Fishing Lures 101: Easy Guide to Different Types of Lures (2021)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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There are so many types of fishing lures out there that it’s hard to know which ones to have in your tackle box let alone picking which fishing lure is right to use on the water.

When I first started fishing, I chose which fishing lures to buy simply on my gut feeling. If it looked good, I bought it without any regard as to how to fish a lure or what fish species it might catch. I ended up with lots of lures but it didn’t help me catch more fish.

Once I started doing some research, my selection of fishing lures became very precise, and it became a lot easier to catch fish. Join me as I run through the types of lures, what fish species they catch, and when to use them so you can be more successful on the water.

How many types of fishing lures are there?

This is an impossible question to answer as there are so many sub-categories to all the types of fishing lures and depending on who you’re talking to, the list can go on and on. If we’re talking about the main categories, I’d say there are probably around 30, but possibly more.

We won’t cover all 30 in this article as some are so specific that you might never come across them and instead we’ll focus on the main types of lures you’re likely to use and want in your box.

Plugs, Crankbaits & Jerkbaits

Green Crankbait
Green Crankbait

Plugs (plug lure), crankbaits, and jerkbaits are hard plastic fishing lures that are designed to look like a bait fish and you will have probably used or at least seen one. A Rapala for example is one of these types of artificial lures – pretty much fish replicas.

Length

Plugs, crankbaits, and jerkbaits come in various lengths from 2 inches all the way up to 12 inches and in various different colors too, from luminous orange and pink to black with 2 or 3 sets of treble hooks on them.

They also come in sinking or floating options which allows you to control how deep your fishing. This means you can either target fish that like to sit deep with a sinking option or avoid snagging the bottom with a floating option.

Lip

Another variable with these types of lures is that they can come with or without a lip. The lip is made from plastic or metal and protrudes out the front of the lure and catches the water when the lure is trolled or reeled in.

This causes the lure to dive deeper into the water and the bigger/steeper the lip the deeper the lure will dive. Lipless crankbaits are usually floating and work on the surface to entice a predator to eat off the top.

These lures attract fish thanks to their color and wiggling action when trolled or reeled in, and when combined with their depth range abilities that are very effective lures.

Usage

You can use these lures when spin fishing or trolling and you can catch any kind of predatory fish with them, just match the size of the lure to the different fish you’re targeting. I have used them to catch trout, while offshore fishing to catch tuna, wahoo, dorado, and sailfish, and for catching bass too.

Spinner Baits

Spinnerbait
Spinnerbait

A spinnerbait lure is something that bass anglers love to use as it creates such a commotion in the water that a hungry bass can’t help but notice it and feel the urge to attack it.

A spinner bait is made up of a skirt within which sits a single hook with a weight attached to the end. The weight helps the lure sink so you can fish it at different depths, which is great for bass fishing, and the skirts can vary in color so you can pick a color to match the conditions.

Weight

At the end of the hook where the weight is, a bar comes out a few inches (imagine safety pin lures) which holds a spinning blade that is excellent at attracting fish. The blade spins around when you wind the fishing lure in reflecting light in the water and creating vibrations in the water, making it easy for the fish to see and feel.

NOTE

This type of artificial fishing bait is pretty much used by bass anglers, exclusively for bass fishing with a baitcaster or spinning rod.

Buzzbaits

Orange Buzzbait
Orange Buzzbait

Buzzbaits are one of the most productive lures for bass fishing, particularly for largemouth bass when the water is warm and they are feeding on the surface.

Buzzbaits are very similar to spinner baits and have the same design with a skirt lure body, hook, and weighted head.

The main difference with a buzzbait is that they are a surface lure and they use multiple spinning blades that together churn up the surface of the water and “clack” together as you wind them in.

For Big Fish

The churning and clacking catches a fish’s attention as it imitates natural prey fleeing from other fish on the surface and it is very noisy.

They are particularly effective at catching big fish and it’s my opinion that they are so noisy, small fish are daunted by them.

Chatterbaits

Brown Chatterbait
Brown Chatterbait

Chatterbait is a brand name for a specific jig. They are another lure that evolved from spinnerbaits and they look very similar but instead of having a bar protruding from the skirt and weighted hook, they have a moving metal lip.

When you wind a chatterbait in, the metal lip starts chattering against the head of the lure creating a loud vibration that fish can hear.

This noise drives bass particularly crazy and entices them into eating it.

TIP

You can fish these types of fishing lures at any depth by winding them in slow or fast, making them a great fishing lure for prospecting and finding fish.

