How To Hook A Minnow Without Killing It: 3 Best Ways & More

by Thavius | Last Updated:   October 8th, 2022
How To Hook A Minnow Without Killing It: 3 Best Ways & More

Fishing is more than just an activity where you hope to use the most expensive gear to catch different species. It’s actually an art that involves applying certain skills and techniques to catch your target. When you fail to approach things properly, your results will be far from impressive.

The use of bait fish is one of the most valuable skills to catch fish. However, not every angler is familiar with how to use baits, lures, and tackles in the right way. If you intend to use dead bait to catch fish, the process is pretty straightforward. But if you intend to opt for live bait, you may experience a few challenges. The biggest hassle in handling live bait is the race to keep them alive.

There are different species of fish that anglers can opt for to catch prey. However, minnows are one of the best options that they could opt for. Many anglers love to use live minnows because the rapidly shaking small fish will attract other prey to themselves. You’ll be surprised to find out that the rapidly shaking nature of the minnow is also what makes it quite difficult to keep it alive.

Without any doubt, minnows are one of the most popular bait fish used anywhere in the world. When you can correctly hook a minnow, you increase your chances of catching fish to a large extent. If you have struggled with this bait in the past, you would need to learn how to hook a minnow correctly.

To an inexperienced fisherman, the term “minnow” could refer to any category of small fish – whether or not they belonged to the real minnow family. The truth is, minnows are a popular baitfish that is used for catching fish; either small or large, by a good number of anglers. This specie of small fish is ideal for catching other larger species such as bass, crappie, walleye, northern pike, brown trout, muskellunge, and so on.

So, why do fishermen love minnows? Because they can be used for any type of target. But the main problem with using this bait is how to keep a minnow alive till it’s spotted by your target.

A dead minnow can’t match the effectiveness of a live minnow. Dead minnows hardly attract any target because they simply sit in the water. As a result, many inexperienced fishermen struggle with dead minnows.

If you’re interested in learning simple tricks on how to hook a minnow, you’re at the right place. This piece will give you a detailed insight into different ways to keep a minnow alive for the entire duration of your fishing expedition.

Let’s begin!

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Using Live Minnows As Bait?

Before we go ahead and share the best tips on how to hook a minnow, we need to understand why this bait is popular. Without any doubt, live minnows will take your fishing expedition to the next level.

Before getting started on how this bait is hooked correctly, let’s take a look at the benefits and drawback of minnows:


They come in different species and varieties. You can use live minnows to catch almost any type of fish because this bait exists in different shapes and sizes. Regardless of the type of fish you are targeting, this live bait can work its magic. The most common species of minnows include; fat heat, mosquito fish and gold shiners.

They are available everywhere. In fact, the best thing about minnows is that you can get them almost anywhere. As a result, it’s difficult for you to run out of stock of this bait.

Another important thing to note is that breeding this fish is easy. It’s as simple as breeding any other type of fish. In fact, breeding minnows will save money spent on purchasing baits.

Minnows are also incredibly versatile. If you want to go on a fishing expedition and don’t have any particular target, attach some minnows to your hook and toss it in the water. You’re sure to get something tugging at your fishing line sooner or later.


The use of minnows is illegal in some states. If you intend to fish with a live minnow, it’s advisable that you check out the fishing guidelines for the region before you get started.

When you have to hook a minnow to catch your target, it can be difficult to keep it alive. That’s why you need to learn how to handle a minnow properly. Hooking a minnow is not as difficult as it sounds. All you have to do is pay attention to a few simple steps and you are good to go.

What Are The Best Ways To Hook A Minnow?

As mentioned earlier, hooking a minnow is relatively straightforward. Many anglers are guilty of blindly sticking their hooks into any part of a minnow’s mouth or body. You’ll find it easy to keep your minnow alive as long as you know how to handle the bait before casting your line. The way you hook your minnow will also depend on the how you plan to use it to fish.

Let’s take a look at effective tricks on how to hook a minnow:

Direct Hooking

Hooking A Minnow Through The Mouth

If you intend to repeatedly cast and retrieve your fishing line, hooking a minnow through the mouth is a great choice. When you hook a minnow this way, it can easily swim upright and swim properly in the water. However, there are also some rigs that demand hooking this bait’s mouth. Examples of these live bait rigs include; the sliding weight, drop shot rig, or sinker and bobber. You can also add a minnow to a jig head to make it more appealing to your target.

When hooking a minnow through its mouth, make sure to start from the lower lip before proceeding to the upper lip. The sharp point of the hook will face up and make sure the fish can swim properly.

When hooking a minnow through its mouth, keep in mind that when you close its lips you will prevent it from taking water into its mouth and breathing properly. Eventually, the bait will suffocate and die. Make sure to regularly check on the condition of your minnow and change it if it has died.

Hooking A Minnow Through Its Back

If you’ll be still fishing, it’s a great idea to hook a minnow through its back. By hooking this fish directly behind its dorsal fin, you let it swim more naturally when it is attached to a sinker and bob. Take note that bobber of no more than 18 inches (45 cm).

This technique is popularly used when ice fishing with tip ups. A minnow hooked through the back will stay alive longer than when it’s hooked through the lips. However, be careful not to damage the minnow’s spine or you risk paralyzing it.

