Sébile Magic Swimmer
Not only does the Magic Swimmer look very realistic on the retrieve, but it continues to fall forward when paused. Designer Patrick Sebile came up with a revolutionary formula for weight distribution that makes the lure swim seductively as it drops. The Magic Swimmer can match anything from live herring to juvenile trout, and I’ve been on the water more than once when nothing but a Magic Swimmer drew a strike. Let the lure sink to the desired depth, and impart subtle pops of the rod during a medium-speed retrieve.
If Rapala’s Original Floater is the granddaddy of stickbaits, the X-Rap is the grandson with pierced ears and a Mohawk. Wearing flashy patterns and adorned with tail feathers, X-Raps work best when twitched aggressively, producing a side-to-side slashing action that is particularly deadly on smallmouth bass. These lures also suspend, and it’s often during the pause when they get bashed. I won’t fish for smallies or walleyes without a couple on hand, and I know plenty of guides that agree.
Musky Innovations Bull Dawg
Before the Bull Dawg hit the scene in 1993, soft-plastic lures were not really considered choice muskie baits. The Dawg changed that, earning a cultlike following for its productivity, versatility, and tougher material capable of withstanding many strikes. Whether it is slow-crawled over the weeds, burned just subsurface, or jigged around structure, the nose-down falling orientation and high-vibration tail of this big-baitfish imitator turns trophy muskie heads with amazing consistency.
Shimano Butterfly Jig
Introduced in 2005, this jig sparked the high-speed jigging craze that continues today. Though at first this -Japanese-style lure and the technique for working it were considered gimmicky by some, it has fooled so many tuna, grouper, and snappers that few these days will deny its productivity. Several companies make thin-profile high-speed jigs, but the Butterfly’s reputation as a fish killer has been cemented among anglers. Just drop it to the bottom and reel up quickly while whipping the rod.
I don’t care what freshwater fish you’re after: If it eats baitfish, it’ll eat a Gulp! Minnow. A huge variety of soft-bait patterns are dunked in Berkley’s liquid attractant, but this one is easily the most versatile and comes in sizes that accommodate small trout mouths and giant muskie maws. I keep rigging simple and hop a Minnow on a jighead across the bottom of ambush points like eddies and outside seams of river bends. They are also great for drop-shotting or tipping a spinnerbait.
The Fluke is one of the original finesse shads and remains one of the most popular. It’s a bit more durable and falls a little more slowly than others, earning bites from the most reluctant bass. It’s at its best when rigged weedless and worked in a twitch-fall pattern off the bottom, but it can be just as potent walked quickly across the surface. I don’t know many serious bass hunters that hit the water without a pack of Zooms handy. Rigged on a jighead, they can also catch just about any inshore saltwater species that swims.
Blue Fox Vibrax
Mepps, Panther Martin, and Rooster Tail spinners are classics, but so is the Vibrax. It hasn’t been around as long as the others–it was introduced in 1978–but it is undoubtedly the go-to in-line for salmon and steelhead, particularly in the Northwest. These heavyweights cast a mile and are well suited to big, fast rivers. I’ve also found that the deep thump they produce hooks more bass than other in-lines. I’ll often tip a single-hook model with a small white grub to entice smallmouths holding in fast current.
Made from high-density hardened foam, this European import has an incredibly tight wobble. I once saw a walleye guide refuse to wet his last one for fear of losing it. Here’s why: The Hornet can trigger bites from walleyes–and bass and trout–when other crankbaits are ignored. The Hornet is praised for producing on the troll because it tracks very straight, though I’ve cast it in rivers for walleyes and in ponds for bass with great success.
The Bomber Long A has been a staple in the salt for decades, especially in the striper surf. But the A-Salt is an update that addresses two flaws of the original: too many hooks and not enough weight. With the third belly hook gone, tangles are fewer and hook removal is easier. Likewise, a heavier internal weight lets you toss the A-Salt a bit farther, which is a benefit when you’re casting into the wind. Cast out and crank slow with the rod tip high. The A-Salt maintains the classic Long A wiggle that stripers love.
Thread this mealworm imitation onto a Trout Magnet’s micro shad dart head, and the tiny split-tail soft plastic falls horizontally, making it look more natural drifting downstream. Just tie a rigged Trout Mag-net under a light float and dead-drift it through eddies and riffles, letting the current impart action. It dupes everything from fresh stockers to mountain natives to fat steelhead. And good luck finding a crappie or bluegill that won’t smack a Magnet twitched below a cork.
