How to Choose a Lure Effectively for Almost Any Fish Species

There are so many fishing lures on the market today. Despite this HUGE variety, they all share one common goal. Getting a fish to bite it. The reason there exists so many lures is simple. In fishing, a perfect lure doesn’t exist. All lures will fail at some point. They all have their time and place in which they win and lose. To be a great angler that consistently catches fish, you need a big selection of lures because fish are always changing their behavior based on many factors.

Things like water temperature, water clarity, size of fish, species of fish, the color of the lure, and the lure size all affect this behavior. When it comes time to choose a lure, understanding the proper one to tie on often makes the difference between success and failure. Different features of lures exist because situations do. You do not want to use a huge lure on small fish or use exposed trebles inside snaggy areas. There is no one lure for absolutely everything.

Identifying The Species Of Fish

What kind of fish are you targeting? This is important to understand before you even think of choosing bait to try to catch it. Make sure that you always try your hardest to learn about the species of fish you are targeting. First, answer them. How big is the fish? Is it large or small? Territorial? A predator? Bottom feeder? What is its main food source? Is it a tuna, salmon, catfish, or other species? Will this species even go after a lure if it had the chance? Does it have teeth?

All of these are questions that can be answered with a basic internet search. Why? The answers to these questions are extremely important. Let’s look at largemouth bass and muskellunge for a second. Both are exclusively carnivorous predators. They eat animals only. They prefer to chase down baitfish before they eat them. No veggies, please! Habitually speaking, they will chase lures. They won’t just chase them either. They will bite them so hard that they get hooked.

Largemouth bass fishing jumping out of water with hook in its mouth.

Fish Behavior and Habits 101

The largemouth bass in the image is a good example of this predatory behavior. Uniquely, they naturally hunt but are also territorial to the point where they will jump out of the water when they get hooked. This instinct plays a role in not only how your fish will fight, but also how the fish will react to that lure when it invades its territory. Your lure may look like a tasty snack or it may look like an intruder that just made a very wrong turn. Either way, it’s getting bit by the trailing fish. In addition, that bite will be explosive. You will have a great fight on your hands.

The same goes for the smallmouth and spotted bass. Both will chase lures because of one reason or the other. To feed or fight. The main thing that both have in common is the uncanny ability to be predators. In species that lack this, catching them with artificial becomes that much harder. Now let’s also look at bluegill, grass carp, and channel catfish. They are all omnivorous. Even so, they are not as equally difficult to catch. Bluegill is simple to catch. They all eat animals and vegetation but their habit is different. Bluegill will often eat anything they can find.

Naturally, they will chase lures. Make sure to keep them small though. Channel catfish eat fish mainly but will also sometimes feed on vegetation. They will also chase lures but less frequently. Grass carp are omnivorous also but their main diet is plant matter. They only eat animals a small percentage of the time. Therefore, using a lure for them would not work unless the fish is starving. Even then, grass carp are not likely to want to chase anything while hungry.

If you are wondering which lures to choose based on a specific species, read one of our related articles about fishing gear:

Examining the Surroundings

How cold is the water? If it is cold, you might want to try fishing slower. How dirty is it? If it is clear, a natural subtle presentation often draws the most bites. If the water is stained, a dark blue or black lure or one that vibrates erratically might work better. How dark is it outside? How much vegetation will your lure be exposed to? Knowing how to optimally choose a lure for any given situation will give you the highest chance of catching fish. Your lure should perform well.

Angler catching a trout in a net at a shallow creek.

Understanding Lure Features

1. Action Of Lures – How The Lure Behaves In The Water

The action of a lure largely determines how fish interact with it. For baits with a lip on them like crankbaits, simply reeling it in will cause the bait to swim erratically. For other lures like stick baits and spooks, reeling them straight in will do little if anything to entice strikes. Considering the types of lures without action, the fisherman must provide the action for them to be effective. If a bait moves exactly the same as its real-life counterpart, fish are more inclined to take a bite.

Fishing with swimbaits is a very unique process. It has a very natural-looking action and you impart it on your own, whereas fishing with crankbaits uses lures that have an action unlike anything found in nature. They have their own actions. In clear water, lures that provide a natural presentation will get bit by bigger fish more often. This is just how it works. Crankbait fishing and swimbait fishing are completely different approaches altogether. You will need to adapt.

