All fishermen are experts; just ask any one of them. So goes the old saying. So in naming the world’s 50 best fishing lures, I know we’re asking for a fight.
Make sure you carefully consider your options. These lures will work whether you’re targeting trout, walleyes or stripers, and many other species. Some lures can be traced back to the days when your grandfather fished them. Others might be new to you. In all cases, though, you’ll find a lure that catches fish, specified right down to size and color, along with just what to do when you’re on the water.
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Picking the perfect lure for a given situation is hard work, so I’ll confess to a dirty trick. Before returning to a marina dock or my truck, I take the day’s hot lures off my rods and put them away. To the same rods, I then attach lures that didn’t work. That means the prying eyes of other anglers in the parking lot will be led astray, and I’ll keep a secret to myself just a little longer.
This time it’s not. The lures on these pages are, indeed, the ones I use myself—a core collection distilled through 50 years on the water. They’ll work for you, too.
1. Curly Tail Grub
Curly Tail is often used as a generic term for a whole class of soft-plastic grubs with curled tails, but it’s actually a trademark of Mister Twister, the company that made the first ones more than 30 years ago. Combined with a plain or painted round-head jig, as shown here, these are the best fishing lures of all time.
These lures are inexpensive, simple to use, and can be used for almost any fish that swims in freshwater, or inshore saltwater. As just one example, my local smallmouth bass love a 3-inch chartreuse-flake Curly Tail bottom-bounced with a 1/8-ounce jighead-and that’s just the start.
2. Dardevle Spinnie
The familiar red-and-white striped Dardevle is probably the world’s most recognized fishing lure, just as effective now as it was a century ago when Lou Eppinger first started selling them. Dardevle Spinnie can be used for smaller and larger fish, as well as bass.
To give the lure a free-ranging wobble, attach it to your line by giving it a quick snap. Second, avoid the common mistake of a steady retrieve. To give your spoon an irregular darting action, use rod-tip flicks and short pauses. This will significantly increase your score.
Not only does the original floating Rapala work for all kinds of fish-it also often works better than anything else. The Rapala is a favorite of pike, bass, walleyes, as well as trout. A size F11 in basic silver over black is my favorite for trout and bass.
Many fishermen make the common mistake of slowing down their retrieve. If you are fishing for trout, make the lure dart first and then pause by moving your rod tip. Basses will appreciate small, slow twitches that alternate with long, still intervals. Buy more than one to protect yourself. You’ll need extras.
4. Mepps Aglia
These are everybody’s favorite trout spinners even though most people don’t fish them well. A size 0, 1/12-ounce version, with a sterling blade, is best for small trout streams. The Casting upstream is the key to bringing the spinner back slightly quicker than the current. You can spin the blade quickly by rewinding the rod tip, while steering it with your rod tip. This will allow the spinner to travel next to trout cover or submerged boulders.
5. Johnson Silver Minnow
A silver version is tops in freshwater and suits common spinning tackle. Inshore redfish prefer gold. A white pork-rind trailer, or chunk can give bass and pike extra wiggle.
Cast the lure on a surface weedbed, and crank fast. The lure will skip and burble along the weed tops in freshwater. Start a darting, subsurface retrieve when the lure reaches an open water pocket. It will drive the bass that is hiding under the cover nuts.
These nondescript, pencil-like soft plastics are incredibly successful lures, but it takes a little practice to work them right. Rig a 6-inch, Arkansas shad-“color Slug-Go Texas-style on a size 4/0 offset-shank worm hook. Add no extra weight. Cast the lure a few feet from your eyes so that you can see it. Twist the rod tip and let it go slack. The lure will then dart, circle, and seem to die. Repeat the process. That’s the retrieve that makes this lure plain deadly on all freshwater bass plus saltwater stripers.
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7. Zara Spook
It’s the oldest of surface-plug designs and still one of the best, consistently pulling in everything from freshwater bass and pike to saltwater stripers and seatrout.
