Fishing is an activity that is loved by many kinds of people. It is a great source of meditation, of exercise, and of time in nature. However, those who like collecting might also find that the gear side of fishing is a fun part of the experience. This is especially true when it comes to all of the different colors, sizes, and varieties of fishing lures that are available. Of course, these lures serve many other purposes besides the satisfaction of having a large collection. Within the wide variety are things that many fishermen swear by, and choosing the right lure can often be the difference between an unlucky day and a fish dinner. Lures are designed under a few different strategies, and depending on the location of the fishing trip and the target species, only some of these strategies will work. Here is a look at some of the different kinds of lures, why they work, and which fish like them best.

When Lures Work Best

Fish are usually able to tell something living from something artificial. However, they will bite on a lure anyway if certain instincts are triggered.

  • Curiosity: If they do not know what it is, and they feel unthreatened, they will often bite on something to give it a “taste test.”
  • Motion: Fish who are very predatory will try and catch things that move. The food chain in the ocean is a little different than the one on land. Instead of targeting specific species or kinds, almost every fish is a predator to some extent. They are even known to be cannibals in many situations. The rule of the sea is usually that if you are hungry and it fits in your mouth, it is probably food. If it is running away from you, it must be food.
  • Scent: Some species like sharks are triggered by the scent of blood, and they have been known to eat everything from license plates to a full suit of armor from a sunken ship. Adding the right scent to the water can increase the chance that a fish will suddenly find itself hungry enough to take a nibble at your bait. This can be done via scented lures, dipped lures, or just “chumming” the area (putting chopped pieces of fish in the water to stir up interest).

Types of Lures

Lures usually fall into one of several categories, based on whether they are designed to get fish to notice you from afar or be the tasty morsel that they want to eat. They can be embedded with hooks and work as bait, or they can sit further up a fishing line as a sign to fish that there is bait nearby.


One of the most popular kinds of fishing lures are those that mimic live bait. This can be in the shape of just about anything and is most often used to target a specific kind of fish who is particular with their diet. This kind of lure can be used in combination with some of the other strategies listed below, or on their own. Mimic lures include the following:

  • Flies: This staple of fly fishing is designed to mimic a winged insect. Flies can be hand-tied or bought and are often a combination of thread and other items like feathers. The best flies are made to look very similar to realistic insects or their larvae. They are also used in the appropriate season for the insect they are supposed to mimic. Trout and other predatory fish who respond well to fly fishing are usually pretty savvy and can spot a phony and even an off-season species.
  • Fish: Fish-shaped lures are good for sport fish who like to eat live baitfish. These fish are not as picky as trout, and will often eat anything that is live and moving. Because of this, fish-shaped lures can often work as a substitute for bait fish, and work best behind a trolling motor to simulate that they are alive and swimming.
  • Worms: Many lures are shaped like worms. These are a bit more durable than the backyard kind and are often positioned on the line so that they have the appearance of motion. Fish like bass and sunfish, who are fans of the wrigglers, may eat them, but they also may shy away if these do not pass the nibble test. More voracious eaters like carp are likely to grab them without a second thought, however. These are often combined with scents or other lures to make them more attractive.

Shiny Things (Flashers and Spinners)

There are a number of fish which have a silvery or light coat that can flash during a quick turn. Some scientists believe that this flashing is a way for them to signal to others of their own species. Another theory posits that it is something to distract a predator. Regardless of the reason it evolved, there are a number of predatory fish who have come to associate the presence of mid-water flashes with bait. Shiny lures can take many shapes, though they are often conformed like a convex metal teardrop. Some are designed to spin mid-water so that the flash is constant. This is especially effective in a slow-moving trolling boat because the constant motion helps move water through the flasher to let it do its job. They are great for bringing fish into the area, but very few fish will bite on just the metal flasher. Because of this, these shiny pieces are often used higher on the line to draw fish in from afar, while the hooked lure will be further down. These lures are also a great add-on if you are using live bait, as they will be the thing that will draw fish in from a long distance. In this case the bait fish, like herring or anchovy, will be the actual hooked meal. Shiners are popular in deep sea fishing and trolling for most species.

Neon and Phosphorescent Lures

These lures work very similarly to flashers. Bright colors can also attract predators from afar. Fish with brightly colored prey (think tropical waters) will respond to these lures, as will non-picky fish like cod with big stomachs and a love of bright things. Fish who eat a lot of invertebrates as part of their diet will also be drawn to neon food. During night fishing, the glow-in-the-dark lures (or even LED lights attached to the line) will bring fish in who believe that they have found either a fish with phosphorescence or a moving fish who has disturbed a glowing algae bloom. This is very effective with night-feeding species, like barracuda and squid.

Scented Lures

Sight is not the only sense that fish use when looking for prey. Some lures will come embedded with a slow-release scented bait. More modern technology has created a number of different slow-release compounds that can be included in resin or other plastic compounds to create a combination scent and sight lure. This technology is likely to continue to evolve. Alternately, some will dip their lures in oils to try and create a scent trail. Some level of “flavor” to the lures will allow them to pass an initial nibble test, and make it more likely that a fish will bite.

Choosing the Right Lure for Your Fish

The best way to find out what a fish will eat is to work with fishermen who are regularly successful in the area — if they are willing to share their secrets. Local tackle shops are also likely to be helpful, though the more unscrupulous ones may try and sell you more than you actually need. One possibility is to go out with a guide and pick their brain. Not only will you be paying for the experience of the fishing, but you will be able to use their expertise to begin to develop a collection of what works. Of course, fish are fickle, and they will not be in the same location or interested in the same food every day. This is part of why a versatile tackle box can be a great way to experiment on days when the standards are not working. Before you abandon a certain kind of lure that works for others, you also may want to rule out other things (like noise on board or location where you are fishing) that may be the actual problem. If you find a lure that you love, it never hurts to get backups. This keeps a snapped line from becoming a spoiled trip.

New lures come on the market every year. Some are based on new technology and are bigger, lighter, shinier, or longer lasting. Others are based on a new scientific principle that has recently been discovered about fish behavior. Whatever the reason, you can be sure to walk into bait and tackle stores and find things that you have never seen or tried. The more you understand about the purpose and effectiveness of certain lure types for you, the smarter you can become about finding the right set of standards and alternates that you may need.