Best Freshwater Fishing Lures: Some Multifaceted, Some Species Specific

Fishing lures come pretty darn close to being an angler’s best friend. Why? Because they equate to efficiency.

Best Freshwater Fishing Lures

Unlike bait, you can better target a lure on your cast. See a fishy pocket between a bunch of lily pads? With a well balanced rod, reel and line, you can cast your lure right into that pocket.

Bait and sinker just can’t do the trick. You also maximize your line’s time in the water—no need to let minutes tick off while reaching into the bucket for more live bait every time it falls off from a weed encounter or gets eaten by a fish.

A lure allows many more casts per minute, which means more time with your line in the water. All you must do is determine which lure is best for each type of the most popular freshwater gamefish.

Freshwater Fishing with Lures: How to pick the right one

Finding the right lure for the right fish can be akin to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

It is next to impossible to know how many different lures inhabit retail shelves, but to gain an idea, fishing lure sales amount to billions and billions of dollars just inside the U.S.

Therefore, you best start boning up on the types of lures designed to catch your type of fish. While doing so, you will find that some lures actually cross a spectrum of different species in their effectiveness.

Let”s look at the most popular species of freshwater sport fish and which lures work best for them.

Best Lures for Trout

Trout are responsive to a variety of lure types as well as methods of fishing the lures. First, you can either cast or troll a lure for trout.

You can also fly fish for them. Flies present an entirely different kind of lure from spinfishing.

No weight is involved, unless you are using nymph imitations. As for trout lures, some are light and some more weighty, depending on the action it is designed to deliver and the depth of water or the strength of its current.

Trout Spoons

Spoons, as opposed to spinners, wobble in the water and are either painted with various fish-attracting colors or left completely silver or brass colored.

It’s uncertain what exactly draws a trout to hit these wobblers, but it most likely relates to its resemblance to a minnow. The trout either wants to eat it or evict it from its territory.

Some come with a skirt of hackle at the tail end for added attraction. Spoons come with either a single or treble (three) hook.

Single hooks allow an easier and safer release of the fish while a treble hook can double- or triple-hook a trout.

This can injure the fish upon release. Further, one of the treble barbs can actually leverage another out of the trout’s mouth, especially when the trout jumps out of the water during the fight.

So, each type of hook poses pros and cons. A spoon can be cast or trolled, but casting is its hallmark.

Trout Fishing with Spinners

trout fishing with a spinner

Like spoons, spinners probably draw a trout’s strike because they either irritate the trout or whet its appetite as a minnow impostor. Perhaps both.

These silver- and brass-colored blades come in various designs: rounded, pointed and shaped much like a leaf or teardrop. Like spoons, some come with hackle at the tail end.

Their allure to a trout lies in their spin, rather than wobble. Imparting a twirling flash under water, these lures work especially well in murkier streams and lakes. They are equally effective for either casting or tolling for trout.

When trolling, some anglers use a long wire on which several spinners are attached—called pop gear or gang trolls—while trailing it with a lure or bait. Depending on current or depth, a spinner is either weighted or unweighted.

Flatfish Trout Lures

These lures find their best use when trolling for trout. Some believe they most likely imitate a swimming leach, which ranks high on a trout’s diet.

Polka-dots, swashes and simply solid colors often adorn these kind of duck-billed looking, slender, plastic wobblers. Whether casting or trolling a flatfish, a weight must be used as these lures are otherwise buoyant and too light to cast.

Jigs

Though not atop the list of best lures for trout, a hackled jig can sometimes draw strikes.

Weighted at the head and usually sporting a single hook, jigs imitate a wounded water creature as they fall in the water and then jigged upward. Bright colors usually adorn jigs.

Best Lures for Bass

If one species is ideal for an angler in love with lures, it is the bass, whether largemouth or smallmouth. You’ll find that most of the trout lure designs—with some bass-specific tweaks—will also work for bass. Some are designed solely for bass, such as poppers.

Best Lures for Bass Fishing

Plastic Worms and Grubs

The plastic worm, which comes in a variety as vast as men’s ties and women’s shoes, can be fished with a weight at its head or weightless, depending on how shallow the bass are lying.

