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While there are many aspects to a fishing lure that can contribute to its success on the water, I believe there are 4 that are essential to creating a lure that is irresistible to fish regardless of species.
So let’s take a look at what these features are, along with some personal observations and tips, and a few words about flies.
We have been tricking wildlife for sport since the dawn of man. From the most primitive fishing lures of history to the fancy Rapalas we use today. Lures have changed greatly over time and yet, at the same time, their simple design has remained constant.
A fishing lure cannot just look the part, it has to have the right action, and to get that, the designs can get a little crazy. Generally, most plugs can be described as bullet in shape but in a variety of unique shapes.
Jigs are made with a specific design to sink rapidly and in a certain way. The object of a jig head is to have the head hit the bottom of the lake before the plastic itself. The nice thing about using jigs and jig heads is that they are interchangeable, whereas most other lures are not.
Some jigs have one or more wires attached to make them bounce the bottom of the lake but keep the jig or lure a few inches above the lake bottom. Often, jigs that are fished off of the bottom of the lake without this wired setup can be unfruitful.
Other jigs use feathers and other non-plastic materials to create a very vibrant and noticeable profile when jigged through the water. It is very common for anglers to troll with jigs as well.
Spinners Are designed to flash and even create vibrations in the water to attract fish. A few common brand names are Blue Fox, Rooster Tail, and Panther Martin fishing lures.
Spinners come in all sizes and patterns and the parts are generally interchangeable with enough ingenuity. This makes customizing a spinner very easy. I have compiled a rainbow pattern bell with a perch pattern spoon and made a unique spinner that hammers cutthroat trout here in Montana.
Spinners can make a vibration or rattle in the water as well. Blue Fox is easily the largest of these types with its Vibramax design. Often, fish need more than just smell and sight, and they often home in on vibrations in the water.
Materials used for lures have changed recently for some lures and others have remained the same. The materials used in lures have to have one thing in common, however, durability.
Generally, with plugs and crankbaits, their bodies are made from plastic or some form of floating wood such as balsa wood, basswood, or driftwood. As a kid, fishing the Puget Sound, we used driftwood we found to make our own lures. We carefully honed them with a knife to get the right action, sometimes taking days to achieve it.
Often, crankbaits and plugs have metal attached called “tongues” that allow the lure to dive and shake as lame prey would. The shape of these tongues is sensitive in shape, and it can be very hard to design your own to get the right action.
Jigs are made of many materials but the one that it is rarely made with today is lead. Lead has always been a go-to for weights, jigs, and other fishing applications but we have since learned of the environmental effects of using lead.
Other materials used for jigs are plastic, and natural materials such as feathers and string. A popular item to adorn a jig is beads above the jig head when trolling. Generally, the fish egg shape and color seem to work best.
Jig hooks tend to be extremely sturdy and this is why it is a popular lure to use for pike, walleye, and other larger species. Depending on the size of the jig head, you can really get a solid cast with these lures as well.
Spinners generally are made out of the most complex list of materials. Materials such as nickel, aluminum, and brass make these lures extremely durable, although some materials will corrode in the right environment.
When saltwater fishing, you should consider how long you expect to use that lure and what it is made out of. With freshwater fishing, this is a much smaller issue. Spinners reflect light which lures fish, this Is why you will find that they are always mirror-like in finish.
With spinners, you should always use a swivel, but the eye of the lure itself is actually quite durable as well. Depending on the size. You will be surprised how small the spinner is that works well. The downside to using a small spinner is it does not cast as far.
Hydrodynamics (Action in the Water)
Hydrodynamics is the very important science of drag through the water, similar to aerodynamics in cars and airplanes. With a car or an airplane, we strive to get no drag at all, but with a fishing lure, it is important to get the right amount of drag.
Searching on YouTube can get you some results on how this is tested. Usually with a large fish tank with a current running through. Slowly taking away from the prototype lure until the desired action is achieved is typically how a crankbaits or plug is made.
Some plugs have a concave nose that looks like it absolutely will swim terribly, but that’s the idea. That concave nose actually makes it jitter through the water. Simple manipulation can create a huge difference.
The Flatfish, a wildly versatile and popular hand-carved wooden plug invented by avid fisherman Charles Helin in the early 1930s, is a good example of perfecting hydrodynamics to achieve irresistible swimming action. The design was so successful that other companies began making their own versions of the lure.
