The 50 Greatest Lures of All Time
Our fishing editor has spent 50 years assembling the perfect tackle box. How many do you have?
All fishermen are experts; just ask any one of them. Or so the saying goes. So in naming the world’s 50 best fishing lures, I know we’re asking for a fight.
But check the choices thoughtfully. Whether you target bass or walleyes, trout or stripers and more, these are lures that actually work. Some selections are lures your granddad fished. Others are so new you might not have seen them yet. In all cases, though, you’ll find a lure that catches fish, specified right down to size and color, along with just what to do when you’re on the water.
Picking the perfect lure for a given situation is hard work, so I’ll confess to a dirty trick. Before returning to a marina dock or my truck, I take the day’s hot lures off my rods and put them away. To the same rods, I then attach lures that didn’t work. That means the prying eyes of other anglers in the parking lot will 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 core collection 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-plastic grubs with curled tails, but it’s actually a trademark of Mister Twister, the company that made the first ones more than 30 years ago. Combined with a plain or painted round-head jig, as shown here, these are the best fishing lures of all 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 just one example, my local smallmouth bass love a 3-inch chartreuse-flake Curly Tail bottom-bounced with a 1/8-ounce jighead-–and that’s just the start.
2. Dardevle Spinnie
The familiar red-and-white striped Dardevle is probably the world’s most recognized fishing lure, just as effective now as it was a century ago when Lou Eppinger first started selling them. Among varied sizes, the Dardevle Spinnie is basic for bass, larger trout, and more.
First, attach it to your line with a small snap to give the lure a free-ranging wobble. Second, avoid the common mistake of a steady retrieve. Use rod-tip twitches and brief pauses to give the spoon an erratic darting action, which will substantially boost your score.
Not only does the original floating Rapala work for all kinds of fish––it also often works better than anything else. Trout, bass, walleyes, and pike all love these things. Among various sizes, I most often pick a size F11 in basic black over silver for both bass and trout.
A mistake made by many is using a steady slow retrieve. For trout, try making the lure dart and pause by sweeping and stopping 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.
4. Mepps Aglia
These are everybody’s favorite trout spinners even though most people don’t fish them well. Use a size 0, 1/12-ounce version with a silver blade for most small trout streams. The secret lies in casting upstream and bringing the spinner back slightly faster than the current. Reel just quickly enough to spin the blade while steering the spinner with your rod tip so it travels next to submerged boulders or other trout cover.
5. Johnson Silver Minnow
A silver version is tops in freshwater and suits common spinning tackle. Inshore redfish usually prefer gold. For bass and pike especially, adding a white pork-rind trailer or chunk gives added wiggle.
In freshwater, cast the lure across a surface weedbed and crank quickly with 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. It will drive bass hiding in the cover nuts.
These nondescript, pencil-like soft plastics are incredibly successful lures, but it takes a little practice to work them right. Rig a 6-inch, Arkansas shad-“color Slug-Go Texas-style on a size 4/0 offset-shank worm hook. Add no extra weight. Cast the lure just a few feet away so you can see it. Twitch the rod 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 lure plain deadly on all freshwater bass plus saltwater stripers.
RELATED: The 20 All-Time Best Topwater Lures
7. Zara Spook
It’s the oldest of surface-plug designs and still one of the best, consistently pulling in everything from freshwater bass and pike to saltwater stripers and seatrout.
The 5/8-ounce original Zara is easier to make “walk the dog” than smaller versions, and this blue shore minnow color is almost universally effective. The routine is deceptively simple: a medium-fast cadence of twitch-pause, twitch-pause as you slowly reel, which makes the plug zigzag along the surface.
8. Berkley Power Worm
Many companies make scented soft plastics, but Berkley’s Power Bait series has led the pack for a long time. The 7-inch Power Worm in basic black is a perennial favorite.
Texas- or Carolina-rigged, its curled tail undulates as the worm moves through the water. Because of the flavoring, bass often hang on a few extra moments, enabling a solid hookset. Some will even swallow it, so don’t wait too long before striking or you’ll be gut-hooking fish.
9. Original Gitzit
Got to love the name: Any fishing lure called a Gitzit should fish well, and this tube does just that. I often use one in a light color to imitate small minnows.
