Made to attract a fish’s attention and get a bite, the lure is the major gateway between making a catch or leaving you empty-handed. Artificial lures replace live bait that is often perishable, difficult to find, or expensive to obtain and attempt to mimic what bass eat in their natural habitat.
What might be more challenging, however, given the different types of fishing lures available, is knowing exactly which type to use.
The best way to get started is to recognize the most common types, how they differ, and when you might use them. Having the most appropriate lure for your needs is the best way to help fine-tune your fishing.
Jig lures are one of the most popular lure types in fishing with hundreds of brands and styles available, all in a variety of shapes and colors. Designed to target a wide range of predatory fish like bass, panfish, and even pike, the jig is often the first port of call for bass anglers and other sports fishermen.
Simply described, a jig is three parts: hook, lead sinker, and body (divided further into “head” and “body” components). It differs from other lure types mainly in the way it is made to “jerk” through the water in an upward or downward motion. This is a technique that usually requires fast action or sensitive rods where the strike can be “felt” more clearly. It’s also very versatile and useable in both freshwater and saltwater environments.
Intended to mimic minnows swimming in cold water, jigs, sometimes called jerk lures, are best controlled by a series of pauses and jerks worked through the rod tip while the line is cast out slack. Typically, the fish will strike (take or bite) the lure on the paused part of the technique. The 2 or 3 treble hook feature common in most jerk types also help set the hook faster and more successfully.
The body of most jerk lures is usually made of rubber or silicone and can sometimes take the form of other prey like lizards, frog, grub, paddle tails, and other fish. General advice is to use a color appropriate for the season, such as browns and blues in the heat of summer and lighter colors in winter.
Heads also take many different forms but especially favored in bass fishing are football, grass, and flipping head types.
For the novice, certain features of jig lures make them easy to use as starting lures. Weed guards help prevent line tangles and casting snags. Weight distribution systems make casting the line easier. Internal rattles help attract more fish due to increased vibrations in the water.
There are also suspending models (which stay at diving depth) and floating models (which stay on the surface) of jig lures, although most are designed for dragging along the bottom too. These are useful as tackle options if you want to quickly change things up.
Over a century old, spinnerbaits get their name from the component metal blades that spin in the water to create vibration and varying flash. They are also one of the first recommended lure types for beginners because of their varied price range (some can be as cheap as a couple bucks) and because they don’t require any specific technique (unlike jerks) to use.
Also known as “spinners,” this type of lure is more of a family of lures to which a few significant types belong. In-line spinners and safety pin spinnerbaits are the most prevalent types, while the tailspinner, beetle spin, and a few others also find themselves in this category in tackle shops across the world.
At its essence, a spinner is a lead head molded onto a hook with a wire arm holding up to 4 blades. They are worked with a reel to propel their blades while the line is brought in. This motion attracts predatory fish (like pike, bass, and perch) in a way that is slightly different from other lure types, activating a sense organ in fish called the “lateral line system,” which is something that enables fish to feel and touch objects at a distance.
For a beginner angler interested in these types of lures, it’s often hard to figure out what to look for in a spinner, given the huge range and varying types available. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to stick to either narrow blades (if fishing areas of heavy grass) or large blades (areas with large stumps and rocks).
Weight should also be a consideration, as most spinnerbaits weigh between ⅛ ounce and 2 ounces. Light spinners are great for ponds, while heavier ones are best suited to bottom fishing in deeper waters.
When it comes to color, beginners are recommended to keep things simple. Day fishing means fishing fast enough so the fish don’t see too much of the lure and aren’t disturbed by bright color combinations. White colors combined with black spinnerbaits for night fishing help increase contrast. This helps fish spot the lure and it increases the chance that they’ll take it.
Another thing that makes spinners a little easier to use is controlling the depth. Reel fast and the lure will stay close to the surface, but reel slow and it’ll sink. The blade size also contributes to where it sits in the water. Larger sizes help to elevate the lure and narrower sizes give it less lift.
Artificial lures like in-line spinners have passed in and out of fashion a lot over the past century. Largely untouched by the latest technological advancements, they are modest in their lack of features but proven in their performance.
Part of the spinnerbait family, in-lines are different from other spinner types because of their metal blade that spins around a central axis (wire) and is often attached to a C-shaped metal piece (clevis). Weights placed behind the spinning blade with swivels cause the whole lure, rather than a single part, to rotate while minimizing line twists and unnatural movement in the water.
Used as a multispecies bait, the design of in-lines is often used to target both small and largemouth bass, pike, and muskies. Bucktails, oversized in-line spinners, are a subtype of the family that are seemingly favored by the latter species. Trolling anglers can sometimes be seen with in-lines in their tackle box as well.
The blade is considered the most important part of an in-line and can range from size 0 for brook trout to giant sizes for gamefish. Made from willow leaf (ideal for slow presentations in deep water), Colorado (offer large vibrations that are good for a power catch) and Indiana (middle of the road). There are also variations of the above which include tomahawk, chopper, and ripple types blades.
