It's all about pulling off one great big confidence trick.
It is a sham, a fraud, a total con but it is also one of the most exhilarating ways to catch a fish.
If you have never tried it before, or only had a half-hearted dabble in the art of this trickery, then it’s time you became a fully fledged predatory con-man.
The fact is there’s never been a better time to go lure fishing. In simple terms lure fishing is the art of conning a predatory fish, like a pike or a perch, into thinking that a shaped and coloured lump of wood, plastic, metal or rubber is actually a piece of potential prey.
By winding this dummy bait through the water the angler’s job is to breathe ‘life’ into these fake baits and trigger the killer instinct imprinted into the predator’s DNA.
There’s no mystery or secret science. Lure fishing is a VERY simple method.
All you need are a few relatively cheap pieces of kit, a venue holding predatory fish and a willingness to explore the water!
That’s it. The rest you’ll pick up as you go along.
To convince you how easy it is to learn the basics we’ve employed a man who has spent decades catching fish on lures – John Wilson.
For the last 20 years John has filled our TV screens with his angling adventures and on many occasions he has used a lure to tempt unfeasibly large fish from the depths.
To pick his brains, and give you the information needed to acquire the skills you’ll need to catch predators, we spent a day with John on his local River Wensum in Norfolk.
On a cold winter’s day we learned that Wilson is an advocate of the ‘simple school’ of lure fishing…
TACKLING UP – TRAVELLING LIGHT
One of the main reasons why anglers are dubious about lure fishing is the bewildering range of baits available.
There are hundreds of different shapes, sizes, colours and designs of lure, the choice is daunting at first.
To make life easier the table below describes the seven main families of lures – plugs, spoons, spinners, jigs, spinner baits, rubbers and jerk baits.
Although they perform different tasks you don’t need dozens of each model when you start lure angling.
Think about it, when you first went fishing you probably stuck a worm or maggot on your hook to begin with. It’s the same with lure fishing.
A couple of basic plugs, a spoon and maybe a spinner or two will be enough to get you going.
Indeed as we trooped towards a low, clear river the most obvious thing about John’s approach was how little he was carrying.
In one hand he held a nine foot Masterline Wanderer lure rod teamed with one of his own Masterline Signature reels, in the other hand he clasped two tackle boxes carrying the lures and the wire traces needed to attach them to his mainline.
Mobility was vital: “One of the reasons I like lure fishing is that I’m always doing something,” John explained.
“Not only do I repeatedly cast and retrieve my lure, searching the swim for a fish, but I also keep moving along the river or round the lake looking for new spots. It’s an active and interesting way to fish.”
Once at the river it took John under a minute to set up his gear, such is the simplicity of lure fishing tackle.
The 30lb breaking strain Cortland Spectron braided line was threaded through the rings of the short nine foot rod before a 12 inch long Rapala ready-made wire trace was tied to the end.
Sporting a large clip on the end of the heavy duty wire it was easy for John to thread the plug onto the end of his line.
That was all there was to it - one rod, a reel loaded with braid, a ready-made wire trace and a lure. Job done.
A family of plastic or wooden lures, also known as ‘crankbaits’ because they work by being cranked in. Equipped with a diving vane under the chin, they wobble on a straight retrieve. The angle of the vane denotes how deep they dive. The shallower the vane angle, the deeper they’ll go. This is the Rapala X-Rap SXR-10 John used in this feature.
Polished metal shaped like the bowl of a desert spoon. Spoons spin slightly on the retrieve, glinting in the sun, so they mimick an injured fish. Best fished on a stop-start retrieve, their weight allows them to be fished at any depth. This is a Lucky Strike Lizard.
Water pressure forces a polished metal ‘blade’ to revolve around a fixed barrel body on a slow, even retrieve. The blade flashes in sunlight and gives off vibrations attractive to predators. Spinners often have red ‘skirts’ around the treble hook to increase visual attraction. Best in shallow-to-medium water. Pictured is a Blue Fox Super Vibrax spinner.
