THIS SELECTION was the most difficult to make because the right lure for bass at any given time depends not just on what the bass like but where they are. Deep or shallow? Weedy cover or open water? Darkly stained shallows in Florida or the crystal depths of a Nevada reservoir?
So I picked a little of everything to make a small collection that will work absolutely anywhere largemouth bass are found. I still had to compromise, though. I might normally carry a dozen types of plastic worms in as many colors, each best suited to a slightly different tactic. Here I chose only one, adaptable to specific situations by altering fishing method or by physically trimming the lure. Necessity is the mother of bass fishing invention.
1 Rattlin' Chug Bug
Surface poppers are basic, and this Storm topwater is a coast-to-coast favorite. A free-rolling internal weight serves as a rattle and adds casting distance because it rolls to the rear when you toss the plug. Importantly, that same weight moves inside as the plug is popped on the water, providing some critical extra wiggle. Shown is a 3/8-ounce version in bleeding Tennessee shad; also available in ¼ ounce; 17 colors. $5; stormlures.com
Rapala's new suspending jerkbait has been a big hit with both bass and bass fishermen. Yes, there is a difference. Bass love the wildly erratic action and flash, two design elements that are keyed to their behavior. Fishermen love the colors (and care about them much more than bass do). This is a 4-inch XR10 model. There's also a 3 1/8-inch version; 13 colors. $6.49; rapala.com
3. Crystal Minnow
Twitching a floating minnow plug and then letting it rise to the surface requires patience but can be deadly. The lure can be hard to see, so I paint a large white dot with model-airplane enamel on its dark back. It's easy to spot, and the bass don't care. This 3 5/8-inch, blue-and-silver Yo-Zuri floater gets big points for action, shape, and flash. Three sizes, 18 colors. $7; yo-zuri.com
4. Zara Spook
Once you learn how to do a walk-the-dog retrieve, you'll be nailing large-mouths with this classic Heddon. Often imitated by various companies, the original Spook is still the best. As with most lures, erratic retrieves work best, which suits me just fine (no comments, please). The ¾-ounce, Blue Shore Minnow version is a personal favorite. Two sizes; 26 colors. $5.75; www.heddonlures.com
The Lowdown Lure
5 Rapala DT Crankbait
Hundreds of variations of diving crankbaits exist among more than a dozen brands. I like Rapala's DT (Dives-to) series for their construction quality and dependability running to specified depths. Hats off to Rapala for providing a depth-rating system that even slow learners like me can understand. Models dive to 4, 6, 10, and 16 feet; 12 colors. $6.29; rapala.com
6 Snag-Proof Original Frog
This weedless, floating frog is fun to twitch in the green stuff because bass blow up on it. Sometimes I sing to the lure in a high, squeaky voice while fishing it: "No, no. Don't eat me!" (Twitch.) "Help! Help!" (Twitch.) Then a bass bombs the frog and I laugh. My wife thinks I'm nuts. ¼ or ½ ounce; seven colors. $3.25 and up; greatlures.com/snag
When it's hooked wacky-style in the middle, the ends of this 5-inch soft-plastic bait quiver as it slowly sinks. Bass go crazy. Senkos can also be Texas-rigged with or without added weight, or try the new trick of inserting a small finish nail into one end to alter the action and sinking angle. From 3 to 7 inches; more than 50 colors. $5–$7 for 10; baits.com
8. Trick Worm
Twitch this 6-inch floating worm on the surface or weight it for fishing deep. In limiting myself to one plastic worm, I chose this because its straight tail won't tangle on underwater limbs. If I need a finesse worm for drop-shotting, I'll cut this one down to 4 inches. Available in more than 50 colors. $3.69 for 20; zoombait.com
9. Zoom Fluke
