7 Types of Fishing Lures – How & When to Use Them (The Ultimate Guide)


Fish can be cold-blooded in more ways than one! They never waste an opportunity to attack and devour almost anything smaller than themselves.

The good news is, we can use this ruthlessness to our advantage. I’m talking lures.

But which to choose?

Today I will show you some types of fishing lures, how to use them, and tell you when to use them.

Let’s cast out and see what we find!

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different fishing lures in fishing tackle boxes

What Are the Different Types of Fishing Lures?

Let’s be honest.

There’s an almost endless range when it comes to different types of fishing lures. Some might say that there is too much choice!

So, here’s the answer.

Generally, most types of lures fit into a set category. I’m going to run through a quick list of types of fishing lures and their uses.

Plugs

What does a Fishing Plug Look Like?

Fishing plugs are some of the most realistic types of fishing lures out there.

Plugs are also referred to as ‘hard plastics’. They are usually shaped like the body of a fish. You’ll see them in a numerous range of colors and finishes. It’s most common that the body is decorated in something that at least vaguely resembles a fish’s skin.

Fishing plugs nearly always have realistic eyes painted on the head section. You’ll often find that they also include beads inside the body that produce a rattle as they are retrieved.

Most plugs come with a small plastic lip or ‘vane’. This determines the swimming characteristics of the plug. Those with large steep vanes are designed to swim deep underwater. Those with shallower, smaller vanes are retrieved near the surface.

How to Use a Plug

To fish a plug, you could cast it out and reel it in.

But…

The most effective way to fish a plug is to make it dance. Wounded baitfish don’t swim along in a straight line. They dart, sink, bob, and generally swim erratically.

And here’s the thing…

You should make your plug do the same. Vary the retrieve speed, give your rod regular jerks and now and again, stop the plug completely.

Oh, and one more thing…

Fish that sucker right to your feet. Fish will often take a plug just as you start to lift it out of the water.

Here’s an expert talking about how to fish with plugs:

When to Use a Plug?

You can use plugs at any time, and they are effective for a range of fish. Because a plug is relatively ‘high energy’, you’ll find that they are more effective in warmer months when fish are more willing to expend energy chasing fish.

What makes Plugs Good?
  • They are really durable
  • They look really realistic
Cons to Using
  • Treble hooks are a nuisance
  • They can be expensive

Jigs

What do Fishing Jigs Look Like?

Jigs are a little simpler than plugs. They tend to be an imitative lure designed to look like a very small fish. They are literally a heavily weighted tiny fish made with a metal body. They are attached at the lure’s nose with a fearsome treble hook on the back end in place of a tail.

How to Use a Jig

Jig fishing is pretty simple. If you are boat or kayak fishing, then you can just drop it over the side and jig it up and down with your rod.

When fishing from the bank or shore, you can simply cast them and reel them in, but a better way is to twitch them and impart a bit of life into them.

When to Use a Jig?

Jigs are one of the best lures to use when boat fishing or fishing in deep water. You can catch pretty much any species with a jig. Because they tend to be pretty heavy, they can be a good choice for casting into the wind.

One great place to use a jig is when crappie fishing, especially in spring. I’ve got a full article telling you what you need to know in detail, right here.

What makes Jigs Good?
  • They are pretty cheap
  • They are super durable
  • They work really well for species like crappie
Cons to Using Jigs
  • It’s up to you to make them lifelike
  • They can be boring to fish
  • Better suited to ‘up and down’ style fishing

Spinners

What Spinners Look Like

A spinner is designed to attract fish through two key attributes.

They are…

A really flashy look and a lot of vibration.

A spinner is a solid weight with a moving metal blade mounted at its neck. As the lure is retrieved, the force of the water causes the blade to spin (hence the name). This flashes and glitters.

The blade also produces vibration, which some predatory fish can sense from a long way away.

How to Use a Spinner

Unlike with a jig or plug, spinners do all the hard work for you. All you need to do is cast them out and retrieve them. The faster you retrieve them, the faster they spin.

When to Use a Spinner

Spinners are best utilized when shore or bank fishing. They need to be retrieved to work, so they tend to be tricky to drop off the side of a boat. They work all year round for a variety of species.

What makes Spinners Good?
  • They do the hard work for you
  • They are effective for a range of species
Cons to Using Spinners
  • You are limited on options. If it ain’t working, it ain’t working
  • They tangle easily
  • They don’t cast very far

Spoons

What do Fishing Spoons Look Like?

Spoons are some of the simplest lures around. They are a curved piece of metal (that looks like the top of a spoon… Funnily enough).

You’ll normally find that spoons have a finish designed to replicate the body of a fish. You may also find that they have a large eye painted somewhere on the body.