The 5/8-ounce original Zara is easier to make “walk the dog” than smaller versions, and this blue shore minnow color is almost universally effective. The routine is deceptively simple: a medium-fast cadence of twitch-pause, twitch-pause as you slowly reel, which makes the plug zigzag along the surface.
8. Berkley Power Worm
Many companies make scented soft plastics, but Berkley’s Power Bait series has led the pack for a long time. The The 7-inch Power Worm in basic Black is a favorite.
It is either Carolina- or Texas-rigged. The curled tail of the worm undulates while it moves through the water. Because of the flavoring, bass often hang on a few extra moments, enabling a solid hookset. Some will even swallow it, so don’t wait too long before striking or you’ll be gut-hooking fish.
9. Original Gitzit
Got to love the name: Any fishing lure called a Gitzit should fish well, and this tube does just that. To imitate small minnows, I use mine in a light-colored color.
I prefer this 3-inch camouflage camouflage pattern, which has a darker and broken pattern to imitate crayfish. You can rig the lure with an 1/8-ounce internal Jighead or Texas-rig it by adding a small split shot 18 inches above the lure. www.thegoneapp.com
There are big Flatfish and small Flatfish, but there are no bad Flatfish. All of them work. They have to be fished slowly, though, so they don’t get much play among the bass jocks.
My favorite is an F4 size, 1½ inches long, in perch scale, which I troll for rainbow trout in ponds. Run the plug on a 30-foot, 6-pound-test fluorocarbon leader ahead of 60 feet of lead-core line in early summer. To make the plug spin, paddle or row slowly. Like 20-inch-plus rainbows? This is great.
11. Rat-L-TrapdEye Swimbait
Just a few years ago in these pages I predicted the then-new WildEye swimbaits would be one of the hottest lures to come along in ages. These swimbaits are widely used for fishing, and can be fished in a variety of sizes to catch everything from stream trout and saltwater stripers.
This 3-inch, bluegill-color version is a good beginner’s largemouth bass lure because so much of the action is built in. Find out what’s working on any particular day by letting the lure sink to different depths before starting your retrieve.
This is another one of those nearly universal lures that works (in appropriate sizes) for everything from stream trout to stripers. However, largemouths are its main target.
The bleeding shad version shown here with red hooks is the latest wrinkle on the ¼ ounce, blue-backed classic. It’s a great choice for beginners: Cast and crank through an open-water flat or along the open alleys between weedbeds. That’s all there is to it. That’s pretty much it.
13. Terminator T-1 Spinnerbait
I’ve had big fish-“both bass and huge pike-“plain destroy common spinnerbaits in a succession of hard battles. The lure can be damaged if the skirts are torn or bent.
Terminator’s T-1 series is based on a titanium-wire frame, which flexes but doesn’t bend. It doesn’t kink. It doesn’t corrode. The silicone skirts, which don’t stick together as rubber ones do, are easily replaced. Do you want a really tough bait to use? To withstand the abuse of toothy critters such as pike, get the version with bucktail sleeves.
They are twice as expensive than the more common type, but they are worth every penny. This basic for bass fishing is the 3/8-ounce silver-shiner.
14. Gibbs Pencil Popper
This is a “classic striped-bass lure without a question. Originally designed by the late, great Stan Gibbs near Cape Cod, this 2¾-ounce example is the best of various sizes for big fish. Cast with heavy surf gear and then hold the rods with your righthand.
Hold the rod against your leg. You can slam the rod tip backwards and forwards with your right hand. This causes the lure to go crazy, waving and splashing. The Why isn’t there a smaller, freshwater version?
If you troll for trout in ponds and lakes as many do, you need some of these spoons. The No. 1 size is my favorite. I prefer the No. 1 size with a brass finish. Make sure you sharpen the single hook.
The spoon’s slim, light profile gives a sharply fluttering wobble when it’s trolled at about 1.5 miles per hour. That same lightness means it won’t cast worth a damn, so don’t bother to try. In the cool water of spring, troll the lure 100 feet back from the boat with no additional weight and using line no heavier than 8-pound-test.
