“What are you using?”
Those might be the most common four words in the fishing lexicon, and with good reason. On rare days, it feels like the fish hit just about anything you put in the water. But the rest of the time, what lure you have on the end of your line is one of the most important variables in the catching equation.
Tackle shops offer no shortage of lure options. But which ones should you bite on? As you load your tackle box for the 2018 season, here are five lures you never should leave home without.
1. Tube Jig
Perhaps the ultimate in fishing versatility, the tube jig is a staple in any angler’s tackle box. From tiny tubes that slay crappie and perch, to mid-sized models that hammer bass, to bigger baits that tempt giant catfish and Mackinaw trout, tubes can do it all. The basic concept of tube fishing is simple — slip the tube over a jig head, cast it out and jig it back toward you in short, quick swimming motions. You also can jig tubes vertically from a boat (or through the ice), drift them through river current or rig them weedless and fish heavy cover. No matter what size or color you use, tube jigs are meant to mimic a wounded prey item like a crayfish or minnow. Thus, almost any fish will take a tube — I once caught more than a dozen saltwater species fishing with tube jigs on a vacation in Belize.
2. Prince Nymph
A must-have for any fly box, the prince nymph is an all-seasons killer that seems to catch fish in any water conditions. While it is meant to imitate a cold-water stonefly nymph, fish easily mistake the prince for all manner of insect larvae and underwater invertebrates. Bead head and non-beaded versions are available — the former is ideal for deep or fast-moving water. Fish them solo, or as a dropper beneath a small dry fly. Peacock green with white wings is the standard presentation. If you tie your own, don’t be afraid to experiment with other colors to match the habitats you like to fish.
It has always amazed me how many fish can be fooled by a spinning hunk of metal. Spinners are effective, easy to use and affordable enough that they won’t break the bank (or your heart when you lose one). Everyone has their favorite style and color of spinner. Panther Martin, Blue Fox, Mepps and Rooster Tail are some of the most popular brands. While most anglers think of spinners as a cast-and-retrieve trout lure, they are far more versatile than that. Try varying your retrieve with pauses, twitches and jigs to entice stubborn fish, and don’t overlook them as a lure for catching bass, panfish or, if the occasion calls for it, aggressive saltwater species.
4. Plastic Worm
If I had to bet my tackle box on catching a bass with one lure, I’d tie on my favorite plastic worm. Thanks to their realistic profile, soft bodies and salt-infused taste, plastic worms are a deadly bait that fish readily gobble, especially largemouth bass. On top of that, there are countless ways to fish with them. Texas-rigged worms, deep water drop-shots, wacky rigged Senkos and floating worms are just a few of the options. Best of all, any worm can be rigged up weedless — giving anglers the freedom to fish deep in the thick cover that big bass love to call home.
Like most of the lures on this list, crankbaits offer a wide selection of fishing options. Casting rainbow countdown Rapalas toward the bank from a drift boat is one of the best ways to tempt big trout. Bluegill-colored crankbaits like Berkeley’s Pit Bull elicit huge strikes from bass. Trolling with Shad Raps, Wiggle Warts and Hot Shots is a great way to catch walleye, salmon and steelhead. And sizing down to a small Rebel Crayfish or perch-colored crank is a great way to target big panfish. I’ve even seen 20-pound flathead catfish gobble a crankbait. The key is fishing at the right depth to present them to your target species and to avoid costly snags. Most crankbaits list a dive depth on the box.