Using Shiners as Live Bait (Complete Guide)

If you have thought about using shiners as bait to catch some of your favorite fish species, you might be wondering what kind of fish eat shiners?

Most predatory fish will eat shiners. In fact, shiners are a great bait for catching bass, sunfish catfish, walleye, pike and any other predatory fish found in the same body of water. They are a popular bait fish and can be rigged a variety of ways to catch different species. Wild shiners that are caught are the most popular and effective way to use shiners as bait and can be found online or at local tackle shops.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about shiners and using them as bait. I’ll share with you the best fish to catch with shiners, how to rig them and we will talk about other important information to ensure you have success using this as bait.

Let’s get started.

What are Shiners (Basic Overview)

A shiner is a common name given to small fish and minnows in North American that are typically a silvery fish. When most people talk about shiners they are referring to a golden shiner, common shiner, and various other types of minnows.

Shiners are an excellent live bait to use catch predatory fish and are a very popular bait to use to catch trophy bass. When rigged and fished correctly, anglers can use them to catch a variety of species including bass, catfish, pike, walleye, panfish and other predatory fish that live in common bodies of water.

What Shiners Eat

A shiners diet consists of plankton, worms, insects, small fish and crustaceans. They are an important part of the aquatic ecosystem. Shiners will form schools as a way to protect themselves to avoid larger fish species that prey on them.

What are Shiners Used For

Shiners are used by anglers as live bait; they are also sold as dead bait. They are also a popular forage used to stock ponds and lakes as they are a great forage for many other fish species.

Where Are Shiners Found

Most shiners are widely distributed throughout North America. Their native range includes much of eastern North America, the river basins that drain into the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia south to southern Texas, the Great Lakes basin, and the Mississipi River drainage basin from Alberta Canada, to Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma. (Luna, 2005)

What Habitat Shiners Need

Shiners live in a variety of deep water habitats, such as vegetated lakes, ponds, swamps, creeks, and rivers. They can be found up to 32 ft. deep depending on the body of water. They feed mostly on algae or small insects, fish suspended in the water column. They typically prefer to live in slow moving and stagnant waters.  (Luna, 2005)

What Can You Catch With Shiners?

Bass fishing. Fisherman holding largemouth bass

One of the great things about using shiners for bait is they just about catch anything in your body of water as long as they are the right size. Larger shiners will typically catch bigger predators like largemouth bass, pike, walleye. Smaller shiners will typically catch smaller sized fish like smallmouth, trout and panfish.

Here is a list of the most popular game fish that love to each shiners.

Largemouth Bass

One of the most popular and effective live baits to use for largemouth bass are shiners. If a bass sees a live shiner swimming nearby they will have a hard time not taking advantage and eating it.

While out on a guide fishing trip on Lake Okeechobee in Florida, I learned first-hand how much largemouth bass loved shiners. We spent an entire day fishing with live shiners and caught a ton bass.

Smaller sized shiners (3-4 inches) are a great size to catch a variety of bass. However, if you have your eyes set on a trophy sized fish, use larger shiners that are 6 inches and up for best results.

Smallmouth Bass

Everyone knows that smallmouth bass love eating crayfish and it’s one of their #1 food choices. However, smallmouth bass also love to eat shiners. A soft baitfish like a shiner is much easier to catch and digest than a crawfish.

For this reason, smallmouth love eating baitfish like shiners, shad, herring and trout. Many bass fishing anglers like myself love to throw baits and lures that imitate shiners and other small baitfish. However, using live shiners to catch smallmouth are hard to beat where fishing regulations allow it.

When targeting smallmouth with shiners fish areas that have weed lines, submerged grass, rock piles, docks and other type of structure. Smallmouth will use these areas as ambush spots and are just waiting for an easy meal to swim by. Since smallmouth have a smaller mouth than other predatory fish try using shiners that are 5 inches or smaller. This will help with you hook to land ratio.

Spotted Bass

Golden shiners are a favorite meal for spotted bass and anglers can have great success imitating them with artificial baits or using them as live bait. They also enjoy eating other baitfish that closely resemble shiners such has shad and other minnows.

Much like with smallmouth bass when using live shiners for spotted bass its best to use smaller shiners that are 5 inches and smaller. This will help you right size the bait and spotted bass will be much more likely to eat.   


Walleye are opportunistic predators that often feed on small bait fishing like shiners. They are known for eating silver shiners, golden shiners and other baitfish found in their bodies of water. Any size of shiner can be effective when targeting walleye. I’ve found the ideal size to be between 3-5 inches.  


Northern Pike

Pike love eating and taking advantage of baitfish like shiners in their home waters. These toothy fish have a reputation of being aggressive and eating pretty much whatever they can get a hold of.

When targeting smaller pike, it’s best to use shiners that are between 2-4 inches. For larger and even trophy pike, using shiners that are larger than 6 inches is preferred.

Shiners are a great bait for pike in high percentage fishing areas such as points, humps, rock piles, grass edges and other types of structure where small baitfish can be found.


Believe it or not panfish like bluegill, perch and crappie commonly eat smaller sized shiners. Don’t be surprised when you are targeting bass or other larger predators that you end up with some bigger bluegill. They tend to be in the same areas and will attempt to eat shiners if they are the right size.