These angular hunks of plated brass have a lively tight wobble on a fairly fast retrieve, with a broad shape suggestive of small freshwater shad or, in saltwater, juvenile menhaden.
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When largemouths are schooled up and slashing shad near the surface (common at times in major southern lakes and reservoirs), reach out with a ½-ounce chrome-and-blue version, then bring it darting and fluttering through the action. The lure’s long-casting character is a boon to shorebound anglers, too.
When nothing but far, fast, and deep will do, start throwing a Krocodile spoon. These are true spoons in shape, with a great wobble, but they’re thicker and narrower than most so they can be cast farther.
Great Lakes jetty anglers know this and reach out over the waves to staging salmon with, say, a ½-ounce model 012 in a pearl-fishscale finish. The mottled pearl is one of the most sought-after spoon colors. Make sure to stock up on it once you find it.
18. Lucky Craft Flashminnow
The 100SP Flashminnow in a “ghost minnow” finish is one of the most remarkable lures I’ve ever fished. It’s a shallow-running, suspending jerkbait from Japan that runs and darts about 3 feet deep with hard, rod-tip twitches.
I recently spent three days test-fishing this lure against competitive versions of the same size and similar color for smallmouth bass in Canada. The The Lucky Craft version caught more smallmouth bass than any other lure by at least three to one. I’m still stunned, and they don’t pay me to say it.
19. Rooster Tail
For large brown and rainbow trout in bigger water, these are a hot ticket. Very weighty relative to their overall size, they’ll run deep in the kind of high-volume water that lunker trout prefer.
Cast a 1/6-ounce clown Rooster Tail upstream into the deep, fast chute at the beginning of a large pool. You need to reel fast enough to ensure the spinner sweeps down the bottom. When the strike comes, it’ll be violent.
20. Panther Martin
These spinners are also moderately heavy in proportion to their overall size. The spinning-blade angle and this combination allows them to run deep, which is often what you need when trout fishing.
A 1/16-ounce, silver-bladed version with a spotted yellow body is my go-to choice for picking trout from the pockets of steeply tumbling mountain creeks. Like most trout spinners you should fish downstream.
21. Cordell Red Fin
The 7-inch, 1-ounce Smoky Joe Red Fin is a striper killer in both fresh- and saltwater. When it is slowly pulled, it will crawl along the water’s surface in a slow, wobbling manner, much like a wounded baitfish.
Or you can trick it out: Drill a small hole in the top of the plug between the eyes. Inject 10 to 12 ccs of bunker oil or other liquid fish attractant. The hole should be sealed with epoxy. The The now-weighted plug casts farther, runs deeper, and smells like bait. Pretty nasty, huh?
22. Swedish Pimple
While the name might bring a smirk, the lure itself brings in lots of fish, especially perch and walleyes when it’s jigged through the ice or in open water.
The ¼-ounce size 4 in chartreuse works well for perch, and even better when one of the hook points is tipped with a fresh perch eyeball (yes, really). This enhances the lure’s smell attraction. Pimples, which come in larger sizes than the average lure, are excellent for casting nearshore false albacore or bonito.
23. Blue Fox Foxee Jig
It’s one of my favorite panfish jigs, although I’ve also taken stream trout and even anadromous American shad with the same lure. With flexible soft-plastic “fins” and a short marabou tail, the Foxee Jig has lots of wiggle in a small package.
The short tail is significant because some panfish-“especially yellow perch-tend to nip at rather than inhale a lure. Because the short tail is close to the hook point, you’ll connect more often. Tops are the 1/16-ounce chartreuse. thegoneapp.com
24. Rebel Pop-R
The Pop-R has been the gold standard among freshwater bass poppers for the past 20 years, a shad-imitating plug that can be fished fast or slow according to need.
This ¼-ounce chartreuse shad version is suited to medium-weight spinning tackle and 10- to 12-pound-test mono. Here’s a trick: Use a sharp knife or sandpaper to reduce the edge of the cupped, popping face. The Plug will hold less water and make it easier to skitter.
