How to Catch Fish with Lures, a Complete Guide

How to Catch Fish with Lures, a Complete Guide

This article will thoroughly cover how to catch fish with lures. Many fish are caught by anglers who fool their quarry with lures as opposed to live bait. Lures are extremely effective for both freshwater and saltwater anglers. The different lure types, proper tackle, and techniques used to catch fish with artificial lures will be thoroughly covered.

fishing for largemouth bass

Many anglers, particularly those new to the sport, assume that live bait is always the best choice. While it may seem that the “real thing” is always more effective, this is not the case. Artificial lures have several advantages over live bait.

fishing with lures

Fishing with lures is more convenient than fishing with live bait. Anglers using lures do not need to catch or purchase bait not keep it alive. Lures sit in the anglers tackle box, always ready to go fishing!

Lures also catch fish that are not in a feeding mood. The action and vibration of lures will trigger strikes from fish out of angler, irritation, excitement, competition, and just natural reflex. Live bait generally catches fish that are in a feeding mood or just opportunistic.

best 11 smallmouth bass fishing lures

Perhaps the main advantage that anglers fishing with lures have is that lures allow anglers to cover so much more water than anglers fishing with live bait can. This greatly aids in locating and catching fish. Trolling lures in particular is an extremely efficient fishing method. Great Lakes anglers have perfected this techniques on walleye, trout, and salmon.

How to catch fish with lures

Anglers fishing with lures can use spinning, baitcasting and conventional, along with spincasting rods and reels. For the most part, spincasting outfits, also known as “push button” or “closed face” tackle, will be left out of the discussion as it is really not very suitable for fishing with lures.

top 12 Michigan game fish species

Spinning tackle, also known as “open faced” tackle, is well suited to fishing with lures, especially lighter lures. However, heavier lures can certainly be used as well. The rod and reel should match the size of the fish being pursued and lures being cast. Ultralight spinning rods and reels are perfect for casting light lures for panfish and small fish. Heavier tackle is fine for larger fish such as pike and bass as well as saltwater species.

Baitcasting tackle certainly has it’s place when fishing with lures as well. It is often the best choice when fishing with plugs and other heavier lures. The same applies to casting into heavy cover, baitcasting outfits provide the power need to handle a big fish in tight quarters.


Conventional tackle is often used by anglers trolling artificial lures for larger fish. As mentioned above, anglers fishing the Great Lakes troll extensively and almost always use conventional tackle. Saltwater anglers use conventional outfits as well. Again, the tackle should match the size of the fish being sought.

Artificial fishing lure types

Saltwater fishing with artificial lures

There are six basic categories of artificial fishing lures. These are:

  • jigs,

  • spinners

  • spoons

  • plugs

  • soft plastic baits

  • spinner baits and buzz baits

Just about every single fishing lure that an angler can use will fall into one of these categories. However, there are certainly variations within the lure types.


Tailwater fishing tips and techniques

Jigs are very basic fishing lures. They consist of a hook with lead molded in the front near the eye. This weight and the offset position creates an erratic action, which gives the lure its name. There is evidence two point to the jig being the first artificial lure used by humans to catch fish. Jigs are very effective lures and will catch just about every freshwater and saltwater game fish species.

best crappie fishing lure

There are many different tails or dressings that can be added to the hook to give the bait bulk, action, and flash. Natural or synthetic hair is often used. Bucktail is the most common natural dressing and is still popular today. However, synthetic hair is used quite often. It is effective and more durable than natural hair.

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

Marabou feathers are also used in conjunction with a jig. This is especially true for anglers targeting crappie and other panfish. Marabou has a very enticing undulating action, especially when worked slowly.

Sarasota jig fishing

Many anglers attach a soft plastic grub body to the jig head. This jig and grub combo is an extremely effective fishing lure in both freshwater and saltwater. These grub bodies will be further covered in the “soft plastic baits” section.

Jig fishing tackle and techniques

Jigs can be fished effectively by anglers using both spinning and bait casting tackle. Jigs that weigh one quarter ounce or less are much more easily fished by anglers using light spinning tackle. Jigs that weigh ¼ ounce to ½ ounce can be fished using either spinning or bait casting equipment. Jigs much heavier than that are best fished with bait casting tackle.