2. Lure Size – How Much The Size Of Bait Matters To Fish

Generally, the size of your bait has a heavy influence on the size of the fish you catch. Bigger fish eat bigger meals. Smaller fish eat smaller meals. For many bodies of water, the population ratio of small fish to big fish is often a drastic one. Remember too, that as the size of the lure goes up, so does the difficulty it takes to catch fish on it. To put it another way, more fish often equates to smaller fish. In order to get big fish on big lures, you often have to play a game of quality over quantity. There are very few water bodies with thousands of trophy fish unless it’s saltwater.

You have to accept before you start fishing, that you might only catch one big fish the entire day or none at all. You are accepting from the beginning that you are targeting a single fish for the day, but that fish will be a good one. So good in fact, that you will be waiting for the entire fishing day for that moment.

On the other hand, decreasing the size of the lure will appeal to many more of the fish population because there are a lot more of them. This does NOT mean that a small lure cannot catch a big fish. The issue with it is consistency. Big lures can catch small fish and small lures can catch big fish. Just not as often depending on many factors in play.

3. Hooks – Why The Hooks Are The Most Important Part

Hooks are a very overlooked feature within the sport of fishing. Do not ever skimp on the quality of your hooks. There are barbed hooks and those without barbs. For most hard lures, they utilize the classic stainless steel barbed treble hooks. For many soft lures, the hooks usually have a single point, although not always. Barbed hooks generally speaking will make it easier to hook the fish and make it harder for them to get off. For barbless hooks, the fish can get off a lot easier once hooked. Choosing the right hook for your lure is critical to how it will behave.

You don’t want to try and rig a plastic worm on any hook other than one designed for the rig you want. Also true for crankbaits and other hard baits, the trebles must be extremely similar if you ever want to switch them out simply because improper hooks will destroy the intended action. Try not to hook yourself with a barbed hook. If those barbs go to deep, it can require extensive treatment to remove. Some may want to use circle hooks for this exact reason.

Barbless hooks are beneficial because they will slide right out if they go deep in your hand. For this reason, always make sure to have your emergency fishing kit contents ready to clean up any hook injuries. Exposed hooks will often get hung up inside of grassy areas and ones without exposed ones will not. For instance, fishing with frogs or other bait that does not have exposed hooks will reduce the chances of snagging by 100%. Big fish love to hide in these areas.

4. Hunger Vs. Reaction Strikes – The Difference Explained

Do you know exactly why a fish may hit a lure? Sometimes, they are hungry and they think they are getting a great meal. Other times, they are irritated by the mere presence of a lure invading their personal space. All lures are designed with one intent or the other. Baits like crankbaits, spinners, spooks, and poppers are your traditional reaction-type lures. These are designed to irritate fish into striking. Try to picture this. Imagine you have an excellent sense of hearing.

You are at home on your computer, in total silence, relaxing. All of a sudden, you start to hear a very loud rattle outside your bedroom window. After ignoring it for a little while, your ears start to hurt. Irritated, you get up to see what it is and possibly find out a way to stop it. This is exactly how fish perceive reaction lures. Irritating. Instinctively, the fish tries to kill it. How? The only weapon a fish has at its disposal is its mouth. Much like you would stomp on an insect with your foot, fish attempt to crush pests using their mouths. It’s the only tool at their disposal.

5. Lure Buoyancy – The Distinction About The Sinking Rate

Different lures inhabit different sections of the water column. There are surface lures and bottom baits as well as everything in between. Like real frogs, frog lures will stay on the water’s surface. Like crayfish, swim jigs and other crayfish imitators will almost always be at or near the bottom. Exactly like shad or minnows, every lure that imitates them has varying depths.

6. Color Or Paint Pattern – Matching The Hatch Naturally

Pumpkinseed sunfish resting in a hand next to a pumpkinseed crankbait.

Color is a very important factor in lure selection. Ask anyone who catches crappie often and most will tell you that color means everything in the world to fish. Similarly, never want to give a crayfish pattern to a fish who has never even seen a crayfish. Instead, you want to select a color that matches what their natural food is. If the main food is crayfish, however, the lure better be a red color with appendages hanging off of it. You want it to look like a crayfish pretty closely.