When they are retrieved, they wobble and swim erratically, just like a wounded baitfish.

How to Use a Spoon

There is no magic in fishing a spoon. However, because they have no moving parts, it is up to you to make them swim as enticingly as possible.

You had better not have skipped ‘arm day’ at the gym. Fishing a spoon can be hard work. You have to constantly twitch and pull the rod to give them the best action.

Here’s a guy doing just that… with great results.

When to Use a Spoon?

Like a jig, spoons tend to be most effective when deep water fishing from a boat or kayak.

That said, you can give them a go from the bank too. Because spoons don’t have any moving parts that need to be retrieved fairly quickly.

They are best used in summer when the fish are more willing to give chase to your lure.

What makes Spoons Good?
  • Bulletproof construction
  • Great for casting long distance
  • A great all-round lure
Cons to Using Spoons
  • They are too simple… It’s up to you to ‘work’ them
  • They can get tangled in your line
  • They aren’t weed-free

Soft Plastics

What Soft Plastics Look Like

When it comes to fishing lures that look realistic, you won’t find better than soft plastics. If you pick a good-quality plastic lure, then it is almost indistinguishable from a real fish.

Soft plastics have a jelly-like body. They will often feature a tail that is highly mobile with a small fin. As it is retrieved through the water, this tail swims with a really high frequency making the lure look like a real fish.

Anything else?

You will find some soft plastic lures have integral weight, but for the money, your best bet is to invest in a pack of weighted jig heads and then accessorize them with a hefty selection of different ‘swim tails’.

How to use Soft Plastic Lures

As with spinners, soft plastics do all the hard work for you. I find the most efficient way to fish them is to divide the swim before me into sectors and cast at one o’clock, two o’clock, etc.

Once I’ve cast, I count in my head before retrieving. If I don’t get bites after fishing all of my ‘sectors,’ I add another 3 seconds before starting my retrieves.

Why?

This allows me to fish all areas and depths. It’s about being methodical.

When to use a Soft Plastic Lure?

Seriously? The best time to use one is your first cast of the day, as they are really effective. I always keep a few in my box as my go-to ‘hail mary’ if nothing else is working.

Soft plastics can be used year-round for a variety of species.

What makes Soft Plastics Good?
  • They are super realistic
  • They can be pretty cheap
  • Good casters
  • They can be rigged to be weed-free
Cons to Using Soft Plastics
  • They aren’t very durable, especially if you catch a lot
  • There is a lot of choices

Flies

What Flies Look Like

You think I’m just going to say ‘a fly’, right?

Wrong.

Flies are really versatile. There are literally hundreds of thousands of flies. Some do look like insects, but they can also be made to look like tiny fish, frogs, larvae… Pretty much anything you’ll find in or on the water.

Flies are made by combining synthetic materials like feathers, threads, and hair.

How to Fly Fish

First off, fly fishing is a different ball game than traditional lure fishing. You will need a different line, reel, and rod.

You can fish flies on the surface or under the surface. How you fish the fly depends entirely on the type of fly you are using and what you want to catch.

If you are looking to give it a go, be sure to check my fly fishing gear guide here. You can actually get kitted out really cheap.

Fly fishing is an art. Check this out and tell me it doesn’t look like fun?

When to Use Flies

The beauty of fly fishing is that it is an all-year-round sport. You can fly fish on rivers, lakes, streams and even the sea. Hell, just about the only time you can’t fly fish is when you are ice fishing.

What makes Flies Good?
Cons to Using Flies
  • Specialist gear is required
  • Casting flies is difficult

Poppers

What Poppers Look Like

Poppers are a little bit of a variant on Plugs. They share many of the same attributes, but there is one notable difference…

Can you tell what it is?

Poppers have a concave face designed to ‘pop’ and spit water as it is retrieved. They are designed to be fished on the surface of the water. They are absolutely fabulous for magicking up a bite when the swim is quiet.

They mimic a mortally wounded fish, gasping its last on the surface. Predatory fish are opportunists, and an easy meal is often difficult to resist.

How to Use a Surface Popper

Using surface poppers is pretty hard work. You have to keep a taught line and jerk it often to get that signature ‘pop’. You’ll often find that you get brutal takes as you stop for a break.

One great way to fish them is to ‘walk the dog’ This is where you make the popper swim in a zig-zag fashion, just like a baitfish that is punch drunk.

Here’s how to do it:

When to Use a Surface Popper

Surface poppers are mostly used in warmer conditions. The warmer weather and brighter conditions cause them to come up in the water. One really effective time to give poppers a go is at dawn or dusk in calmer water.

Bass, in particular, love nothing more than smashing into a surface popper. There is something about the lure that seems to really trigger a bass’s predatory nature.