King of the soft-plastic jerkbaits, the Fluke has a dying-minnow action when it's Texas-rigged with no weight and twitched underwater. Strikes are vicious. The Slug-Go works well, too, but the Fluke's action is a tad wilder. This is a 5¼-inch version in Arkansas shiner. Four sizes, 47 colors. $3 for 10; zoombait.com
Updated for 2007
Here's my favorite chrome-and-blue 'Trap newly updated with a bleeding-shad finish and red hooks. The new wrinkle with this lure is casting in mixed open water and weeds, and ripping the lure violently when it hits the salad. It can then draw astounding strikes. I once had my butt whipped soundly by a Lake Okeechobee fishing companion who was doing just that. The most useful sizes are ¼ and ½ ounce. $4; rat-l-trap.com
11. White Spinnerbait
These are very nearly a cliché: Every bass fisherman needs one to cover lots of water quickly and to consistently pull fish. For an afternoon last summer, I kept track of fishermen on 20 different bass boats on Lake Champlain, and everybody was throwing a white spinner-bait. Must be something to it, huh? This ¼-ounce Terminator T-1 has an unusual titanium-wire frame that doesn't get kinked. $9; terminatorlures.com
12. Jaw-Breaker Spoon
A weedless spoon is essential for sliding over the top of thick vegetation. When it hits an open pocket, begin a twitching retrieve. The Jaw-Breaker's flexible skirt gives increased action, but sometimes added bulk will draw additional strikes. In that case you can use all or part of a Fluke or plastic worm as a trailer on the spoon's single hook. ½ ounce; 13 colors. $4.60; northlandtackle.com
Flip it or jig it, and the classic jig-and-pig will take largemouths. Back in the early 1980s, I was in bass pro Bo Dowden's boat on Lake Ontario when he won a Bass-master Classic using that combination lure. I've been fishing it ever since. This 3/8-ounce Stanley Rattlin' Flat Eye jig carries a Yum soft-plastic chunk trailer instead of pork. Jig: $2.49; fishstanley.com. Trailer: $2.89 for six; www.yum3x.com
14. Booyah Pond Buzz Buzzbait
A buzzbait throws water noisily as you use it to quickly churn the surface past likely bass cover. Cast beyond an exposed stump, for example, and then retrieve so the lure almost brushes the bark. Sometimes a series of fast jerks with split-second pauses will outfish a steady retrieve. At 1/8 ounce, the Booyah Pond Buzz is sized for smaller lakes. Eight colors. $3.49; booyahbaits.com
LURES YOU'LL NEVER NEED
Can That Idea
THE FEATURED LURES on these pages are generally simple, reasonably priced, and easy to get. Above all, they work. But there's always been lots of overpriced or silly stuff mixed with the good. Some are novelties, such as the Heddon miniature Coors beer-can crankbait still being sold on the Internet. For only $7.46 plus shipping, you too can catch a bass on a beer can. You won't catch very many, though, and the joke gets pretty thin in a hurry.
Spin, dart, twitch, and wobble
NO SINGLE LURE will catch all the trout all the time. That's partly because some fish are found in fast water, others in slow pools. Some trout will be deep and unresponsive to near-surface lures. Others, especially those near stream banks, are sometimes more willing to chase a shallow runner. Ponds and lakes, where trolling is a common tactic, are completely different than rivers. You'll need at least the small variety shown here to cover different conditions.
Know, too, that a lure is only as good as the person fishing with it. As long as there is lots of motion, trout can be very aggressive in response to artificials. A trout may chase crankbaits, wobbling spoons, or spinners for 20 feet or more during a retrieve, unlike a bass that tends to make a single swipe and then quit if it misses. Whenever possible, make that aggression work in your favor by adding lots of erratic movement with rod-tip twitches, which can excite trout even further.
