Several times this spring, would-be anglers have questioned me about lures; the what, why's and how’s of their use.
I got to thinking a neophyte angler who visits a well-stocked tackle shop is confronted with a bewildering array of spoons, jigs and spinners among others. Some artifices look like nothing that ever swam, flew or crawled — yet they catch fish. This column is designed to help new anglers learn more about the various types of artifices and to see how and why they work. Maybe it also will refresh veterans who only fish one way.
First, let us look at plugs. Most are designed to imitate small fish. Others imitate such things as mice, frogs and other foods fish eat. The type, size and weight of a plug should be determined by the species of fish you are after and the kind of gear you will be using. There are five basic types of plugs: popping, surface, floating-diving, sinking and deep-diving.
Popping plugs float on the surface where the angler retrieves it by jerking the rod tip to make small splashes, bubbles and a popping sound to attract bass. These are best used when the water is calm and they should be fished slowly.
Surface plugs also float on top of the water, but they can be used with different kinds of retrieves to create different kinds of disturbances than popping plugs do. The popular Zara Spook and Tiny Torpedo are two of the favorite surface lures Missouri anglers use.
Floating-diving plugs are designed to float when at rest and dive when retrieved. Some float horizontally while others have the tail hanging down beneath the surface.
The faster the retrieve, the deeper the dive. Plugs like the old Flatfish and Bomber are effective when made to swim just above a submerged rock pile or weed bed.
Sinking or deep-running plugs can be good fish finders in deep water and are good for bass when fishing deep river holes.
Most of these type plugs have a sort of wobbling action and some vibrate when retrieved. It is important to know these deep-running plugs do not have to be fished in deep water.
An angler can start by fishing on the bottom and work up until they find the fish. Deep running Rebels and Creek Chub Darters are examples of good diving plugs.
Lastly, are the deep-diving plugs. These may either float or sink when cast and all are designed with long and/or broad lips of plastic or metal that cause the plug to dive to depths of 30 feet or more when retrieved. These lures like the old River Runt and Lazy Ike are suited for casting or trolling in deep lakes or drop offs and work best in most waters when the fish are holding in deep water as they do in July and August.
Next, let us talk spoons. They are among the oldest of all the artifices. If you cut the handle off a teaspoon, you would have the basic shape of this lure. Spoons are designed to imitate bait fish of one kind or another and must have a wobbling action when retrieved. Spoons usually come in either silver or gold, but there are various combinations of colors. Most have a treble hook at the end, but others have a single hook at the tail.
The smaller spoons work best in streams and ponds while the larger ones work best in lakes. An erratic retrieve with twitches and jerks of the rod tip is usually better than a steady one because it gives the impression of an injured bait fish.
Sometimes a pork strip will help the action and attract more fish. Examples of good spoons include Kastmaster, Johnson's Silver Minnow and the old Eppinger Daredevle, which is a mainstay in every angler’s tackle box up north.
Spinners, like spoons, imitate bait fish and attract game fish with flash and vibration. But unlike spoons, spinners rotate around the shaft when retrieved.
Bright colored spinners work best on darker or overcast days while the darker spinners are best in clear water and skies. Some spinners work well with bait and can be used when casting or trolling. Small spinners work well for trout at any of the trout parks and are very popular with trout anglers. A Roadrunner fished with a night crawler is an excellent walleye lure.
Jigs are any lure with a weighted head, a fixed hook and a tail of feathers or similar material. They come in weights from 1/100 ounce to several ounces and will catch about any fish that swims in fresh or saltwater.
How do you fish a jig? Most jigs, except for the jig and pig combinations, should be retrieved with sharp upward jerks of the rod tip so that they look like fleeing darting bait. Most jigs have little action of their own, so the angler must furnish the fish-attracting action.
In Missouri, more crappie are caught on jigs than any other artificial lure and they are also very popular with bass anglers. You can find jigs of one kind or another in nearly every angler's tackle box and they probably get used more than any other lure.
Flies. An artificial fly is a combination of feathers, hair, floss, tinsel and other materials tied to a hook in such a way as to imitate a natural insect. They are used to catch many game fish, but are designed mainly for trout anglers. There are four basic types of flies; dry, wet, streamers and bucktails, but all imitate some kind of insect.
Many bluegills are caught by fly fishermen and they furnish a lot of action. There is something special about taking a trout or any other game fish on a fly that an angler has created. This sort of catch is a pleasure in the sport of fishing that is hard to match. Once you get the hang of it, you can tie a respectable fly for a fraction of what you would pay in a tackle shop.
Next, what about plastic worms? Years ago, when the plastic worm was introduced, anglers who fished it thought it was the answer to catching big bass and for a while, it was. Today the plastic worm comes in many colors and sizes and is in nearly every bass anglers tackle box. It can be fished several ways from a slip sinker to a floater with three hooks. The plastic worm is popular with many bass tournament anglers as well as the weekend fishermen.
Finally, let us check bass bugs. It would be hard to beat the thrill of taking a belligerent large or smallmouth bass that burst through the water’s surface and engulf an enticingly twitched bass bug. Most bass bugs are fly-rods created to imitate frogs, bees, dragonflies or mice. Because of a bass's mouth size, these surface lures are tied on large hooks. However, smaller versions of these bugs are also made for panfish.
This covers most artificial lures used in the state and all types give anglers plenty of action and fun at times, but natural baits undoubtedly account for more fish than all the artifice’s combined. It stands to reason that a fish is more apt to tumble to the real thing than to imitate and there are many times when natural baits are just about the only way to catch fish.
Early spring, when the water is usually high, rolling and discolored is a top time for naturals, as are the dog days of summer when most freshwater game fish are sulking in deep holes. Some fish like catfish and carp almost never take an artificial but are caught on bait.
The way you attach a bait to the business end of your tackle is an important factor and how you rig a natural bait depends on how you are going to fish it. There are too many ways to rig a natural bait to explain here. For example, minnows can be rigged in at least seven ways I know of, but the simple once-through-with-the-hook methods are the best for still fishing because they avoid killing the bait and allow it to swim freely.
Some natural baits and what they catch include minnows or night crawlers for nearly every species in Missouri, crickets which are great for panfish, as are grasshoppers and grubs. Frogs catch bass, muskies and walleyes while doughballs catch catfish and carp. Salmon eggs are good for trout and cut bait will take catfish.
There's an art to catching fish, whether with artifice’s or natural baits. As anglers already know or will soon find out, there will always be days when nothing works at all.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in sports as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.