These realistic-looking, soft rubber imitation fi sh normally have a fl oppy tail but the main predatorattracting action is imparted by the angler ‘jigging’ the rod tip up and down to ‘bounce’ the lure across the bottom. The soft rubber tail is threaded onto a weighted jig head hook. The picture shows an Esox Cobra jig set.
5 SPINNERBAITS & BUCKTAILS
Have metal blades hanging from one side of a stainless steel wire frame, and long, fl owing rubber or plastic ‘tentacles’ surrounding a large single hook on the other. The blades spin and fl ash and the tentacles pulse and fl utter enticingly. Bucktails are spinners equipped with fl uorescent coloured, imitation deer hair tails. This lure is a Cordell spinnerbait.
This is the generic term for a large family of soft rubber-bodied lures of all shapes and sizes weighing from a few grams up to 8 oz. The lures usually feature a long, pliable curly tail that fl utters on the retrieve. This lure is a Musky Innovations Bulldawg.
7 JERK BAITS
Are like plugs, but don’t have a diving vane. Weighing up to 10 oz and made from solid wood or plastic they have to be fi shed with specialist, short, heavy-duty rods. The action is imparted by jerking the rod tip while reeling in. This makes the lures slide and glide. Jerks can be fi shed at great depth or across the surface. This jerkbait is called a Strike Pro Belly Buster.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LURE
John is a big believer in searching the water column with his lures. The location of prey fish and the temperature/colour of the water can effect where the pike will be lying up.
For example, in clear, cold winter conditions he believes the prey and predators tend to slink into deeper water or areas offering cover.
During our day most of his casts were made into deep water, or close to snaggy marginal areas that he hoped would provide the pike with ideal ambush points.
However, at other times of the year or if there is a mild spell in winter, the shallower areas or the upper layers of the water can be a better bet.
According to John (as the diagram, below, displays), you’ve got to search the water column to find the fish: “Lure anglers should think of the water as a layer cake of depths. I think about a swim in two feet bands and use lures that will work through the different depths.”
Clearly the choice of lure is vital in performing this task.
As our guide to different lure types reveals (see previous page), the design of a lure effects how it performs in the water – some float, some sink. Other lures have the depth they work at affected by the angle of the diving vane or the speed they are retrieved.
Thankfully some manufacturers realise how confusing the range of lures can be and that many newcomers can’t choose lures that work at the depths they require.
The new Rapala lures John carried were supplied in packs marked with details on the depth range they are designed to work at – a good move.
BRINGING THE LURE TO LIFE
Once you’ve picked a lure the skill comes from your ability to make a lump of metal or wood behave like a live fish.
Predators are instinctual hunters that are programmed to sense the movements of potential prey.
Watching John work his lure in the clear waters of the weir pool it was obvious he could make his Rapala X-Rap plug behave like a fish.
Casting into the pool John allowed the lure to fly unhindered through the air before he ‘feathered’ the line pouring off the spool with his index finger just before it hit the drink.
This made the lure land perfectly: “Feathering the line before the lure hits the water ensures its head points back at you and stops the treble hooks tangling round the wire trace.
“It also helps to pull the line tight so that you can feel if a pike hits the lure as it sinks to the bottom.”
Once the lure hit the river John allowed it to sink on a tight line (at approx. one foot per second), until it dropped to the bottom of the pool.
Now he brought the plug to life.
Pointing his rod almost directly at the lure John started to wind in the braided line.
Adopting a slow winding speed he began to crank the small, cigarshaped blue X-Rap towards him.
However, as he made his second and third casts of the day it became more obvious that he was varying the speed and pattern of his retrieve.
On some casts he turned the handle slowly on others he was a little faster. He also frequently stopped winding for a second, to halt the lure, then quickly made a few turns of the reel to make it jump forward.
Prey fish, like roach, don’t move at a constant pace – they dart, twitch and swim at different speeds.