To mimic crayfish, I like a darker, broken pattern such as this 3-inch camouflage version. Rig with a 1/8-ounce internal jighead; or Texas-rig it and add a small split shot about 18 inches above the lure. canyon-plastics.com.
There are big Flatfish and small Flatfish, but there are no bad Flatfish. They all work. They have to be fished slowly, though, so they don’t get much play among the bass jocks.
My favorite is an F4 size, 1½ inches long, in perch scale, 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 early summer. Paddle or row slowly to make the plug wobble but not spin. Like 20-inch-plus rainbows? This works great.
11. Rat-L-TrapdEye Swimbait
Just a few years ago in these pages I predicted the then-new WildEye swimbaits would 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 to saltwater stripers.
This 3-inch, bluegill-color version is a good beginner’s largemouth bass lure because so much of the action is built in. Find out what’s working on any particular day by letting the lure sink to different depths before starting your retrieve.
This is another one of those nearly universal lures that works (in appropriate sizes) for everything from stream trout to stripers. But largemouths are its most frequent target.
The bleeding shad version shown here with red hooks is the latest wrinkle on the ¼ ounce, blue-backed classic. It’s a great choice for beginners: Cast and crank through an open-water flat or along the open alleys between weedbeds. That’s all there is to it. Well, almost all.
13. Terminator T-1 Spinnerbait
I’ve had big fish-“both bass and huge pike-“plain destroy common spinnerbaits in a succession of hard battles. Wire bends, skirts get torn up, and the lure is beyond repair.
Terminator’s T-1 series is based on a titanium-wire frame, which flexes but doesn’t bend. It doesn’t kink. It doesn’t corrode. The silicone skirts, which don’t stick together as rubber ones do, are easily replaced. Want a really tough bait? Get the version with bucktail skirts to better withstand abuse from toothy critters like pike.
Terminators are about twice as expensive as more common types, but they are very much worth it. This 3/8-ounce silver-shiner version is a bass fishing basic.
14. Gibbs Pencil Popper
This is a “classic striped-bass lure without a question. Originally designed by the late, great Stan Gibbs near Cape Cod, this 2¾-ounce example is the best of various sizes for big fish. Cast with heavy surf gear, then grip both rod and line up near the first guide with your right hand.
Brace the rod butt against your leg. Reel s-l-o-w-l-y while using your right hand to whip the rod tip back and forth. This sends the lure into a splashing, waggling frenzy that drives big stripers nuts. The question: Why are there no small, freshwater versions?
If you troll for trout in ponds and lakes as many do, you need some of these spoons. I like the small No. 1 size, with a brass finish and red head. Be sure to carefully sharpen the single hook.
The spoon’s slim, light profile gives a sharply fluttering wobble when it’s trolled at about 1.5 miles per hour. That same lightness means it won’t cast worth a damn, so don’t bother to try. In the cool water of spring, troll the lure 100 feet back from the boat with no additional weight and using line no heavier than 8-pound-test.
These angular hunks of plated brass have a lively tight wobble on a fairly fast retrieve, with a broad shape suggestive of small freshwater shad or, in saltwater, juvenile menhaden.
When largemouths are schooled up and slashing shad 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 and fluttering through the action. The lure’s long-casting character is a boon to shorebound anglers, too.
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 and narrower than most so they can be cast farther.
Great Lakes jetty anglers know this and reach out over the waves to staging salmon with, say, a ½-ounce model 012 in a pearl-fishscale finish. Mottled pearl, by the way, is a real sleeper among spoon colors. When you find it, stock up.
18. Lucky Craft Flashminnow
The 100SP Flashminnow in a “ghost minnow” finish is one of the most remarkable lures I’ve ever fished. It’s a shallow-running, suspending jerkbait from Japan that runs and darts about 3 feet deep with hard, rod-tip twitches.
I recently spent three days test-fishing this lure against competitive versions of the same size and similar color for smallmouth bass in Canada. The action and look were so good that the Lucky Craft version out-caught the others by at least 3 to 1. I am still amazed, and no, they are not paying me to say this.