If the food source is shad, a chrome finish or shad pattern would do nicely. As the visibility in the water goes down, so does the need for this realism. If a fish cannot see the lure you are offering, the color of the lure does little. Why do lures come in such foreign colors then? Well, bright fluorescent colors up close are a lot easier to see in dirty water than natural ones. Also, darker colors like black, brown, and green are much easier to see from a distance. Try using these first.

In stained water, using a dark or bright color allows the fish to see your lure better. As for the weekend anglers that make the claim about color not making much of a difference, try jigging for crappie. Any good crappie angler will tell you that color is one of THE most important features of a lure. Don’t overlook this feature when selecting one either. The fish do care.

How To Choose a Lure easily

Choosing the proper lure is not as hard as it may sound. Most of the time, most of the work is already done for you. It is just often up to you to choose a brand name. The lure should match the main food source. If the main food is shad, consider all the lures in your tackle box that imitate shad. That already eliminates a ton of lures from the equation. Next, consider what size of fish you are after. If after a big fish, choose a big bait. If after smaller fish, use a smaller bait.

Next, consider the water’s clarity. Water that is very clear means you want a real-looking lure. If it is dirty, try a darker color first. If darker colors do not work, move on to a very bright one. After that, consider the water temperature. For cold water, a lure that has a natural action is best. If the water is warm, fish are more comfortable chasing unnatural presentations like crankbaits and spinners. Again, make sure the fish you want to catch is a predator or it will not work correctly.

Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1

Water Body – Lake Erie

Species Targeted – Walleye

Main Food Source – Threadfin Shad

Water Clarity – Clear

Season – Spring

Weather – Sunny

Water Temp. – 59 F

In this example:

The species we are after is walleye. They are carnivorous. They eat fish mainly. In light of this, they are predators as well. Similarly, that means they will chase a lure. Their main source of food is threadfin shad so therefore, we can put away all lures that do not somewhat resemble threadfin shad. Since the water is clear and the weather is sunny, we want the lure to be as realistic as one is capable of being. The water temperature is 59 degrees Fahrenheit. This means the water is lukewarm.

Since we are after walleye, we know we must use a hard bait instead of a soft one because they have many sharp teeth. Again, this removes the possibility of all soft plastic baits. That alone subtracts about forty percent or more of the average tackle box. Also, since it is sunny out, we need a lure that dives because the fish will be taking refuge from the sun in the slightly deeper water. Due to this, it eliminates all topwater and subsurface lures. This leads us to tie on a crankbait with a threadfin shad pattern as it is one of the best possible lures for the situation. There are also a few more.

Scenario 2

Water Body – Lake Erie

Species Targeted – Walleye

Main Food Source – Threadfin Shad

Water Clarity – Stained

Season – Winter

Weather – Overcast

Water Temp. – 39 F

In this example:

In comparison, in our first scenario, we are on the same lake targeting the exact same species of fish. Indeed, the difference is that it has gotten colder because of winter and the fish are lethargic. On this day, the water is not clear and the sun is blocked by clouds. The fish will be in relatively shallow water and hesitant to chase anything. The very first thing we need to do is consider a hard bait that has the profile of a threadfin shad but dark in color. I suggest black or dark blue.

To clarify, choose the size wisely. The fish will not be very deep at all so pretty much any lure depth could work at this point. Since the fish will likely not give chase, we must fish slow and rely on aggressive reaction strikes to catch them. This involves using a lure that makes noise or vibrations and stays in the strike zone for a while. A few great options would be a jerkbait or a popper. Then, it’s just experimenting to see what the fish want on that particular day.

What Is The Best Lure? You Decide

Simply put? There isn’t one. All in all, most lures catch fish. In brief, so can you. To summarize, all lures are different and are used in different situations. Furthermore, all are capable of catching fish but a few may do better on a certain day for one reason or another. Moreover, this is one of the reasons that makes fishing fun. As has been noted, catching fish on an artificial bait will always be an experience worth remembering.

Ultimately, when it comes right down to it, knowing how to choose a lure is a rewarding experience that everyone who fishes should become acquainted with. In conclusion, you will benefit greatly from getting fish to bite and catch them often. Given these points, your success is now up to you. How do you choose a lure? What is your method? Let us know down in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “How to Choose a Lure Effectively for Almost Any Fish Species”

    • I suggest using a darker color for fishing at night. I usually like black or navy blue. Also, make sure it displaces water!


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