How to Choose the Right Fishing Lure
Finding the best fishing lure for the day or a body of water takes experience, testing, and sometimes patience. You’ll want to try a few different lures to get a good feel for what will catch the most fish for you. I like to start with a few different lures in mind to swap through until I find a good pattern. You can narrow down your test group based on the species your targeting, water temperature, water clarity, and depth.
Species Your Fishing For
The species of fish that you’re after is the number one factor to determine which type of lure to choose. Species like common carp and suckers feed on invertebrates and vegetation near the bottom of the lake or river. They are best targeted with live worms or corn on a hook with a sinker.
Most other species that anglers target are predators that eat smaller prey. Bass, northern pike, musky, walleyes, perch, and large panfish will strike lures that imitate minnows, insects, or other natural prey.
This would include a large percentage of the fishing lures on the market, from crankbaits to inline spinners to jerkbaits and spoons. Each of these lures is meant to look like common prey and elicit a strike from a hungry predator.
Bluegills and smaller panfish are best caught on small jigs and plastic baits that resemble invertebrates, or live worms. In fact, bluegills are extremely curious and will taste just about anything that falls into the water near them. A tiny piece of your lunch on a hook will almost certainly catch a bluegill.
The bottom line is—learn what your target species usually feeds on in the wild, and select a lure/bait that resembles that type of food for the best results. This is where the phrase “match the hatch” comes from and why there are so many different styles, sizes, and colors of lures available.
Water temperature is very important when fishing. Fish are cold blooded so their activity level and metabolism is directly impacted by the temperature of the water. In most cases, a cold fish is a sluggish fish with a small appetite.
In colder water, downsizing or slowing down your bait can help to appeal to these sluggish fish and increase your chances.
Focus on slow, small lures and finesse tactics like a neko-rigged plastic or a dropshot rig. Live bait can also be very effective at these times. Remember to work it slowly regardless of your lure/bait choice.
However, some cold-water species like trout and salmon actually get more active in cold conditions. They will happily hit quick moving lures like inline spinners, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and spoons.
Another thing to consider is the clarity of the water. Dirty, murky water that has a lot of sediment or algae suspended in it is hard to see through, even for a fish. You can get more strikes if you help the fish find your lure. This can be done with lures that produce a lot of noise, flash, or bright colors.
Many crankbaits contain rattles inside that produce plenty of noise and vibration for the fish to notice. Inline spinners, spinnerbaits, spoons, underspins, and other lures throw tons of flash from a rotating blade that makes a thumping noise in the water as it spins. This combination of vibration and flash can be very effective in dirty water.
In clearer water, fish have much better vision and will avoid unnatural looking baits. You’ll want to use more natural colors.
Remember that the clarity of a water body can change by the day. A storm event that washes a bunch of sediment into the lake or river can drastically change the clarity and color of the water overnight. This is especially true when fishing reservoirs, where one of more streams flow into it.
A good place to start fishing is along the mudline, which is an area where a distinct change in water clarity occurs between the clearer lake water and the muddy water of the incoming stream. Cast into the muddy water and bring it out into the clear water. Predators will often sit and wait for minnows to blindly swim out right into an ambush.
Depth is also very important. If all of the fish are down deep during a hot, sunny day and you’re working along the shoreline, you’ll likely have a slow day. In general, fish tend to seek shelter in heavy cover or deep water during bright, sunny days.
If they don’t, they could easily become food for an eagle, osprey, or larger predator fish. Target the shallows during low-light periods and targeting structure or deep water during mid-day or bright conditions.
Different species often relate to different depths. Perch and walleye are usually close to the bottom, and are well-adapted to being in dark water. Fishing for walleyes in 20-30 feet of water or more is not unusual. Use heavy jigs and deep-diving crankbaits to get down to these fish.
Keep in mind that many fish will move to different depths throughout the day. You may find largemouth bass in 2 feet of water during the early morning and have good success with topwater baits or weightless soft jerkbaits, but they will move deeper (or into thicker cover) as the sun gets higher in the sky and you’ll have better luck with a Texas rig, deep diving crankbait, or heavy spinnerbait that you can get down to the fish quickly.