Slow-trolled on 4-or 6-pound-test mono, this F4-size (1½-inch) Flatfish in a perch-scale finish is my favorite for big rainbows in ponds and lakes. Keep the lure about 100 feet back from your boat or canoe. Make sure your rod tip is showing a gentle vibration, which means the Flatfish is running correctly, with no spinning or tangling. $5.50; yakimabait.com
2 Rooster Tail
These spinners tend to run deeper than others of comparable size, making them a prime tool for searching out big trout deep. Fish either straight up or up-and-across stream, reeling the lure back just fast enough so it occasionally ticks bottom. Yes, you'll lose a few to snags in doing this, but you'll also catch fish. Numerous sizes and colors. This is a ¼-ounce, yellow coachdog version. $3.75; yakimabait.com
3. Panther Martin
An indispensable trout spinner, the Panther Martin runs at middle depths. The silver blade and yellow body combination will work almost anywhere. In tumbling mountain brooks and streams with lots of pocket water, cast upstream and reach with your rod tip to guide the spinner back along the edges of larger rocks. Huge color and size variety, starting at 1/32 ounce. This 1/16-ounce version costs $5.50 for two; panthermartin.com
4. Mepps Aglia
A trout classic: Shallow running, it works great in smaller sizes on ultralight spinning gear as water levels drop. The 2-pound-test mono you might use with other trout lures is so flexible that spinner-blade torque will cause horrible line twist. Solve that problem by using stiffer 4-or 6-pound-test. This gold example in size 0 weighs 1/12 ounce; there are dozens of size and color options. $3.30 and up; mepps.com
5. Norman Deep Tiny "N"
Trout eat small shad and crayfish, too, so they'll hit bass-style crankbaits as long as the lures are small. This midget Norman cranker—1½ inches, 1/8 ounce—does the job. Fast retrieves in deep, heavy currents over a rocky bottom, where trout won't have much time to study the lure, will take the most fish. Crankbaits won't work as well where a subtler approach is required. $4; normanlures.com
6. CountDown Rapala
This fast-sinking version works better than traditional floaters in spring. It's often my first choice when I go spinfishing for browns in the early season. Find a deep, fast chute that empties into a large pool. Cast well upstream into the chute, let the lure sink for a few seconds, then crank like hell downstream. A black back over gold sides is tops. Shown here: the CD7 (2¾ inch, ¼ ounce). $5.79; rapala.com
7. Yo-Zuri Snap Bean
The world's smallest crankbaits have a tight, fast wiggle that draws violent reaction strikes from trout. These lures won't bugger up your line by twisting and spinning, so tie one directly to line as light as 2-pound-test for increased casting distance. Fish upstream and retrieve back down faster than the current. ¾ or 1 inch long; 1/32 or 1/16 ounce. $8 for two; yo-zuri.com
Updated for 2007
8. Al's Goldfish
This venerable trout spoon is updated with a prismatic, glow-in-the-dark insert. It runs deep and is ideal for big browns in fast water. Fish it with a small duolock snap, casting up and across the current and using rod-tip twitches to bring life to the lure as it drifts near the bottom. 3/18, ¼, and ½ ounce in various colors. $2.90 and up; alsgoldfish.com
This Luhr-Jensen spoon is critical in trolling lakes for trout by flat line, lead-core, or downrigger. For best results, run 1 1/8-to 2-inch-size models at 1½ to 2½ mph. I like silver or brass finishes with red heads. A word of warning: The single hooks on these spoons are woefully dull when new. Take the time to sharpen yours and substantially boost your catch. $2.50; luhrjensen.com
The Phoebe is a great trout spoon, especially when it's retrieved erratically. It runs shallow, so wade and work from midstream while casting to likely spots. Brown trout hang under overhead cover such as logjams or shoreline bushes, and that's where your Phoebe should be. Accurate casters will take the most fish. Shown in silver, 1/12 ounce; it ranges up to ½ ounce in assorted colors. $2.15– $3.20; acmetackle.com
11. Float and Fly
When fussy trout won't respond to more conventional lures, use ultralight spinning gear to fish a nymph-and-indicator rig. This is a 7/8-inch Thill Ice 'n Fly Special float with a size 16 tungstenbeadhead Prince nymph. Rig the float above a weighted fly at a distance to match the water depth. Flip the assembly upstream and reel slowly so the float drifts back without drag. Indicator: $2; lindyfishingtackle.com
12. Marabou Micro-Jig
Jigs from 1/16 down to 1/100 ounce are deadly on trout because marabou fibers wiggle easily. Trout jigs are popular in Ozark tail-waters but little used elsewhere. The lack of nationwide popularity is especially puzzling because the 40-pound 4-ounce, all-tackle-record brown trout was taken on a marabou micro-jig. Models abound; this one is from Cabela's. $5 for six; cabelas.com
13. Mister Twister Jig
This trout and steelhead jig features soft hackle and flash around a jighead trailing a 3-inch Exude-scented soft-plastic worm. Many people mistakenly use snap-swivels with these and other lures that don't twist line in the first place. Trout shy away from that added bulk; tie your line directly to the lure. 1/32, 1/16, 1/8 ounce; seven color combinations. $3.90 for two; mistertwister.com
LURES YOU'LL NEVER NEED
Kick Whose Tail?
