John Merwin Picks the 50 Best Lures of All Time
All fishermen areexperts; just ask any one of them. Or so the saying goes. So in naming theworld’s 50 best...
All fishermen areexperts; just ask any one of them. Or so the saying goes. So in naming theworld’s 50 best fishing lures, I know we’re asking for a fight.
But check thechoices thoughtfully. Whether you target bass or walleyes, trout or stripersand more, these are lures that actually work. Some selections are lures yourgranddad fished. Others are so new you might not have seen them yet. In allcases, though, you’ll find a lure that catches fish, specified right down tosize and color, along with just what to do when you’re on the water.
Picking theperfect lure for a given situation is hard work, so I’ll confess to a dirtytrick. Before returning to a marina dock or my truck, I take the day’s hotlures off my rods and put them away. To the same rods, I then attach lures thatdidn’t work. That means the prying eyes of other anglers in the parking lotwill be led astray, and I’ll keep a secret to myself just a little longer.
Not this time,though. The lures on these pages are, indeed, the ones I use myself—a corecollection distilled through 50 years on the water. They’ll work for you,too.
• 1 CURLY TAIL GRUB Curly Tail is often used as a generic term for a whole class of soft-plasticgrubs with curled tails, but it’s actually a trademark of Mister Twister, thecompany that made the first ones more than 30 years ago. Combined with a plainor painted roundhead jig, as shown here, these are the best fishing lures ofall time. They are cheap, easy to use, and work very well (in various sizes)for just about anything that swims in freshwater or inshore saltwater. As justone example, my local smallmouth bass love a 3-inch chartreuse-flake Curly Tailbottom-bounced with a 1/8-ounce jighead—and that’s just the start.mepps.com/mistertwister
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [PIKE] [SALMON] [STEELHEAD] [SALTWATER]
• 2 DARDEVLE SPINNIE The familiar red-and-white striped Dardevle is probably the world’s mostrecognized fishing lure, just as effective now as it was a century ago when LouEppinger first started selling them. Among varied sizes, the ¼-ounce DardevleSpinnie is basic for bass, larger trout, and more. First, attach it to yourline with a small snap to give the lure a free-ranging wobble. Second, avoidthe common mistake of a steady retrieve. Use rod-tip twitches and brief pausesto give the spoon an erratic darting action, which will substantially boostyour score. eppinger.net
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [PICKEREL] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [PIKE] [MUSKIE] [SALMON][STEELHEAD] [SALTWATER]
• 3 RAPALA Not only does the original floating Rapala work for all kinds of fish—it alsooften works better than anything else. Trout, bass, walleyes, and pike all lovethese things. Among various sizes, I most often pick a size F11 in basic blackover silver for both bass and trout. A mistake made by many is using a steadyslow retrieve. For trout, try making the lure dart and pause by sweeping andstopping your rod tip as you reel. For bass, use small twitches between long,motionless intervals. For yourself, buy more than one. You’ll need extras.rapala.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [PICKEREL] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [PIKE] [MUSKIE] [STEELHEAD][SALTWATER]
• 4 MEPPS AGLIA These are everybody’s favorite trout spinners, even though most people don’tfish them well. Use a size 0, 1/12-ounce version with a silver blade for mostsmall trout streams. The secret lies in casting upstream and bringing thespinner back slightly faster than the current. Reel just quickly enough to spinthe blade while steering the spinner with your rod tip so it travels next tosubmerged boulders or other trout cover. mepps.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [PICKEREL] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [PIKE] [MUSKIE] [SALMON][STEELHEAD]
• 5 JOHNSON SILVER MINNOW A ¼-ounce silver version is tops in freshwater and suits common spinningtackle. Inshore redfish usually prefer gold. For bass and pike especially,adding a white pork-rind trailer or chunk (see No. 48 on page 62) gives addedwiggle. In freshwater, cast the lure across a surface weedbed and crank quicklywith the rod tip held high so the lure skips and burbles along the weed tops.When it reaches an open-water pocket, begin a darting, subsurface retrieve. Itwill drive bass hiding in the cover nuts. www.fishjohnson.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [PICKEREL] [PIKE] [MUSKIE] [SALTWATER]
