Does Fish Bait Expire?

Fishing with bait is the best way to catch fish. This is why most professional tournaments and competitions forbid the use of bait.

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Fishing with bait is the best way to catch fish.  This is why most professional tournaments and competitions forbid the use of bait.

New anglers are often confused about how long they can keep bait until it expires.

All fishing bait will eventually expire.  Minnows and worms will die off, cut bait will rot, and Powerbait will lose its appeal.

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How Long Does Fish Bait Last?

Unfortunately, all good things do come to an end and fishing bait will expire. However, there are ways to prolong the shelf life of your minnows, worms, and cut bait.

The shelflife of your bait will depend on a couple of factors. Such as, how much are you storing, the size of the storage tank, the temperature of the room, water, and so forth. Then the amount of work you put into storing bait.  

If you have a large fish tank in your house that you fill with minnows and carefully tend to, your minnows will probably last longer than someone who fills a fish bowl with tap water and dumps in 24 shiners.

How Long Do Minnows Live?

Minnows Lifespan In The Wild

In natural waterways the average lifespan of a minnow has a lifespan of three years.  However, larger, more durable minnows have been known to live for as long as seven years.

Minnows Lifespan In Captivity

When minnows are harvested for bait, then the real clock starts ticking.  Minnows have a life span of 24-72 hours in a bucket or tank.

How To Prolong A Minnow Shelf Live

There are ways to prolong the shelf life of your minnows. Here is a checklist to help prolong the life of your minnows.

  • Buy an insulated container, such as a bucket specifically made for minnows.
  • Get an aerator for the container.
  • Fill said container with cold water from a river, lake, or pond prior to purchasing the minnows.
  • Do not overcrowd the container.

In addition to this list you want to think of ways to keep the minnows cool.  You can add ice to the bucket every so often, but I generally stick the bucket right in the water.

If you catch your limit for the day and are heading home, keep the bucket somewhere cool and shady, such as a basement.

How Long Do Worms Live?

Worms Lifespan In Nature

In nature worms have been known to live for as long as four years.

Worms Lifespan In A Container

People claim that they have kept a 32-ounce container of worms for as long as three weeks.  I have definitely gotten ten days out of a container, but never three weeks.

However, worms are so cheap that I tend to go through them fairly quickly and usually leave them in the woods when I am done fishing for the day.  

How To Raise And Keep Worms For Fishing

Raising worms for fishing is a popular way to harvest worms and provides you the opportunity to prolong the shelf life of your worms indefinitely.

Growing up I could go to the local store and grab a 24 pack of worms for a few bucks.  Now, I live in a “fancy” town in Metro New York City.  The local stores sell craft beers and coffee, not worms.  

However, there is amazing fishing in the area. So, I resorted to making my own small worm farm.

Here's how I do it

  • Find a spot in your yard
  • Get an old tote or cooler
  • Drill some holes in the top of the container
  • Then bury the tote up to the holes
  • Fill up the container with potting soil and water
  • Stock the container with worms

When I go fishing I will fill up an old styrofoam coffee cup with dirt and worms from my “farm”. Then go fishing.  

When I get back I will dump the remaining worms back into the farm.  This way I have a constant supply of worms and an indefinite shelf life.

How Long Does Cut Bait Last

Cut bait is already dead, so you are not going to prolong its actual life span.  I know fishers who said they have kept cut bait in their cooler for 4-6 days without issue.  

Personally, I only use cut bait for surf fishing the Long Island Sound,  which I don’t do as often, so I dump the cut bait into the water when I am done for the day.  

How to Prolong Shelf Life Of Cut Bait

There was a time when I was absolutely obsessed with catching strippers. I would go every single day and try like hell to catch some keepers.

During this time, I would buy frozen cut bait from a local bait shop.  I would thaw out a few fish and use them, oftentimes refreezing baitfish I didn’t use.  

The biggest key to preserving baitfish is to get as much air out of the plastic bag as possible. However, I wouldn’t be too concerned about freezer burn or decay, because it’s supposed to look dead.

When fishing with cut bait make sure you don’t wash it prior to storing, because you want the blood and oil on the fish to attract predators.

How Long Does PowerBait Last

Everybody knows that one angler who always has a bottle of Powerbait in their tackle box.  They never use it, but it is always there.  Heck, I have a bottle of Powerbait that's been in my tackle box since I was 14.  It is more of a sentimental bottle than bait these days.

That being said Powerbait has an average lifespan of approximately three years.  Obviously, this can change with different versions, temperatures, and so forth.  But, three years is a good starting point.

How Long Does Powerbait Last In The Water

I have used the same Powerbait till I caught a fish.  My biggest problem is powerbait will always attract a fish, even if it is a bluegill that I am not targeting.

When the fish takes the bait, I will just hook more and cast out again.  I have never been skunked using Powerbait.

Circle Of Life With Bait

Like I said, all bait will expire.  But, that shouldn’t stop you from catching some lunkers this year.

My favorite way to prolong the “life” of my bait is to use my expiring bait to catch more bait.

For example, this past summer I went trout fishing and decided to take a break from using flies. So I got minnows from a local bait shop.

A lot of the minnows died within a couple of hours of buying them.  Of course, I was annoyed and wanted to go down to the bait shop and get more.  But, these things happen when fishing and local businesses are probably dying faster than these minnows due to Covid restrictions.

I was just about to toss them into the lake when I decided to use this dead bait to catch some live bait.  Then I used the live bait to target bigger gamefish.

I took a couple of minnows and used them to bait crawfish. These crawfish were harvested and used to catch bass.

Then I took a dead minnow and caught a small sunfish. I used this sunfish to go after lake trout. This was a successful tactic.  I never would have gone after lake trout if it wasn’t for the dead minnows.

Wrap Up

All bait will eventually expire.  It is the circle of life.  However, with careful care and proper tactics you can certainly prolong the life of your bait.  

Even though bait expires, it is generally cheaper to use bait than lures.  Plus, unless you’re a pro angler, you will catch more fish with bait than lures. Trust me.