What makes Surface Poppers Good?
  • The most exciting way to lure fish
  • Weed and snag-free
  • Very effective for bass
Cons to Using Surface Poppers
  • If the fish are down deep, it isn’t going to happen
  • It can get a little tiring when fishing poppers

How do I Choose a Fishing Lure?

Like I said at the start, there is so much choice when it comes to the best fishing lures.

Here are a few things to think about when choosing fishing lures:

hanging different types of fishing lures

The Conditions and Venue

You wouldn’t want to fish with a tiny dry fly in rolling seas, nor do you want to be throwing an 8 oz spoon into a tiny stream.

Here’s what I’m saying…

Think about what lure you want to use based on the conditions and venue. If your local swim is famous for its shoals of tiny baitfish, then something small like a soft plastic minnow or tiny spinner is probably going to outfish a huge surface popper.

If you are fishing somewhere shallow with a lot of weed, you wouldn’t want to use a deep-diving plug that is just going to get snagged.

Be smart, and choose a lure that fits the conditions of where you are fishing.

How You Like to Fish

Are you the kind of guy who likes an easy life, casting out in a leisurely fashion and wiling the day away?

Or…

Are you all about action and working hard to catch a monster?

Some lures, like poppers and plugs, need a lot more work to be successful. Lures like spinners and soft plastics do all the hard work for you.

Have a think about how you like to fish and pick a lure accordingly.

fishing lures in white plastic tackle container

Species

First off, let me say this…

The fish haven’t read the rule book, and often you can catch by ‘going against the grain’.

But that said…

As a general rule, certain species prefer certain types of lures. Bass will eat just about anything. Crappies love little small lures. Trout tend to be quite picky, and you must match what they are eating on the day (or provoke them to the point of slashing at a lure out of frustration).

Research which lures are best for the species you are targeting. Or pick a generic lure that puts you in the right ballpark to catch a range of species.

Most species will go for a spinner or small soft plastic lure. Poppers tend to work better for bigger fish. This is also true of spoons and plugs.

Hook Type

Let me say this…

I hate treble hooks.

Why? You haven’t had a tangle until you have a tangle with a treble. Oh, and they also love hooking into weeds, your clothes, and the bank behind you.

But here’s a solution!

Change the hooks on your lures to singles. It’s really easy to do. A good pair of fishing pliers will have a ring splitter, making this even easier.

If you love your trebles, consider removing the middle hook, especially on plugs. I’ve tried both single hooks and a single treble and noticed no difference in my catch rate.

Price

The final point to consider is price. You could spend well over $20 per lure if you choose something from a leading brand.

But here’s the thing…

The fish don’t care how much you have spent. You can often save yourself money by choosing cheap fishing lures that look similar to the more ‘designer’ options.

And here’s a fact.

You will lose lures from time to time. If you are losing $20 every time the line breaks, you will have a bad day.

Losing a $1 jig head isn’t nearly as heartbreaking. Only spend what you can afford to lose.

fishing from boat in lake with spinning reel

Types of Fishing Lures – FAQ

Got questions? Of course, or you wouldn’t be here… This is what I get asked all the time:

What are the most common types of lures for bass fishing?

Bass are hungry, murderous little beasts who’ll happily tear into almost anything. Even fish that are the same size as themselves.

If you are looking to catch a bass, you’ll find that the most effective lures for ponds and still waters are plugs, poppers, and soft plastics.

Other types of lures will work, but on the whole, assemble a lure box with those three, and you’ll give yourself the best chance of success.

What are the most common types of fishing lures for trout?

If you want to catch trout, the most effective method is fly fishing.

But that said…

You may not want to shell out hundreds of dollars for specialized equipment.

So, here’s my suggestion:

A simple spinner can work wonders for trout. They love eating baitfish and seem to get ‘triggered’ by any vibration and movement. A spinner ticks both boxes. They are really cheap too!

What are the most common types of fishing lures for walleye?

Walleye are like a hybrid killing machine. They are often described as Pikeperch. Both pike and perch are cold-blooded predatory killers if you are a baitfish.

Spinners are a good generic option, but for the money, a variety of hard plastics designed to emulate minnows are your best bet.

What lure should I use to catch crappie?

Crappie is slightly smaller and a little less fierce than bass and walleye. There are two keys to choosing the best lures…

Size and movement.

I find that jigs and small soft plastics work really well. If you can find them with a small spinner blade attached, that’s even better.

Conclusion

When it comes to choosing types of fishing lures, you won’t struggle for options. In fact, that is half of the battle.

My advice is to think about where you are fishing and what you are trying to catch. Pick something that looks half like what the fish are eating, and you’ll have an excellent chance of catching.

What’s you ‘when all else fails lure’? Let me know in the comments.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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