YOU'VE PROBABLY seen the print ads for miracle lures touted by supposed outdoor columnist "Charlie Allen," who claims these lures are soon to be outlawed because they're too effective. The Kick Tail is one such, a multijointed, minnow-style crankbait. Here's the real kicker, though: A three-lure kit is $29.95 plus shipping and handling. Sadly, there are enough gullible fishermen out there willing to swallow this whole. The moral is simple: There are no magic bullets. Stick with major-brand lures that work. It's cheaper, and you'll catch more fish.
Run shallow, run deep
WALLEYES CAN BE simple to catch or outrageously difficult. Many remote walleye lakes and major rivers in north-central Canada abound with 2-to 5-pounders that can literally be caught all day long on simple jigs. A clear-water lake in Minnesota or Wisconsin with heavy fishing pressure may require considerable finesse with trolling gear.
Many walleye lures and rigs depend at least partly on the addition of natural bait, like worms or minnows, to work. That's why the most commonly used bait rigs are here along with more conventional lures. The walleyes' deep-water daytime habits influence these choices, too; a top tactic is deep-trolling a floating minnow plug using lead-core line and a clear, 6-or 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. Jigs and big-lipped diving plugs also reach down to those same fish. The dozen lures and rigs shown here cover all the foregoing and will get you into walleyes just about anywhere.
1. Mr. Walleye Rattlin' Rogue
Slim minnow plugs catch walleyes practically anywhere. This 3½-inch, ¼-ounce floating version designed by walleye pro Gary Roach comes in 12 color schemes. Walleyes sometimes show a preference for warmer hues, which is why orange shiner is shown here. Cast for near-surface fish at dusk or after dark; troll deeper with lead-core line in the daytime. $6; www.smithwicklures.com
2. Erie Dearie
The old reliable: Designed for Great Lakes walleyes, these weight-forward spinners can be cast or trolled. Rig with a nightcrawler hooked once in the middle. Do not hook the worm by one end (a common mistake), or fish will bite the worm off. Sizes range from ¼ to 1 ounce; nine colors. $3–$3.50; eriedearie.com
3. Stinger Jig
Walleyes sometimes miss the hook when they nip at a minnow-tipped jig. But such a sweetened jig can occasionally be the only way to draw strikes. This double-eyed style makes it easy to add a stinger hook at the minnow's tail. Fire-Ball Jig, 1/8 ounce: $3.50 for six. Sting'r Hook: $2 for three; northlandtackle.com
Twist and Shout
4. Jig & Curly Tail Grub
A simple jig is still the No. 1 walleye lure. This is a 3-inch Mister Twister Meeny Curly Tail on a 1/8-ounce round leadhead. In many northern lakes, summer walleyes commonly hang around rocky reefs in about 25 feet of water; vertically jig a Curly Tail to catch them. The slimmer jighead also shown gets deeper faster in moving water and is often a better choice. Grubs: $2 for 20; mistertwister.com
5. Frenzy Flicker Shad
Some fishing-industry insiders say privately that the action of this crankbait when trolled will outfish the popular Rapala Shad Rap for walleyes by 4 to 1. The color schemes on older Berkley crankbaits were drab and unappealing—to fishermen, at least. Those on the new baits are updated and much sexier looking. 2-and 2.8-inch sizes; 14 colors. $4; www.berkley-fishing.com
6. Glass Shad Rap
Its translucent and highly reflective finish made the Glass Shad Rap a hot ticket among walleye pros in 2006, often trolled deep on lead-core line. On a flat (un-weighted) line, it runs 5 to 15 feet deep, depending on lure size and trolling-line length. 1½-, 2-, and 2¾-inch versions; eight colors. $6; rapala.com
7. Jointed Wall-eye Runner
