Most of us started our fishing career with live panfish bait and some sort of sunfish.
My first fish was a 6 inch largemouth bass caught on a nightcrawler. Panfish bait comes in all shapes and sizes.. from grub's like wax worms, meal worms, and euro larva (a European fly larva) to worms like nightcrawlers, redworms and garden worms. to live adult insects like crickets and grasshoppers. Leeches make great panfish bait for any species. They are well known for catching monster walleye in Northern lakes and reservoirs. Minnows are great for all but the smallest panfish and are the primary live bait used for crappie.
There are numerous ways to fish live panfish baits.
The most common is to simply suspend the bait beneath a float or bobber. A good rule of thumb to use when picking a float is to use a size that will only just support the weight of the bait.. making the slightest bite apparent. The stick type slip floats will make a soft strike more noticeable as well. The bigger fish will usually hit much softer then the small ones.. so you have to pay close attention.
The next most conmen way to fish live bait is to simply weight the bait and fish on the bottom. This is most effective in shallow water for sunfish or in deeper areas for catfish.
Drift fishing is by far my favourite way to fish a live panfish bait in moving water. The trick here is to use just enough weight to keep the bait near the bottom without snagging on rock, limbs, or plant growing on the stream bed. Some of the largest trout have come from drifting a night crawler under an undercut bank early in the season!
The next trick is keeping live panfish bait alive!
Night crawlers and other worms keep very well for a long time in a box of dirt mixed with a little peat moss in the refrigerator. Just remember pull any dead ones out and change the dirt every month or so in the winter. Most grubs or fly larvae will keep pretty well in the refrigerator to.