• 6 SLUG-GO These nondescript, pencil-like soft plastics are incredibly successful lures,but it takes a little practice to work them right. Rig a 6-inch, Arkansasshad–color Slug-Go Texas-style on a size 4/0 offset-shank worm hook. Add noextra weight. Cast the lure just a few feet away so you can see it. Twitch therod tip, then allow the line to go slack and watch how the lure darts, circles,and seems to die. Twitch and repeat. That’s the retrieve that makes this lureplain deadly on all freshwater bass plus saltwater stripers. lunkercity.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [PICKEREL] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [PIKE] [PANFISH] [SALTWATER]
• 7 ZARA SPOOK It’s the oldest of surface-plug designs and still one of the best, consistentlypulling in everything from freshwater bass and pike to saltwater stripers andseatrout. The 5/8-ounce original Zara is easier to make “walk the dog”than smaller versions, and this blue shore minnow color is almost universallyeffective. The routine is deceptively simple: a medium-fast cadence of twitch-pause, twitch-pause as you slowly reel, which makes the plug zigzag along thesurface. lurenet.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [PICKEREL] [PIKE] [MUSKIE] [SALTWATER]
• 8 BERKLEY POWER WORM Many companies make scented soft plastics, but Berkley’s Power Bait series hasled the pack for a long time. The 7-inch Power Worm in basic black is aperennial favorite. Texas- or Carolina-rigged, its curled tail undulates as theworm moves through the water. Because of the flavoring, bass often hang on afew extra moments, enabling a solid hookset. Some will even swallow it, sodon’t wait too long before striking or you’ll be gut-hooking fish.berkley-fishing.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [SALTWATER]
• 9 ORIGINAL GITZIT Got to love the name: Any fishing lure called a Gitzit should fish well, andthis tube does just that. I often use one in a light color to imitate smallminnows. To mimic crayfish, I like a darker, broken pattern such as this3¾-inch camouflage version. Rig with a 1/8-ounce internal jighead; or Texas-rigit and add a small split shot about 18 inches above the lure.canyon-plastics.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [SALTWATER]
• 10 FLATFISH There are big Flatfish and small Flatfish, but there are no bad Flat-fish. Theyall work. They have to be fished slowly, though, so they don’t get much playamong the bass jocks. My favorite is an F4 size, 1½ inches long, in perchscale, which I troll for rainbow trout in ponds. Run the plug on a 30-foot,6-pound-test fluorocarbon leader ahead of 60 feet of lead-core line in earlysummer. Paddle or row slowly to make the plug wobble but not spin. Like20-inch-plus rainbows? This works great. yakimabait.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [PICKEREL] [WALLEYE] [PIKE] [MUSKIE] [SALMON] [STEELHEAD][SALTWATER]
• 11 STORM WILDEYE SWIMBAIT Just a few years ago in these pages I predicted the then-new WildEye swimbaitswould be one of the hottest lures to come along in ages. So they have become,now fished widely in different sizes for everything from stream trout tosaltwater stripers. This 3-inch, bluegill-color version is a good beginner’slargemouth bass lure because so much of the action is built in. Find out what’sworking on any particular day by letting the lure sink to different depthsbefore starting your retrieve. stormlures.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [PICKEREL] [WALLEYE] [PIKE] [MUSKIE] [SALTWATER]
• 12 RAT-L-TRAP This is another one of those nearly universal lures that works (in appropriatesizes) for everything from stream trout to stripers. But largemouths are itsmost frequent target. The “bleeding shad” version shown here with redhooks is the latest wrinkle on the ¼-ounce, blue-backed classic. It’s a greatchoice for beginners: Cast and crank through an open-water flat or along theopen alleys between weedbeds. That’s all there is to it. Well, almost all.rat-l-trap.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PIKE] [SALTWATER]