Jigs

Crippled Herring Spoon Jig
Crippled Herring Jig

A jigging lure is pretty much a metal bar that is painted to look like a fish. They have an eye at each end where you can attach a single hook and tie on your fishing line.

Jigs come in a range of weights and lengths and are used for deep water fishing and are great for catching species that spend their time near the bottom such as lake trout or dogtooth tuna.

Usage

To fish a jig, you need to be on a boat that is stationary or drifting.

You’ll then drop your jig over the side until it hits the bottom.

Once on the bottom, you’ll want to lift your rod, moving the jog up, and then wind up the slack.

You do this at a furious pace until the jig hits your fishing rod tip, and then start again.

Fishing with a jig is deadly for game fish that like to stay in deep water and when they hit, it’s an incredible feeling as it comes out of nowhere.

Spinners

Spinnerbaits
Spinnerbaits

Spinners are one of the most basic types of fishing lures out there and are a great choice when you need to cover a lot of water and they work for a huge range of different species.

You can catch anything from brook trout to salmon, bass, jack crevalle, and more with them.

A spinner is made up of a shiny metal blade at the top, with a wire running down to a metal body and a treble hook. They come in a range of sizes from 1 inch to 5 inches in length and fishing them couldn’t be easier.

All you have to do is cast them out and wind them back in slowly and let the blade do all the work. As it spins it reflects light to imitate the scales of a bait fish and it vibrates to attract predatory fish.

TIP

When you’re looking to catch fish in a new spot spinners are great as they help you cover a lot of ground quickly.

Spoons

If you imagine a T-spoon with a hook at the end, then you’ve pretty much got a spoon lure. Spoon lures are made up of a metal body (which can be in various shapes & colors) with a treble hook at the end, that’s it.

I love spoons as they come in various weights so when you’re fishing, say off the rocks, you can put a heavy spoon on and cast it way out into the sea to cover more ground.

When you wind them in, the shiny metal body catches the light and looks like a fleeing bait fish that predators can’t seem to ignore.

I use these more than any other lures when prospecting new water and when targeting fish like giant trevally, tigerfish, pike, salmon, stripers, snook, and more.

Poppers

Popper Lure
Popper Lure

Poppers are hollow plastic baits that are cylindrical in shape and are waterproof lures to ensure they float. The body of a popper will be painted to look like a fish, it will have one or two treble hooks on it, and the head of the popper will be indented.

When you fish with a popper you are fishing on the surface and the idea is to ‘make it pop’. You make them pop by dragging them across the surface with your rod ensuring the indented head catches the water and creates a loud bubbling motion on the surface.

Noise

The action and noise they make are something predators such as GTs, groupers, jack crevalles, bass, barracuda, tuna, and even some sharks can not resist.

I had a moment in the Bahamas when I was hoping to catch a barracuda and a big blacktip shark just nailed my popper, it was crazy exciting!

Soft Plastics

Soft Plastic Lures
Soft Plastic Lures

Soft plastics are quite new to the fishing world and they can be used in both fresh and saltwater and for a huge range of species from bass to bonefish and snook. Soft plastics are made up of a soft plastic lure that is rubbery in texture that you then slide onto a weighted hook.

Soft plastic baits come in a range of shapes and colors and can be used to imitate minnows, worms, crawfish, lizards, and even frogs.

The rubbery and flexible nature of soft plastics means they swim very naturally and fish can’t help but take a bite.

Usage

Soft plastic lures are primarily used in bass fishing but are just as effective for other species too. They are great for covering different depths, as you can control their depth with your retrieve speed, slow for deep, and fast for shallow.

The one issue with soft plastics is that when a game fish or any fish takes a bite of them, you’re going to need to put a fresh one on your hook as they break apart easily.

You can also buy scented soft plastics such as Gulp or Power-Bait to attract fish. These come with fish attracting scents inside them and make these types of lures even more effective as they smell like live bait.

Swim-baits

Swimbait Lure
Swimbait Lure

Swimbaits are what you would get if a plug lure had a baby with a soft plastic. The plastic is molded into the shape of a fish with a paddle tail.

When you retrieve these lures, they create an amazing action that looks just like a bait fish swimming which makes them irresistible to predators like bass, pike, trout, and more.

Like all soft plastics though, swimbaits don’t last long after being bitten by a fish with teeth as the plastic rips apart so you should expect to use quite a few of them. 

Flies

Fly Lures
Fly Lures

People usually associate fly fishing with catching trout but you can catch any species on the planet fly fishing, from marlin to tarpon and pike, you just have to have the right fly on.

