Fishing Bait and Lures
When you’re choosing the best bait, you’ll need to consider what your target fish eat, the environment you’ll be fishing in, and even the weather. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of potential options for baits and lures, and some work better than others based on the conditions of your fishing expedition. Part of what makes fishing so fun – and challenging! – is the constant work to find the ideal bait or lure for your particular situation. No one bait or lure will work for all fishing occasions, or even for the course of a day out on the water.
Among the available options, there are a few lures and baits that have stood the test of time. To help you get started on your ideal setup, we are going to cover some of the most popular baits and lures. These are all generally effective options, but we suggest experimenting with various setups so that you can learn firsthand what works best for you.
Before we dive in to the specific baits and lures, it’s important to understand what factors are important for choosing the right option. First, you’ll need to know your target species, and what prey that fish usually feasts upon. After all, your bait or lure is trying to imitate a fish’s prey. Then, you can match the bait to the fish’s prey as best you can, both in size and color. If you choose too large a bait, it can scare fish away; too small, and a fish may not notice it. If you’re fishing at a lake, you’ll usually opt for a neutral color, though brightly colored baits can have their place in offshore fishing.
Then, you’ll need to consider the type and depth of the water you’ll be fishing in. If you’re freshwater fishing, artificial bait usually works well; saltwater fish will bite more with a live bait. Weather also impacts fish behavior – fish are often lethargic during a cold front. Overcast days alter the light under the water, so darker baits work better. The clear water on sunny days asks for a bait that is light in color.
Finally, alter your bait and lures with the season. You’ll want to use slower moving baits in colder weather, while a faster bait will work well in warm waters and during spawning season, when the fish are more aggressive.
With those principles in mind, we can now discover the wide world of baits and lures.
Baited hooks are the oldest method of catching fish and have been used by anglers for centuries. To this day, baited hooks are a popular method for catching a wide variety of species. Even something as simple as a garden worm can be an effective freshwater bait. In fact, many gamefish respond especially well to a simple worm, hook, and bobber setup.
Live bait generally needs refrigeration and care on the water, which can be difficult. It is also quite smelly, and that smell will transfer to your gear and clothes. You may also bring in fish that are too small or otherwise outside of your target species with live bait. Live bait also generally leads to a deeper hook, meaning fish that you would release have a lower survival rate.
Other natural bait options include crickets, grubs, and minnows. Nightcrawlers and fathead minnows are particularly effective in catching larger freshwater fish. Popular saltwater fishing baits include chunks of raw fish, live shrimp, and even small squid.
Soft bait is synthetic fishing bait specially designed to mimic the behavior of natural bait. You can find soft bait that is meant to resemble worms, grubs, frogs, leeches, and many insect species. Soft bait is made of a rubber or plastic material that is both flexible and durable. It is rigged on a hook like natural bait, but soft bait can be reused time and time again.
Soft baits are generally meant to be worked more slowly than hard baits. This means that soft baits work with a more subtle approach to fishing. You’ll be creating the lifelike movements to convince a fish that there is a real prey in front of them. A soft bait will respond well to your movements and create convincing twitches.
Soft baits work well in extreme temperatures of cold or heat, when fish become more lethargic and thus won’t chase something that is moving quickly. Soft baits are also a strong choice in shallow water; you can drop a soft bait right into a nest of bedded bass, for example. In general, any situation where you need to put the bait right onto the fish to motivate a strike is a great time for soft bait.
Hard bait refers to artificial bait usually made of plastic or wood. They are often built to float, which is useful for shallow water where a bait that sinks may get stuck in the vegetation. There are not as many varieties of hard baits as there are of soft baits, but you will still have a strong selection to choose from.
If you don’t know where fish in a lake might be, hard baits can be very useful. You’ll be able to retrieve these casts quickly, allowing you to investigate a large area of water more quickly. Hard baits will also serve you well during cloudy weather and calm waters. Fish are more likely to notice the disruption of a surface lure (and therefore strike at it) when that surface is calm.
If you have aggressive fish, hard baits often work well. This disruption can trigger a strike from aggressive fish. This means that you should bring hard baits along when fishing in more aggressive seasons – for example, in spring and fall when bass are feeding heavily.
Hard baits work well with a long cast. If you’re fishing in clear waters, you’ll need a long cast to keep the fish from noticing you. Hard baits often fly farther than soft baits.
Unlike natural bait, artificial fishing lures can be used several times to catch multiple fish. Lures come in many different styles. Some lures are intended to imitate live bait, while others aim to attract fish through the use of color and movement. Some lures even utilize sound to attract the attention of fish.
Typically, fishing lures are designed to target specific species or groups of fish. For example, a lure designed to catch trout will be different than a lure designed to catch bass. When you buy a lure, the manufacturer will provide some information on the types of fish that it is designed to catch.
You can also get specific size and weight of lure best suited for different types of water. Lightweight lures are designed to fish in calmer waters, whereas heavier lures are ideal for fishing in strong currents or windy conditions.
The color of the lure is also important. A brightly colored lure will attract fish more successfully in murky waters. In clearer waters, you should use a natural or darkly colored lure. A bright lure might spook other nearby fish.
Lures are more successful for catch and release, as they hook the fish in the jaws, lips, or mouth. Lures can become easily snagged in environments with high vegetation, and you will need to keep the lure constantly moving to bring in fish. Many species of fish are less responsive to lures, but they do offer a more active and exciting hunt.