• 13 TERMINATOR T-1 SPINNERBAIT I’ve had big fish—both bass and huge pike—plain destroy common spinnerbaits ina succession of hard battles. Wire bends, skirts get torn up, and the lure isbeyond repair. Terminator’s T-1 series is based on a titanium-wire frame, whichflexes but doesn’t bend. It doesn’t kink. It doesn’t corrode. The siliconeskirts, which don’t stick together as rubber ones do, are easily replaced. Wanta really tough bait? Get the version with bucktail skirts to better withstandabuse from toothy critters like pike. Terminators are about twice as expensiveas more common types, but they are very much worth it. This 3/8-ouncesilver-shiner version is a bass fishing basic. terminatorlures.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [PIKE] [MUSKIE]
• 14 GIBBS PENCIL POPPER This is a classic striped-bass lure with a question. Originally designed by thelate, great Stan Gibbs near Cape Cod, this 2¾-ounce example is the best ofvarious sizes for big fish. Cast with heavy surf gear, then grip both rod andline up near the first guide with your right hand. Brace the rod butt againstyour leg. Reel s-l-o-w-l-y while using your right hand to whip the rod tip backand forth. This sends the lure into a splashing, waggling frenzy that drivesbig stripers nuts. The question: Why are there no small, freshwater versions?gibbslures.com
• 15 NEEDLEFISH If you troll for trout in ponds and lakes as many do, you need some of thesespoons. I like the small No. 1 size, with a brass finish and red head. Be sureto carefully sharpen the single hook. The spoon’s slim, light profile gives asharply fluttering wobble when it’s trolled at about 1.5 miles per hour. Thatsame lightness means it won’t cast worth a damn, so don’t bother to try. In thecool water of spring, troll the lure 100 feet back from the boat with noadditional weight and using line no heavier than 8-pound-test.luhrjensen.com
SPECIES: [TROUT] [SALMON] [STEELHEAD]
• 16 KASTMASTER These angular hunks of plated brass have a lively tight wobble on a fairly fastretrieve, with a broad shape suggestive of small freshwater shad or, insaltwater, juvenile menhaden. When largemouths are schooled up and slashingshad near the surface (common at times in major southern lakes and reservoirs),reach out with a ½-ounce chrome-and-blue version, then bring it darting andfluttering through the action. The lure’s long-casting character is a boon toshorebound anglers, too. acmetackle.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [WALLEYE] [SALTWATER]
• 17 KROCODILE When nothing but far, fast, and deep will do, start throwing a Krocodile spoon.These are true spoons in shape, with a great wobble, but they’re thicker andnarrower than most so they can be cast farther. Great Lakes jetty anglers knowthis and reach out over the waves to staging salmon with, say, a ½-ounce model012 in a pearl-fishscale finish. Mottled pearl, by the way, is a real sleeperamong spoon colors. When you find it, stock up. luhrjensen.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PIKE] [SALMON] [STEELHEAD] [SALTWATER]
• 18 LITTLE CLEO This is a great all-around spoon that I find myself using most often forcasting in a trout pond or lake. The comparatively thick body means it fisheswell at medium depths. Most important, though, my favorite ¼-ounce, hammeredbrass-and-red version sinks quickly as I wait and then wait some more beforeretrieving. It’s a deadly secret for deep-dwelling brook trout in early summer.acmetackle.com
SPECIES: [TROUT] [SALMON] [STEELHEAD] [SALTWATER]
• 19 LUCKY CRAFT FLASHMINNOW The 100SP Flashminnow in a “ghost minnow” finish is one of the mostremarkable lures I’ve ever fished. It’s a shallow-running, suspending jerkbaitfrom Japan that runs and darts about 3 feet deep with hard, rod-tip twitches. Irecently spent three days test-fishing this lure against competitive versionsof the same size and similar color for smallmouth bass in Canada. The actionand look were so good that the Lucky Craft version out-caught the others by atleast 3 to 1. I am still amazed, and no, they are not paying me to say this.luckycraft.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [WALLEYE] [PIKE] [SALTWATER]
