water from banks, especially after part of a bank has collapsed.

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