19. Rooster Tail
For large brown and rainbow trout in bigger water, these are a hot ticket. Very weighty relative to their overall size, they’ll run deep in the kind of high-volume water that lunker trout prefer.
Cast a 1/6-ounce clown-pattern Rooster Tail upstream in the deep, fast chute where a large pool begins. Reel just fast enough to keep a tight line so the spinner sweeps the bottom. When the strike comes, it’ll be violent.
20. 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 relatively deep––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 picking trout from the pockets of steeply tumbling mountain creeks. As with most trout spinners, fish upstream.
21. Cordell Red Fin
The 7-inch, 1-ounce Smoky Joe Red Fin is a striper killer in both fresh- and saltwater. Retrieved slowly, it runs a slow, wobbling surface crawl just like an injured baitfish.
Or you can trick it out: Drill a small hole in the top of the plug between the eyes. Inject 10 to 12 ccs of bunker oil or other liquid fish attractant. Seal the hole with epoxy. The now-weighted plug will cast farther, run deeper, and smell like bait. Pretty nasty, huh?
22. 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 open water.
The ¼-ounce size 4 in chartreuse works well for perch, and even better when 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, Pimples are exceptional casting lures for nearshore false albacore and bonito.
23. Blue Fox Foxee Jig
It’s one of my favorite panfish jigs, although I’ve also taken stream trout and even 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 a small package.
The short tail is significant because some panfish-“especially yellow perch––tend to nip at rather than inhale a lure. Because the short tail is close to the hook point, you’ll connect more often. A 1/16-ounce chartreuse version is tops. bluefox.com.
24. Rebel Pop-R
The Pop-R has been the gold standard among freshwater bass poppers for the past 20 years, a shad-imitating plug that can be fished fast or slow according to need.
This ¼-ounce chartreuse shad version is suited to medium-weight spinning tackle and 10- to 12-pound-test mono. Here’s a trick: Use a sharp knife or sandpaper to reduce the edge of the cupped, popping face. The plug will grab less water and be easier to skitter.
25. K.O. Wobbler
I once watched awestruck as my friend Jim Ellett hooked three monster British Columbia 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 and thereby 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 until you feel it ticking bottom, then tighten up on the line so the spoon slowly wobbles in a downstream swing, bouncing on gravel all the while.
26. FoodSource Minnow
These lures might be the future of fishing. A minnow-imitating, soft jerkbait that 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 soft plastics––are fully biodegradable.
Numerous angling cretins toss used soft-plastic lures in the shoreline weeds or water, where they become an environmental hazard because they don’t decay or break down. FoodSource lures are environmentally friendly-“and they catch fish. fslures.com.
27. Rapala Shad Rap
The 5/16-ounce black-over-silver Shad Rap is a logical lure choice just about everywhere. Alewives in northern lakes and threadfin shad in southern lakes are both short, deep-bodied baitfish––and big-time bass food––that a Shad Rap imitates perfectly. There will be times when you see fish boiling in open water, but the bass ignore your plastic worms. A darting and twitching Shad Rap will nail them.
28. Yamamoto Senko
This soft-plastic lure is quite different from all the rest and amazingly effective for large- and smallmouth bass. When it’s rigged wacky-style, meaning hooked once through the center, a Senko sinks horizontally with both free ends quivering frantically.
Cast it out and let it sink, watching the line carefully for signs of a strike. Twitch it a few feet back up, and let it sink again. A variety of colors and sizes work well; I like 5-inch Senkos in the peanut-butter-and-jelly shade.
29. Hopkins Shorty
The densely compact Hopkins Shorty, technically not a spoon, casts like a bullet, but that same density makes it more widely used in freshwater as a jigging lure for deep bass.
Drop an S-1, silver-finish, ½-ounce Hopkins straight down in 20 to 40 feet of water when both bass and baitfish are hanging low. Jig the lure by abruptly raising and lowering your rod tip, and know that many bass will hit the lure as it drops.
One of the all-time great trout spoons, Phoebes are just plain essential. The 1/8-ounce gold version is what I reach for most often. Use the smallest of snaps––a black one––to attach lure to line, and know that this spoon is relatively shallow-running.
