Maine laws concerning the use and gathering of minnows and other fish to be used as bait are complex and often illogical.
For example, spiny-rayed fish may not be used as bait in Maine. The intent here is to prevent accidental introduction of unwanted species. The law does not allow you to use any part of any spiny-rayed fish, even in waters where they already exist. Since this regulation pretty much precludes the use of strip or chunk bait, you must resort to other alternatives.
American eels are allowed for use as bait, as are suckers, so it would pay to freeze strips of sucker or eel flesh. Large golden shiners are quite common in many of Maine’s warmwater lakes and ponds and they can be easily taken on a small bit of worm or even a dry fly. Cut the minnows into strips and refrigerate or freeze.
Also effective on such species as perch and pickerel are the old-fashioned pork rind strips. Even strips of cut squid will take freshwater fish. You can buy fresh or frozen squid in almost any Maine supermarket.
If you want to catch your own bait fish, you are limited to using a bait trap. Note that you must possess a fishing license before trapping minnows because this is considered a form of fishing. You may get a free permit to take bait from waters not currently open to fishing by writing to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.
Finally, before using any fish as bait on any Maine water, study the regulations carefully.
Maine has lots of other natural baits and most of them are easy to procure. Crayfish come immediately to mind. Dragonfly nymphs make dynamite bait for most freshwater fish, but few anglers are aware of their potential. Dragonfly nymphs, the juvenile form of the dragonfly, are commonly found on the bottom of most warmwater lakes and ponds. They are easily taken with a hard-toothed garden rake. Simply rake the muck from the bottom of the pond and pick up the nymphs as they struggle free of the debris and begin to crawl back to the water.
Keep the nymphs in a well-ventilated container. Be sure the container is in a cool, shady spot, or you might find your nymphs turning into full-grown dragonflies.