How to Catch Leeches for Live Fishing Bait

Updated on June 1, 2016

Leeches are an abundant and natural food source that fish gobble up! Whether you fish for trout, bass, walleye, pike, catfish or panfish, leeches will catch them. That is why leeches are always in hiding - so they don't get eaten.

Leeches are extremely common creatures and found everywhere, even in the waters we commonly fish and swim in and they exist in large numbers. There are as many as a thousand species of leeches worldwide and they are found in every environment and ecosystem. They come is many shapes, sizes and colors and surprisingly to most people, only a few of them are actually blood suckers.

What Leeches Eat

When people think of leeches they automatically think blood sucking parasite. They got this reputation from the media like movies such as the Africa Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Bogart is walking in the river dragging the boat and when he comes out of the water there are leeches all over his body sucking his blood. Or maybe from the old medical techniques that thought leeches could suck illness out of a person.

The truth of the matter is that very few species of leech actually suck blood. Most leeches are scavengers and opportunists getting a meal from a dead fish that may happen their way. Your average leech can go for months without a meal.

Some leeches are hunters and prey on other invertebrate, snails, insects and worms. Some leeches are highly specialized feeders and only prey on the eggs of fish or other amphibians.

Where to Find Them

Leeches are found worldwide just about everywhere there is water. All bodies of water hold leeches, from huge reservoirs to small park ponds, rivers, lakes and slow moving streams. There are even terrestrial leeches in rain forests around the world.

Leeches are mostly nocturnal creatures and spend most the daylight hours in hiding. They can be found under submerged rocks or logs, they can be found deep in aquatic vegetation, even under floating lily pads, in the muddy leaf litter that makes up the bottom of most lakes and ponds they can also bury them self in mud, sand or gravel bottoms.

Leech Shapes and Commercial Baits
Leech Shapes and Commercial Baits

Great Fishing Bait

All fish eat leeches! Leeches are like the pizza roll snack to a fish. They are a plentiful and natural food source and play an important role in the diet of fishes. Not only fish eat leeches but so do amphibians, waterfowl, turtles, crayfish and other invertebrates like dragonfly nymphs. That's why leeches are always in hiding.

Some say that blood sucking leeches are not good bait, that is discussed in more detail in the book "Fishing With Live Bait: Leeches How To Catch Collect and Trap Leeches For Live Bait" but blood sucking leeches are eaten just as often as any other kind of leech.

Take a look on the shelves of any bait shop or fishing equipment catalog and notice how many of the soft or plastic baits are shaped like leeches.

How to Catch Them

The most common or popular way to catch leeches is with a can. You use a large tin can, like a coffee can. Put some bait in the can like a fish head or piece of raw chicken. Pinch the open end of the can closed so that the opening is only and inch or two wide. Sink the can in the water and pull it out in the morning.

It is a time tested method and works great. Be sure to mark the spot you sink the can so you can find it later. Tie a string to the can so you can pull it in, and maybe a fishing bobber or something else that floats to help you find the can when you come back.

I suggest you do it close to a weedy spot where leeches may live in water about 1 to 2 feet deep for best results.

There are several other ways to catch leeches discussed in the book, but this can method has been used for years to catch leeches for bait.

Fishing With Leeches

Once you have leeches to use for bait its time to put them on the hook. Leeches have suckers on both ends, the smaller thinner end of the leech is usually the head end. I suggest you hook them through the back end, that will keep them swimming and trying to get away and find some cover. There is nothing more alluring to a fish then a frantically swimming leech.

Leeches will naturally seek cover so use a fishing rig to keep them from reaching cover and actively swimming. It could be a rig like the one shown in the picture, or you could use a float or bobber to keep them suspended above the bottom.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        jim patry 

        11 months ago

        I am interested in farming leeches, has this been practised before?

      • profile image

        not anonymous 

        18 months ago

        @anonymous how did the milk jug work out?

      • profile image


        3 years ago

        I youtubed a leech trap and using a pie pan folded in half with chicken Livers inside and cloths pins holding it together going to check them in the morning and see If it works also going to make a trap out of a heavy duty Jug with 6 holes in it! and meat inside! Reminds you of the little tank traps!

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        6 years ago

        I would like to see a picture of a red bellied bloodsucker or leech

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        Trying out with chicken livers in a milk jug. Will let you know later.


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