Here are some guidelines that will help you attach any type of bait to your fishing hook. Bait shop employees and local fisherman are an excellent source of knowledge as well; and can give you advise on bait that is specific to your area.
Method #1: Live Bait
Live bait is the preferred method of most fisherman; and worms and mealworms are the most common choice. Trout and bass respond particularly well to mealworms and grubs. Earthworms and manure worms are best for freshwater fishing, bloodworms and sandworms are best for saltwater fishing.
For smaller worms, pierce through several worms with the fishing hook so as to conceal the hook inside a mass of wiggling worms.
For larger worms, start at one end of the worm and thread the hook through the body of the worm so as to conceal the hook inside the body of the worm. NOTE: For very large worms, pierce through the worm in several places but leave the ends intact so they can wiggle.
Minnows are a great all-purpose bait because most fish feed on minnows. Just be sure to use a size that's appropriate for the fish you intend to catch. When in doubt, just ask the guy at the bait shop.
A few things to keep in mind when using minnows and other bait fish:
If you're trolling (dragging the bait behind a moving boat) hook the bait fish under its jaw and pierce through the top of the head; or just pierce through the jaw if the bait fish is especially large.
Piercing through the bait fish's nostrils is another common method used in trolling. Both of the above techniques will allow the bait fish to wiggle around in the water.
When fishing from a stationary position (like a dock or a pier) hook the bait fish on its back, just in front of the dorsal fin but beneath its spine to avoid paralyzing it.
If you're freelining (fishing without weights or floats from a still position) hook the fish near the tail to make the fish swim forward in a panic. This will help attract other fish.
Smallmouth bass, catfish, and walleye respond well to crayfish. When using crayfish as bait:
Thread the hook through the back or front of the crayfish; and be careful that you don't pierce the crayfish any deeper than you have to. If you penetrate too deep, you may kill the crayfish.
You can also thread the hook through the meaty tail. This will help to conceal the hook and won't penetrate any vital organs. Start at the end of the tail and push the hook out just before the body.
Shrimp are common, cheap, and are ideal for saltwater fishing near shore. They are similar to crayfish but occasionally require a thinner hook for smaller varieties. Species of fish that respond well to shrimp are redfish, jacks, and grouper. To use shrimp as live bait:
Thread the hook shallowly through the body or the meat of the tail.
Remove a few segments of the shell. They can block the scent of the shrimp.
Freshwater fish (especially trout) respond well to insects. Inspects are plentiful during the summer months and adult insects can usually be harvested directly from the ground. When using insects:
Handle them delicately. They are easily killed while baiting.
Tie a flexible, thin wire to the shank of the hook and then wrap it carefully around the insect.
If you can't use the wire method, pierce the hook through the rear section of the body. This will keep the hook away from the vital organs.
Method #2: Dead or Artificial bait
Fish pieces are excellent bait for fish that hunt by their sense of smell. These include many saltwater fish such as bluefish & sea trout.
This method also works well on freshwater bottom feeders such as carp and catfish. When using dead or artificial bait:
When fishing from a stationary position: Cut the fish into chunks in order to conceal the hook.
When dragging the bait behind a moving boat (trolling) cut the fish into several "V"-shaped strips and pierce the hook through the thickest part. The movement of the boat will cause the strips to wiggle in a way that mimics a swimming fish.
Bait with crayfish tail when trying to attract freshwater fish such as pike or catfish.
Bait with shrimp tail when fishing for saltwater fish.
Doughballs can be tailored to attract specific species of fish. Doughball paste is available at most fishing retailers and is labeled for the species of fish that it attracts.
Homemade doughball paste can be made by combining boiling water, flour, cornmeal, and molasses; and then allowing the mixture to cool. Cheese and garlic can be also be added to attract specific species of fish. Simply form the paste into a ball that covers the entire hook.
Artificial lures can be purchased at most fishing supply stores. The advantage to using artificial lures is that they can be customized to 'swim' and the same depth as the fish you are trying to attract; and can mimic the habits of live bait. They also come with eye-hooks for easy attachment.
Method #3: Use a Bridle
A bridle is a piece of fishing line that is tied between the hook and the fish bait. The bridle helps keep the bait fish alive and increases the chances of getting a successful hook since the bridle is difficult to pull off.
Bridling is typically used in saltwater to catch larger varieties of fish.
Use thick, synthetic fishing line or rigging floss. Dacron and Terylene (a.k.a. Lavsan) are excellent materials for this application.
Avoid using thin fishing line as this can cut through the bait fish
To make a Bridle:
Cut a piece of fishing line about 8 inches long.
Pull the knot as tight as you can.
Tie the ends of the line together and then melt off the 'tails' with a lighter.
Place the bridle on a flat surface with the knot end pointing downward; and place the fishing hook on top of it. Orient the hook so that it resembles the letter "J". The knot end of the bridle should extend below the hook by about an inch.
Grip the loop-end of the bridle, pass it over the hook and underneath the knot.
Pull the slack out of the line so that it is tight against the "J" bend of the hook.
Wrap the bridle around the hook one more time and then pull it over the hook and through the loop that this motion creates; and pull it tight. This will prevent the bridle from sliding along the hook. A second 'hitch' made in this matter will make the line extra secure.
The bridle live bait:
Prepare your bridle.
Attach a crochet needle to your bridle.
Pierce through the live bait fish above and in front of the eye sockets with a crochet hook. Do not pierce the eyeballs themselves.
Draw the needle through the bait fish until it has completely passed through the fish and your bridle is running through the bait fish.
Detach the crochet needle and slip the end of the loop back over the fishing hook.
Twist the hook repeatedly to take up the slack in the line and bring the bait fish closer to the hook. Do this until there is only a small gap between the twists in the line and the bait fish's head.
Pass the hook through the gap between the fish and the twists.
Carefully drop your bait fish into the water.