Cabela's answer to the well-known Cordell Wally Diver has a double-jointed, wide wobbling action and can reach as deep as 28 feet on a long-line (un-weighted) troll. Its deep-diving attribute also makes it worth casting and cranking along the edges of points and rocky reefs. 3½-and 4¾-inch versions; 20 colors. $5; cabelas.com
8. Jointed Rapala
Walleyes like wiggle, and few lures wiggle like this one. Silver fluorescent chartreuse (shown in the J11, 4 3/8-inch model) and gold fluorescent red are hot. Cast shallow or troll it deep as need be, fishing it slowly in either case. I've done especially well with this lure for sluggish fish in early-season cold water. $6; rapala.com
9. Flash Minnow 110 SP
This exceptional (but pricey) plug caught my wife's largest walleye so far—a 10-pounder from Rainy Lake in southern Ontario. I still take her fishing, but she's no longer allowed to use this 4½-inch suspending jerkbait that actually quivers when it's paused, thanks to an intricate internal weighting system. 27 colors; she likes ghost minnow, shown here. $16; luckycraft.com
10. Rock-Runner Bottom Bouncer
Many shallow-running walleye lures need to gain added depth when trolled. The Rock-Runner's weighted arm ticks along the bottom and keeps, say, a spinner-and-worm rig above the snags. This works well along open lake bottoms but tangles in weeds. Sizes range from ¼ to 4 ounces. $2; northlandtackle.com
11. Walleye Spinner
Probably the most popular of all trolling rigs involves just a simple spinner, some beads, and various hook riggings on a 3-foot snell. This one's set up for a nightcrawler. Such rigs are easy to make on your own from widely available components, but ready-made versions don't cost much more. $9 for six; cabelas.com
12. Original Lindy Rig
Another classic, this rig is based on a curved "walking" sinker that tends to slide over obstacles rather than get snagged. You can work a walleye bait more slowly on this than on a bottom bouncer, often by drifting with the breeze as you bottom-drag a bait. This example is rigged for a nightcrawler or leech. $3.20 per kit, including two sinkers and three snells; lindyfishingtackle.com
LURES YOU'LL NEVER NEED
BY SELLING KITS, infomercial marketers are able to vastly inflate the price. Alex Langer's ill-fated Flying Lure is a good example. This flattened tube-style soft plastic has a special jighead that will glide at an angle while sinking underwater, thereby reaching bass under weed clumps and boat docks. It actually works, sort of, but the rigging is complicated. An "Original Flying Lure Expert Kit" can still be found online for $69.85. Or you can just go to your local sporting-goods store and get a national-brand rig for less than five bucks.
Chase the rainbow, catch the slabs
CRAPPIES ARE HIGHLY visual predators, eating small minnows and a variety of insect larvae that are noteworthy for their motion. Any successful crappie lure has to have some sort of wiggle, often inherent in its design. That's a common trait in all the models I've chosen here.
Color can also be critical. Crappies are like teenagers, flitting from one fashion fad to another by the day, if not by the hour. Manufacturers respond by making lures in a rainbow of hues. Southern Pro Tackle, an Arkansas company that pretty much owns the market in crappie soft plastics, makes its 1½-inch Lit'l Hustler tube in an astounding 80 different color combinations. The red-and-white version that slayed 'em on Tuesday may not work nearly so well on Wednesday, when the fish jump all over a red-and-yellow style. I've never heard any rhyme or reason for this, but I do know that it happens. Trying basic shades first—meaning white, chartreuse, silver, or even black—is my rule. If that fails, then I can experiment with an insanity of colors. It's a good thing crappie lures are cheap.