25 K.O. Wobbler
I once watched awestruck as my friend Jim Ellett hooked three monster British Columbia steelhead during a single cast on one of these oddly shaped spoons. The fish jumped up to the surface and began to throw the spoon, allowing for the same cast and drift.
Cast a red-and-white, ½-ounce version up and across the river’s current. Once the spoon is at its bottom, let it drift, and then tighten your grip on the line until the spoon moves in a downstream swing.
26. FoodSource Minnow
These lures might be the future of fishing. A minnow-imitating, soft jerkbait that leaves a great scent trail, it’s rigged and fished similar to a Slug-Go. All FoodSource models are molded out of real fish food and-unlike common soft plastics-are fully biodegradable.
Numerous angling cretins toss used soft-plastic lures in the shoreline weeds or water, where they become an environmental hazard because they don’t decay or break down. FoodSource lures are environmentally friendly-“and they catch fish. thegoneapp.com
27. Rapala Shad Rap
The 5/16-ounce black-over-silver Shad Rap is a logical lure choice just about everywhere. The Shad Rap perfectly imitates threadfin shad and alewives in southern lakes. They are both small, deep-bodied baitfish that can be used as big-time food for bass. You may see fish boiling in open waters, but the bass will ignore your plastic worms. You can nail them with a Shad Rap that is darting and twitching.
28. Yamamoto Senko
This soft-plastic lure is quite different from all the rest and amazingly effective for large- and smallmouth bass. When it’s rigged wacky-style, meaning hooked once through the center, a Senko sinks horizontally with both free ends quivering frantically.
Cast it out and let it sink, watching the line carefully for signs of a strike. It can be twisted a few feet higher and then let it sink once more. A variety of colors and sizes work well; I like 5-inch Senkos in the peanut-butter-and-jelly shade.
29. Hopkins Shorty
The densely compact Hopkins Shorty, technically not a spoon, casts like a bullet, but that same density makes it more widely used in freshwater as a jigging lure for deep bass.
Drop an S-1, silver-finish, ½-ounce Hopkins straight down in 20 to 40 feet of water when both bass and baitfish are hanging low. The lure will be swam by you raising and lowering the rod tip. You’ll find that many bass will catch it as it falls.
One of the all-time great trout spoons, Phoebes are just plain essential. The The one-eighth-ounce, gold version is what I most frequently reach for. Use the smallest of snaps-a black one-to attach lure to line, and know that this spoon is relatively shallow-running.
That means it’s perfect for pulling big browns that lie hidden along riverbank cover. Wade or boat the middle while casting to within inches of shoreline structure. The size of the trout that come to this spoon will shock you.
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31. Lucky Craft Splash-Tail 90
Sometimes the least likely plug colors score big. This “archer bee” black-and-yellow prop lure has consistently taken bass for me when minnow-imitating hues have failed.
The Splash-Tail’s props have midget ball bearings and turn with the slightest twitch. The best way to get large- and smallmouth bass action is to slow twitch-pause retrieve thegoneapp.com
32 Al’s Goldfish
Readers of a certain age will now be smiling at the memory of an old-favorite trout spoon that hasn’t gotten much press in recent years. It’s still being made, though, and it’s still one of the best brown-trout lures of all time.
The The 3/16-ounce version in gold is my favorite. It has a thick body and tends to run deep. Cast up and down stream in turbulent deep runs. Then retrieve with darting rodtip sweeps to make spoon alternately stutter near the bottom and sink.
33 Hot Shot
These are the disco queens of salmon and steelhead plugs, with tight, fast wiggles and hot colors that are irresistible to big fish. A skilled oarsman in a drift boat will slow and steer his drift to literally walk a wiggling Hot Shot across the noses of waiting chinooks.
Shore-based casters can add some leader weight to their drift and cast across stream for a bottom-ticking swing that will be useful for steelhead waiting. This size 030, ¼-ounce “red fire” version is the perfect choice in both cases.
