Whether you’re casting for bonefish in the Bahamas, hunting spring striped bass on the East Coast, or trying to fool wary largemouth bass at an inland lake, one thing is for sure: if you don’t choose the best lure for the job, you aren’t going to catch as many fish. Choosing the best fishing lure is, of course, easier said than done. And since a zillion factors ranging from weather to water conditions come into play—and may affect each different species differently—making the right call can change on an hourly basis. But fear not, dear fisherman. While we can’t tell you the best lure for every given situation, we can share 10 reliable tips for choosing the best fishing lure.
1. Match the lure profile with the dominant prey species profile. Where long, skinny silver-sides abound, pencil-poppers with a long, skinny profile are usually a top producer. But in areas where deep-bodied bunker swim, lures like plastic shad, with their similarly deep profile, are likely to be better.
2. When fish are oriented to a thermocline, lipped plugs are killers. Of course, you have to choose one with the right lip—one that dives to the approximate depth of the thermocline, and stays there during the retrieve. Do so, and your lure will be in the strike-zone at all times.
3. Match lure color to the water color. Yes, it sounds strange that green colors would work best in green waters and that blue lures would be effective in blue water, but it’s usually true. Usually. Color-matched lures won’t always be the hottest of the day, but they are more often than other color choices and should always serve as a starting-point, when picking out colors and patterns.
4. Choose lures that make vibrations whenever you’re in discolored or muddy water. Those vibrations help fish home in on your lure long before they can even see it. Lures with rattles or large willow blades are a great bet, especially in water with two feet or less of visibility.
5. Don’t choose rattling lures in gin-clear water. When fish are keyed in on hunting via eyesight, for some reason, rattles sometimes seem to spook them.
6. If you’re trolling, be sure to use a lure that provides its own action. A lipped crankbait, paddle-tail, or screw-tail lure would all be a good choice. But a jigging spoon (which doesn’t wobble much at all) a stick-bait, or a straight bucktail needs action added by an angler with his or her hands on the rod, at all times.
7. Pick out a lure with good color contrast. If you look at fish in nature, most have contrast—so the fish are used to seeing it on their prey. And don’t forget, you can take some plain baits and “hot-rod” them to get some contrast into the mix. (If you’re not sure how, watch our How to Hot-Rod a Soft Plastic Fishing Lure video).
8. Choose heavy lures in windy conditions. Even if you have to speed up your retrieve to keep the lure in the strike-zone, going heavier is usually the right move when it’s gusting. It allows you to better keep tension on the line (which tends to get blown into a big bow, otherwise) which means you’ll be better able to react to strikes and/or feel for bottom.
9. Stick with larger lures in colder water. Fish are out to get the maximum number of calories for the minimum energy expenditure. In cold water when they’re conserving energy, this often means they won’t go chasing after a small offering.
10. When in doubt, reach for the old stand-bys. Lures that have been around forever (like Mepps spinners, Clarke spoons, Rat-L-Traps, etc.) have generally been around forever because they actually work. That doesn’t mean an old stand-by will be the “best” lure on any given day, but if nothing seems to be working and you’re unsure of what to try next, reaching for an oldie-but-goodie is usually the right move.
Want to see what happens when you put lures up against bait, in a head-to-head competition? Watch the Got Bait? Video series.
Got Bait? The Hunt for Flounder
Got Bait? The Search for Stripers
Got Bait? Mahi Madness