By altering his retrieve John mimicked this behaviour and was teasing the pike to respond naturally: “I always retrieve my lures erratically,” he explained, “sometimes pike are aggressive and will chase a lure, other times they want it to slowly tease past them.”
This is one reason why braid is so essential, because it has virtually zero stretch you can feel the action of the lure and accurately alter its retrieve. The second reason for using braid didn’t take long to appear.
As he wound his lure through the water for the fourth time John felt a sharp ‘bang’ rocket through the braid. John’s face screwed up: “Ahhhhh… that was a pike snatching at the lure. With braid you aren’t watching for a bite you are feeling for it.”
Five minutes later he had more luck.
As he wound his plug along a deep water margin, teasing it past a raft of vegetation trailing into the water, a pike suddenly slammed into his lure.
With his rod pointing almost directly at the fish, the pike tugged hard against the rod and John struck. The nine foot rod whipped into a full curve as a pike simultaneously erupted on the surface.
“Lots of anglers angle the rod away from the lure and watch the tip for a bite, this is wrong,” said John bluntly. “The top will often bang when a fish hits the lure but the bend in the rod doesn’t help the hooks hit home. A straight rod, coupled to a tight braided line, is far better at slamming the hooks.”
With the braid transmitting every thrash of the hooked pike, John had great fun trying to stop the fish throwing the hooks or snagging the line in the marginal snags.
Weighing 5lb it wasn’t a monster but it was a spectacularly marked fish in prime condition. Size doesn’t matter: “I measure the success of a lure fishing in the number of hits I instigate. All I’m trying to do is fool the fish into taking an artificial – that’s the thrill of the ‘bang’ as they hit the lure.
“Sometimes it’s a big pike, sometimes it’s a ‘jack’. Sometimes the hooks stick, sometimes they don’t. Either way the success is that YOU have conned a pike into attacking your lure.”
KEEP MOBILE – KEEP SEARCHING
Over the next few hours of the morning John moved around the pool and along the river, casting into every likely area and regularly altering the pattern, colour or shape of his lure.
As he explained, changes to your lure and remaining mobile to target new areas can influence your results:
“If you are in the right place the first cast is often the one that’ll be taken. Concentrate hard when you cast a lure into a swim for the first time and make sure you are as accurate as possible – the first time a pike sees a lure is usually when it will take it.
“With each repeated cast with the same lure into the same swim the chances diminish that a pike will take it – they twig the lure isn’t a fish.
“Changing lures every few casts gives you a fresh chance of sparking a take from a wary pike, resting the swim also helps. But the most important thing is that you’ve got to stay mobile – keep trying new swims to locate pike you’ve not fished for.
“The more pike you can put a lure in front of for the first time the more chances you’ll get.”
THE ALLURE OF LURE FISHING!
During our session on the Wensum John’s ideas consistently tempted responses from the pike.
On eight occasions he teased them into following his lure or got them to snap at it, unfortunately he ‘bumped off’ four fish as he suffered ‘one of those days’ when all his luck was bad. “That’s the way it goes…” he laughed as we strolled across a Norfolk meadow bathed in weak winter sunshine.
“Some days you turn every take into a fish on the bank, on others you get lots of fish snatch at it without getting the hooks. The river is low, clear and cold today, perhaps the pike are just not feeding?
“But for me whether you catch many or not is relatively unimportant. A day spent wandering the banks, searching for fish and exploring the water with a lure, is far better than one sitting in the same place looking at motionless rods.
“You’re always active and there’s a real thrill of the ‘bang’ as a fish hits the lure. Managing to trick a pike into thinking a lure is a real fish is a very satisfying way to catch it.”
If you think about John’s sentiments on lure fishing it really is difficult to argue with him - it’s certainly no surprise that lure fishing is rapidly growing in popularity.
If you have a spirit of adventure and fancy wandering the banks with a rod in hand give lure fishing a try.
There’s a very good chance you’ll discover the appeal of performing a predatory confidence trick.