The Crickhopper has been on shelves for years, but I’ve met anglers who think the little-lipped bug is a gimmick. They’re wrong. This cricket-shaped crankbait flat-out slays everything from panfish to trout to bass for light-tackle anglers during the summer months. Twitch a Crickhopper once or twice so it dives and wiggles just under the surface. Then let it float up and sit on top. Don’t be surprised if it gets yanked back under. Rebel makes many colors, but black has a sharp contrast that’s worked for me.
Lucky Craft Sammy
It combines the walking action of a topwater Zara Spook with a slight spit or push of water created by an angled, blunt nose. The Sammy’s tight zigzagging glide has fattened the pockets of a few bass pros, but don’t bust one out just for largemouths and smallmouths. Internal glass rattles call in pike, stripers, and seatrout from a long way off. The trick is keeping the retrieve consistent, creating a uniform sound and rhythm until the lure reaches the boat or bank. Fish often follow a Sammy for a while before attacking.
Storm Rattlin’ Chug Bug
The Chug Bug has taken a backseat to other poppers that cast farther and push more water, but there’s something about this lure’s slender profile and high-pitched rattle that gets finicky fish to rise. With a less severe mouth scoop than other poppers, a Chug Bug doesn’t require a forceful jerk to spit water, so you can gently work it around pads or timber and keep it in the zone a little longer when bass need a bit more coercing to come to the surface, such as when the water temperature suddenly dips.
Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow
There are three sizes of the Pin’s Minnow: small, smaller, and smallest. It’s actually the middle child, the 23⁄4-incher, that I find most productive. If you need to imitate the sheen and action of itty-bitty baitfish, this lure gets it done. It catches lots of smallmouth bass and panfish, and it’s my favorite stickbait for trout, especially in the winter months when a slower presentation is required. Gently twitch the Pin’s along current seams, in the tailout of a pool, or behind rocks and hang on.
Spro Prime Bucktail
A round-head bucktail jig is about the most simple and effective lure you can use in saltwater. Pit Spro’s updated version against a regular bucktail, however, and the Spro is likely to emerge victorious. The oval head design lets the jig fall and swim horizontally. Thick hair and flash fibers pulsate, and the eye is oversize–no wonder striped bass, tar-pon, and grouper often can’t resist taking a swipe. Inland, try a Spro for lake trout. Drop one to the bottom and jig with long upward sweeps of the
Rapala Skitter Pop
Unlike traditional hollow poppers, the Skitter Pop is made from balsa wood with a separate plastic popping mouth. It throws a lot of water and stands out on roiled surfaces. It’s also tough. I have a few Skitter Pops that are practically raw wood after years of strikes, and they still catch everything from false albacore to largemouths when retrieved fast and erratically.
Cedar plugs and Green Machines are offshore classics but the llander is just as deserving of the title. An offset leader exit hole at the nose causes this nylon lure to rise, break the surface, and dip back down on the troll, projecting the sound and vibration of a stressed fleeing baitfish far and wide. Marlin and wahoo will inhale it, and the blue and white model is a notorious enticer of finicky bluefin tuna. Even on the slowest days, I’ve watched an Ilander running way back behind the boat disappear in an explosion of whitewater.
D.O.A Standard Shrimp
I don’t think there’s a snook, redfish, or seatrout that won’t hit a D.O.A. Shrimp. The slower sink rate and subtle action of a D.O.A. matches that of live shrimp better than other imitations. An internal weight keeps this lure balanced, allowing it to move naturally in currents. It’s productive by itself when retrieved at medium speed, but worked under a popping cork it can be a killer.
Salmo Chubby Darter
Swedish Pimples and curly-tailed grubs are old reliables on the ice, but in recent years, savvy hard-water anglers have put the Chubby Darter into the same category. The Chubby shines when presented vertically, where an upward lift of the rod causes it to dart off to the side and quiver, imitating a stressed baitfish. Constructed of Salmo’s unique hardened foam, these lures can also take a beating.
Zoom Brush Hog
Soft-plastic creature baits have generated a lot of buzz among bass anglers in the last few years, taking alien forms that often combine wings, claws, and legs. The Brush Hog is arguably the first creature bait ever made, and its reputation as a tournament winner is longstanding, thanks in part to a design that collects fewer weeds than others. It has an ideal length and girth for Texas rigging.
It’s hard to believe that there’s a leech imitator as good on a Lindy rig or jighead as a live bloodsucker. Thanks to Berkley, there is (some would say it’s even better). Not only does a Gulp! Leech flutter like the real deal, but it’s strongly scented and very durable. Ever gotten your clock cleaned by short-striking walleyes? It won’t happen as much with these baits.
