How To Hook A Minnow Without Killing It (2022 Complete Guide)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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It’s no secret that one of the best ways to catch fish is by using a live bait fish as your bait instead of a lure. While a lure can be very convincing as a baitfish imitation, there is nothing quite like the real thing.

Most game fish will inhale a distressed looking baitfish and the most popular baitfish to use in freshwater for species like northern pike, walleye, and even crappie, are live minnows. But, how do you hook a minnow and keep the minnow alive long enough for it to be eaten?

I experimented a lot with live bait rigs growing up and failed to keep my baits alive for very long. That was, until I learned how to manage and hook them properly, after which they always stayed alive long enough to be eaten.

Join me as we run through how to hook a minnow properly so you start catching fish using live bait.

How To Put A Minnow On A Hook?

Fathead Minnow held in hand
(1) Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas) Held in Hand

When fishing with live minnows, whether anglers are ice fishing or fishing in summer, the ideal setup will keep your minnow alive on your hook for as long as possible.

Predatory fish will always prefer to eat a live minnow over a dead minnow, so, while there are quite a few ways to hook a minnow (more on this later), the correct way of doing each one will have your bait swimming as long as possible so you can catch fish before they die.

How Do You Hook A Live Minnow Without Killing It?

When learning how to hook a minnow without killing it there are two things you need to be aware of when hooking minnows.

The first is to ensure that the minnow isn’t already in survival mode, meaning it’s fresh and has no sign of dying. This is accomplished by minimal handling and minimal air exposure meaning you have to be fast when hooking a minnow and get in the water quickly so it can continue to breathe.

The next thing you need to be careful of when hooking a minnow is hooking it in a way that doesn’t damage the minnow’s vital organs and so that it can swim and breathe properly and thus stay alive.

We’ll run through these hooking methods below, but in general you will want to avoid the gills, stomach, and the minnow head.

NOTE

Anglers who follow these simple requirements will find that they can keep their minnows alive longer and hook a fish with almost every bait they put out.

Where Do You Hook Minnows For Bait?

Metal fishing hook for fishing
Close-up Image of Fishing Hooks

Now we are going to take a look at all the different ways of how to hook a minnow. For each method we’ll run through the steps of how to hook a minnow plus it’s advantages and disadvantages.

Before you begin any of the below ways to hook a minnow, you need to be prepared to remove a minnow from your minnow bucket quickly and get it on the hook as fast as possible. As I mentioned above, this will ensure anglers have a live bait that stays alive as long as possible.

Lip hook

The way to hook a minnow through the lips is to quickly run the hook through the lower lip of the minnow and into the upper lip. It’s a quick and easy way to hook the minnow and it allows the small fish to swim and move very naturally.

Lip Hook
Lip Hook

When hooking a minnow in through the lips, you do impair the fish’s ability to run water through its gill plate but you don’t remove it entirely. This means your live minnows will stay alive for a while but not as long as the next two methods we are going to look at.

But, you do have the option of hooking it through just the bottom lip which will allow it to breathe for longer, the pay off being, the hook is less secured in the bait.

Fishing minnows like this means the hook is at the front of the bait and to hook a fish that eats it requires letting it take the whole bait into its mouth. You can also fish dead minnows like this and jerk the rod to give it a swimming action.

NOTE

Be careful not to put the hook into the head of the minnow as this will result in your live minnows dying very quickly.

Dorsal Hook

When hooked correctly near to the dorsal fin, a minnow will stay alive much longer than all the other hooking methods. This is because when hooking a minnow like this you are not damaging the bait and it can swim freely without anything stopping it from breathing.

To dorsal hook a minnow simply push the hook through its back in front of the dorsal fin and drop your bait in the water. Be sure to keep the hook near the top of the minnow’s back and don’t hook it too deeply or you will damage the minnow’s spine.

Dorsal Hook
Dorsal Hook

This is one of easiest ways to hook a minnow, is fast, and the fish stays alive the longest. When fishing minnows like this, it places the hook in the middle of the bait, meaning that whether a predator eats it from the head or tail, chances are the hook will be in its mouth.

Tail Hook

Tail hooking a minnow is another very effective and easy method that can be done quickly. A tail hooked minnow will stay alive just as long as a dorsal hooked one, and longer than any other method.

Tail Hook
Tail Hook

This is because the fish is free to breathe and move naturally, as long as you let it do so by giving it enough line to move around with.

If you hook it too close to the tail or top to bottom, the fish won’t be able to use its tail to swim…

When hooking a minnow in the tail you need to push the hook sideways through the fish’s lateral line just above where the tail starts. If you hook it too close to the tail or top to bottom, the fish won’t be able to use its tail to swim, it will die and not look like a convincing bait.

Trick Hook

Trick-hooking a minnow involves putting the hook through the live minnow’s mouth, past the gills, and out through the bottom of the minnow, just before it’s stomach.

Trick Hook
Trick Hook

When hooked like this, live minnows don’t survive very long, as you can imagine, since they have a hook stopping them breathing and damaging their organs.

But, this hooking method ensures the minnow stays on the hook, making it great when fishing fast currents and it’s also a great one for anglers to use when using dead minnows as they can make the bait swim well with their rod.