Materials in in-lines blades vary, but are typically some sort of metal and can be buffed and plated.
Second to an in-line blade’s contribution to water vibration is its involvement in producing flash. Hammered nickel style blades with their dimples are said to be effective in attracting fish, as the rough surface reflects light more than a smooth surface.
Color is also an important consideration, with fluorescent blades recommended for low-light fishing and strong colors as a better option in daylight.
In-line lures can also have their hooks dressed, but choosing how and if to do so is often a matter of preference.
On the simple side of dressing, feathers and hairs can be used. On the more complicated side, as well as offering a more incandescent flash, there are artificial materials like multi-colored flashabou that many pros swear by.
The common “rule” for dressing the hook or using trailers (soft plastic dressings that form the “tail” of the lure) is to give something to follow the flash or swivel of the blade. It’s also intended to limit the risk of spooking a fish by presenting a bare hook, although plenty of stories abound of success without them.
The other main breed of spinners popular with pike, redfish, and bass anglers is the safety-pin lure.
Sometimes known as the “overhead arm,” this lure differs to the in-line in its shape and movement, which was designed to mimic a dying minnow rather than a live one.
Constructed with a wire frame, or wire form, that’s bent at a 90-degree angle, safety-pins have an arrowhead-shaped lead body built around a hook that sits just behind it.
One feature that makes them a great novice lure is their simplicity to use. Like most spinners, they are very reel-dependent. Reel fast and you can “bulge” the bait creating a surface trail. Reel more slowly and this lure acts almost like a jig, bumping across the bottom as you retrieve.
Blades work in the same way on a safety-pin as they do on an in-line except for their position. Hanging over the overhead arm by means of a swivel, the standard way of using blades on a safety-pin is also open to modification. One particularly neat thing that increases a safety-pin’s versatility over other spinners is the opportunity to add another blade in-line on the lure through use of a clevis. This creates a “tandem” lure spinnerbait that’s sometimes called a double blade (or multi blade if you have more than 2 blades).
Safety-pin lures have even more options than in-lines when it comes to trailers. While soft plastic trailers are the norm, experienced spinnerbait fishermen opt for soft molded trailers like split-eel varieties, where the tail is divided into two ends.
One advantage of this is that it prolongs the time the angler has to set the lure as it catches on a fish’s gill rakes after being sucked into its mouth, making it much easier to react, set the hook properly, and not miss a catch.
One final thing to consider with safety-pins is the arm length of the wire part of the lure. Generally speaking, the shorter the arm, the more vertical it will move through the water. The blades will sit closer to the hook too. This is good for the novice as it makes the lure much easier to control.
Beetle Spin and Tailspinners
Two more common spinners are the beetle spin, which has a wire frame forming a spring clip, and the tailspinner, which has a blade in its tail.
Invented in the early 60s, the beetle spin is typically used for panfish and differs from other spinner lures as it is usually smaller and more compact. Featuring a jig hook facing the same direction as a small blade, the beetle spin is commonly used with plastic curl tail grub and straight tail trailers.
Tailspinners are normally used to fish vertically in deep waters and are known to sink very quickly. They are easy to tell apart from other spinners due to a single treble hook molded on the bottom and a lead body with a line tie point on the top. These are often more tricky for the novice as they need to be reeled in at speed to avoid snagging.
Both options, like all spinners, can be used to target different species of fish. Choosing one over another, for the pros at least, is more a matter of preference rather than performance.
Made of metal or shell, spoons get their name thanks to their oblong shape. Concave in form, they also function similarly to spinners, designed to reflect light and move unpredictably in the water in the hope of catching a fish.
Hailed as one of the best lures of all time, spoons are well-loved by seasoned anglers and beginners alike due to their raw simplicity. They are also among the cheapest of all lure types and very rarely creep above a couple of dollars in price.
Unlike spinners or jigs, spoons aren’t usually dressed with soft plastic tails or heads. Neither are the hooks dressed, as they are usually trebles or a single-fixed at the end of the spoon’s body.
Getting to grips and using them, while foregoing the rigors of having to fix and modify trailers and tips, is something that’s also appealing to the get-up-and-go angler. They don’t have to be twitched or jerked in a particular way either.
Another big advantage that spoons have going for them, especially in the eyes of the beginner, is that they can be cast far and accurately. This means that the hook stays in the water for as long as possible without making constant recasts.
Compared to other more sophisticated lures, spoons also have a couple more benefits. Crankbaits, for example, which can have multiple sets of treble hooks, can be a lot more brutal on a fish producing more holes in its flesh than a spoon. Spoons also prove more durable than the rubber parts of a spinner or a plastic lure.
Spoons’ main drawbacks actually come down to their biggest plus: simplicity. For some anglers, especially those who like to take a more experimental approach to fishing with trailers and bodies, the spoon just isn’t interesting or fun enough to use.
Spoons also may lack the punch of multiple-blade spinner rigs which create more noise and vibration as they move through the water to tempt fish.
