Bending a Better Bait

Building lures for bass and trout.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The little spinnerbait throbbed and flickered along the edge of some sunken logs, its green-tinted blades barely visible in the clear water. I saw the flash as a bass rolled on the lure and quickly had a 3-pounder splashing at the side of the skiff. "That's five," I said, laughing.

"Looks like just one to me," young Dave grunted from the bow of the boat.

"Nope. Five," I answered. "That's 'cause any fish I catch on a homemade lure like this one is worth any five you might get throwing that store-bought stuff. So now I'm ahead five to nothing. And so far you're buying dinner."

Building your own lures for bass or trout fishing can be relatively simple and immensely satisfying. This is especially true of in-line spinners (trout) and spinnerbaits (bass), which for home craftsmen are the easiest to make. In a way, it's like riflemen who handload their own centerfire cartridges, thereby getting precisely what they need at the lowest possible price. With some practice and experimentation, you'll wind up with lures designed exclusively for your own fishing. You'll save money in the long run, and-even better-have lures no one else is using.

Building Spinnerbaits
This can be as simple or complex as you choose. The easy way is to buy wire spinnerbait forms with leadheads and hooks already molded on the bent wire (see sidebar on page 26). All you have to do is paint the head, then add a skirt in your choice of colors. On the upper-and so far blank-wire arm, you'll be adding spinner blades in your own choices of size, style, and color.

The essential tools are two pairs of specialized pliers. Round-nose pliers allow you to bend a neat wire loop at the end of the blade arm for attaching a small, ball-bearing swivel and the uppermost spinner blade. Split-ring pliers let you easily open and close the midget split ring that connects the swivel to the blade. (For more on lure-making tools, see Sportsman's Toolbox on page 46.) If you're just starting out, begin by copying a favorite commercial spinnerbait. This will make it easy to order components in the sizes you need.

I save even more money and get greater versatility by starting from scratch. Using a special wire-bending tool available from many lure-component suppliers, I sometimes make my own wire frames (using .035-inch-diameter stainless steel for a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait, for example). This allows me to vary slightly the relative length of the wire arms when I feel like experimenting. Or I'll buy bent wire forms of the same type of wire. If I'm building titanium-wire spinnerbaits, I buy bent forms because titanium is so difficult to work.

In any case, I then mold my own leadheads on the frames, using a special lead-melting pot and one of the Do-It brand molds designed for this purpose. (If you work with molten lead, make sure to do so with adequate ventilation. I do it outside.) By this route, I get to use my choice of hooks.

Next comes paint, which is usually a common enamel. Then I add molded, stick-on 3-D eyes, which I'm convinced generally increase the effectiveness of any lure. Finally, the head gets a coating of Devcon 30-Minute Epoxy (occasionally with a little fine glitter mixed in) to protect the finish.

If that all seems like a lot of trouble, consider this: Chances are your favorite bass lake is fished hard. How many times a day do you suppose some lockjawed largemouth in a well-known weedbed gets to see an ever popular silver-and-white spinnerbait? I'll bet it's dozens-day after day after day. If any spinnerbait is the answer here-and it might not be-why not a custom-built bait the fish hasn't seen?

Spinners for Trout
Building your own trout or panfish spinners is even easier and less expensive. And in this case, you can build some lures that are both different and better than anything available commercially.

Basic trout spiinners are simply some sort of weighted body strung on fine, stiff wire with a clevis and spinner blade at one end and a hook at the other. It's as easy as it sounds, especially after you've practiced making small, neat wire loops with round-nose pliers. Once again, it's easiest to start by copying a favorite commercial lure, which makes ordering the right component sizes very simple. Make sure to use wire-type clevises, rather than the folded, stirrup type that don't spin as freely. Be careful, too, that the spinner blade has ample clearance to spin below the top wire loop without binding. Finally, the small hollow brass bead often used as a bearing surface on the wire between the body and the spinner-blade clevis sometimes has an imperfection. These beads are usually plated, and the plating process can leave a small burr or point at the edge of the bead that will cause the spinner blade to bind. Check your beads carefully before assembly.

Once you've got the basics, the variations can get interesting. The midget treble hooks on some spinners are a nuisance when a small trout gets hooked on all three points. I often use single hooks on my spinners, which take fish just as well, aid in releasing fish, and have the added bonus of snagging bottom less often. Ringed-eye hooks are essential; I use VMC 9171NI Siwash open-eye hooks down to size 8. For even smaller hooks on very fine spinner wire, I use ringed-eye fly-tying hooks with short shanks.

I recently discovered a trick that is nearly worth its weight in gold. Instead of using solid brass beads for spinner bodies, I've started using tungsten beads. These are commonly sold in fly shops for making beadhead nymphs and are often gold- or silver-plated. Tungsten is substantially heavier (denser) than brass, which means I can make extremely small spinners that still have sufficient weight for good casting. The tungsten beads are expensive-about 25¿¿ each-but I only use two or three per spinner. They are so expensive that I doubt a commercial lure maker would use them. But you can-and it's a deadly tactic.