How To Choose the Right Fishing Lures

Different sizes, shapes, and designs make each lure unique.

Lures don’t just attract fish. They’re also a fun gear item for you to find, sifting through colors like a connoisseur, choosing the right one for the fish you’re eyeing. Different sizes, shapes, and designs make each lure unique. But all the distinctions that can turn your tackle box into a meticulously crafted library of lures can make the process of collecting them a serious headache. Lures are about as diverse as the fish and water you’ll drop them in, so understanding their various major categories and features will help you craft a tackle box with the perfect tools for your target fish—so you can switch your brainpower to picking the right drink to pair with your next catch. 

Ask Yourself These Questions

Whether you’re standing in the store fishing aisle looking at a wall of lures, or on your favorite lakeshore deciding what to toss, start with a few questions:

First thing’s first: Bait or lure?

Using live bait is one of the oldest ways to fish, and it still works for a lot of different fishing styles. For starters, it depends largely on the fish you’re trying to catch. If you’re fishing at night or in muddy or dark water, bait might be the better option. Live bait is often cheap, but you need to buy it fresh more often. Lures are more ideal for aggressive or predatory fish, as well as for catch and release. Lures can also weed out some of the smaller or less-desirable fish. 

What are you trying to catch?

Different fish species have different tastes, so identifying what you’re hoping to catch on any particular day is the obvious first step toward picking the right lure. Do some research on the fish: How big is it? What is its main food source? Does it have teeth? Is it predatory, territorial, or a bottom feeder? Learn as much as you can about your target and keep it in the back of your mind while you’re going through the rest of the process. 

Design Considerations

Lures are designed in a couple of different ways. The first and most obvious is as a replica of fish food. These lures are built to trick fish into chowing down on a meal. Alternatively, there are reaction lures, which are designed almost to irritate a fish until it bites. In either case, lures are designed with four important design features in mind:

Action

A lure’s action is how it moves in the water. Baits with lips on them will move erratically in the water, simply by the angler reeling them in. For other lures, it’s up to the angler to create the action, maybe by jigging or jerking. The goal is to use a lure that mimics the action of your target fish’s prey.

Size

Bigger fish eat bigger meals. Lure size is one of the easiest ways to be selective in what you’re catching. Small lures will attract more fish, but they’ll likely be smaller than you’d catch using a larger lure. Big lures, however, are more difficult to fish, requiring more accurate action, color, and patterns. 

Color and Pattern

Choose a lure with the color and pattern that most accurately mimics your fish’s prey. Especially in clear water, matching color is important. In darker, dirty water, consider picking a lure that’s a little easier to see, both for you and the fish you’re trying to catch. It might spook some fish, but if they can’t see the lure otherwise, higher visibility is your best bet.

Buoyancy

Just as different fish (and their prey) inhabit different parts of the water column, so should your lure. You won’t catch a bottom feeder with a floating lure. A lure’s buoyancy is what it uses to position itself at the right depth. 

Types of Lures

Lifetimes of angling experimentation has resulted in a handful of lure styles and designs that work regularly. Note that many lures are named after the motion the angler needs to use to retrieve them. 

Spinners

Spinnerbait options typically feature a thin metal (often shiny) “blade” that spins while they’re being pulled through the water. This makes them stand out and resemble quickly swimming baitfish like minnows, which makes them best for aggressive, hunting fish. 

Crankbait

Crankbaits (or just “cranks”) are commonly designed to loosely mimic the shape and color of the prey fish. They also often have a bill attached to the front to help them stay a little lower in the water column. Fishing them is easy: Just reel them in, bouncing the tip of your rod slightly to produce the right action. 

Jigs

These are specialized lures specific to “jigging,” which is the action of just bouncing the lure up and down below you (meaning they’re best for ice fishing or fishing from a boat or dock). Jigs are weighted to drop deep into the water and seem to “dance” when you jerk them repeatedly back toward the surface. 

Poppers

Poppers are designed to splash. They bounce along the surface of the water as you reel them in, disturbing the water and meant to grab the attention of nearby fish. Reel them in slowly, allowing some time between each “pop.”

Spoons

Similar to spinners, spoons are an oval piece of metal with a hook at one end that is designed to wobble as they’re reeled in, garnering the attention of predator fish. 

Buzzbait

These churn and vibrate as they’re pulled through the water, making them noticeable in dark or murky water—ideal for shallows, or for encouraging fish out of hiding. 

Soft Bait

This is a massive category designed to blur the line between hard lures (everything above) and actual bait. They’re typically rubber and are designed to look like the live bait as much as possible, whether it's a minnow, worm, frog, or crustacean. As with all of these, knowing what your fish eats is critical to picking one that works.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.