• 20 ROOSTER TAIL For large brown and rainbow trout in bigger water, these are a hot ticket. Veryweighty relative to their overall size, they’ll run deep in the kind ofhigh-volume water that lunker trout prefer. Cast a 1/6-ounce clown-patternRooster Tail upstream in the deep, fast chute where a large pool begins. Reeljust fast enough to keep a tight line so the spinner sweeps the bottom. Whenthe strike comes, it’ll be violent. yakimabait.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [PIKE] [STEELHEAD]
• 21 PANTHER MARTIN These spinners are also moderately heavy in proportion to their overall size.This combined with the spinning-blade angle allows them to run relativelydeep—which is often where you need to be when trout fishing. A 1/16-ounce,silver-bladed version with a spotted yellow body is my go-to choice for pickingtrout from the pockets of steeply tumbling mountain creeks. As with most troutspinners, fish upstream. panthermartin.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [STEELHEAD]
• 22 CORDELL RED FIN The 7-inch, 1-ounce Smoky Joe–color Red Fin is a striper killer in both fresh-and saltwater. Retrieved slowly, it runs a slow, wobbling surface crawl justlike an injured baitfish. Or you can trick it out: Drill a small hole in thetop of the plug between the eyes. Inject 10 to 12 ccs of bunker oil or otherliquid fish attractant. Seal the hole with epoxy. The now-weighted plug willcast farther, run deeper, and smell like bait. Pretty nasty, huh?lurenet.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [WALLEYE] [PIKE] [SALTWATER]
• 23 SWEDISH PIMPLE While the name might bring a smirk, the lure itself brings in lots of fish,especially perch and walleyes when it’s jigged through the ice or in openwater. The ¼-ounce size 4 in chartreuse works well for perch, and even betterwhen one of the hook points is tipped with a fresh perch eyeball (yes, really).This adds considerable scent attraction to the lure. In larger sizes, Pimplesare exceptional casting lures for nearshore false albacore and bonito.baydenoclure.com
SPECIES: [WALLEYE] [PANFISH] [SALTWATER]
• 24 BLUE FOX FOXEE JIG It’s one of my favorite panfish jigs, although I’ve also taken stream trout andeven anadromous American shad with the same lure. With flexible soft-plastic”fins” and a short marabou tail, the Foxee Jig has lots of wiggle in asmall package. The short tail is significant because some panfish—especiallyyellow perch—tend to nip at rather than inhale a lure. Because the short tailis close to the hook point, you’ll connect more often. A 1/16-ounce chartreuseversion is tops. bluefox.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PANFISH]
• 25 REBEL POP-R The Pop-R has been the gold standard among freshwater bass poppers for the past20 years, a shad-imitating plug that can be fished fast or slow according toneed. This ¼-ounce chartreuse shad version is suited to medium-weight spinningtackle and 10- to 12-pound-test mono. Here’s a trick: Use a sharp knife orsandpaper to reduce the edge of the cupped, popping face. The plug will grabless water and be easier to skitter. lurenet.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [SALTWATER]
• 26 K.O. WOBBLER I once watched awestruck as my friend Jim Ellett hooked three monster BritishColumbia steelhead during a single cast on one of these oddly shaped spoons.Each fish came wildly to the surface on the strike, throwing the spoon andthereby allowing the same cast and drift to continue. Cast a red-and-white,½-ounce version up and across the river’s current. Let the spoon drift untilyou feel it ticking bottom, then tighten up on the line so the spoon slowlywobbles in a downstream swing, bouncing on gravel all the while.acmetackle.com
SPECIES: [TROUT] [SALMON] [STEELHEAD]
• 27 FOODSOURCE MINNOW These lures might be the future of fishing. A minnow-imitating, soft jerkbaitthat leaves a great scent trail, it’s rigged and fished similar to a Slug-Go.All FoodSource models are molded out of real fish food and—unlike common softplastics—are fully biodegradable. Numerous angling cretins toss usedsoft-plastic lures in the shoreline weeds or water, where they become anenvironmental hazard because they don’t decay or break down. FoodSource luresare environmentally friendly—and they catch fish. fslures.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [PIKE] [SALTWATER]
• 28 ZOOM TRICK WORM These look like plain-vanilla, do-nothing plastic worms, but largemouth basslove them. They float and can be fished on or near the surface whenTexas-rigged with no added weight. Or add a very light worm weight ( 1/32 or1/16 ounce) and allow the worm to sink slowly in heavy cover. I have caught anawful lot of fish doing the latter with a 6-inch green-pumpkin version. Onemore trick: Slit the last ½ inch of the tail for a tad more wiggle.zoombait.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [SALTWATER]
