How to Fish with Slugs as Bait

Live bait fishing is considered by many anglers to be the ideal way to catch large fish, as the smells and movement of live bait is most like what many freshwater fish eat naturally. Historically, the most popular forms of live bait are earthworms, or nightcrawlers, minnows, crustaceans like crawfish or shrimp, and other insects.

As with all types of bait and lure selection, it’s important to consider which type of fish you’re after, so you can best mimic their natural preferences for prey and drop your line in the water at the right time of day, when that particular species of fish typically eats. It’s important to know which types of live bait to steer clear from, as there are often some properties to certain live bait that we may not notice, like smell for example, that could potentially ward off your target catch. In this article we explore how to fish with slugs as bait.

Are Slugs a Good Choice for Bait?

In order to determine if slugs are a viable bait option, let’s first start with the obvious. Does your target fish eat slugs as part of its natural diet? For most types of freshwater fish, the answer is probably yes. Slugs and fish often share the same habitats, in river, lake or pond ecosystems, which means it is reasonable that they are part of the fish’s natural diet.

On the other hand, if you’re fishing far off the coast of Florida for saltwater deep-sea fish, a terrestrial slug is probably going to go unnoticed. Not to mention, slugs are famously sensitive to saline conditions that would render them unappetizing to a fish. 

Are Slugs Poisonous to Fish?

There is much debate on whether slugs are poisonous or otherwise unappetizing to fish, and the answer is simple: it depends. It depends on the type of fish and the type of slug. Some fish are more sensitive to changes in their diets than others, typically fish from delicate saltwater reef habitats. Freshwater fish, like bass and walleye, are more robust and able to digest a wider variety of animals.

Slugs produce two types of mucus that helps their locomotion, and the type of mucus varies from slug species to slug species. This typically includes one thinner type of mucus, primarily used for lubrication, and another, thicker or more fibrous mucus, which helps slugs stick to surfaces like walls, rocks, and leaves. When slugs are stressed or frightened, they can increase the production of thick mucus as a deterrent to their predators. Banana slugs, for example, are a large variety and their mucus has been known to deter birds, dogs and other small animals from eating them. Banana slugs, for this reason, would probably not be a suitable bait for fishing, unless the target fish was quite large. Common gray garden slugs are a better option. 

How to Bait a Slug for Fishing

When you’re baiting your hook using a slug, it’s important to know the anatomy of a slug to ensure your bait doesn’t get stolen off your hook. Typical slugs have a saddle-like apparatus on the dorsal side of their mid-back that’s known as a mantle. This is the ideal place to thread the hook, mainly because it’s going to provide enough structural support to keep the slug on the hook, while also promoting enough movement to attract nearby fish. 

Which Types of Fish Eat Slugs?

In order to understand which types of freshwater fish prefer slugs as part of their diet, you need to consider where slugs and fish cohabitate. Slugs need a moisture-rich environment to live, with humidity rates approaching 80%. This is commonly found in grassy areas, where slugs are known to emerge in large numbers after recent rain. It can also be found in freshwater marine biomes, like ponds, lakes, rivers and streams. In these circumstances, slugs often fall into the water from tree limbs or overhangs above the water or near the banks. 

Common fish species in these freshwater biomes include bass, perch, carp, walleye, catfish, pike, and other types of so-called panfish. While more predatory, fish-eating species like pike will not usually eat very small insects like slugs, filter feeders like carp and catfish will gladly do so. What’s more, slugs are the perfect size for smaller bass and panfish. If a fish is too small, like a minnow, the slime excreted by a slug in distress will potentially act as a cumbersome deterrent to eating a slug.

As a rule of thumb, scavenger or filter feeder type fish, which comprise a large share of freshwater fish popular among anglers, are generally opportunistic hunters that will at least take a bite of anything they perceive to be potential prey. Simply put, they are not picky eaters. Other, larger more predatory fish like pike and salmon will probably prefer larger prey, like other, smaller fish nearby.

If a fish has large, sharp teeth, it is most likely a fish eating species and less likely a scavenger or filter feeder, who typically have mouthparts designed to filter smaller insects and crustaceans from the sediment on the bottom of a lake or stream. 

Conclusion: Slugs Are a Suitable Live Bait for Most Types of Freshwater Fishing

In sum, slugs are a great low-cost, sustainable option for live freshwater fishing bait. Most slug varieties are non-poisonous and totally palatable to indiscriminate insect hunters like freshwater fish. While there are likely better options for larger target, more specialized fishing like salmon or fly fishing, most amateur anglers can catch sizeable bass and other common lake fish using nothing more than a rod, reel, line, hook and live slug.

Some local bait shops will carry slugs, but if yours doesn’t have them, try poking around in your backyard in moist areas or after a rainstorm. Slugs can be found for free under rocks, on trees, or in your lawn. It is not recommended to use slugs as bait if you’re fishing in a saltwater or brackish water environment, as slugs are known for having a fatal reaction to the presence of salt on their skin. This will likely kill your bait and at best, render it still and lifeless, unlikely to attract the attention of a large, ocean-dwelling fish in a large body of water.

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