5 Effective Ways To Catch Minnows for Bait

Minnows are one of the most versatile baits, capable of catching everything from small panfish to giant catfish (and everything in between!)

And while bait shops often sell live minnows, why not catch your own? It’s a rewarding process and nothing beats fresh local bait!

In this article, I’m going to cover 5 different ways you can catch minnows for bait. Each method has its pros and cons, so let’s dive in.

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Catching Minnows For Bait

There are 5 methods anglers can use to catch their own minnows:

  • Minnow trap
  • Castnet
  • Dipnet
  • Seine net
  • Microfishing (hook and line)

Depending on where I am fishing, what type of minnows I’m after, and how much time I have I may use a variety of different methods.

5 Effective Ways To Catch Minnows for Bait

For example, if I have time the night before I will set out a minnow trap. It will catch minnows overnight while I’m asleep!

But if I’m short of time, I may use a cast net or dip net.

Conversely, if I have the help of a friend or my dad, I’ll use a seine net to really load up my minnow tanks to raise minnow at home.

Let’s take a closer look below:

Minnow Trap

Using a minnow trap is the most common method to catch minnows for bait, and requires the least amount of effort. Scented bait should be added, and traps should be placed near shore around vegetation and other underwater structure where minnows are known to congregate.

Major retailers like Bass Pro Shop sell minnow traps in both collapsible and rigid versions, ensuring that there is a solution for anglers with less storage space.

Trapping minnows is the most common solution for anglers worldwide, as it is very efficient and requires very little energy on behalf of the angler. While other methods require actively casting nets, minnow trapping is a much more “set it and forget it” approach. 

Minnow traps can be filled with just about anything for bait, and the more scented the better. It is not necessary to use expensive bait for this purpose, as just about anything will do. Many anglers have reported success using dog and cat food, hot dogs, and other affordable solutions. 

Some anglers will set a minnow trap overnight in an area near where they will be fishing the next day. This is a great way to have live bait ready to go in a convenient location.

Pro TIp! When setting a trap overnight, it is a good idea to place a glow stick in the trap, as this will attract more fish!

Anglers in a hurry will set traps for only 30 minutes to one hour before checking for bait. Another common tactic is to leave the bait trap out in the water while fishing and go back periodically to check on it, replenish the bait, and grab more bait for fishing.

Cast Net

Some anglers prefer to take a more active hand in the procurement of their bait fish, and can’t stand sitting still and waiting for a trap to fill up. Cast nets are best for larger minnows, as well as grabbing a multitude at one time in areas where minnow trapping isn’t feasible. 

Some fishing spots may not have accessible areas to place and retrieve bait traps. In these situations, throwing out a cast net and pulling in minnows is your best bet. 

If you want to target small to medium sized minnows (1″-3″) you’ll want to use a net with a mesh size 1/4″ such as the Betts Super Pro Cast Net – 6′ – 1/4″ Mesh.

Pro Tip! Chum up an area about 30 minutes before you intend to throw the net. This will attract minnows, shiners and other small baitfish and concentrate them into a small space.

I use hog feed, but bread crumbs, crackers, dog food…even oatmeal work great to catch wild shiners and fathead minnows!

Dip Net

A dip net is a simple fishing net with a long handle that many anglers keep on hand to help dip or scoop up fish. Dip nets with smaller mesh openings are best for grabbing minnows, grass shrimp, and other small aquatic invertebrates.

This is one of the most simple methods of catching minnows and requires very little skill or training. All the angler needs to do is spot the minnows, and walk near them with the net. Then, simply dip the net into the water and pull the minnows out as quickly as possible. 

You’ll often see these types of nets advertised as Shad, Smelt, or Shrimp Nets. That is because they have a small mesh size, made for small fish like minnows, shad, and even shrimp.

Anglers will often dip net for minnows when passing time on a boat dock, and many keep one on hand at all times.

Watching a massive school of fathead minnows or emerald shiners swim by is like watching free money swim away for anglers, and a dip net ensures that won’t happen (if your quick enough!) 

Other anglers require the convenience of a shorter handle for easier storage in car trunks, truck flatbeds, and boats.

Dip nets with telescoping handles offer the best of both worlds, and thin nylon netting is the best material for the net. 

While using a dip net is not the most efficient solution for landing buckets full of minnows, it is hands down the fastest and most simple method.

Dip nets are very affordable, and almost any angler can use one (great for kids!)

Seine Net

Seine nets employ primitive fishing techniques and can be very effective in streams, rivers, and other running water. The net is suspended wide underwater, and fish are trapped in the net as water passes through.

Always check fishing regulations in your area. Many states and particular water bodies do now allow seine nets.

Once seine nets are suspended underwater, all the angler has to do is wait for the bait fish to swim into the net, and retrieve it.

Seine nets should be checked and emptied much more frequently than minnow traps, and should never be left unattended.

For this reason, seine net use is primarily practiced and taught as a survival technique these days, and an effective one at that.

In areas where the practice is allowed, the use of a seine net is one of the fastest, most effective, and foolproof ways to land tons of minnows in a short period of time.

Especially if you can find a small creek mouth or dead-end where you can ‘push’ baitfish into an area for capture.

Always check with local rules and regulations before using a seine net, as the penalties can be very stiff. 


The term “microfishing” means exactly what it sounds like – fishing for small, or “micro” fish. While this is the least efficient method of procuring bait minnows, it is hands down the most entertaining. Microfishing is a great way to pass time on a slow fishing day while collecting bait. 

Technically, fishing for bait minnows and shiners is on the top end in terms of size when it comes to what can be considered “microfishing.”

Many micro fishing setups target even smaller fish than the ones that are used as bait fish and require specialized gear.

Luckily, shiners and fathead minnows can easily be caught using the smallest hooks available at most bait and tackle shops, with #12 and #14 sizes commonly used by anglers.

Bread balls, dough, worms, and small insects all make great bait choices when targeting small minnow species on hook and line.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What Is the Best Way To Catch Minnow for Bait?

Minnow traps and cast nets are the most efficient ways to catch minnows for use as bait. Both of these methods are extremely common and will fill a bait tank with little effort.

Minnow traps should be filled with bait, and cast nets are easy to use once the throwing technique has been practiced. 

What Is the Fastest Way To Catch Minnows?

The fastest method of catching minnows for bait is by using a cast net, provided there are plenty of minnows in the area. Minnow traps require the least amount of effort but require planning and time for the fish to collect in the trap. 

Where Is the Best Place To Put a Minnow Trap?

Minnow traps should be placed near shore in 2-3 feet of water and near rocks, vegetation, and other underwater structure that small fish tend to gather around. 

What Is the Best (Chum) Bait for Minnows?

Magic Bait Dinner Bell Chum is one of the best store-bought baits used to attract fathead minnows, shiners, and other small baitfish. Minnows will also be attracted to fish flakes, small blood worms, and table scraps. 

Can You Catch Minnows on a Hook and Line?

It is possible to catch minnows using a hook and line, and the practice of catching small fish using traditional methods is called “microfishing.” While not a very efficient method for landing minnows, it is a fun way to pass the time at a fishing dock and can be enjoyed by anglers of all ages!

See Also: How To Keep Minnows Alive Without an Aerator (7 Tips)

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