Traditional wisdom has it that live bait is much more effective than artificial bait. Consequently, many beginners nowadays take great pains to carry huge containers of shrimp or some other live bait, submerged in brine, to their fishing spot. But there is perhaps room for another quick look into the matter to find out whether all this trouble is really worth the bother.
For one thing, it's harder to get live bait on the hook. And by the time you have finally succeeded, the bait may be dead or nearly so. Most fish will be disinterested in live bait that is actually dead bait. And then you must pull the whole thing in and try to put another piece onto the hook, taking care not to pierce its vital organs in the process. And in the case of beginners, live bait has this tendency to slip out of your hands and into the water more often than not.
And all this while, the fellow with the fake baits has been casting away to his heart's content. By the time you have finally managed to beguile one single fish into your waiting bucket, the fake bait fellow has probably caught four.
This is not to say that fake bait is naturally superior to live. It's just that in the hands of new fishermen, live bait is a slippery thing that will misbehave at every opportunity. It's best to begin with fake, and work your way up to live.
Live or fake, buy bait that matches closely the current diet for the target species. Crab, shrimp, snail, oyster, worms or whatever you buy, you need to have information on what the Salmon or Trout or Bass or whatever it is that you want to catch are eating at that time of the year. For instance if you want to catch Spanish Mackerel, and find out that they are eating three-inch minnows during a given month of the year, then you need to buy minnows for live bait, or fake bait shaped like minnows.
How do you know what a particular type of fish is eating at a given time? Well, for beginners, the source is normally books and how-tos, and experienced fishermen who are usually ready to give advice. Later, when you've gathered enough experience yourself, you'll lean to observe and find out the eating habits of fish on your own.
Also, you must keep in mind the size of the tackle when you're buying bait. If their sizes don't match, you'll have a hard time to get any fish to bite. Put a small shrimp or minnow, or fake bait shaped like that will be incongruous on a large hook, and the fish will not be fooled into thinking of it as a natural part of their diet. Likewise, a fish is only interested in food that fits the size of its mouth. Large fishes will not be greatly attracted towards small specks or morsels, and small varieties will avoid biting bait that is too large for them to chew.
Match these aspects of bait with when, where and how you intend to catch fish, and success will follow.