Using larvae as fishing bait is a fairly common practice, especially in winter, when fish are sealed under the ice and demand a subtle presentation. Larval bait falls into three basic categories: spikes, wax worms and meal worms.
Spikes, also called maggots, are the larvae of various fly species, including the common housefly. They are white and typically less than ½ inch in length. Mealworms are the larger larvae of the darkling beetle. They are usually brownish in color, and may be a little over an inch in length. Wax worms in many ways are intermediate between the two. The larvae of the wax moth or bee moth, wax worms are creamy white in color and between ¼ and 1 inch long.
Wax worms are quite probably the best larvae bait for ice fishing, although many ice fishermen would argue with that statement, each having his or her own favorite bait. Wax worms are extremely enticing to most panfish species, particularly for perch, sunfish and bluegill. Crappie readily strike wax worms as well, although they prefer small minnows in many situations.
Wax worms can be fished through the ice on a plain hook – a # 6 baitholder hook below a float with a small split shot for weight is usually about right – but more often they are used to accent ice jigs. This combination can be a key to ice fishing success; live bait and jigs both work reasonably well by themselves, but they excel when used together.
Small jigging spoons, teardrop jigs and tube jigs are all great vehicles to deliver wax worms to panfish. The smallest jigs possible are usually the best, because they allow the wax worms to wiggle around freely, which is a big part of their attractiveness. You can hook one or two into a jig, inserting the hook through one end to keep the bait alive. Some fishermen also recommend hooking wax worms “T-bone style,” right through the middle. When ice fishing with wax worms, It’s also usually a good idea to keep the jigging motion you impart to the bait as subtle as possible to avoid spooking wary fish. Wax worms work at a variety of depths and in any sort of cover, be it shallow vegetation or a rocky slope.
Keeping your bait alive and lively is important. Wax worms have to be kept above freezing, so a container small enough to fit in a jacket pocket is ideal. A small Styrofoam container or a tobacco tin with air holes punched through the lid is ideal. A little dry sawdust in the container helps keep the bait lively and comfortable until it’s time for them to get in the water.