Perhaps the most popular hard-bodied fishing lure in tackle boxes across the world, the plug goes by many names including crankbait, minnow, deep-diver, wobbler, and shallow-diver.
Most anglers recognize the plug as a deep-body lure that’s short and resembles similarly-shaped prey like frogs and fish. The minnow, on the other hand, refers to a longer bodied lure and one that resembles baitfish.
Usually made out of wood or plastic, the body of a plug is a little less robust than a spoon but is more sophisticated due to its inclusion of a flexible link that imitates a tail fin moving through the water. Another feature is a plastic lip or metal sheet at the front of the lure’s body that is adjustable and helps the angler set its movement and diving depth.
Other features of crankbaits include eyelets to thread them easily through the line, treble or double hooks located close to the body, and a color that usually resembles the bait it’s imitating (green for a frog, for example). Due to these design features, plugs can often be a little more expensive than spoons but are usually cheaper than spinners.
Like other lures, this type also comes in a range of shapes and sizes but usually is somewhere between 3 cm and 20 cm in size, depending on the target fish. As a general rule, large plugs are used for bigger species but some game fish, like fingerling perch, will take small plugs or plugs their same size.
The size and shape of a plug usually determines its action, but more advanced anglers will know how to “play them” by incorporating rod twitching and varying retrieval speeds.
Although the treble hooks of most crankbaits look likely to snag, the mechanism of the lure ensures that it sinks head first. This protects its hooks from catching the bottom. For that reason, this type of lure is well-recommended for novices looking to start out in bass fishing or other freshwater alternatives.
Swimbaits are harder to classify as a lure type due to their similarities to plugs and crankbaits in the way they imitate fish.
One way they differ, however, is the way they are retrieved. Certain types of swimbait increase their motion when the line is brought in, fluttering their tails in the process. Others might move similarly to a flag and “wave” at the top of the water.
Historically speaking, the swimbait was crafted to resemble rainbow trout native to Southern California that bass like to feed on, particularly with the “paddle tail” that mimics their swimming motion.
Modern-day swimmers have updated this model, shifting to soft rubber versions that some pros argue offer more control than plugs, especially as they are not limited to depth.
For beginners, they are also a good choice as they can be cast out from the jetty, from the beach, and also in shallows and flats at a range of depths. One significant advantage is that they are robust and effective in floating grass too, meaning fewer snags and tangles.
In terms of materials, swimbaits are again similar to plugs. Rubber and plastic mixes, especially between TPE and PVC, are popular and inexpensive materials, but pros recommend using soft plastic varieties as they tend to last longer in the tackle box.
Surface lures are another lure type with similarities to plugs and swimbaits in their use of plastic or wooden components designed to resemble typical prey. One thing that sets them apart is the unique design that enables them to pulse, twitch, and fizz across the top of the water when retrieved.
Common surfaces resemble prey like moths, lizards, and small injured fish. Waddlers, perhaps the most common type, have a concave metal dish attached to the lure’s body that skirts over the water when the line is reeled in.
Fizzers, like spinners, have blades attached to the lure body and spin to create a noise that’s similar to the buzz of a flying insect.
Poppers are another type of surface lure that move through water with a hollowed nose. Usually made from wood, they are typically painted to appear like baitfish and move in a way that resembles a topwater struggle.
Beginners consider them a really fun lure to get started with in bass fishing as they are easy to follow with the eye and offer excitement that other lures lack.
Known as plastic bait or soft plastic baits, this lure type encapsulates any plastic-based fishing lure that usually has the common feature of flexibility.
Cheap to produce and effective in the way they imitate real-life prey, plastics are a standard choice in most tackle boxes and rigs, and they can be used in almost all water environments.
Usually, you’ll see plastics used as simple lures with a jighead (a weighted hook) that is positioned inside the lure with only the end hook part exposed.
Like jigs and spinners, plastics can be either retrieved by reel action or through pulling and releasing the line to mimic movement. One interesting thing to add about plastics is that they can also be used as artificial bait in live bait rigs. This can help cut a few corners in terms of cost.
Last up in terms of the classic categories of fishing lure is the artificial fly, the lure of choice for fly fishing. Not made to imitate fish, these lures, as the name suggests, look like flies or small insects instead. There are also thousands of patterns and designs available from retailers all over the world.
The main types of fly lure can be broken down into eggs (resembling spawn), streamers (some form of bait fish or large aquatic prey), nymphs (crustaceans or immature form of insects) and terrestrials (non-aquatic insects).
All are constructed via fly tying, a method of tying furs, thread, and feathers to a hook, the act of which is often considered an art in itself.
Fly lures also have the common divisions of dry fly (designed to land on the surface of the water and remain buoyant) and wet fly (designed to sink, like larvae, pupa or drowned insects).
Unlike other lure types, flies are pretty much constrained to the technique they are intended for. For that reason, they aren’t recommended for beginners with little experience casting or fishing with near weightless lines and lures as there are many other, more versatile, lures available.
Now you know more about the classic types, it’s time to pick one and get started.