Manitoba walleye fishing

Jigs are very versatile lures that can be cast out and retrieved, trolled, or presented in a vertical manner. They can also be used to cover the entire water column. Jigs can mimic just about every type of forage that game fish feed on. Anglers match the hatch by choosing a size and color to match the local prey in the area.

top 25 carolina game fish

A dark colored jig, whether soft plastic or natural hair, bounced along a rocky bottom very realistically mimics a fleeing crayfish. Lighter colors such as white and chartreuse work very well when imitating bait fish. Anglers can swim a jig through the water column to produce fish. This produces in both freshwater and saltwater fishing situations. Shad tail and curly tail jigs as well as natural hair jigs are effective when slowly trolled as well.

fishing for largemouth bass

Anglers bass fishing in heavy weeds and other cover use specially designed jigs. These are usually quite heavy, up to 1 ounce or more. Most have fairly thick rubber skirts that undulate naturally in the water. Anglers often combine these jigs with a soft plastic trailer. This is an extremely effective combination for flipping and pitching in heavy cover and produces some of the biggest bass caught.

Click to read more about fishing with jigs

saltwater fishing with artificial lures

Finally, jigs are very effective when presented vertically. During the warmest and coldest parts of the year, fish will often school up in deep water over certain types of structure such as sloping points, channel edges, reefs, wrecks, ledges, and submerged timber. Anglers can use a vertical presentation to precisely deliver their offering to the desired depth, working it right in front of the fish until a strike occurs. This exact same technique is extremely effective for anglers ice fishing as well.


fishing with lures

Spinners are very simple lures which have been around a long time. While used occasionally in saltwater, these are primarily freshwater fishing lures. Spinners consist of a wire frame with an eyelet on the top so that anglers can attach the line. The frame has a body of some sort with a blade that rotates around. A hook, often dressed with some type of hair, completes the lure.

Spinners put out a lot of flash and vibration. One of the great attributes of fishing with spinners is that they are very easy for anglers to use. Spinners have a lot of built in action and produce best when fished with a slow, steady retrieve. This makes them an excellent choice for novice anglers who don’t have a lot of experience.

best 13 brown trout fishing lures

All spinners are similar regardless of size. The smallest spinners are extremely effective on panfish in ponds and lakes. Small spinners are also terrific lures for anglers chasing trout in streams and small rivers. Smallmouth bass and walleye will fall for medium-sized spinners. Giant spinners are used for anglers pursuing large northern pike and musky.

Spinner fishing techniques

As mentioned above, one of the advantages of choosing a spinner by anglers fishing with lures is that they don’t require a lot of technique in order to be effective. As long as the spinner is moving fast enough for the blade to rotate, it will catch fish.


Spinners really shine when fishing in streams and small rivers. In most situations, the best approach is to cast directly across the stream and then just keep the line tight while the current provides enough movement to cause the blades to rotate. They work well in deeper holes and runs as well as in faster riffles. Often times, the strike occurs at the end of the drift as the spinner swings in the current.

Read more about fishing with spinners in streams

rock bass fishing tackle

Spinners also work well in ponds and lakes. However, if there is one disadvantage to a spinner it is that it is not very weedless. Anglers will do best by working the spinner along the edges of weed lines as opposed to through the thicker vegetation. The same applies to docks and fallen timber.

Spinners do work very well when retrieved over the top of submerged vegetation. This is the best approach for northern pike and musky, both of which like to lie in the weeds waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey.

best northern pike fishing lure

Trolling with spinners is also very effective, especially for anglers chasing rainbow trout in lakes. Trout will often suspend high up in the water column and a spinner putting out a lot a flash and vibration will attract trout to the lure. Again, slower speeds are often the most effective.


trolling for mackerel

Anglers fishing with lures have been catching just about every freshwater and saltwater species using spoons for a very long time. A spoon is basically a curved piece of metal with a hook in. The shape of the spoon along with the bend will dictate the action. Long, slender spoons have a fast erratic action. Conversely, wider spoons have a slow enticing wobble.

Read more about fishing with spoons in freshwater

brook trout fishing lures

Spoons are available in just about every size and color imaginable. Silver and gold are the two most popular finishes. Tiny spoons are very effective on trout and panfish. They are used extensively by anglers ice fishing. Spoons in the 1/2 ounce size are very versatile as they match a lot of the available forage in both fresh and saltwater. Spoons as large as a foot long are used to mimic shad and herring and other prey for anglers pursuing trout and salmon in freshwater as well as striped bass and other predator species and saltwater.

