The Best Bait for Freshwater Fishing

With the best bait for freshwater fishing, you'll be catching fish in no time!

Castaways on the River boat rentals can get you to amazing fishing destinations, but it’s what gets the fish biting that counts. With a little bit of insight, you’ll be catching everything from bass to bluegill like a bobcat in a backwater slough. Let’s cut to the chase, there’s no single best bait for freshwater fishing, but an entire reservoir of options to help you reel in that catch of the day.

While several lakes, streams and creek beds throughout Florida are true sources of freshwater, much of the St. Johns River is considered “brackish.” This refers to freshwater sources with increased salinity, often supporting an ecosystem accommodating both fresh and saltwater organisms. Multiple run-off creeks and springs add salt from underground deposits along the river, resulting in its brackish composition. While many saltwater species can thrive in this environment, this post hones in on the many inland freshwater fish, some of which make their home in the brackish waters of the St. Johns River.

Choosing the Best Bait for Freshwater Fish

It sounds simple, but the critters in your own backyard can serve as bait that attracts the most fish. Crickets, grasshoppers and even the standard worms are all options for the aspiring angler. All three are easy to find in bait shops, plus, keeping these insects and nightcrawlers alive before heading out to fish is simple. Some fishermen even raise their own bait, an easy process thanks to the survivability of crickets, grasshoppers and worms.

Anyone aspiring to catch the biggest, most robust fish should entertain using aquatic prey that larger predators are more likely to encounter in their natural, freshwater or brackish environment. Sure, a mishap might cause a grasshopper to land helplessly in the water, but minnows and crayfish are always swimming in the current or resting on the floor of a creekbed. Both represent some of the best bait for freshwater fishing, being present in several aquatic areas throughout Florida. Leeches are another option and can survive significantly longer out of water. Just be careful not to drop any on your open skin; once they latch on, it can be hard to get them off!

Read about the best bait for freshwater fishing!

Finding the Best Bait in Florida

Pairing the perfect bait to each local species is the key to understanding the best bait for freshwater fishing in Florida, plus, the brackish St. Johns River. Most anglers in the eastern U.S. will be familiar with golden shiner, a common live bait favored by multiple predator fish. The Sunshine State also stocks less-used baits, including grass shrimp, as well as more coastal options like clams. Man-made alternatives include dough balls, cornmeal and flour mixed with strong-odored food, and stink baits, a commercially available catfish bait.

Before visiting your local bait and tackle shop, consider researching what will attract your ideal catch or ask an in-store expert. You can’t go wrong with the standard worm, but sometimes, your preferred fish needs its favorite snack. Many fish thrive in both the freshwater and brackish habitats of central Florida. Selecting the right bait can be the difference between reeling in something you can eat versus an unappetizing catch best thrown back to the water. 

Largemouth Bass

Among the biggest varieties of black bass, the best live bait for largemouth bass in Florida is, in fact, a fellow fish. The golden shiner is perhaps the best live bait to use for freshwater fishing, not just for this fish, but other game fish as well. Try hooking the shiner through the lip or its back on the dorsal fin, allowing the critter to move freely while secure enough to catch a hungry largemouth bass.


One of the most iconic meals with a fin, Florida’s robust catfish population isn’t picky about the best bait for freshwater fishing. Their whisker-like appendages are attuned to strong odors, making chicken gizzards and manmade stink baits a surefire success. Freshwater clams and even live shrimp are also on the table to mimic what catfish might see in their natural habitat. With a wide variety of bait options, fishermen can also fall back on the dependable earthworm to snag one of these beauties on the line.

Black Crappie

Live minnows are the key to catching buckets of black crappie as they swim through the brackish waters of the St. Johns River. Another option is grass shrimp, a freshwater shrimp species and one of the best baits for freshwater fishing excursions. Schools of crappie sustain themselves on waterborne insects and small crustaceans, earning grass shrimp a must-have spot on any angler’s list of reliables.


Ranging from bluegill to warmouth, bream is a loose term referring to multiple types of sunfish. These species vary in where they’re found and what bait each prefers, but make no mistake, you’ll catch a bounty of breeds in Florida. Bluegill are the most widespread, nibbling on insect larvae and worms. Occasionally, bluegill are even used as bait themselves! Redbreast sunfish prefer the same bait as bluegill, but are more likely to prefer moving water akin to rivers and streams. Redear sunfish also chow down on worms, in addition to clams and snails. 

Stack Your Freshwater Fishing Chances

From newcomers to veteran game wardens, the best way to catch freshwater fish goes beyond choosing bait. Every visitor to the St. Johns River should prepare for what they might encounter in the slow-moving, brackish current. Wearing the correct apparel, bringing quality tackle and finding the right fishing spot are other obvious steps, but there’s so much more to consider.

A true, master angler is attuned to the time of day and weather, understanding when to pursue certain species. For example, butterfly peacock bass are found during the day, since they don’t forage at night. Likewise, the time of year also indicates the height of the fishing season for some freshwater fish. Summer tends to yield less striper, since these fish actively feed from fall through spring, preferring water 75 degrees Fahrenheit and cooler. Assessing the local climate can make the difference between returning with a few struggling ditch pickles or a bountiful freshwater feast. 

In Astor, Florida, you'll find the best bait for freshwater fishing

Take the Best Bait for Freshwater Fishing on the Best Boating Experience

Are you licensed to fish in Florida? If not, purchase a license today. Castaways on the River will do our part to get you to the best fishing destinations along the St. Johns River. Rent one of our 20-foot pontoon boats and set sail for Lake George or Payne Creek. Call 352.759.3422 or visit our boat rentals page to get started. If you’re confident you’ve found the best bait for freshwater fishing, it’s time to head to the pier! Tag us on X, Facebook and Instagram with #CastawaysontheRiver to show off your prized catch.


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About Castaways on the River

Castaways on the River offers boat rentals and lodging accommodations in beautiful Astor, Florida. Come experience the natural beauty of Central Florida's fresh waters.