That means it’s perfect for pulling big browns that lie hidden along riverbank cover. Wade or boat the middle while casting to within inches of shoreline structure. The size of the trout that come to this spoon will shock you.
31. 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 when minnow-imitating hues have failed.
The Splash-Tail’s props have midget ball bearings and turn with the slightest twitch. A slow twitch-pause retrieve works the best for abundant action from both small- and largemouth bass. luckycraft.com.
32. Al’s Goldfish
Readers of a certain age will now be smiling at the memory of an old-favorite trout spoon that hasn’t gotten much press in recent years. It’s still being made, though, and it’s still one of the best brown-trout lures of all time.
The 3/16-ounce gold version is my favorite, with a relatively thick body that tends to run deep. Cast up and across stream in turbulent deep runs, then retrieve with darting rod-tip sweeps to make the spoon alternately stutter and sink near the bottom.
33. Hot Shot
These are the disco queens of salmon and steelhead plugs, with tight, fast wiggles and hot colors that are irresistible to big fish. A skilled oarsman in a drift boat will slow and steer his drift to literally walk a wiggling Hot Shot across the noses of waiting chinooks.
Shore-based casters add some leader weight and cast across stream to get a bottom-ticking swing for waiting steelhead. This size 030, ¼-ounce “red fire” version is the perfect choice in both cases.
34. Williams Wabler
I’ve been carrying these Canadian trolling spoons trolling spoons</a> around ever since a long-ago day when some northern lake trout would touch nothing else. The new W55 Lite model is thin in proportion to its surface area, giving a crisp wobble that’s still a little wider and slower than competing versions, an action lake trout often prefer. The two-tone metal finish, meanwhile, does a great impersonation of the variable flashing of baitfish.
35. Hula Popper
My wife says I should be embarrassed, but I can’t help it. In looking at Claude Monet’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 a 3/16-ounce frog-pattern popper and let it sit motionless. Pop once and sit still. 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 bass will lose.
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-gun bass boys, but they still play well on the water.
I’ll cast this 3/8-ounce frog-pattern plug across a quiet summer cove, then smile as it glub-glubs slowly and steadily back. Sometimes a bass just smashes the hell out of it, and my quiet contemplation is ruined. Darn.
37. Stanley Flat Eye Jig
Soft-skirted bass jigs have become basic gear over the past 25 years, and former bass pro Lonnie Stanley had a lot to do with it. This 5/16-ounce version has the hook eye turned horizontally to slide the tapered head more easily through heavy cover. It includes an under-skirt rattle and has an extremely sharp hook.
The “pure pumpkin” color matches that of many submerged weedbeds, often a good approach. Flip or cast to small, open pockets in milfoil or hydrilla beds and gently jiggle the lure upward after it stops sinking. fishstanley.com.
38. Teeny Torpedo
Here’s my favorite surface plug for smallmouth bass in the spring, when the fish are shallow and surface-aware. A 1/8-ounce Teeny Torpedo in a bullfrog pattern fishes well on light spinning gear with 6- or 8-pound-test, which perfectly matches tackle to quarry. The single-propeller tail makes just enough fuss when twitched to get the fish’s attention. Big smallies often take this lure with a gentle sip.
39. 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 is still available, and this 7/16-ounce shad pattern remains a hot ticket for bass everywhere.
Try it in the cool, prespawn waters of early spring to wake up largemouths along the outside edges of emerging weedbeds.
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-ounce standard version in “wild shiner.” The plug’s wild wobble runs no deeper than a foot, which means it easily skims the top of barely submerged weedbeds. That’s often where the bass are. Not just largemouths, either. I once saw a Texas redfish turn itself nearly inside out to eat a 1-Minus on a shallow flat.
41. Berkley Bat Wing Frog
Basically a chunky body with two extended, wiggly legs, so-called toad baits are all the rage this year. Berkley’s version is from their new, biodegradable Gulp! line and works just great.
Texas-rig and fish them unweighted on the surface in and around cover. Or rig this 4-inch watermelon version with a worm hook that has a light weight on the shank, with the weighted portion under the lure’s belly. This makes the frog sink horizontally while the legs wiggle and get the poor bass all excited.
