The world of fishing lures is vast. You can buy anything from photorealistic minnows to novelty body parts. I’m not here to judge, though I have fished with some questionable weights in the past.
Lures are meant to imitate baitfish and other creatures in the water to trick fish into biting them instead of the actual food swimming around.
There are plenty of times that a shiny Kastmaster or a Booyah spinnerbait will trick a fish into biting out of sheer annoyance. I’ve seen lots of critters swimming around in lakes in my years and have yet to see anything that looks like a spinnerbait cruising around.
After spending the last 40 years or so fishing and getting paid to do so for the last 25, I’ve gathered a bit of experience. I can usually tell if a lure is going to work or if it’s going to be another money pit. So many “hot new must-have” lures hit the market every year only to end up in the clearance bin the following fall.
It is mind-blowing. I was lucky enough to get to spend some time at a lake in California a few years back where a few large lure manufacturers tested their upcoming lines and got to “sample” a few of their proprietary offerings.
One company, in particular, had several variations on an old favorite of mine. The newer versions worked well, though none had the feel of the original. The pro anglers that were testing them agreed, and in the end, the company didn’t release any of them.
The other offering I tried was released and made the following years’ best list. I thought it was okay, but I don’t judge lures for a living, so what do I know.
I’ve put together a quick list of the most popular lures so you can get a sense of where to start. There are way too many lures to choose from in the store and it gets complicated fast. The first bit of advice I have for you about lure fishing is to practice your knot-tying skills.
Good lures aren’t cheap. Some of my favorites are between $15 and $20 each. If I lose one, that’s $20 out the window. Bad knots can end up costing you a lot of money.
Here are the Eight categories that most lures fall under:
- Buzz Baits
- Soft Plastics
Jigs are among the oldest lures out there. They’re also one of the most productive and popular. Jigs come in all sorts of varieties. You can get jigs with round heads, flat heads, pinpoint heads, or no heads at all.
Some jigs have weed guards, while others are almost entirely bare. There are specialty setups like the Ned rig, or the Neko rig, and with all these jigs, you can add some scents to make them stand out more to the fish.
Jigs are ideal for dropping soft plastics from a boat. You can also use a football jig like the Z-Mann to bounce along the bottom.
Spinners are one of the best types of lures to entice trout into biting. Spinners are typically very simple wire setups with a metal blade that spins as you reel the lure in. There are all different types of spinners out there to choose from, ranging in price from around $2 to over $15, though I stick primarily to a few styles.
For trout fishing, I like Roostertails, Mepps spinners, Joes Flies, and for bass fishing, I want to go with something more substantial, like a Booyah spinnerbait. All of these spinners are priced between $5 and $30, though the more expensive models are in packs of five or six.
Spoons are an excellent choice for trolling. They work great for casting as well. I use several varieties when I’m out, though my favorites are always with me. I have a small box where I keep a few must-have lures, and a couple is definitely spoons.
Spoons work by wobbling and imitating a dying fish. The shiny bits reflect light and attract fish from a distance. The Johnson Silver Minnow is great at attracting fish via reflection.
I always carry a few sizes of Kastmaster spoons with me. Chrome/Blue, Chrome, Rainbow, and Gold are my go-to’s. I like the 1/8oz and the 1/4oz. I rarely use anything bigger than 3/8oz, but I do have some bigger sizes. Kastmasters are on the pricier side at around $6 to $12 each, but the hook sharpness and overall build quality are fantastic.
Crankbaits are designed to cover a lot of water in a hurry. They make noise underwater as you reel them in, which in turn draws in fish from around the area. Bass loves these things and will chase them aggressively.
One thing to remember is that crankbaits aren’t effective in cool water. Once fall sets in and temps cool, it’s time to put away the crankbaits.
Crankbaits cover ground quickly, reach nearly any depth, and create a distinct noise underwater, helping draw in hungry fish. Bass aggressively chase crankbaits throughout the fall, but their interest dwindles as the water cools.
I like the Strike King Red Eyed Shad for any near-surface fishing. Lipless crankbaits stay relatively shallow and work great. If I’m going a little deeper, I’ll go with a Lucky Craft with a square bill. If I want to go deep, it’s time for a Rapala Deep Tail Dancer.