Fly fishing involves the use of fly lures aka flies.

Flies are made up of feathers that are intricately tied to a hook to imitate different fish foods such as aquatic insects, big and tiny fish.

Since flies can imitate such a huge range of different creatures they are split up into different categories including dry flies, wet flies, and streamer flies.

Dry Flies

Dry flies are used when fish are eating off the surface as they imitate winged insects that fly around the surface of the water such as midges, mayflies, moths, and more. There are hundreds of different dry fly patterns out there, almost one for every insect that might land on the surface of the water.

Wet Flies

Wet flies are flies that are fished under the surface of the water and imitate either drowned winged insects, emerging insects, or nymphs.

Streamer flies imitate fish and can be tied in different sizes from 1 inch long for trout and salmon to 8 inches long for fish like tarpon and GTs.

Trolling Skirts

Trolling Skirt Lures
Trolling Skirt Lures

When you go saltwater fishing offshore, especially for billfish, you’re going to need a whole range of trolling skirts in different sizes with different head shapes on the boat.

The heads can range from slanted to bullet heads and the skirts range in length from 2 inches to 20 inches and colors from black and red to blue and white.

The line is then threaded through the head into the body of the skirt and a hook is tied on.

When fishing for marlin, you’ll be pulling 4-8 skirts behind the boat at once ranging from 6 inches in size up to 1.5 ft (the size of a small tuna).

How To Choose The Right Fishing Lure

As you can see, there are quite a few different types of lures out there so how do you know when to use which one?

It all comes to quite a few different variables which we’ll look at now, mainly: color, depth, water conditions, the species you’re after, and what you enjoy fishing with.

What species are you trying to catch and when?

The first question you need to ask when picking the right lure for the occasion is ‘what is the fish I want to catch going to be feeding on right now?’.

Summer

If it’s summertime and your targeted fish is a bass, then you’ll know they are looking to feed on the surface and maybe a buzzbait or a popper is best.

Perhaps a lot of frogs are spawning a soft plastic frog will be most effective.

If your targeted fish is a trout and you’re fishing in the middle of a mayfly hatch (usually in the month of May) and the trout are eating them off the surface like there is no tomorrow, putting a mayfly on the end of your line makes the most sense.

Fall

When fishing for bass in the fall, the fish will hold deep in the warmer water, so picking a lure that will fish deep is a wise choice.

It’s all about understanding the feeding habits of your intended target depending on seasons and then matching the lure that best fits what they’d like to eat at the particular time.

NOTE

It takes research and time on the water to learn these things, so don’t be put off if you don’t succeed, just keep going fishing and you’ll get it.

Color vs Conditions

Fishing lures come in pretty much every color under the sun, and then mixtures of those colors, but why?

Most fish only see in black and white, so your color choice is more about contrast than anything else and helping the fish see your lure as easily as possible.

Let’s say you’re fishing in crystal clear water on a sunny day, the fish can see everything very easily.

Loud colors like luminous orange are likely to put them off as they will seem unnatural in these conditions, but natural colors such as green, tan, silver, and blue won’t.

See how water conditions can affect lure visibility in the video below

What COLOR Plastic to Use in Stained and Clear Water. How to pick or choose the right color

Weather

When the water is clean but it’s a dark cloudy day, dark colors will work better as they provide more contrast and will be easier to see than light-reflective ones.

If the water is dirty, then loud colors like luminous orange come into play as it makes the lure much easier for the fish to spot.

What lure do you enjoy fishing with?

There comes a time in your fishing career when it’s not just about catching fish anymore but about how you catch them.

For example, I much prefer catching trout on a dry fly as I get a buzz from seeing them sip the fly from the surface and would much rather catch 1 trout on a dry than 5 on a wet fly. The same applies to other lures.

TIP

If you prefer seeing a fish eat on the surface, buzzbaits and poppers provide that kind of excitement. Remember, fishing is about having fun, so choose the lure that gives you the most enjoyment too.

Winding Up

Thanks very much for reading my article about the types of fishing lures out there. I hope you now have a better understanding of what they all are, how they work, what species to use them for and when.

It’s a bit of a crazy world out there when it comes to lures and you can own thousands of different artificial lures in different sizes and weights. My advice is that it’s best to have a range of colors and sizes that you can fish at different depths, if you have that, there isn’t much you can’t imitate.

Please share the article with your fishing buddies or in any fishing groups, everyone needs a helping hand when it comes to lure selection and catching more fish.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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