I'm regularly asked, ‘What's the best bait?’, and my reply is always, ‘What's your intended target species?’.
The golden rule when bait fishing most scenarios is that fresh is best, the fresher the better, with live bait usually delivering the best results.
Each species and location will usually have a bait that delivers better results than others. If we match the bait that a particular species is feeding on, at a particular time, at a particular location, we're in a better position for success. For example, if pelagic species are harassing and feeding on small baitfish, using worms as bait isn't the wisest choice. Likewise, fishing for whiting with pilchards is probably going to see us going home empty handed.
Once I decide my target species, I choose my location based on experience, research, or sometimes I'm just prospecting to see if the species are in that particular spot. I'll then choose my bait based on what type frequents that location or what I know my target species feeds on. Again, whiting like worms, pelagics like baitfish, etc. If I match the bait that naturally occurs in a spot, I'm more likely to be successful. The fish are there because the bait's there.
If we look around, there's a mountain of information that can assist us in choosing our bait. Are there small baitfish in the area? Are they being harassed or acting nervously? Are there crabs in the rock pools? Are there other shellfish in the area or worms?
If we choose our bait based on what we observe in the area, we're much further ahead than using whatever we could get. Make a conscious effort to look and you'll be surprised at how much is going on around you that's hugely beneficial to your success when thought about in the right way.
And remember, there's a definite distinction between fresh bait, frozen bait that's been thawed, or bait that's been sitting in a freezer for months.
Talk to old people, they know stuff you don't.
Talk to young people, they know stuff you don't.