42. 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 for smallmouth bass.
The twin tails and skirt have lots of wiggle even with little rod movement, which helps to entice smallies that have gotten lockjaw during a cold front. Fish along the edges of reefs, rock piles, and associated weedbeds.
43. Snag Proof Frog
You can throw one of these soft-plastic frogs just about anywhere; it’s that weedless and great to work thick cover for bass. A favorite trick involves a bait-and-switch routine. It’s common for a largemouth to boil or slash at a weedless spoon skittered over a weedbed.
Keep a second rod rigged with a ¼-ounce chartreuse frog. Toss it right where the bass missed the spoon. Twitch gently, and you’ll probably take the fish.
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44. Lunker Lure Buzzbait
Lunker Lure is said to have made the first buzzbait back in 1976, although the idea of a sputtering, splashing fast-moving surface lure for bass is much older. 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 or log, for example, and use a fast retrieve and high-held rod to bring the lure churning back within inches of the cover’s edge. A bass will try to kill it. Having fun yet?
45. Culprit Tassel Lizard
A soft-plastic lizard is most popular in the spring, when bedding bass will savagely attack this perceived predator near their nests. This 6-inch, chili pepper lizard has some extra wiggle built in through its molded tail and leg tendrils.
Rig it Texas- or Carolina-style, cast beyond bedding bass, then draw the lure quietly near the bed and let it sit until the bass attacks. Don’t neglect lizards at other times-“they’ll take fish all season. culprit.com.
46. Uncle Josh Pork Frog
Fish one of these wiggly chunks in frog pattern as a trailer on a weedless spoon (see No. 2) or on a bass jig (No. 39) or by itself on a large, weedless hook. Unlike soft-plastic chunks, pork frogs are incredibly tough yet flexible and won’t get torn apart by multiple fish.
One tip: When you fish it as a trailer, use a sharp knife to cut away half the chunk’s thickness from the underside to gain more wiggle.
47. Mepps Muskie Killer
Black is good and often overlooked when it comes to lures, especially for big pike and muskies. In-line bucktail spinners are a muskie-casting tradition, and the Mepps Muskie Killer at 11/3 ounces is heavy enough to run as deeply as 8 feet.
Cast it to cover the outside edges of weedbeds or rocky reefs. Pay special attention as the lure starts to rise near the boat at the end of a retrieve. If there’s a monster right behind it, start moving the lure in a broad figure eight with your rod. It’s the moment of truth-“or heartbreak.
48. Castaic Trout
It’s worth getting one of these big, soft-plastic swimbaits just to watch it swim on the end of your line. The lifelike action is mind-boggling. It’s named after the Southern California reservoir where monster largemouths get that way by gorging on hatchery rainbow trout.
They’ll gorge on this lure, too, and not just in California. Let the slow-sinking, 8-inch lure get down to the edges and dropoffs where trout and bass intersect. Crank, twitch, and hang on for dear life.
Bonus Classic Lures
49. The Dardevle
Lou Eppinger, creator of the Dardevle, first started marketing these simple metal spoons as early as 1906. The lures come in sizes ranging from tiny fly-rod models to huge, heavy spoons built for catching muskies.
50. Heddon Torpedo
This box might have contained the Torpedo (No. 40) but it also could have held any number of other Heddon lures. It dates to the late 1940s through the mid-1950s and was used to package dozens of different models-“both wooden and plastic. A number stamped on the box end flap would denote the exact model and color.
51. The Flatfish
Made by Charles Helin of Detroit, this is one of the most popular lures ever manufactured. A pocket catalog included in this 1940s-era box boasted “1.5 million already sold. Just think of how many fish they’ve caught.
52. The Jitterbug
Most Jitterbugs have an aluminum lip, but the one pictured on this box is plastic. During World War II the manufacturer, Arbogast, used plastic lips because aluminum was needed for the war effort.
53. The Johnson’s Silver Minnow
This lure dates back to the early 1920s. Silver-plated versions were produced well into the 1960s, and their finish would often tarnish into a patina that looked like something from your grandmother’s flatware. Most had a patent date, “8-22” stamped into the lure body.
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This story first ran in the April 2006 issue of Field & Stream.