6 Must Have Fishing Lures

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Fishing-summer-2006-009Lures come in all colours, shape, and sizes. Most of us maintain a substantial inventory for those “just in case” situations; but imagine this — if you could choose only six, what would they be?

Popping the lid on my Plano, I scanned the familiar box. Each compartment holds something different; bare hooks, jigs, soft plastics… and in all manner of shape, size and colour. Glancing into another bag, an assortment of bottom bouncers and spinner rigs present tempting alternatives. Even still, I couldn’t help but consider running a crankbait. Evaluating the possibilities, I questioned the logic behind hauling all of this tackle around.

I’ve employed every lure in my arsenal at one time or another. Even still, I found myself reaching for one of the most consistent producers — a 1/4-ounce white jig along with a soft plastic tail. It was June after all, and the walleye should have a voracious appetite. I planned to arm it with a minnow, but the bottom line — this is undeniably one of my favourite lures.

Cinching the knot, I thought about all of the other less-celebrated lures in my case. Like most, my inventory is worth a small fortune and it is hauled around on most excursions. Every angler owns a tackle box or bag. Most have several. These handy storage units are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they give us an excuse to collect and stash a seemingly endless assortment of lures, hardware, tools, and accessories. On the other, we feel a need to fill every nook and cranny in these containers. Savvy anglers know that different situations require adaptation and creativity to hook fish. Arguably this requires a broad inventory of tackle. Sometimes water is gin clear; sometimes it is turbid. When clarity is good, baits that resemble natural forage can often outperform. In teacup or murky water, colorful lures with lots of action can be key producers. Ergo, the rationale behind stocking plenty of options.

But consider this: if you were allowed to have only six lures to fish with, what would they be? Knowing that fish strike based on the prospect of an easy meal, or in response to an irritation, many would agree on a careful mix. For me, that collection would include one crankbait, a spinner bait, a spoon, a blade bait, one jig armed with a soft plastic and a fly for good measure. Recognizing that no single lure works universally in all situations, I would carefully select those that produce in a variety of situations and for several species. Here are my personal picks.

1 Crankbait

Check any tackle box across Canada, and you’ll see all of the colors in the rainbow. Upon close examination, you’ll notice a common theme — representation of one of the most common prey fish, the yellow perch. As a rule, perch are considered one of the most abundant and widespread forage species, not to mention a common gamefish. In some waters, shiners, ciscos, or other silvery-skinned minnows may be more abundant, but perch are indeed prolific.

The question is: which crankbaits work best and most universally? This is a loaded question and every angler will have his or her own opinion. Segmented baits are one option offering a realistic swimming action. Colour and body pattern should be carefully considered as well. Trout, perch and various minnow patterns may be deemed most popular. Deep divers, mid-range divers, shallow divers, floating and sinking models are also available. So how do you decide on just one?

My own decision would be based on the most universal application and the ability to manipulate the lure if necessary. In other words, if I consider where I might target fish, (i.e., in two-to-15 feet of water), my lure of choice would undoubtedly be a size 3 Rapala Original Floating Lure in a Fire Tiger pattern. With plenty of options available, this balsa wood bait is widely recognized as the world’s top-selling lure, and for good reason, plain and simple it catches a lot of fish under a wide range of situations. Cast over cast, it is one of my most consistently producing cranks. In general, I prefer shallow-running plugs both for casting and trolling. Properly tuned to demonstrate the intended wobbling “wounded minnow” action, it can be worked from top to bottom and it performs well with variable retrieves, slow, fast or trolled.

2 Spinner Bait

The sheer volume of spinner bait options on the market today is staggering, and for good reason, the swimming and flashing action of a spinner attracts, and annoys, fish. They churn up the water and, in many instances they are shiny and even have critter-like features. In turn, most fish species will strike at spinners when the mood hits them.

Choosing just one is difficult. I’m a big fan of smaller-sized spinners for most trout. A rainbow pattern Mepps Aglia in size #1 and #2 with a dressed treble hook is deadly. For walleye and pike, it’s tough to beat bottom bouncers armed with a trailing beaded spinner rig and earthworm or leech. Topwater spinners can also be fun to fish, and super effective under the right conditions. In the end, if I could select just one, it would be the half-ounce Breck’s Musky Killer, with silver blade, black bucktail dressing, and treble hook. The one-ounce model is unbelievably effective for larger pike, but the smaller model may be considered slight more versatile for various applications and species. This single spinner has caught more big northern pike for me than another other.

While I certainly contemplated others, it didn’t take long to settle on this as my top pick. Cast and worked in one-to-six feet of water near weed lines or over ledges, this beauty has an action too appealing for predatory fish to ignore. This lure is easily cast, easily retrieved, and can also be comfortably worked in a figure-eight pattern should a fish follow to the boat. Time and again, they strike this popular lure with full force.