34 Williams Wabler
I’ve been carrying these Canadian trolling spoons trolling spoons</a> around ever since a long-ago day when some northern lake trout would touch nothing else. The new W55 Lite model is thin in proportion to its surface area, giving a crisp wobble that’s still a little wider and slower than competing versions, an action lake trout often prefer. The two-tone metal finish, meanwhile, does a great impersonation of the variable flashing of baitfish.
35 Hula Popper
My wife says I should be embarrassed, but I can’t help it. In looking at Claude Monet’s classic water lily paintings, I keep asking where’s the Hula Popper?
These plugs are perfect for lily pads and are a bass-pond favorite. Let the 3/16-ounce frog pattern popper sit motionless. Pop it once, then sit still. Twist gently to move the soft skirt. Give it a while and then try again. It’s a slow game of nerves between you and the bass. The bass will win if you are patient.
I love fishing Jitterbugs for bass, maybe because it’s slow and easy fishing. These surface plugs don’t get much attention from the hyperactive, run-and-gun bass boys, but they still play well on the water.
I’ll cast this 3/8-ounce frog-pattern plug across a quiet summer cove, then smile as it glub-glubs slowly and steadily back. Sometimes a bass just smashes the hell out of it, and my quiet contemplation is ruined. It’s so annoying.
37. Stanley Flat Eye Jig
Soft-skirted bass jigs have become basic gear over the past 25 years, and former bass pro Lonnie Stanley had a lot to do with it. This 5/16-ounce version features the hook eye horizontally turned to allow the tapered head of the 5/16-ounce version to slide through heavier cover more easily. It also has an under-skirt rattling and a very sharp hook.
The “pure pumpkin” color matches that of many submerged weedbeds, often a good approach. After the lure stops sinking, flip or cast it to small pockets in hydrilla or milfoil beds. thegoneapp.com
38. Teeny Torpedo
Here’s my favorite surface plug for smallmouth bass in the spring, when the fish are shallow and surface-aware. The 1/8-ounce Teeny Torpedo, in a bullfrog-shaped pattern, fishes well with light spinning gear of 6- to 8-pound test. This perfectly matches tackle for quarry. The single-propeller tail makes just enough fuss when twitched to get the fish’s attention. The lure is very popular with large smallies who often enjoy a gentle sip.
39 Bagley Balsa B
Light, buoyant balsa wood is the basis for this classic, fat-bodied crankbait, giving the plug an extremely lively action underwater. The This 7/16-ounce shad is still in production. It’s a popular choice for bass fishermen everywhere.
Try it in the cool, prespawn waters of early spring to wake up largemouths along the outside edges of emerging weedbeds.
At a time when many crankbaits are being designed to dive ever deeper for bass, the 1-Minus is designed to run shallower. This example is the 5/8-ounce standard version in “wild shiner.” The plug’s wild wobble runs no deeper than a foot, which means it easily skims the top of barely submerged weedbeds. That’s often where the bass are. These are not only largemouths. One time, I saw a Texas redfish almost turn inside out to eat 1-Minus fish on a shallow flat.
41 Berkley Bat Wing Frog
Basically a chunky body with two extended, wiggly legs, so-called toad baits are all the rage this year. Berkley’s version is from their new, biodegradable Gulp! It works great!
Texas-rig them and place them on the surface, in and around cover. Or rig this 4-inch watermelon version with a worm hook that has a light weight on the shank, with the weighted portion under the lure’s belly. This allows the frog to sink horizontally, while the legs move and gets the bass excited.
42 Hula Grub
Here’s another winner from lure designer Gary Yamamoto. This 5-inch, crawfish color (301) version is what I use most often to catch smallmouth bass with a football-shaped Jighead.
The twin tails and skirt have lots of wiggle even with little rod movement, which helps to entice smallies that have gotten lockjaw during a cold front. Fish along the edges of reefs, rock piles, and associated weedbeds.