Grubs usually don a weight at the head and are fished a bit similar to a jig; they can be cast or dropped straight down from a boat. Smallmouth are particularly vulnerable to grubs.

Spoons for Bass Fishing

Again, these lures—basically explained under our trout lure section—either irritate or draw the appetite of a bass. Most bass spoons come with weed guards because bass are so often weed dwellers. If not, the barb swims upside instead of beneath the lure where it is prone to snagging.

Bass Spinners

Largely an attractant, as described under the trout section, these will most often accompany a skirt of rubber legs or hackle for bass fishing.

A “spinner bait” type will feature an upward-facing hook at the end of a short stem to which a hook or skirt is trailed. These include a weight to bring near the bottom of the lake, pond or slough.

Poppers

Poppers float atop the water and are best presented on fly line with fly rod. Their body consists of cork, balsa or buoyant plastic with feathery hackle adorning the tail end.

Most commonly single-hooked, they should be jerked across the water’s surface in imitation of an amphibian creature, an injured minnow brought to surface, a small mouse or similar.

Diving Minnow or Crankbait

This lure consists of a jointed, balsa or similarly buoyant material most commonly while others come as a solid, contiguous piece shaped like a minnow.

Made so famous by the lure maunfacurer, Rapala, that it is often called by that name, this surface lure features a bill just under the guide or eye where the line is tied.

Rapala Diving Minnow Surface Lure
Image Credits: Rapala

The bill causes the minnow-looking lure to dip briefly beneath water’s surface, only to bob back up on top of the water, as it is reeled in. To complement its action an angler often pops it across the water, much like a popper.

Diving minnows are designed for use with spinning gear. They can be pin-point cast to those lairs and protections where both smallmouth and largemouth hide.

Crankbaits differ from diving minnows because they are designed to stay just below the water’s surface in perpetual dive and wiggle mode.

Best Lures for Walleye

Depending on the region of the U.S. in which you fish, walleye will take some of the same lures as those that fool a trout.

As with bass, the spoons and spinners are usually enhanced with beads, rubbery tails reminiscent of jigs or grubs, and sometimes skirts of rubber or hackle.

Spinners for Walleye

If there is a mainstay of walleye lures, the spinner captures the crown. Trailed with a large nightcrawler on a two-hook harness under a slow trolling speed near bottom, the spinner can please a lot of hungry mouths at the dinner table.

These spinner-worm rigs usually feature colorful beads or floaters along the harness to keep the offering just above bottom snags. Often, two spinners are strung along the harness.

A lone, conventional spinner with a trailing rubber tail—without bait—can also attract the voracious walleye, especially those not found in deep water.

Spoons

Definitely not as common as other lures for walleyes, these wobblers can still draw strikes if casting to pockets or lairs in the shallows. Rubber tails or hackle at the end of the spoon can enhance the spoon’s allure to a walleye.

Jigs for Walleye

Next to spinners, these little, leaded, rubbery wrigglers pose an irrestistable presence to walleyes. Just be sure to experiment with the colors and make sure the water is calm enough to allow them to sink and optimize the action of the rubber tail.

Rough water not only keeps them from sinking freely but also impairs the angler’s ability to detect a hit or that suddenly slack feeling on the end of the line that often means a walleye has the lure in its mouth but is swimming toward the top of the water.

These can be cast or dropped directly down from a boat. Some anglers like to tip them with a worm, just as long the worm is not so big to impede the jig’s action.

Best Lures for Sunfish

The smaller spiny rays—crappies, perch, bream, pumpkinseeds and bluegills—do fall for a flashy imitator from time to time, but bait is usually their preference.

Try very small spoons, jigs and spinners when trying to fool them with a lure. Tipping these lures with a bit of worm or fish meat can enhance their effectiveness.

Best Lures for Catfish

Like sunfish, bait works best for these chunky feasters. If you wish to try a lure, however, drop a jig or spinner tipped with bait directly below a boat or off a dock and very slowly retrieve it after it hits bottom.

Be Ready for Exceptions

Though some lures attract some species more than others, stay aware of the possibilities.

Each of the lures described here can actually attract the species you never expected to hit it.

Why do you think the sport is called fishing? Never fail to experiment with lures, no matter the type of gamefish you seek.

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