1 Jigging Rap
Best known as ice-fishing jigs, these Rapalas are good in open water, too, and especially for crappies. Use the smaller 1/8-or 3/16-ounce sizes and jig vertically. Tipping these with a whole minnow deadens the action too much; the rear half (tail section) of a 2-inch fathead minnow is just right. 14 colors. $4.19–$5.60; rapala.com
2 Wally Marshall Crappie Crank
At 2¼ inches long, these are bigger than the Norman version (No. 8, right) and dive to 10 feet. Running both as part of a trolling spread lets you cover varied depths simultaneously, which can be key to finding fish. Bigger crankbaits like this one will also take larger crappies but fewer overall. Assorted weights; 12 colors. $4; basspro.com
3 Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub
The crappie-jigging classic combines wiggly marabou with a translucent, soft-plastic body. Fish it by all common methods; it'll take crappies every way. When you're vertical-jigging, you can sweeten it with a 2-inch fat-head minnow. This sometimes works better than either a jig or a minnow fished separately. From 1/32 ounce and up; 10 colors. $2.70 for two; lindyfishingtackle.com
4. Road Runner Marabou
Blakemore's famous jighead-spinner combo with marabou excels in slow trolling because of the spinner blade's added action. It can be cast and retrieved, too. Use different weights to vary the running depth. Also available as blank heads for adding the soft-plastic bait of your choice; mine is often a twister-tail grub. From 1/32 ounce and up; 11 colors. $15 for 12; blakemorelure.com
5. Creme Silverside
This unique minnowlike bait has flashy sides, a marabou feather tail, and an internal weight so no jighead is exposed. (There's also a jighead version.) Cast, vertical-jig, or troll the tiny Silverside, knowing that the soft and wiggly marabou tail is putting the action right where crappies seem to like it. 1/32 or 1/16 ounce; assorted colors. $2 for three; cremelure.com
6. Creek Runner
Yes, it's a baby spinnerbait for crappies. I add whatever soft-plastic body I want. This needs to be fished slower than bass versions, though, while you're casting around cover. When spawning crappies move shallow, the semi-weedless nature of a spinnerbait is a big help in probing the edges of weedbeds without snagging. 1/16 ounce; four colors. $2.70 for five; southernpro.com
7. Lit'l Hustler
There are many different crappie tube lures, and this 1½-incher from Southern Pro is a good example. It's also available in 1-and 2-inch models, and on days when the fish are fussy it pays to experiment with size. Insert a 1/16-ounce tube-style jighead for casting, trolling, or vertical-jigging. Start with a basic color like chartreuse, then experiment widely among the 80 possibilities. $2 for 25; southernpro.com
8. Norman Crappie Crankbait
Crankbaits aren't usually considered crappie lures but can work just great. This one dives to 6 feet, so troll in open water to locate suspended fish. When you have a strike while trolling, don't set the hook or you'll tear the crappie's mouth. Just let the fish hook itself on a tight line, then gently reel it in. 1½ inch, 1/8 ounce; nine colors. $4; basspro.com
9. Norman Crappie Minner
It's a simple 2½-inch, 1/8-ounce minnow plug for casting or trolling. If you're casting, remember to work the plug in slow twitches and pauses. When you're trolling it, you can sometimes draw more strikes by holding the rod and working the plug with twitches behind the moving boat instead of simply dropping the rod in a holder. 1/8 ounce; seven colors. $3.80; basspro.com
10. Crappie Critter
I can't say enough good things about this miniature creature bait. It has the most wiggle I've ever seen in a soft-plastic crappie lure. Cast or troll one if you like, but it's best fished on a traditional, long crappie pole and dipped vertically in thick cover. Experiment with depth and noodle the Critter gently up and down with your pole tip. Start with a 1/16-ounce head; 10 colors. $1.90 for 20; southernpro.com
11. Triple Tip Grub
This 2-inch grub design from Southern Pro has a split tail for extra wiggle. That means it can perform particularly well when slow-trolled in open water for suspended fish. As with most jigs, fishing vertically from a boat or casting and retrieving slowly from shore can also do the trick. Usually fished on a 1/32-ounce or larger round-head jig; 36 colors. $2.60 for 25; southernpro.com
LURES YOU'LL NEVER NEED
ROLAND MARTIN'S Helicopter Lure is a story of a great angler who unfortunately hitched his future to the smelly end of a garbage truck. The lure is a three-bladed plastic device, weighted and with a hook, that spins like helicopter blades as it sinks, thereby attracting bass. A lure kit, heavily advertised on TV fishing shows, cost $19.95. Yes, it caught some bass. But most fishermen rightly thought it was idiotic.
The Gadget That Started It All
You can blame a lot of the nonsense lures around today on Ron Popeil, the TV-infomercial king. Popeil's Pocket Fisherman is perhaps the most useless rod-and-reel combo in fishing history—a long-running joke among serious anglers—but thanks to the power of infomercials is still going strong.