Spoon fishing techniques

Spoons are another versatile fishing lure that is fairly easy for anglers to use as they have a lot of built in action. They can be cast out and retrieved, trolled, and fished vertically. Most spoons have a treble hook though they are available in single hook models as well.

lues for surf fishing

Spoons are excellent search baits for anglers who like to cast artificial lures. They are quite dense and will cast a long way for when using both spinning and bait casting tackle. Anglers should vary the retrieve, though a steady retrieve with the occasional twitch or pause is usually the most effective. The spoon will flash as it falls seductively on this pause, simulating a wounded bait fish.

Spoons are an excellent choice when anglers are chasing “breaking fish”. It is when game fish have trapped a school of bait fish up against the surface and are feeding aggressively This happens often in saltwater, but does occur in freshwater as well. It can be seen from quite a distance as birds are diving and the water is actually frothing. A silver spoon very realistically mimics the bait fish that are being devoured.

Best 6 fishing lures for redfish

Spoons are very effective when blind cast as well. Again, due to the fact that they are heavy and can be cast a long distance, they are an excellent lure to use when searching large areas for fish. Where possible, it is best to match the size and color of the spoon to the locally available forage.

Weedless spoons can be extremely effective when fished through areas of thick vegetation. This is true for anglers chasing bass in freshwater as well as redfish in saltwater. Weedless spoons have a single hook which rides up in a weed guard to deflect snags. They are one of the most effective artificial lures to use, especially in shallow water situations.

Great Lakes salmon fishing

Spoons are outstanding trolling lures! Anglers fishing in the Great Lakes region have been using them successfully for decades to catch salmon and just about every trout species. Walleye also fall victim to spoons quite often. Anglers trolling for striped bass in both freshwater and saltwater do well with spoons. Finally, every species of mackerel will readily take a trolled spoon.

walleye fishing

Anglers can also use spoons in a vertical presentation. In fact, some spoons are specifically designed for this application. The Hopkins jigging spoon is a prime example. Suspended fish can be very difficult to catch. Anglers using a vertical presentation can keep the lure in the strike zone for a long period of time, hopefully enticing a strike. This technique is extremely effective for anglers ice fishing with spoons.


best jerkbait for saltwater fishing

Plugs are another category of fishing lures. In the early days, they were hand carved from balsa wood. However, the vast majority of fishing plugs available on the market today are made from plastic. Most imitate wounded bait fish, but some mimic crayfish and other types of forage.

Check out the top freshwater fishing plugs!

These are very effective baits for anglers fishing with lures. For the most part, they are either cast out and retrieved or trolled. There is one type of plug that can be used in a vertical presentation. Like most lures, plugs are available and just about every size, shape, and color imaginable to match the available forage.

snook fishing tackle

While plugs have many advantages, there are a couple of disadvantages as well. Plugs are fairly expensive to purchase compared to other artificial lures. Also, the multiple treble hooks that often increase the hookup ratio also can be quite dangerous. Anglers need to be very careful when casting plugs as well as when will landing a fish and removing the lure from the fishes mouth.

Different plug types and fishing techniques

There are several types and styles of plugs. These include top water plugs, crank baits, and jerk baits. While they are all similar, there are enough differences that they should be covered in separate sections.

Topwater plugs

best 6 topwater plugs for saltwater fishing

As the name implies, topwater plugs are worked on the surface. There are several different styles and they all are designed to put out a commotion on the surface that imitates a struggling and wounded bait fish or other prey. Top water plugs are generally worked fairly slowly with sharp twitch is in a pause. The strike often occurs on this pause. For the most part, top water plugs work best in fairly shallow water or when fish are seen feeding on the surface.

Read about the best topwater plugs for saltwater fishing

The three types of top water plugs are poppers, propeller baits, and “walk the dog” baits. Poppers have a concave face and when twitched sharply they dig into the water and produce a loud popping sound. Propeller baits have propellers either for, aft, or both. Again, when twitched sharply they put out a lot of surface commotion, more than a popper.