3 Spoon

Every freshwater gamefish species will, at one time or another, hit a spoon. To the point, when I think of the most productive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Len Thompson Five of Diamonds (Yellow & Red), as one of my top six picks. Truth is, with the amazing roster of lure options on the market today, I’m almost reluctant to include this one, but in the end, it’s impossible to argue with results. Certainly not as sexy as many others, the Five of Diamonds is hands down one of the most effective and versatile lures ever made.

I’ve been on many professionally guided lake trout trips. The Five of Diamonds is widely considered to be a staple in any guide’s tackle box. In fact, when nothing else is attracting fish, this bad boy often saves the day. They say duplication is the highest form of flattery. Suffice it to say, many companies have come out with their own version of the venerable Five of Diamonds.

The question with this one, as with any lure, is what size to pick. Available in the smallest 1/7-ounce (size 6) on up to the 1-1/8-ounce (size 4), my own decision is based on where I might use this lure. Surely it would be nice to have an assortment of ranging from one- to five-inch lengths, but the point here is to choose just one, and that would be the larger 4-7/8-inch size 4. With a spoon of this size, I would know that it would be a big fish lure, and in fact one of my biggest assets for targeting Lakers, big pike and sizeable walleye.

4 Blade Bait

Blade baits can be cast or trolled, but where they really shine is with a vertical presentation. I’ve spent countless days fishing blades at variable depths. Where regulations allow, a blade bait with a treble hook armed with a minnow or leech is almost untouchable. Vertically jigging this lure just off the bottom with a slow rise, followed by a quick drop allows it to work in its designed sporadic wavering action to entice a strike. With several companies making blade-style lures, Luhr-Jensen’s Crippled Herring finds its way on to my line more often than not. Why? Because it catches fish consistently. This lure is available in a range of colours with the most common two being silver with a blue finish and the perch simile.

Forced to choose just one, it is almost a toss-up between the two, but in the end, I would settle on a half-ounce 1-5/8-inch Crippled Herring (size 012) in a silver and blue minnow pattern. I would rig it with a treble hook, load it with a minnow (where regulations allow) and this would certainly be one of the hottest lures available today.

5 Jig & Soft Plastic

A jig and soft plastic combo is arguably the most widely used lure ever made. Virtually every sportfish in Canada can be caught using some version of a jig. Resembling a tasty meal, the seductive action of a single soft plastic tail, brought to life through the jigging action of an able angler… well, that’s a recipe for fish on a hook.

Jigs too come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Some are flat or curved, others are narrow, and the most common are a simple round shape. Soft plastic choices are also abundant. Tubes, minnow patterns, night crawlers, grubs, single tail, double tail, split double tail, and more are available; not to mention scented and unscented varieties.

When choosing a jig, standard logic applies. For smaller trout, smaller jigheads and tails are usually the way to go. For lunker lakers, most opt for the biggest of the big. Proven colours for both the jig heads and plastics include black, chartreuse, yellow, white, and lots more. In most situations, for walleye, pike and even jumbo perch, I go for a smaller jig like a 1/8-ounce, but again, the point here is to choose just one. In turn, it would have to be a Mister Twister 1/4-ounce white, round jighead with a white four-inch single tail soft plastic. Cast, and slowly retrieved, in a gentle and slow lift and drop motion, or jigged vertically a couple inches off bottom will invariably entice strike after strike.

6 Fly

I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest a fly as one of my top six picks. The fact is that when hardware fails, often flies work. They look real, they are generally small, and they resemble what fish actually eat. Sometimes with trout and even pike and whitefish, a fly can be just the ticket when all else seems dead in the water. Flies are most often tied to emulate insects or bugs at different stages of development. Problem is pike will often strike at something more sizeable, with lots of action. Trout on the other hand, frequently take the smallest of insects sitting on or below the surface. So how do you choose that single fly if you have but one choice?

For me, it helps to consider the most common denominator. Sit on any lake or flowing water and you’ll see fish surfacing. Telltale rings on the surface evidence feeding activity; yes, even pike will slurp up insects from the surface. With only one lure left to pick, I would opt for a fly that is universal in application. While we all like to see fish take a dry fly from the surface, few would argue the overall effectiveness of a nymph. This in mind, a Bead-Head Nymph is a top performer. Common patterns like the Pheasant-tail and Prince Nymph would be good choices for a subtle vertical jigging presentation, but my own number one pick goes to the Bead Head Hare’s Ear, probably in a size 16. This ever-popular wet fly pattern has caught more, not to mention the most, variety of fish for me personally than any other pattern.

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