Snout Hooking

Snout hooking live minnows is a lot like lip hooking a minnow but instead of pushing the hook through the lips, you push it through the minnow’s mouth and up through its head from bottom to top.

This method is great at keeping minnows alive as it keeps the mouth of your minnow open and they can move freely, and therefore breathe. You have to be careful not to hook the minnow too deeply though so as not to puncture the brain or eyes, as if you do, the minnow will die quickly.

TIP

When snout hooking make sure to give the fish enough time to eat the whole minnow so that you catch whatever eats it.

Jig Hooking 

Jig hooking a minnow means using a jig head which is pretty much a hook with an extra weight on the end that acts like a very light sinker. This lets you fish your minnows deeper and you can use the weight to create an action similar to lure when using dead minnows.

To jig hook a minnow you can rig them using the Snout, Trick, or Lip hooking methods as this keeps the weight at the front of the fish and thus gives it a natural swimming action.

RECOMMENDATION

If you’re using live minnows then use the Snout methods as this will keep them alive longer than the others. If using dead minnows, the Trick method is ideal for faster water as it will keep the minnow on the hook while the lip method is best for slow or still water as it gives the minnows a more lifelike movement.

What Tackle Should I Use To Hook A Minnow With?

various fishing hooks on the table
Various Fishing hooks on the Table

Now that we have run through all the hooking methods, let’s take a look at the right hooks and line you’ll need to rig a minnow properly.

By using the recommendations below, you’ll be able to ensure the minnows stay alive for as long as possible and catch more fish with your minnows too.

What Hook To Use For Minnows?

When fishing with minnows you want to be using the right hook as this will make hooking your bait easier and keep it alive for longer. The right hook is a thin live bait hook like Mr Crappie MC38B 4 Cam-Action Hooks.

These hooks are bendy and thin which allows you to hook minnows while causing minimal damage to the fish. When you catch a fish using them, be careful not to fight the fish too hard as the hooks can bend and you might lose your catch.

Use The Right Line

You should always use a thinner line when fishing with minnows, as thin as you dare go based on what you are trying to catch.

If you’re fishing for bass or walleye, then you don’t want too thin a line as you’ll lose your catch, maybe 6-10 lbs whereas if you are fishing for crappie, then you can drop down to 2 lb line.

Minnows are small baits and therefore you’ll need a thin line…

Minnows are small baits and therefore you’ll need a thin line as otherwise the fish species you’re trying to catch will see the line and not eat your bait. You should also use a fluorocarbon line as this type of fishing line sinks and it’s invisible to fish whereas fish can see mono and it floats.

How Do I Keep Minnows Alive?

Minnows in a Bucket Partially Filled with Water
(2) Minnows in a Bucket Partially Filled with Water

When live-bait fishing with minnows it is immensely important to keep the minnows alive and healthy before you use them as a minnow that is fighting fit is going to be a much better lure for your target species.

You’ll be putting your minnows in a bucket full of water and to keep them alive and happy you need to do three things – use clean bucket water, make sure the water is a cool temperature, and ensure the water has enough oxygen in it.

Using Clean Water

By using clean, clear water, in your bucket, the minnows will be able to breathe more easily as there will be no grime to stop their gills from absorbing oxygen. If you fill your bucket with dirty water, the minnows will struggle to breathe and won’t last long on your hook.

Using Colder Water

Since minnows are so small they are affected by temperature changes very easily and thus need to be in cool water to be fighting fit.

Make sure to fill your bucket with cool water and then keep it in the shade so it doesn’t overheat. You can then add water from the river/lake you’re fishing in to ensure it stays cool throughout the day.

Keeping The Water Oxygenated

Any bucket of water has limited oxygen in it for fish to breathe and your minnows will go through it surprisingly quickly.

In order to keep the water full of oxygen you can either buy a portable battery powered aerator that pumps air into the water or you can add water from the river/lake to your bucket regularly.

RECOMMENDATION

I would recommend getting the aerator as if you forget to add fresh water to the bucket, all your live minnows will be dead.

How Do I Catch My Own Live Minnows?

To catch minnows all you need to do is put some bread in a minnow trap and leave it submerged in shallow water for a few hours.

You can either buy a minnow trap like this one or make your own minnow trap. The traps work by letting the bread attract the minnows into the trap through a tiny hole that they then cannot swim out of.

It’s best to leave your trap in the water for as long as possible and even overnight but you can sometimes fill up on minnows in just an hour or two.

Here’s a video on how you can make your own minnow trap.

Homemade DIY Minnow Trap

FAQs

Where Can I Get Live Minnows?

You have two choices when it comes to sourcing live minnows and these include bait shops or catching them yourself.

Buying live minnows isn’t too expensive but transporting them from the shop to your fishing grounds requires having a bucket with a lid and an aerator. Catching minnows is 100% free and it is actually quite easy.

Hooking Out

Thanks very much for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it and now know everything about how to hook a minnow to ensure it stays alive and you catch as many fish as possible. Just remember, as long as the fish isn’t damaged, can swim, and breathe, it will last.

Please share the article with your fishing buddies, leave a comment below with any questions or feedback, and check out some of my other articles. I cover everything from reels to rods and even articles like if bass fish have teeth.

(1) Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas) by NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0
(2) “Minnows” by Jami.1022 is marked with CC BY 2.0

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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