• 29 RAPALA SHAD RAP The 5/16-ounce black-over-silver Shad Rap is a logical lure choice just abouteverywhere. Alewives in northern lakes and threadfin shad in southern lakes areboth short, deep-bodied baitfish—and big-time bass food—that a Shad Rapimitates perfectly. There will be times when you see fish boiling in openwater, but the bass ignore your plastic worms. A darting and twitching Shad Rapwill nail them. rapala.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [TROUT] [WALLEYE] [PIKE] [SALTWATER]
• 30 YAMAMOTO SENKO This soft-plastic lure is quite different from all the rest and amazinglyeffective for large- and smallmouth bass. When it’s rigged wacky-style, meaninghooked once through the center, a Senko sinks horizontally with both free endsquivering frantically. Cast it out and let it sink, watching the line carefullyfor signs of a strike. Twitch it a few feet back up, and let it sink again. Avariety of colors and sizes work well; I like 5-inch Senkos in thepeanut-butter-and-jelly shade. baits.com
• 31 HOPKINS SHORTY The densely compact Hopkins Shorty, technically not a spoon, casts like abullet, but that same density makes it more widely used in freshwater as ajigging lure for deep bass. Drop an S-1, silver-finish, ½-ounce Hopkinsstraight down in 20 to 40 feet of water when both bass and baitfish are hanginglow. Jig the lure by abruptly raising and lowering your rod tip, and know thatmany bass will hit the lure as it drops. hopkinslures.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [SALTWATER]
• 32 PHOEBE One of the all-time great trout spoons, Phoebes are just plain essential. The1/8-ounce gold version is what I reach for most often. Use the smallest ofsnaps—a black one—to attach lure to line, and know that this spoon isrelatively shallow-running. That means it’s perfect for pulling big browns thatlie hidden along riverbank cover. Wade or boat the middle while casting towithin inches of shoreline structure. The size of the trout that come to thisspoon will shock you. acmetackle.com
SPECIES: [TROUT] [PANFISH]
• 33 LUCKY CRAFT SPLASH-TAIL 90 Sometimes the least likely plug colors score big. This “archer bee”black-and-yellow prop lure has consistently taken bass for me whenminnow-imitating hues have failed. The Splash-Tail’s props have midget ballbearings and turn with the slightest twitch. A slow twitch-pause retrieve worksthe best for abundant action from both small- and largemouth bass.luckycraft.com
• 34 AL’S GOLDFISH Readers of a certain age will now be smiling at the memory of an old-favoritetrout spoon that hasn’t gotten much press in recent years. It’s still beingmade, though, and it’s still one of the best brown-trout lures of all time. The3/16-ounce gold version is my favorite, with a relatively thick body that tendsto run deep. Cast up and across stream in turbulent deep runs, then retrievewith darting rod-tip sweeps to make the spoon alternately stutter and sink nearthe bottom. alsgoldfish.com
• 35 HOT SHOT These are the disco queens of salmon and steelhead plugs, with tight, fastwiggles and hot colors that are irresistible to big fish. A skilled oarsman ina drift boat will slow and steer his drift to literally walk a wiggling HotShot across the noses of waiting chinooks. Shore-based casters add some leaderweight and cast across stream to get a bottom-ticking swing for waitingsteelhead. This size 030, ¼-ounce “red fire” version is the perfectchoice in both cases. luhrjensen.com
SPECIES: [SALMON] [STEELHEAD]
• 36 WILLIAMS WABLER I’ve been carrying these Canadian trolling spoons around ever since a long-agoday when some northern lake trout would touch nothing else. The new W55 Litemodel is thin in proportion to its surface area, giving a crisp wobble that’sstill a little wider and slower than competing versions, an action lake troutoften prefer. The two-tone metal finish, meanwhile, does a great impersonationof the variable flashing of baitfish. williams.ca