Hooking A Minnow Through Its Tail

A tail hooked minnow can swim freely. But, this is most appropriate when the bait is not pulling any weight asides from the hook. Using this bait with an unweighted line is ideal whenever you are casting a line for a specific target or when trying to fish close suspended trees or near a boat dock.

Here’s a short video on how to hook a minnow properly through the mouth, back, and tail:

Using Thin Line in Clear Water

When hooking a live minnow with tackles and rigs, you need to carefully attach the bait to the fishing gear. The following steps will teach you how to catch minnows with tackles and rigs:

Choose The Right Hook

The size and type of hook that you choose greatly depend on the size of the minnows that you intend to catch. Using minnows smaller than 3 inches(7.5cm), use a size 4 – 6 hook. However, when using minnows between 4 – 5 inches (10 – 12.5cm), you may use hook size 2, 1/0, or even 2/0.

Tie Line Directly To Fishing Rod

Avoid using small swivels and tie your line directly to the fishing rod. Snap swivels may make it easier to swap hooks and lures, but they are also a big disadvantage to your chances of success. These accessories add unnecessary weight to your fishing rod and can upset the swimming action of the minnow.

However, you may decide to use a barrel swivel or three-way swivel some distance ahead of the hook to fish – but with a slipshot, light sinker, and dipsey sinker.

Use Thin Line in Clear Water

Yes, a thick line has a lot of strength to haul big fish. But it will also be visible in clear water. As a result, the fish may sense the trap and escape. Make use of lines that have been tested to hold 6 – 8 pounds of weight when fishing clear rivers and lakes.

How To Take Care Of Minnows While Fishing?

If you wish for your minnows to stay alive longer, it’s important that you also take care of them while fishing. The following steps will help you while fishing minnows;

Keep Your Bait In A Cool Temperature

Minnows are baits that survive best in the cool water of temperature. Their temperature should be no higher than the water you are fishing in. Cool water has more oxygen. When you store your minnows out of direct sunlight, the water will remain warm.

If the water in the cooler gets too warm, you can reduce the temperature by adding some small amounts of ice. When you add too much ice to the cooler at once, you risk sending your bait into shock.

Furthermore, if the temperature of the water you’re fishing and the one in the bucket are far apart, you need to create a balanced mixture. To do this, add water from the outside into the bucket. It’s also a great idea to purchase a minnow bucket that can be immersed into the water body you’re fishing in.

Keep The Water Clean

Just like caring for fish in an aquarium, you need to take care of the water in the minnow bucket while fishing. You would need to filter and keep the water clean. If you’ll be fishing for an extended duration, change it after some time.

If the water in your minnow bucket or cooler comes from tap water, add some dechlorinating agent to remove any chlorine that may be present in the water. If the bucket water turns cloudy, change it to remove the excretions of the animals in the bucket.

Invest In an Aerator

The quality of air in the bucket water will determine the lifespan of the minnows you intend to use as bait. An aerator can help you maintain the level of oxygen that is present in the water, and keep them alive. Portable aerators are designed to add oxygen to the water in the bucket.

Often, aerators are powered by batteries. However, some of them may include an adapter that can connect them to a 12-volt battery. Some aerators are designed to be able to adjust the level of oxygen that is delivered into the water.

There are certain models of aerators that can maintain a tiny flow of bubbles – which are filled with oxygen. Large bubbles may push the fish away. You also need to choose a quiet aerator that will not disturb your live minnow with noise.

Avoid Overcrowding Your Minnows

When using minnows as bait, it’s easy to be tempted to squeeze an insane amount of these species into a minnow bucket. However, this would only lead to overcrowding.

When your minnow bucket is overcrowded, the bait fish in the bucket will begin to struggle for the available oxygen. It will also increase the amount of ammonia that is produced in the bucket. This type of condition will only stress your bait and make them weaker before you get to use hook them.

For instance, when you want to store large minnows between 10 – 18 inches, it’s recommended that you keep them in a 5-gallon bucket.

If you are a fan of ice fishing, check out this guide on how to use ice fishing tip ups.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to hook a minnow without killing it?

Well, if you want to hook a minnow without killing it, you have to carefully pass the fish hook through its body. It’s also important to observe your style of fishing and the conditions of the water body. To keep your bait alive, you can hook a minnow through its mouth, behind the dorsal fin, and in its tail.

Is it legal to hook a minnow?

You probably didn’t know that hooking a minnow can earn you a penalty in certain states. Hooking minnows is not legal in every state. So, make sure to check through the fishing guidelines in that region to understand if you are on the right side of the law.

Can you use minnows to catch a northern pike?

Minnows are popular bait because you can use them to catch various types of fish. As a result, you can also use minnows to catch northern pike. All you have to do is learn how to hook a minnow, and you’re good to go.

What type of hooks do you use for minnows?

When learning how to hook a minnow, you also need to be conscious of picking the right hook you use. A wrong hook could potentially kill your live minnow. When choosing the equipment to hook a minnow, pay attention to the fish’s size. A large minnow will require a large hook, while a small minnow will need a small hook.

What is the best type of minnow for fishing?

The great thing about using live minnows is that you can use them to catch almost anything. These species come in various shapes, sizes, and types. If you intend to catch a particular target, you need to determine the right size of bait to use. However, there is no size of bait that will guarantee you more fish.

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I've been a fisherman for over 35 years. From catching small bullheads with my grandfather at his pond to catching strippers on the backwaters of the Chattahoochee, I love to get out in the wild and have a marvelous day on the water.