Spinnerbait lures feature thin metal blades that are designed to spin underwater. These blades typically have a reflective coating that catches light and produces a shimmering effect. The combination of movement and light mimics the appearance of a swimming baitfish and makes the lure very attractive to any nearby game fish. Spinnerbaits are highly versatile – they work in all seasons, muddy or clear waters, and a variety of depths. They do not catch easily on vegetation. Spinnerbaits are especially effective when targeting aggressive predatory species like bass or pike. Spinnerbait lures are available in a wide variety of styles and colors, often designed to target specific species of fish. Keep spinnerbaits in your tackle box if you want a solid catch-all lure in case conditions change unexpectedly. Spinnerbaits really shine when you are fishing near the surface and targeting a fish that you can see. They work very well for night fishing and in cold water, though they also work well in other conditions.
Crankbait is one of the most versatile lures, and works well in all seasons. Although they are available in many sizes, styles, and colors, crankbaits usually feature two treble hooks and a bill shaped attachment at the front. You will find some without this attachment -- these are referred to as ‘lipless’ crankbaits.
Many experienced fisherman keep a variety of crankbaits in their tackle box, each suited for different depths of water. When using a crankbait it is important to choose a lure that will run at the proper depth. Crankbaits are typically sold as Squarebills (0-5 feet depth); shallow divers (2-8 feet depth); medium divers (8-12 feet depth); and deep divers (over 12 feet).
The size of the bill attachment will determine how deep your crankbait will dive. We suggest keeping a shallow diver, a medium diver, and a deep diver in your tackle box at all times. Unlike most other types of bait, making contact with cover can be beneficial when fishing with a crankbait. Of course, this will increase the chances of a hang-up, but the added movement often provokes nearby fish. You should also over-cast to be sure that your crankbait has enough time to reach your target area.
Many people prefer lipless crankbaits in the winter, when both fish and prey are less active due to the low water temperatures. Crankbaits work especially well for fish that eat smaller baitfish and crayfish. They will also help you cover a large stretch of water very quickly, if you are fishing in a lake where you need to find the fish.
A spoon lure is a concave piece of metal (resembling a spoon) with a treble hook at one end and a grommet at the other. Some spoon lures are reflective on both sides, while others are brightly patterned on one side and reflective on the other. Because of its shape, the lure wobbles back and forth as it is pulled through the water. The light reflects off the metallic surface, and the combination of movement and shimmer can be very enticing to game fish.
Spoon lures will take some practice to use -- if they are pulled too fast or too slowly, they will not produce the wobbling effect. You may need to practice for a while to achieve the exact effect that will bring in more fish. A long spoon will give a wider wobble than a shorter spoon, and a deep concave spoon will also be wider than a flat spoon. Thin spoons (usually used for trolling) will wobble more erratically, while thicker spoons have less wobble but will cast better thanks to the extra weight.
Spoon lures offer a relatively simple bait technique that has been in use since the 1840s. This ease of use accounts for its continued popularity, as a fish will usually hook itself as it bites the spoon. Spoon lures can be particularly useful when fish are dense.
A fishing jig is a type of fishing lure that is especially effective in catching large freshwater fish. These fish respond very well to the vertical motion of a properly weighted jig. Jigs are weighted with metal, causing them to pull taut at the end of your line.
It will take some finesse to use a jig correctly, but they can produce some excellent results. In order to jig well, you’ll need to pay attention to the details of your surroundings. It’s especially important for jig fishing to choose which colors are best for your particular environment, and this may require some trial and error.
You also need to be very attentive to your line when jig fishing. A bite may be subtle, and you need to pull in the fish at a moment’s notice. Jigs work well in ice fishing, bass fishing, and many other applications. They are particularly useful to catch fish near the bottom of the water.
Buzzbaits have the unique ability to create significant vibrations as they are pulled through the water. They turn through the water like an egg beater, attracting fish that may not be able to see the lure. When fish are looking for prey, they rely on sight, sound, vibrations, and smell. Buzzbaits provide three of these qualities, making them more likely to entice a strike.
A buzzbait’s constant lure movement does very well to attract bass and other large fish. This has made buzzbaits popular for tempting fish out of cover, as well as fishing in low-visibility conditions. They are also very popular for night fishing, when the vibrations make up for the fact that the fish will not be able to see the lure. Buzzbaits will often bring in bigger bass than other lures that can be used at night.
During unseasonably warm days in cooler months, fish will move into the shallows to feed. This is a great time to use buzzbaits to pull them out of the shallow water. While buzzbaits are known for their efficacy in shallow and muddy waters, they also do well in clear waters if you scale back their vibrations.
As the name would suggest, trolling lures are built for trolling. This means dragging a lure behind your boat while moving the boat forward, usually at a slow speed. Trolling works best when fish are more spread out, and when you’ll be fishing at greater depths from a boat.
You can use virtually any lure or bait for trolling, but trolling lures are purpose-built for this style of fishing. Trolling lures will take their motion from the movement of the boat. Be sure to match the depth of your lure to the depth your target species will be swimming. You can even set out multiple types of trolling lures at the same time at a variety of depths.
When saltwater trolling, you will need a variety of lures that can stand up to the corrosive water. However, they are likely to corrode over time. This has inspired many anglers to make their own saltwater trolling lures.
You now have a basic knowledge of the most popular types of baits and lures. To start, you can choose a few options based on your target species, the weather and season, and the environment you’ll be fishing in. When you hit the water, you’ll have a palette of options to bring in catch after catch!