• 37 HULA POPPER My wife says I should be embarrassed, but I can’t help it. In looking at ClaudeMonet’s classic water lily paintings, I keep asking where’s the Hula Popper?These plugs are bass-pond classics, perfectly suited to lily pads. Toss out a3/16-ounce frog-pattern popper and let it sit motionless. Pop once and sitstill. Twitch very gently to wiggle the soft skirt. Wait a bit and do it again.It’s a slow game of nerves between you and the bass. Be patient, and the basswill lose. lurenet.com
• 38 JITTERBUG I love fishing Jitterbugs for bass, maybe because it’s slow and easy fishing.These surface plugs don’t get much attention from the hyperactive, run-and-gunbass boys, but they still play well on the water. I’ll cast this 3/8-ouncefrog-pattern plug across a quiet summer cove, then smile as it glub-glubsslowly and steadily back. Sometimes a bass just smashes the hell out of it, andmy quiet contemplation is ruined. Darn. lurenet.com
• 39 STANLEY FLAT EYE JIG Soft-skirted bass jigs have become basic gear over the past 25 years, andformer bass pro Lonnie Stanley had a lot to do with it. This 5/16-ounce versionhas the hook eye turned horizontally to slide the tapered head more easilythrough heavy cover. It includes an under-skirt rattle and has an extremelysharp hook. The “pure pumpkin” color matches that of many submergedweedbeds, often a good approach. Flip or cast to small, open pockets in milfoilor hydrilla beds and gently jiggle the lure upward after it stops sinking.fishstanley.com
• 40 TEENY TORPEDO Here’s my favorite surface plug for smallmouth bass in the spring, when thefish are shallow and surface-aware. A 1/8-ounce Teeny Torpedo in a bullfrogpattern fishes well on light spinning gear with 6- or 8-pound-test, whichperfectly matches tackle to quarry. The single-propeller tail makes just enoughfuss when twitched to get the fish’s attention. Big smallies often take thislure with a gentle sip. lurenet.com
• 41 BAGLEY BALSA B Light, buoyant balsa wood is the basis for this classic, fat-bodied crankbait,giving the plug an extremely lively action underwater. The original design isstill available, and this 7/16-ounce shad pattern remains a hot ticket for basseverywhere. Try it in the cool, prespawn waters of early spring to wake uplargemouths along the outside edges of emerging weedbeds. bagleybait.com
• 42 MANN’S 1-MINUS At a time when many crankbaits are being designed to dive ever deeper for bass,the 1-Minus is designed to run shallower. This example is the 5/8-ouncestandard version in “wild shiner.” The plug’s wild wobble runs nodeeper than a foot, which means it easily skims the top of barely submergedweedbeds. That’s often where the bass are. Not just large-mouths, either. Ionce saw a Texas redfish turn itself nearly inside out to eat a 1-Minus on ashallow flat. mannsbait.com
SPECIES: [BASS] [SALTWATER]
• 43 BERKLEY BAT WING FROG Basically a chunky body with two extended, wiggly legs, so-called toad baitsare all the rage this year. Berkley’s version is from their new, biodegradableGulp! line and works just great. Texas-rig and fish them unweighted on thesurface in and around cover. Or rig this 4-inch watermelon version with a wormhook that has a light weight on the shank, with the weighted portion under thelure’s belly. This makes the frog sink horizontally while the legs wiggle andget the poor bass all excited. berkley-fishing.com
• 44 HULA GRUB Here’s another winner from lure designer Gary Yamamoto. I use this 5-inch,crawfish-color(301) version most often on a football-shaped jighead forsmallmouth bass. The twin tails and skirt have lots of wiggle even with littlerod movement, which helps to entice smallies that have gotten lockjaw during acold front. Fish along the edges of reefs, rock piles, and associated weedbeds.baits.com
• 45 SNAG PROOF FROG You can throw one of these soft-plastic frogs just about anywhere; it’s thatweedless and great to work thick cover for bass. A favorite trick involves abait-and-switch routine. It’s common for a largemouth to boil or slash at aweedless spoon skittered over a weedbed. Keep a second rod rigged with a¼-ounce chartreuse frog. Toss it right where the bass missed the spoon. Twitchgently, and you’ll probably take the fish. greatlures.com
• 46 LUNKER LURE BUZZBAIT Lunker Lure is said to have made the first buzzbait back in 1976, although theidea of a sputtering, splashing fast-moving surface lure for bass is mucholder. Buzzbaits are still about the most fun you can have with topwater bass.Cast this 3/8-ounce white- and-silver version beyond a flooded tree trunk orlog, for example, and use a fast retrieve and high-held rod to bring the lurechurning back within inches of the cover’s edge. A bass will try to kill it.Having fun yet? lunkerlure.com
