Fishing Lures 101: The Different Lure Types and How to ChoosePublished on 06/24/2023 · 9 min readNew to fishing and not sure what lure to use when? Conventional Fishing Expert Michael Matey explains everything you need to know about each lure type.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
When choosing what fishing lure to use, consider the following factors: size (match the size of the lure with the size of the bait the targeted species is eating), water temperature (colder water = smaller finesse lures, warmer water = faster-moving lures), water column level (find how deep the fish are and use the appropriate lure to reach those depths). Finding the correct lure the fish are honed in on will greatly increase your chances of a successful day of fishing!
I have been fishing for as long as I could hold a fishing rod. I’ve fished for countless species in freshwater and saltwater. So I know how frustrating it can be figuring out what lures to use in what situations, and that’s why I break it down step by step in this guide to help anyone struggling to get fish to bite!
I’m very passionate about helping people on their fishing journey. There are so many factors to take into account that it can be overwhelming. It is crucial to understand what fish are eating and why they’re eating that specific bait. Once this information is known, recreating it in the form of an artificial lure will greatly increase the odds of hookups. My aim is to help aspiring anglers conceptualize all of this to a greater degree.
What Are Fishing Lures?
To really get a deep understanding of choosing the right fishing lure, we have to start with the basics. So, what actually is a fishing lure, and what is its purpose? The basic wooden lure has been around since the 1890s and has evolved greatly over the past century. From the material, design, and color, the modern-day lure is a work of art. Fishing lures are designed to imitate the bait the fish eat. They accomplish this in many ways, including action, smell, and visual presentation.
What to Consider When Buying Fishing Lures
What Species Am I Targeting?
Knowing specifically what species of fish you’re targeting will dramatically narrow your lure choice. Most predator fish have specific types of bait they feed on. For example, if you’re fishing for smallmouth bass, you’ll want to throw smaller-sized lures compared to largemouth bass. This is because smallmouths have smaller mouths. It’s more difficult for them to swallow a large swimbait. A ned rig is much better suited for smallmouths because of its smaller presentation.
Additionally, fish have evolved in a way that their body structure shows how they feed. This is much more dramatic when it comes to inshore saltwater fishing. For example, a tarpon’s mouth is angled upwards. Tarpons are designed to feed on fast-moving bait fish that are ABOVE them in the water column. The Berkley Powerbait Jerk Shad is a great lure for tarpon fishing because it can be worked fast and high, imitating white pilchards that they’d normally feed on. On the other hand, redfish have downward-facing mouths. They tend to feed on crustaceans like shrimp and crabs that crawl around on the bottom of the water column. Therefore a lure like the Zman EZ Shrimpz works slowly; bouncing on the bottom is a fantastic redfish tactic.
What Time of Year Is It?
Fish behavior cycles throughout the seasons. In the spring, many fish (bass) go through a spawning phase. During this phase of their life cycle, you may see fish close to the bank on beds protecting their eggs. This is a great time to throw a big, loud lure like a heavy jig to entice a bite from a bedding fish. The Gambler Lures Flipping Jig is a perfect example of a lure that would be perfect in this situation.
What Is the Water Temperature?
During the peak heat of the summer or the frigid cold, dead winter, fish will stack up in the deepest areas of the fishery. The water temperature is more stable in these deep holes, so predator fish are more comfortable enduring the harsh conditions here. During these times, it’s important to use lures that can reach these depths to find feeding fish. The Rapala Deep Down Husky Jerk can reach 20 feet down in the water column to find fish during these times of the year.
What Type of Water Am I Fishing? (Flowing, grassy, clear, etc.)
Every fishery is a little bit different. One lake can have crystal clear water, while the next lake over is muddy and full of grass and reeds. So it’s super important to pick lures that match the type of water you’re fishing. Generally, dull, realistic lures are more effective in clean water. If the fish can see the lure very easily, it’s crucial that the lure looks like the bait they’re feeding on and doesn’t appear artificially vibrant or bright. On the other hand, in murky, darker water, a flashy and more vibrant lure with bright colors will get a predator fish’s attention when they can only see 1ft in front of them.
What Are the Different Types of Fishing Lures
Lures can be broken down into dozens of types. For this guide, I will break it down into four categories: top waters, suspending lures, jigs, and soft plastics.