Early in the season, go loud and erratic. As the water cools, go slower and quieter. Lucky Craft makes a silent model that fishes well. I like their designs. The paint is top-notch.
Swimbaits are a lot of fun. They typically resemble different fish, but you can find ones that look like turtles and mice! As I said, these can be a lot of fun.
There are three primary types: paddle tails, hard bodies, and soft bodies. Since swimbaits are such an integral part of bass fishing, let’s get into each with a little more detail, so you have a solid understanding of how and when to use these baits.
Paddle tails are soft-bodied swimbaits that are typically smaller than the other two types. They come in packs like soft plastics do and don’t usually come pre-rigged, so you’ll have to add hooks yourself. If you’re fishing super weedy areas, use a paddle tail with a seedless hook.
Keep in mind they all respond the same in the water. The hook is the game-changer. Use a jig head, swimbait hook, or straight shank hook.
It depends heavily on the depth of the water. Don’t rig too heavy for a shallow lake.
Hollow body paddle tails work best with swimbait hooks. They typically have a screw lock to hold the head in place. Since the body is hollow, the bait compresses easily when the bass bites, exposing the hook for nice, quick hooksets.
Hard body swimbaits are not intended to be used anywhere near weedy areas. They come equipped with treble hooks, so dragging them through weedy areas is just asking for a terrible day.
These can be highly productive for trout, bass, pike, walleye, and just about anything else that likes to swim around. I’m a big fan of the Rapala and the Lucky Craft, as they always treat me well. There are so many options in this style that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a handful, so go with some of the standard options and grow your choices over time.
Soft body swimbaits work great for certain situations that require a bit more finesse than a standard hard body, but not the solid tail of a paddle tail. These are more streamlined bait, making them more realistic and likely to coax a bite out of a wary fish.
It’s time to make some noise. Buzz baits live up to their name. Cast one of these in the early morning and quickly bring it in.
It’s like offering a cappuccino to the bass slumbering out there. These baits literally make a buzzing sound across the water, which I think does more to anger the bass than anything. Angry bass smashes these things like no other.
Watching the water explode as a giant bass clobbers a buzz bait is the best way to start your day.
Now we’re getting into the world of crazy amounts of products. There are so many soft plastics out there that you could spend thousands and still only scratch the surface. Hopefully, we can narrow down the list and find a few that will make your tackle box easier to handle.
Soft plastics range from worms to creature baits. I’ve had incredible success fishing with soft plastic worms and brush hogs. These days I am drawn to the Ned rig because I love the way it presents off the bottom.
Smallmouth bass, which are the more prevalent bass in my region, go nuts for it. The plastics are a bit shorter and sit straight on the hook.
Senkos are one of the most well-known soft plastics around and will typically get you fish. Overall, a trusted color combo is a green pumpkin with watermelon flake. That color combination holds true for most waters. I start with some variation of it and will move on to other colors if it’s not working.
There are several ways to rig a plastic worm. You can thread it on the hook like a real worm and leave the tail to move freely, or you can go with a wacky rig, Texas rig, or Carolina rig, depending on your situation. Neko rigs are a variation of the wacky rig.
The best part of fishing these soft plastics is the variety. You can choose a 3” Ned rig option or go with a massive 8” or 9” worm that looks more like a water snake cruising along. Whatever you choose, you’re bound to have fun with it.
Just remember, it takes time and practice. Fishing is a test of patience. It’s not a sport for the instant gratification crowd. Or maybe it is.
Most flies work the same as live baits. Streamers, on the other hand, work as lures. Cast a streamer out and strip that thing back as fast as possible.
You’re going to bring in whatever is in the water. Trout and bass are big fans of streamers. I’ve fought largemouth bass that I was certain were going to snap my line at any moment before they finally gave in and came to my net.
I’ve also caught bonefish on streamers. Those things are like trying to bring in a ticked-off water buffalo with a piece of a shoestring. Never underestimate the effectiveness and power of a streamer.
My good friend guides in the Caribbean and uses streamers for different shark species. She’s caught hammerheads and makos on streamers. I’ve gone with her in the past, only to have my line break off. She’s got mad skills.
I couldn’t handle bringing in an 800lb shark on a fly rod, but she had no problem.