Another fish that can be caught with by using shiners is a perch. Perch are smaller game fish but still enjoy smaller baitfish like shiners. Due to their size it’s best to use shiners that are between 1-3 inchers. Keep in mind that smaller perch aren’t a whole lot bigger than some of the shiners so when fishing for them realize your fishing for big perch. When targeting perch with small shiners don’t be surprised if you catch other species like bass and catfish while you are at it.


A crappie diet consists of a variety of things including small shiners and other baitfish. Smaller crappie tends to eat more insects but larger crappie prefer bigger meals. For best results use small shiners that are between 1-3 inches.

Try targeting crappie in cover, such as vegetation, fallen trees, boulders and docks. They often school up in cleat water among vegetation mud or sand.


Another effective way to use shiners is to catch trout. Large trout get big for a reason, they eat other fish such as shiners and minnows. Shiners will catch trout just about anywhere but they are the most effective in bodies of water where shiners are a natural forage. Try using shiners that are between 3-5 inches when chasing large trout.

How to Fish with Shiners

Bobber Shiner Setup 

This method is perfect for fishing the top half of the water column. This technique is best when the boat is anchored and you are fishing shallow structure or when fishing from shore. You can use a standard bobber held in between two bobber stoppers. The distance from the bobber and the hook was about 2-3 feet, this allowed free movement for the shiner.

Hook the shiners in the front and behind the dorsal fin. This rigging method provided the shiners with a lot of upward action and can be an effective rigging method in any situation.

Split Shot Shiner Set Up 

This technique is perfect for targeting deep structure such as rock piles and stumps. This is a very simple set up with one split shot weight placed about 2-3 feet from the bait hook. The light weight split shot keeps the shiners at the bottom, but also allows it freedom to move around as well. This is a great rigging method when you are fishing in deeper water around rock piles and structure.

Tips on Fishing with Shiners

  • Let the shiners do the work
  • Always have a lively shiner on
  • WAIT to set the hook (when you get a bite wait at least 10 seconds before setting the hook)
  • Patience is the key
  • Keep the shiners out of structure
  • A split shot setup is best for fishing deep
  • Anchor when fishing with a bobber

Live Shiners vs. Dead Shiners

If you have a choice to either use live shiners or dead ones always choose live shiners. You can certainly still catch fish with dead shiners as long as they are rigged properly. But live shiners simply cannot be beat. Nothing is like the real thing. You’ll get way more bites and catch a lot more fish.

If dead shiners is your only option you can still have a lot of success. This is especially true if you are fishing for catfish or other bottom feeds. They don’t seem to care as much as other species like bass.

How to Get Shiners

Anglers using shiners for bait will either head to their local tackle shop and pick some up before their fishing trip or catch them on their own (where permitted). Most states will actually allow the use of shiner as bait as long as they come from the same body of water or water-system as you’ll be fishing.

With that being said make sure to be careful only to use shiners where permitted. If not, you could be subject to a fine by a game warder or spread potential fish diseases. Make sure to check your local DNR website to ensure the use of shiners as bait is permitted before fishing with them.

How Much Do Shiners Cost?

If you don’t want the spend the time catching your own shiners can be purchased from local tackle shops. The cost of purchasing shiners may vary depending upon your location. Some tackle shops sale their shiners in by pounds or by the dozen.

Wild shiners cost around $20 for a dozen. Minnows or shiners that are farmed you can expect to pay around $16 dollars a pound. The size of shiners, if they are wild or not and your location may change the price charged at your local tackle shop.

Best Live Bait for Freshwater Fishing

Shiners and minnows are not just the only effective way to fish live bait. There are plenty other options when your targeted species are keying in on something different.

Here is a list of some of the most popular and effective live baits to use for freshwater fishing:

  • Worms
  • Minnows
  • Grasshoppers
  • Crickets
  • Leaches
  • Other insects
  • Frogs
  • Maggots
  • Crawdads
  • And More

For more information about the using live baits to catch fish check out this article: Best Live Baits for Freshwater Fishing.

Shiners FAQ

Can you catch bass with shiners? Using shiners as bait can be an excellent way to catch bass. Bass are opportunistic predators that love to feed on shiners, shad, bluegill, other minnows and crayfish. Using shiners to catch bass are especially effective where shiners are the natural forage.

Do you use a bobber with shiners? Using a bobber is a great way to fish shiners in shallow water and when your targeted species are high in the water column. A bobber or indicator will make it easier for you to detect bites and will keep your shiner from getting too deep or stuck in shallow cover.  

Do you use weights with shiners? Using weights like a small split shot can be a great way to rig and fish shiners. This rigging technique is ideal for targeting deep structure such as rock piles, humps and other submerged cover.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are targeting trophy bass, big walleye or small panifish and trout using shiners as bait can be a great way to catch a variety of species.

Shiners are a versatile bait that will attract just about any predatory fish. If using live bait is your thing, I’d highly recommend giving shiners a try. You never know what you might catch.

Aaron Warner

Aaron Warner is an avid angler with over 15 years of experience. He has participated and won fishing tournaments all over the country and enjoys fishing for bass, trout, walleye and other species.

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