Top water lures work very well when the fish are extremely aggressive. This tends to be during low-light situations like sunrise and sunset. There are many different types of topwater lures, some with treble hooks like a Berkley Choppo or the Heddon Super Spook and some weedless that are meant to be thrown on heavy cover like the Booyah Pad Crasher Frog.
- Very effective during sunrise or sunset
- In areas with an extremely heavy cover like lily pads, topwater frogs are essentially the only feasible lure to use without getting hung up
- Very low chances of getting a bite during mid-day
- Won’t be very effective on small or finicky fish
Suspending lures are used for targeting fish in the middle of the water column. These are typically jerk baits, twitch baits, or crankbaits. Usually, they will be hard baits. These lures can be fished with a straight retrieve or with a jerking/twitching motion. The Rapala Scatter Rap Crank is a great example of a crankbait that will stay a couple of feet below the surface of the water when retrieved.
- Can be used as a search bait to cover a lot of water and find where the fish are located
- Effective for a wide variety of species
- Easily get caught in weeds or cover
- Not great for bottom feeders
Jigs are one of the most commonly used fishing lures in existence. They’re super versatile and have an abundance of applications. They come in many different shapes and sizes. There are bladed jigs like the Zman Chatterbait, jigs with skirts such as the Dobyns Rods Football Jig, and plain ole normal jigheads like the VMC NME Neon Moon Eye Jig that can be rigged with a soft plastic or a swimbait.
- High level of versatility and can have many uses
- Can be used with soft plastics as trailers as well as hooking live bait
- Tend to get snagged when bottom fishing
- Not great for fishing at the top of the water column
Soft plastics have many uses in fishing. They can be used as trailers on a jighead or rigged on weedless hooks. Some soft plastics have a fishy scent that attracts bigger fish, and some use purely their vibration and action in the water to entice fish to bite.
- Can be used for every part of the water column
- Many different types for targeting virtually all fish species
- Different brands are built differently, so some focus on durability and on the action they create
Features to Look For When Buying Fishing Lures
When choosing what fishing lures to buy, picking quality over quantity is vital. It might seem enticing to buy a pack of 10 jerk baits from a random company through Amazon rather than paying the cost of one jerk bait from a reputable company. This is a crucial mistake. Cheap, off-brand lures are never made with the same quality as name-brand lures. They’ll break easily, rust over, and not have good action in the water. Stick to brands like Zman, Berkeley, Yozuri, VMC, and Rapala, to name a few. These have all been tried and tested over the years and have proven themselves as high quality.
“Match the Hatch”
Fish are tuned in to different prey based on what they have available. You can always do a quick Google search to get a general sense of what your target species feed on. To narrow it down even more, look around at your local fishery. Are there bait fish flickering? Are their crawfish in the creeks? What color is the bait? You can use all this information to match your lure with the “hatch” in the area.
How to Choose the Right Fishing Lures For You
Choosing the right fishing lures for your specific needs can feel complicated and overwhelming. Even when targeting the same species, one area can require completely different tactics than another. I’ll describe three different anglers with different needs and explain what lures would make the most sense for each of them.
Joe: Targeting Bass
Joe is a largemouth bass fisherman. He’s fishing in his backyard pond during the summertime and wants to increase his odds of catching fish. The pond is murky with low visibility, but it does reach a depth of 10 feet in the center. He sometimes notices a few crawfish on the bank and small baitfish flickering.
Features Joe should look for:
- Vibrant-colored lures that will be visible and flash in his pond’s dirty water
- Lures that reach depths of close to 10 feet to reach the fish down low during the summer heat
- Lures that emulate the bait he sees in his pond
- Heavy jigs that can reach the bottom
Lure examples: Rapala Scatter Rap Deep Husky Jerk, Zman Project Z Chatterbait
Val: Inshore Angler
Val is an inshore saltwater angler in Florida. She wants to catch her first tarpon during this year's “tarpon run.” She’ll be fishing in relatively clear water for tarpon that are chasing pilchards.
Features Val should look for:
- White lures that imitate pilchards
- Lures that stay near the surface of the water where tarpon tends to feed
- Lures that he can work fast to entice a bite
- Realistic colored lures that will appear natural in clear water
Lure examples: Zman Streakz Jerkbait Pearl, Rapala Xrap Saltwater
Figuring out what the fish want to eat can be tricky. Recreating this in an artificial lure can be even trickier. The aim of this guide is to break down the thought process of the experienced angler step by step to help you simplify this process and catch more fish.