Pier and shoreline anglers are turning to lures more than ever before.  The reasons why can be summed up as follows:
A)Lures are cleaner and more convenient than bait. You can be selective about the fish you want to catch when you use lures.  This also means you won’t be wasting money on bait that is constantly eaten by junk fish or crabs.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, where mitten crabs have become a plague, this is especially important.
B) Lures are more portable than bait.  You can cover a much larger section of shoreline or pier when using lures.
C) Lures alleviate the threat of boredom.
D) Lures present a challenge and develop an angler’s skill.
E) When you hook a fish on a lure, it’s just you and the fish at opposite ends of
    the line.

The usual argument against lures is that they get hung up and lost too often to be worth the cost.  Lures can indeed be snagged and lost.  However, a little patience and a lot of practice will alter the odds considerably.  And as an initial investment, yes, lures can be expensive.  Yet common sense and good judgment can prevent the angler’s tackle box from looking like fool’s treasure box of mostly worthless items.  While the old adage—“lures catch more fishermen than fish”—has some truth to it, wisdom will prevail if you ask yourself why you really want a particular lure before you buy it.

It used to be simple to classify lures.  There were four basic types: Plugs, Plastics, Spoons, and Hard Iron.  Nowadays, specialization and style have overthrown simplicity.  There are some lures that have such a specific style that they cannot fit a category.  And still others have properties that could match several descriptions.  How to make sense of it all?


Crank Baits.  Usually refers to a floating or diving plug of medium size used by freshwater anglers.  The term gets its name from the cranking motion of casting reels.  Can be reeled in or trolled.

Hard Iron.  These are heavy lures meant to be thrown longer distances, normally for surfcasting.  Examples are Salas Jigs, Point Wilson Darts, Crippled Herring, Stinger, Hopkins, and larger sizes in Kastmasters.

Jerk Baits.  The style of jerking or pulling a lure created this name.  It’s most often a floating lure used in fresh water, though sometimes it can be any lure designed for this style.  Excalibur, Rebel, and Rapala have models for this.  On a much larger scale, Pencil Poppers are similar.

Jigs.  Though it was primarily named for the style of fishing—dropping the lure and letting it settle, then pulling it up and dropping it again—a jig now means anything with a lead head fastened on the top of the hook.  Bucktail jigs like Hair Raisers or Bug Eyes are the most popular examples.  They can be used jig-style or cast and retrieved.

Plastics.  Almost always means soft plastic like worms, crayfish, frogs, and swim baits.  Modern times have rendered it essentially meaningless as a term.

Plugs.  Made from wood or hard plastic, these lures are classified in three categories: Floating/diving, Sinking, or Surface.  There is something called a suspension plug but this is really just a very slowly floating lure. Examples of all three categories are found in Rapala, Shad Rap, Bomber, Rebel, Rat-L-Trap, and Pencil Poppers. The term “plug” is also a holdover from the past and is more verb than noun these days.

Spinner Baits.  This is the lure with a leadhead (like a jighead) on one end of a v-shaped wire and a blade or pair of blades on the other.  It is almost always a black bass lure.

Spinners.  Mostly used in freshwater fishing, these lures are also used for salmon, steelhead, and ocean bass.  The design is basic: a spinning blade just under the eye of a hook, followed by either beads or a metal bell-shaped body.  Blue Fox, Mepps, and Panther Martin are examples.  It’s a hard lure to throw because it is so lightweight and is more often a trolling lure.

Spoons.  Both shape and effect define these lures.  Spoons wobble and ripple the water, and more often than not they reflect light.  They can be thrown or trolled with great effect.  Most of them, like Krocodile, Pet Spoon, and Kastmaster, are metal, but there are some plastic varieties such as the one made by Apex.

Stick Baits.  This is a top-water, minnow-shaped lure that is supposed to resemble darting, skipping baitfish on the surface.  It can be retrieved steadily or jerked.  Examples are Zara Spook and Bagley’s Bang-O-Lure.

Swim Baits.  Just about every angler saw the Banjo Minnow on TV, and most of us scoffed that it was too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Just one more gimmick. Maybe.  But there is quite a lot to be said for swim baits.  They do catch fish.  The one drawback is that they don’t last very long, especially with the more toothy fish like halibut.  One or two strikes can often be the end of a swim bait.  However, most anglers will sacrifice a relatively inexpensive swim bait for a nice fish.  They throw beautifully and retrieve splendidly; there isn’t much doubt about that.  Rigging is fairly easy once you get the hang of it.  It’s best to lay the jighead beneath the bait for a look-see before you fasten it.

                                 PREPARATION AND TECHNIQUE

Without question the best way to find out about a lure’s effectiveness before you buy it is to witness the results yourself.  Go out to a pier or shoreline and watch what people are doing, what they are using and how they are using it.  Are they catching anything?  That’s the bottom line.  Ask your tackle shop what works in a given area.  If you get a wishy-washy answer, that should send up warning flags all over that you buy your lures elsewhere.  Whenever possible, do some research and read about lures.  It can be as simple a process as of typing in the name of a lure on a search engine and seeing what comes up on your computer.   You will save precious money and even more precious time.

It’s important to hone your skills in casting and retrieving to get the best results from lure fishing.  For casting—and this is crucial on piers, where certain styles like overhead casting are restricted or prohibited—this means developing an expertise in alternate styles.  The basic overhead cast is but one of many.  You need to be able to sidearm and underhand with equal accuracy, to be able to flip your wrist and reach your target every time.  Another good reason for casting variety is that plugging means repetition, lots of it, and if you don’t vary your style you will have an extremely sore arm in short time.  Find a park or a wide-open space and use a frisbee or plate as your target.   Practice.  If you think this is a silly idea, imagine how silly you’d feel extracting your lure from someone’s body part.

Finally, here are some pointers for casting and retrieving, offered as guides and not rules:
1)  A basic axiom that makes sense is “Retrieve fast in warm water, retrieve
     slowly in cold water.”  At the same time, be prepared to vary your retrieve,
     both the speed and the style.  Fish strike for many reasons.  They could be
     hungry, reacting to instinct, or protecting their nests, and sometimes change
     will trigger a response.
2)  Try to cast slightly beyond your target area so that the lure is functioning
      properly by the time it reaches your objective.

3)   Use the basic fan or clock pattern.  Here is a description.

4)   In choosing the color for a lure, another good axiom is “Light days, light 
      colors; dark days, dark colors."  You may think that just the opposite 
      would work since the contrast would show off the lure, but that’s actually 
      why you wouldn’t want to do it.  It would look “wrong” and the fish won’t 
      buy it.

5)   Remember two keywords: Presentation and Presence.  You are bringing an
      artificial object into a fish’s environment, trying to trick that fish into biting
      that lure.  The more naturally and deliberately that lure moves through that
      environment, the better your chances of success.

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