Strike King Bitsy Pond Minnow
The Bitsy Pond Minnow looks like a standard crankbait, but its punch stems from size, not design. This micro version is ideal for small ponds and streams. I’ve hooked some of my heaviest crappies, bluegills, and trout on this lure, but hog bass have hit it, too. It’s the perfect crank for light tackle and works very well slow-crawled in shallow eddies or around panfish beds.
Roboworm Zipper Worm
Plastic-worm manufacturers have long dabbled with scents, lengths, and tail configurations. Roboworm went a different route, adding flexible ribs along the body. Not only do the Zipper’s ribs add more action–they displace more water, causing a bigger disturbance bass can key on from farther away. It’s a style that’s been copied, but this originator is tough to beat on a Carolina or drop-shot rig.
Don’t let the name fool you. While the Reef Runner will catch fish in the salt, it was born in Ohio and has developed a strong following in the Great Lakes, Canada, and beyond for its ability to boat bruiser walleyes and smallmouths holding deep in big bodies of water. The Reef Runner gets down quickly, and its slim profile and arched back give it more of a darting action than a wobble. You can cast this lure, but it’s most productive on the troll and turns fish when other lures come up blank.
Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow
Yo-Zuri was one of the first companies to embrace holographic finishes, and the Crystal Minnow was one of the earliest models to sport the flashy flanks. Its high shine, coupled with a unique dive-and-dart action created by a short lip and angled head, proved to be irresistible to myriad species from bluewater king mackerel to reservoir stripers. I find the Crystal Minnow particularly effective in low-light conditions and in stained water, where a sharp twitch-stop retrieve draws the most strikes.
The Cavitron has increased surface area in the head, causing it to sink slowly, which means you can get it churning on top much faster. The head also features a keel that helps it run straight without rolling. But its real beauty lies in the blade. With a wide profile and airholes, the blade can keep the lure on the surface at a slower turn rate, meaning it stays in the strike zone -longer–which can make all the difference.
Deep-trolling for striped bass once required downriggers, weights, or wire line to get lures in the zone. Now, by fishing with braided line and a Mann’s Stretch bait, you can ditch the hardware. These lures dive up to 30 feet deep unassisted, making them staples on Northeast saltwater boats during the spring and fall menhaden runs. A Stretch also makes trolling more enjoyable since you only fight the fish, not heavy trolling sinkers, too. Drag one very slowly over hard structure or along deep channel edges. mannsbait.com
Musky Mayhem Double Cowgirl
There’s one drawback to the Double Cowgirl: Retrieving it can make your arms burn after a while. But the pain of cranking against its two giant blades all day is worth it, considering the trophy muskies this lure can produce. The blades swing in a wide rotation, sending out a vibration no other bucktail can top. Meanwhile, the thick Flashabou body forms into a pulsing cone on the retrieve. Pull a Cowgirl over weedbeds or just subsurface, letting the blades create a wake.
Live Target Crawfish Crank
Live Target is a relatively new company that strives for exceptionally realistic finishes. While its frog, herring, and bluegill patterns are all impressive, I think the Crawfish Crank is going to stick around for a very long time. Over the last few seasons this very lifelike crankbait has been catching some gigantic smallmouths for a lot of fishermen. You have to bounce a crankbait off hard structure to imitate a crawfish, so Live Target added a square lip that deflects off wood and rocks exceptionally well. Match that with a finish unlike that of other hard-bait crawfish imitations, and you’ve got a bass fishing winner.
Strike Pro Flex X
Strike Pro’s segmented swimbait was revolutionary as the first lure to feature the “bicycle chain” design. On the retrieve, its eight joints wave in a tight, snakelike motion, making the lure look more alive than any other hard bait I’ve seen. The Flex X is a universal lure that’s at home on the bass lake or in the ocean. Once it hits target depth, a steady retrieve gets it dancing.
While many fishing lures fade away soon after they appear on shop shelves, some remain tackle-box staples forever. The Dardevle spoon, the curly-tailed grub, the Senko, and many others are longtime proven fish-catchers–and thus earned a ranking in the April 2006 _Field & Stream cover story “50 Greatest Lures of All Time.”
But there are 30 other lures that are equally, if not more, deserving of that label. Some are new. Some have been around for a few years but haven’t gotten the widespread respect they deserve. Others, because they’re designed for use in certain regions and for specific species, just aren’t on the radar of many anglers.
What it comes down to is this: These lures catch boatloads of fish. They should, or soon will, be held in the same regard as the Zara Spook and Original Rapala. Here’s why, and how to fish them._