43 Snag Proof Frog
You can throw one of these soft-plastic frogs just about anywhere; it’s that weedless and great to work thick cover for bass. One favorite trick is the bait-and-switch technique. It’s common for a largemouth to boil or slash at a weedless spoon skittered over a weedbed.
Keep a second rod rigged with a ¼-ounce chartreuse frog. Toss it where the bass lost the spoon. Twitch gently, and you’ll probably take the fish.
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44. Lunker Lure Buzzbait
Lunker Lure is said to have made the first buzzbait back in 1976, although the idea of a sputtering, splashing fast-moving surface lure for bass is much older. Buzzbaits can still be a great way to have fun with topwater bass.
Cast this 3/8-ounce white-and-silver version beyond a flooded tree trunk or log, for example, and use a fast retrieve and high-held rod to bring the lure churning back within inches of the cover’s edge. It will be killed by a bass. Are you having fun?
45 Culprit Tassel Lizard
A soft-plastic lizard is most popular in the spring, when bedding bass will savagely attack this perceived predator near their nests. This chili pepper lizard is 6-inches long and has extra flexibility thanks to its molded tail, leg tendrils, and tail.
Texas or Carolina style, rig it Texas-style. Cast beyond the bedding bass and then slowly draw the lure close to the bed. The bass will attack. Don’t neglect lizards at other times-“they’ll take fish all season. thegoneapp.com
46 Uncle Josh Pork Frog
Fish one of these wiggly chunks in frog pattern as a trailer on a weedless spoon (see No. 2) or on a Bass Jig (No. 39) Or by itself, on a large, non-weedy hook. Unlike soft-plastic chunks, pork frogs are incredibly tough yet flexible and won’t get torn apart by multiple fish.
One tip: When you fish it as a trailer, use a sharp knife to cut away half the chunk’s thickness from the underside to gain more wiggle.
47 Mepps Muskie Killer
Black is good and often overlooked when it comes to lures, especially for big pike and muskies. Mepps Muskie Killer Black is 11/3 ounces heavy and can be cast as deep as 8 feet.
Cast it to cover the outside edges of weedbeds or rocky reefs. Pay special attention as the lure starts to rise near the boat at the end of a retrieve. If there’s a monster right behind it, start moving the lure in a broad figure eight with your rod. It’s the moment of truth-“or heartbreak.
48 Castaic Trout
It’s worth getting one of these big, soft-plastic swimbaits just to watch it swim on the end of your line. The The lifelike action is amazing. It’s named after the Southern California reservoir where monster largemouths get that way by gorging on hatchery rainbow trout.
They’ll gorge on this lure, too, and not just in California. Let the lure of 8 inches slow-sinking get to the drops and edges where trout or bass meet. Twitch and crank, and hold on to your life.
Bonus Classic Lures
49. The Dardevle
Lou Eppinger, creator of the Dardevle, first started marketing these simple metal spoons as early as 1906. The lures come in sizes ranging from tiny fly-rod models to huge, heavy spoons built for catching muskies.
50. Heddon Torpedo
This box might have contained the Torpedo (No. 40) but it also could have held any number of other Heddon lures. It dates to the late 1940s through the mid-1950s and was used to package dozens of different models-“both wooden and plastic. The number stamped on the box’s end flap would indicate the model and the color.
51 The Flatfish
Made by Charles Helin of Detroit, this is one of the most popular lures ever manufactured. A pocket catalog included in this 1940s-era box boasted “1.5 million already sold. Just think of how many fish they’ve caught.
52 The Jitterbug
Most Jitterbugs have an aluminum lip, but the one pictured on this box is plastic. During World War II the manufacturer, Arbogast, used plastic lips because aluminum was needed for the war effort.
53 The Johnson’s Silver Minnow
This lure dates back to the early 1920s. Silver-plated versions were produced well into the 1960s, and their finish would often tarnish into a patina that looked like something from your grandmother’s flatware. Most had a patent date, “8-22” stamped into the lure body.
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This story first ran in the April 2006 issue of Field & Stream.