• 47 CULPRIT TASSEL LIZARD A soft-plastic lizard is most popular in the spring, when bedding bass willsavagely attack this perceived predator near their nests. This 6-inch, chilipepper lizard has some extra wiggle built in through its molded tail and legtendrils. Rig it Texas- or Carolina-style, cast beyond bedding bass, then drawthe lure quietly near the bed and let it sit until the bass attacks. Don’tneglect lizards at other times—they’ll take fish all season. culprit.com
• 48 UNCLE JOSH PORK FROG Fish one of these wiggly chunks in frog pattern as a trailer on a weedlessspoon (see No. 2, page 54) or on a bass jig (No. 39, page 61) or by itself on alarge, weedless hook. Unlike soft-plastic chunks, pork frogs are incrediblytough yet flexible and won’t get torn apart by multiple fish. One tip: When youfish it as a trailer, use a sharp knife to cut away half the chunk’s thicknessfrom the underside to gain more wiggle. unclejosh.com
• 49 MEPPS MUSKIE KILLER Black is good and often overlooked when it comes to lures, especially for bigpike and muskies. Inline buck-tail spinners are a muskie-casting tradition, andthe Mepps Muskie Killer at 11/3 ounces is heavy enough to run as deeply as 8feet. Cast it to cover the outside edges of weedbeds or rocky reefs. Payspecial attention as the lure starts to rise near the boat at the end of aretrieve. If there’s a monster right behind it, start moving the lure in abroad figure eight with your rod. It’s the moment of truth—or heartbreak.mepps.com
SPECIES: [PIKE] [MUSKIE]
• 50 CASTAIC TROUT It’s worth getting one of these big, soft-plastic swimbaits just to watch itswim on the end of your line. The lifelike action is mind-boggling. It’s namedafter the Southern California reservoir where monster largemouths get that wayby gorging on hatchery rainbow trout. They’ll gorge on this lure, too, and notjust in California. Let the slow-sinking, 8-inch lure get down to the edges anddropoffs where trout and bass intersect. Crank, twitch, and hang on for dearlife. castaicsoftbait.com
CLASSIC LURES Dardevle
Lou Eppinger,creator of the Dardevle, first started marketing these simple metal spoons asearly as 1906. The lures come in sizes ranging from tiny fly-rod models tohuge, heavy spoons built for catching muskies.
CLASSIC LURES Heddon Torpedo
This box mighthave contained the Torpedo (No. 40) but it also could have held any number ofother Heddon lures. It dates to the late 1940s through the mid-1950s and wasused to package dozens of different models—both wooden and plastic. A numberstamped on the box end flap would denote the exact model and color.
CLASSIC LURES Flatfish
Made by CharlesHelin of Detroit, this is one of the most popular lures ever manufactured. Apocket catalog included in this 1940s-era box boasted “1.5 million alreadysold.” Just think of how many fish they’ve caught.
CLASSIC LURES Jitterbug
Most Jitterbugshave an aluminum lip, but the one pictured on this box is plastic. During WorldWar II the manufacturer, Arbogast, used plastic lips because aluminum wasneeded for the war effort.
CLASSIC LURES Johnson’s Silver Minnow
This lure datesback to the early 1920s. Silver-plated versions were produced well into the1960s, and their finish would often tarnish into a patina that looked likesomething from your grandmother’s flatware. Most had a patent date,”8-22,” stamped into the lure body.
IT’S A SNAP
Terminal tackle isn’t as exciting as lures are, butit’s just as important
1 The right snap. Among the many snap styles, duolock snaps are the most widely useful. Thepartly hooked wire end will pass easily through any spoon or lure eye. BothCoastlock and Cross-Lok snap styles are stronger in a given size but have afully hooked (U-shaped) attaching end that’s difficult to fit through smallerlure openings. Use them for bigger lures and bigger fish.
2 The right lure. Snaps allow spoons and plugs to move more freely than they can if line isknotted directly to them. They also prevent the fastening points on those typesof lures from abrading the line. Spinners, jigs, and soft-plastic lures don’twobble or roll; they have smoothly rounded attachment points and should not beused with snaps. Tie these directly to your line.
