When Todd Smith gave me the assignment for this month's column, I cringed. "Choose five lures that you could use to catch fish across the country and write about them," he said. "No live bait or flies. Just lures."
Five! You won't believe how many kinds of lures I stuff into boxes and bags for one trip alone, and Todd, who has fished with me often, knows it. But after muttering something about an impossible mission and hanging up the phone, I had an inspirational flash. I'd pick five, all right, but they'd be five generic types that could be tweaked and fished a bunch of different ways to cover most bases.
Not all of you will agree with my choices, but in the right size and rigged for the circumstances they'll catch just about anything with fins in fresh water and lots of stuff in inshore salt water. The five lures, in no particular order, are minnowbaits, plastic worms, jigs, spinners and lipless rattlebaits. Here's why.
Bill Lewis's Rat-L-Trap, with its built-in rattles, is the prototype of these lures. Rattlebaits excel for bass throughout the year, even in cold water in early spring when you'd think a fairly fast retrieve wouldn't draw strikes. The lures were first used in open water because of their unprotected free-swinging hooks, but anglers soon learned that rattlebaits also can be fished around brush and timber and still come free if snagged. Fishing rattlebaits just above the tops of weed beds is a popular and productive bass-fishing technique. Though you can really burn these lures back at a high speed, a slower retrieve that just keeps them vibrating along is sometimes better, such as in murky water, where the rattles help bass zero in on the target.
When fish are lethargic, a rattlebait can be dropped to the bottom and jigged with short sweeps of the rod. This method will trick bass, walleyes, pike and muskies. I've caught king salmon on big rattlers. Matched with the right tackle that doesn't kill the lures' action, tiny lipless crankbaits will work in a trout stream or on crappies in the local pond. And you can troll rattlebaits of any size. Just don't expect them to make it through vegetation weed-free.
2. PLASTIC WORMS
Plastic worms in all their various configurations have probably caught more bass than any other lure. Everybody knows about Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged worms, but there are many other effective ways to rig these baits: wacky-style, drop-shot style or nose-hooked weightless to fish just under the surface when bass are in bank cover.
You can use a soft jerkbait such as a Slug-Go or Senko as a topwater bait or, by adding weight to the line (such as with a Carolina rig), make it appear to be a dying baitfish.
Cut a worm shorter-just the tail end of a ribbon-tail worm-and you have a skinny grub. It's a killer when fish are keying on smaller minnows.
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