Chesapeake Bay bass

Walk the dog baits are a little bit different”. Unlike the other two types of top water plugs, these have very little built in action, the angler must impart action to the lure. They are conical he shaped front and rear. With the rod tip held low near the water, the lure is retrieved steadily while the rod tip twitched and a rhythmic manner. This causes the lure to dance sideways back and forth. It takes a while to master this technique, but is extremely effective on a wide variety of freshwater and saltwater game fish.


Just as with top water plugs, there are several different styles of crankbaits. Crankbaits are generally cast out and retrieved back in, or cranked in, thus the name. They are available in many different shapes and sizes. Generally speaking, they have a fairly wide body that imitates shad, bluegill, herring, and even crayfish.

Sacramento River striped bass

Most crankbaits have a plastic bill on the front. This bill, along with the shape of the plug, determines how deep the lure will run. Most manufacturers offer some type of chart that will give anglers a rough guide of how deep a particular lure will run, though there are other factors which affect this. Obviously, the best approach is to match the depth that which the lure is designed to dive with the area being fished. In most cases, it is best to have the lure occasionally bumping the bottom.

Squarebill crankbaits have become fairly popular of late. These lures are especially erratic and for whatever reason seem to bump off of cover instead of get hung up. This makes them an excellent choice to fish in and around heavy cover. For the most part, this is a shallow diving bait, but deep diving models are available as well.

bass fishing

Lipless crankbaits do not have the plastic lip on them. They are shaped like a fish in the line tie is usually on top near the center of the bait. When retrieved through the water, they put out a ton of vibration and noise as well as some flash.

Anglers fishing with crankbaits should vary the retrieve until a productive one emerges. The best all round retrieve is to cast the lure out, reel quickly to get it down to the desired depth, then work it back in using an erratic twitches and pauses. Again, experimenting will determine what the fish want that day.

walleye fishing, a beginners guide

Crankbaits are excellent trolling lures as well. Due to the fact that the lip will cause a lure to dive, anglers do not need weights and downrigger’s and other devices to get the lure down to the desired depth. Special crank baits are used by saltwater anglers that will dive as deep as 50 feet on their own. Anglers fishing larger freshwater lakes often use lures that dive down 25 feet or so.


fishing for snook

Jerkbaits are long, slender plugs. They have a plastic lip and come in both shallow and deep diving models. They are worked aggressively, with the angler giving the lure a hard jerk (thus the name), followed by a pause. The pause is crucial as this is when the fish most often hits the lure.

There are many different jerkbaits on the market and they produce a lot of both freshwater and saltwater species. Smallmouth bass in particular love them as jerkbaits often perform well in clear water conditions. Most jerkbaits also do well when trolled, either alone or behind a downrigger or sinker.

fishing with lures

A wide variety of saltwater species will take them as well. Saltwater fish tend to be more aggressive and the erratic nature of a jerkbait appeals to them.

Soft plastic fishing lures

spotted sea trout fishing

Soft plastic baits have revolutionized fishing, and that is not an overstatement. These lures are soft, supple, and very lifelike. They look and feel like the real thing to game fish. Some soft plastic lures also incorporate scent as well. This only increases their effectiveness.

Soft plastic lures are available in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors. Plastic worms were the original soft plastic bait. When they came out in the late 1960s, they were very stiff and unnatural looking. That has changed a lot today! However, a six inch plastic worm remains one of the most effective largemouth bass fishing lures to this day.

fishing for crappie with jigs

Most soft plastic lures are meant to be fished quite slowly, imitating natural creatures that are crawling along the bottom. They are available in worms, salamanders, crayfish, and creature baits which really don’t look like anything in the water. The bulk and action of these lures is very effective.

inshore saltwater fishing

Soft plastic swim baits are also very effective, particularly for anglers saltwater fishing. They are most often fished on a jig head and are cast out and retrieved similar to other artificial lures. They are not confined to saltwater, many freshwater predator species including smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and walleye will readily take a soft plastic swim bait on a jig head.