3 The right size. Don’t use a snap-swivel, which is bulkier and heavier than a simple snap. Theextra bulk makes a lure look less natural. The extra weight can impede theaction of some lures. When they’re retrieved properly, most lures won’t spin ortwist your line, so you don’t need the swivel portion anyway. Swivels,especially ball-bearing versions, are useful in some rigging applications andalso for trolling, in which excessive speed can inadvertently twist your lureand line.
Duolock snaps have one great failing that you cansolve with a small pair of pliers. When a hooked fish starts thrashing on thesurface, it can gain enough leverage on a duolock snap to open it and thusescape with your lure. This has happened to me more than once. Use smallneedle-nose pliers to bend the snap’s partly hooked fastening end slightlytoward the front (big end), creating more of a hook shape. This makes the snapmore difficult to open and will keep a hard-fighting fish from gettingaway.
THE LOGIC BEHIND THE RANKINGS
Versatility was the key in rating these lures as totheir overall importance. Simply put, some lure designs work better for agreater variety of gamefish than others. I’ll use tiny Curly Tail grubs forpanfish and trout, midsize grubs for bass and walleyes, and gigantic 8-inchversions of the same lure for monster stripers or pike. It’s truly anall-around performer.
That’s why some popular largemouth bass lures ranknear the bottom of my list. They’re great for bass but not much else. Beforeyou send me a snotty letter, remember that this list isn’t based on the bestlures for bass or for trout or for any other fish. It’s a ranking of the bestlures, period.
**THE BEST LURE KNOT
**Every fisherman should be able to tie the simple,strong Palomar
This is the most widely useful—and easiest—of allterminal knots used in freshwater and inshore saltwater fishing. It works wellwith both nylon monofilaments and superbraids. When you’re tying on a hook,swivel, snap, or most lures, the Palomar knot is less complicated and usuallystronger than the more common improved clinch knot.
1 Extend about 6 inches of doubled line through the hook or lure eye.
2 Tie a loose overhand knot using the doubled line on either side of the eye. Thehook itself will hang from the middle of the knot.
3 Pass the loop all the way over the hook (or snap, or lure). Lubricate the knotwith saliva, then pull on the doubled line (but not the loop) to tighten. Trimclosely with sharp clippers.
Some soft baits come already rigged. Most of the restuse some version of these following methods.
1 Wacky rig: A killer setup for bass, it just means hooking any slim soft-plastic baitthrough the middle. Both ends are left free to wiggle, and in most cases noweight is added. It’s especially effective with Senkos.
2 Carolina rig: This rig is a common choice for bottom dredging. To begin, Texas-rig (seebelow) a worm or lizard but leave the hook eye exposed. Tie about 18 inches ofclear leader between the rigged hook and a small barrel swivel. On your mainline, thread first a brass Carolina weight (or a lead sinker), followed by asmall, red glass bead. Then tie your main line to the other side of the swivel.The brass weight will click against the glass bead as you fish to help attractbass.
3 Texas rig: It’s used most often with plastic worms and lizards but is also adaptable toother baits, like jerkbaits. Put a conical worm weight on the line first, thenattach the hook. Thread the hook point about ¼ inch into the worm’s head andthen through the worm’s underside. Slide the worm up the hook shank so it justcovers the hook eye. Rotate the hook until it faces upward toward the worm’sbody. Grab the worm right behind the hook bend, push its body slightly forward,then bring it back down on the hook point until the point is almost but notquite all the way through the plastic. The bait should now lie straight. I usea 3/0 Gamakatsu offset-shank worm hook for a typical 6- or 7-inch worm, but anysimilar style is fine.
4 Tube rig: There are several good ways to rig tubes such as the Gitzit. Most often I gowith a small internal jighead. For a 3½-inch tube, use a 2/0 1/8-ounce,insider-style jighead. Insert the hook in the tube’s head and rotate the hookso it passes down inside the body without exiting. Continue by forcing the headof the jig into the tube, leaving only the hook eye exposed. Then work the hookpoint out and through the tube at the rear so the tube lies straight.
Curly Tail grubs are easy to rig on plain, ball-headjigs, but if it’s not done correctly, the flexible tail will often tangle onthe hook point as you fish.
Thread the grub body on the hook so that when it’sresting, the free-wiggling tail portion curls down and away from the hook.