Think you are fishing's version of Michelangelo; every body of water being your Sistine Chapel; any rod style a suitable paintbrush? Sure, you can stroke the crappies, or walleyes or specks, but these fish readily eat lures and are hardly considered tough to catch. If you really want to test your angling skills, look to a different set of finned prey. Most of these fish aren't pretty (think Mona Lisa), but they will give you a true test of your artistry with rod and reel.
With the smile of Mrs. America and the body of Rosie O’Donell, these crustacean-eating fish are both good fighters and good table fare–if you can catch ’em. Live sand fleas make the task pretty simple. However, trying to get a sheepshead to munch an artificial is like trying to pry acid from the hands of Charley Sheen. If you have the nerve, try a fiddler crab fly or a small shrimp fly weighted well enough to get to the bottom. Fish around rocks and bridge pilings … and don’t be surprised if you fail.
Common Carp
It seems the neighborhood vacuum cleaner wouldn’t be too tough to dupe with a fake bait, but these guys rely on scent and mostly consume stuff too small to see. However, there’s a growing fascination with fly-rodding these overgrown goldfish, and it seems presentation is key. Get a sinking fly or Schnozzberry within 8 inches of its nose, and you might accidently get bit.
You can catch these pie-plate-shaped beasts on every cast if you use half a crab. But cut bait is for pansies. Grab your fly rod and try to dupe one of these guys with a Merkin crab fly. The fish will embarrass you. Photo: yellowdogfishingtrips
To be fair, bones aren’t easy to find, so catching them is inherently more difficult based on availability. However, if they swam next to redfish, flounder, sea trout and barracuda, you’d notice they simply turn their downtrodden noses to most artificials. Anticipation is key, as is casting accuracy with a fly rod. When (and if) the stars align, be prepared for a wild fight.
Yep, it’s hard to trick a vegetarian into eating something with fins or legs. Beyond salad, these fish also eat bug larvae. So think supertiny flies. Small beads with marabou will work, if you are lucky.
Head south of the border for this ribbon-dorsaled beast and be prepared to trade your artificial baits (and man-card) for live mullet and a hook-up. These fish are very particular when it comes to what they eat. You can trick them into eating Rapala Subwalkers and similar reaction baits, but generally the tackle you use to cast these lures is insufficient for landing these powerful fish. Photo: condoroutfitters
You have to add this toothy torpedo on here simply because it at some point earned the moniker “fish of a thousand casts.” However, I think recent techniques have brought this down to “fish of a couple hundred casts and a six figure eights.” Regardless, grab a giant musky plug and get counting.
Shellcracker (Redear sunfish)
This bully of the sunfish brood (2 pounders are not uncommon) is also the pickiest. While most bream species will munch a beetlespin or small popping bug, the elusive shellcracker seems to dine on only worms … red wigglers to be exact. If you decide to take a stab at catching one on a fake, opt for the Gulp Alive Red Wigglers – they are as close to the real thing as you’ll find.
Pick any of the gar species–alligator, spotted, longnose–and you will have a fish that will frustrate you to death when trying to make it eat a fake bait. Perhaps as frustrating: once a gar bites a lure, it will not get hooked because its bony, toothy grill has nothing for a hook to penetrate. If you think you are up to the task, take a nylon or cotton rope and unravel it. Tie directly to a line or add a weighted hook. The strands get caught in the teeth–sometimes.
Instead of looking at this fish as bait, try to land one on light line. Yes, these guys are starring members of the vegan club but can be duped if you know what you are doing. Use tiny seaweed flies and superlight line during crepuscular (twilight) times. And remember that if you hook one, then get spooled (these things can top 10 pounds), it doesn’t count.

Check out the 10 toughest species swimming to catch on artificial baits. But if you’re up for a challenge, here’s how to do it.