Fishing with soft plastic baits

Unlike other fishing lures, soft plastic baits must be rigged up in some manner. The lures are sold in bags separately from the hooks. There are several different ways that anglers can rig and fish soft plastic lures. These include Texas rig, Carolina rig, wacky rig, drop shot rig, and soft plastics on a jig head.

texas rigged worm

When plastic worms first came out, the most commonly used rig was a Texas rig. This involved a specially designed hook as well as a sliding conical he shaped sinker. The shape of the hook allowed for the worm to hang straight while embedding the hook in the worm. This resulted in it being almost entirely weedless. The sliding weight allowed for the worm to be fished through weeds and over cover, yet allow the bass to pick the worm up and move off with it without feeling any weight. This rig is still popular and very effective and can be used with just about any soft plastic lure.

carolina rig

A Carolina rig is similar to a Texas rig with a couple of differences. Instead of the sinker being allowed to rest up against the eye of the hook, a swivel is used to stop the sinker. A leader around 30 inches long connects the other end of the swivel to the hook. A floating worm is most often used. The result is a rig that allows the sinker to crawl over cover while the worm works just a little bit above the bottom. This is an extremely effective rig that is most often used in deeper water around structure such as points and channel edges.

wacky rig

There is perhaps no easier way to fish a plastic worm then to use a wacky worm rig. It simply consists of a hook placed through the center of the worm and then cast out towards likely structure, usually along the shoreline. As the worm syncs through the water column, it undulates naturally in very seductively. It is extremely effective and it is very easy for novice anglers to use and master. In most cases, the fish, usually a bass, picks up the worm and runs off with it.

drop shot

A drop shot rig is an extremely effective way to present a soft plastic lure. The hook is tied in line about 12 inches to 18 inches above a sinker. This results in the bait being presented just off the bottom. It is extremely effective when fish are fussy and desire a very subtle presentations. The bait can be wiggled right in front of the fishes nose for a long period of time, hopefully drawing a strike. Just about any soft plastic lure can be used with this presentation.

guide to inshore fishing

The final presentation that anglers can use when presenting a soft plastic lure is to use it in conjunction with a jig head. While the previous for rigs are mostly tailored to bass fishing, a soft plastic bait on a jig head will catch just about every species that swims. One of the keys to this combination is the versatility. Any tail can be added to the jig head to mimic a baitfish, shrimp, crayfish, or any other type of aquatic life. The jig and grub can be bounced off the bottom, worked in the middle of the water column, and even worked just under the surface.

Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits

spinnerbait fishing

Spinnerbaits are excellent choices for anglers fishing with lures. They consist of a wire frame that looks a bit like a safety pin. In fact, back in the day they were called safety pin lures. A blade or blade rides on the top of the arm and a jig head is molded into the lower arm with the line tie being in the center. The result is a lure that is a combination between a jig and a spinner; two of the most effective fishing lures.

Spinnerbaits are mostly used by anglers freshwater fishing. There are a couple of saltwater applications, mostly fishing for redfish in fairly shallow water. Some anglers snook fishing use them as well. However, the vast amount of anglers casting spinner baits will do so in freshwater.

Best fishing lures for bluegill

Spinnerbaits have several advantages. They have a ton of built in action and are easy for novice anglers to use. In most cases, the best retrieve is a steady one. The rotating blade swimming skirt on the jig attracts fish. The lure is fairly easy to cast. Finally, spinnerbaits, due to their design, are relatively weedless. They tend to walk over and around structure.

Spinnerbaits come in several different configurations. Lures with one blade are called single bladed while those with two blades are called tandem spinnerbaits. Gold and silver are the most popular finishes on the blades. These blades are also available in several different designs; Colorado, Indiana, and willow leaf blades. All put out slightly different vibration. Skirt colors are endless two, with white and chartreuse being the top colors.

Tiny versions of these lures are incredibly effective on panfish, with the Beetle spin being a prime example. Generally, the slowest retrieve that will keep the blade spinning it will be the most productive. Larger versions in the 1/4 ounce to 1/2 ounce size are extremely effective on just about every other species. Larger models are used on Pike and musky.

For the most part, spinnerbaits are a shallow water bait. They work best around vegetation, fallen timber, and other structure. Heavier lures can be fished slowly and deeply, this is called slow rolling a spinnerbait. These lures are almost always cast out and retrieved, they do not work well in a vertical presentation and are rarely trolled, though they can be.

best buzzbait fishing lures

Buzzbaits are basically top water versions. They are designed to run right on top of the water with a specially designed blade that puts out a rhythmic gurgling sound and a ton of commotion. This is considered by many anglers to be a big fish bait and will draw some explosive strikes!

In conclusion, this article on how to catch fish with lures will help anglers be more successful when using artificial baits!

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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