Today, the still extremely popular Flatfish is owned and sold by the Yakima Bait Company, though it is now made from plastic like most other lures on the market.
The problem I have with plastics is that you can’t really “lame” a plastic lure. With a wooden plug or crankbaits, you can take a little off here or there and “tune” it to give your lure a very authentic wobble.
In terms of hydrodynamics, before the days of mass production, many anglers crafted their own tackle. This gear was quite authentic and there were some very creative lures made. As a child, my grandfather used some decoys he made himself when we would go duck hunting. He swore that they worked better than the store-bought decoys.
Hydrodynamics is utilized for surface lures as well. Not all surface lures are designed to simply float. Take for instance buzzbaits where the spoon has to be designed to spin and chop the water. You will notice a vortex design that helps it perform this task.
Color is a very important aspect of fishing lures and baits in general. This is probably one of the most wildly changing aspects of fishing tackle. I have seen a perch pattern hammer bass here in Montana and gone to Washington to see my perch pattern do nothing to the same fish.
Fish behaviors change drastically at certain times of their lives as well. Back home in Washington the Stillaguamish River, for example, becomes a very popular fishing destination during the spawning season and the salmon runs.
I remember that pink was the color that really got the salmon crazy, especially Chinooks and Coho. My grandfather owned a tackle company where we cupped worms and other bait for sale at local gas stations and bait shops.
We used to dye sand shrimp pink in a very large boiling vat and 32 years later I can still smell it. Pink was a color that was only in season for a short while then it was business as usual for offshore salmon.
Over here in Montana, when ice fishing, we use glow lures to make our jigs and other apparatus more visible in the dark waters under the ice. Depth is the determining factor of how bright the glow lure needs to be.
Combining the right action in a lure and the right color is very important, but do not buy “does it all” fishing lures because overdoing it is a very real thing with fishing lures.
Usually keeping it simple yields better results than the lures that spin, vibrate, have a very colorful pattern, etc. By far, the best lure I have in my tackle box right now is a simple yellow and black marabou jig. Nothing fancy, but good action and color that drives walleye and trout crazy.
A Word About Flies
Flies are in an entire category of their own and deserve some recognition. To understand flies and their design you have to understand a bit of science, primarily in the field of entomology.
An expert fly fisherman can stand on the banks of a river and look at what the trout are eating off of the top of the water, go to his tackle box and match the bug. Next thing you know, he’s catching fish.
Flies are either dry or wet, meaning they either sink or do not. This design is important for different fishing scenarios such as stream and river fishing versus lake fishing. Flies usually have a fanned-out design that helps them stay afloat and can take on some very strange designs.
Color is a huge factor for fly fishermen because the lure is between the fish and the sun and the light can carry color vibrantly to the fish. Typically, in Montana, however, we use a brown fly that does not have much color.
A nymph fly is usually the staple fly during the spring months in the Rocky Mountains and the “hatch” as we call it, can get a little crazy. Fly fishing takes a certain level of understanding nature to be successful rather than just a lure that works well. The wants of the trout change wildly and knowing your insects can really give you an edge.
Learn All You Can About Lures
Fishing, of any variety, has been a love of mine for my entire life, and I have always had a thirst for learning more. I believe that all of the information you can accumulate about something you love will help you enjoy it more.
I feel that lures are something we take for granted these days. A plastic lure that you can replace for around 8 bucks at a local shop seems to be the norm in today’s fishing market. But there was a time when we fixed our lures or made one by hand, a labor of love.
Color, action, size, hook type,.. it amazes me how complex and daunting the fishing lure section is at the store, but do not forget that simple is a good strategy too. Some of the best fishing I have ever done was with a simple jig or a worm on a hook.
Be sure to read and ask about specific lures at the tackle shops. I have bought Rapalas in the past assuming that they dove adequately and they did not. Be sure to stop and look, because there are hundreds of varieties of different lures and grabbing the wrong one can be easy to do.
Generally, lures have to be periodically maintained depending on what lure it is you have. As a child, I was taught to paint lures, sharpen their hooks and seal them to make them watertight.
Do not be afraid to seek out lures that you can maintain yourself. It is a great way to save money and enjoy the sport a little better. Plastic crankbaits can chip their paint, but I know folks who patch them up themselves.
Your best moments on the water can be credited to the effort you put forth learning and understanding your stuff and taking the time to practice it. I have seen anglers on the water hammer fish and the guy next to him catch nothing. One has learned the science behind his favorite pastime and the other did not.
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