Fishing lures come in an incredible range of shapes, sizes, designs, and materials. For anglers new to the sport, the ins and outs of lure choice can be confusing to the point of mystery.
We get that!
With so many options available, it’s really hard to know what each one is, does, and works for.
But we’re here to help.
Below, you’ll find an explanation of common lure types to cover both fresh- and saltwater, as well as pretty much every species you’re after. We’ll also offer a few recommendations for each type of fishing lure, helping you make the best choices with your hard-earned money.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Related: Best Fishing Lures
In-line spinners combine flash, color, and vibration in one enticing package. Built around a long central wire, they feature a weighted, colored body, a spinning blade, and usually a skirt to up the ante on excitement.
Armed with a sharp treble hook, they’re nothing if not deadly.
The Original Rooster Tail is a proven choice.
Whether you’re casting to rising trout swimming in a clear stream, hungry pike hunting the edge of a weed bed, or fat crappie hugging tight to submerged trees, an in-line spinner is an excellent choice.
Offering lots of thumping vibration, high-visibility flash, and a range of colors that let you match the hatch or stand out in murky water, in-line spinners are money on darn near every species.
Mepps Aglia is lethal on everything from brook trout to pike.
A decided advantage of the in-line spinner is easy casting. With its weight nicely centered by design, you can typically cast these lures as far as your tackle is able and with great accuracy.
This pike hit a big rainbow Rooster Tail.
They’re durable, too, and the only damage they tend to suffer comes from hard impact. Every few casts, I like to check mine and make sure they’re still spinning well.
Any bend in that wire will throw an in-line spinner off, so be sure to check and, if necessary, make them straight again.
Among my most productive lures, you’ll find a legion of Worden’s Original Rooster Tails and Mepps Dressed Double-Blade Aglias. My go-to colors are white, black, and rainbow. Most of the time, I tie-on white first, and if it doesn’t produce a hit, I move to rainbow, and then black.
I’ve caught crappie, bluegill, and trout on the smaller sizes. In the ½-ounce size, this is one of my most productive muskie and pike lures.
Big bass just eat the bigger Rooster Tails, too!
The bent-wire design of spinnerbaits places the hook and skirt opposite the spinning blades, offering a bigger presentation than its in-line brethren.
Check out our guide on the best spinnerbaits!
Like an in-line spinner, a spinnerbait offers flash, thump, and color--just more of them!
The KVD Finesse is very hard to beat for trophy bass.
Popular among anglers hunting for large predators like largemouth and pike, these lures are arguably at their most effective when there’s a light breeze creating just a touch of chop.
In murky water, go with Colorado blades for their violent thump.
Spinnerbaits are available in a rainbow of color combinations, and from day-glo yellows and whites that make them pop in low light to natural hues that match the hatch, you’ll find just what you need.
Two blade styles are common: the Colorado and Willow. Willow blades are long and narrow, producing slightly less vibration but more flash to mimic baitfish. By contrast, Colorado blades thump like crazy but don’t flash as much.
Willow blades are superior in clear water, offering enticing shine to trigger a strike. But Colorado blades thump much more violently, and they’re ideal when visibility is limited.
Crankbaits are most effective when a gentle breeze is creating light chop, and like in-line spinners, they’re a relatively shallow running lure. And as with all single-hooked applications, low-stretch line, like braid, will improve hookset.
Neither largemouth nor pike can resist the skirt and blade combination, and if you fish one for an hour or two, you’ll know first-hand why these lures are so incredibly popular among the pros.
Crankbaits were among the first lures ever invented, developing from simple wooden plugs into hyper-realistic mimicry of common prey items like perch, shad, and minnows.
Check out our guide on buying the best crankbaits!
Designed with a plastic lip or sloped head to cause them to dive, the size and shape of these devices dramatically affect how deeply they’ll run. Adding further options to the mix, some crankbaits are available in neutrally-buoyant models, keeping them deep during pauses.
This Rapala Original effectively mimics an injured perch.
Crankbaits are easy to work, but they’re poorly misunderstood by novice anglers.
Unlike in-line spinners, a straight retrieve won’t display a crankbait’s finest features. Instead, you need to run them into cover and structure, creating erratic impacts and zig-zagging bounces. Predators often strike them immediately after impact, and it’s this technique that shows their true potential.
Walleye and bass crush crawfish-styled crankbaits in early spring.
Rapala is perhaps the most famous name in crankbaits, and the Original Floater is a true masterpiece of lure design.
Keep in mind that the idea is to hit structure and cover, not retrieve a crankbait in a straight line.
Lipless crankbaits like Strike King’s Red Eye Shad are legendary as well. This style of crankbait features a sloped forehead to force the lure deeper as it’s worked, and the absence of a lip lets you really run it through dense cover.
If you find that you’re getting hung up too often, an old trick is to use a pair of pliers to remove the lowest hook from each treble. That should help you avoid snags without impairing your ability to lock up a big fish.
Strike King’s Red Eye Shad is a tournament favorite.
A jig is really nothing more than a hook with a weighted head. And like a blank canvas, that no-frills design is just waiting for imagination and invention to cover it.
From the tiny, fly-like Marabou for trout or crappie to heavy swim jigs for bass, jigs now come in an almost endless variety of shapes and sizes.
Small Maribou jigs are murder on crappie; big ones can crush pike.
The Marabou jig looks a lot like a nymph for fly fishing, and it wears a magical skirt that summons crappie like a charm. I like to rig these below a slip float and toss them near vertical structure. A few very light bounces with my wrist get the jig dancing, and the crappie just can’t get enough!
Among my top picks, you’ll find Eagle Claw’s Crappie Jig. Available in ⅛-, 1/16-, and 1/32-ounce sizes, just match the jig to a properly weighted slip float, and you’re ready to go.
Jigs can be just the thing for bass, too.
Swim jigs are the next evolution of a simple design.
When anglers began to note that big females hit their jigs as they were bringing them in for the next cast, a new style was born: the swim jig. Designed much like a crankbait in that you work it by running it through and into cover and structure, looking for impacts and erratic bounces, it’s the next evolution of a simple idea.
I like 6th Sense’s Divine Swim Jig a lot, especially for clear water.
For clear water, 6th Sense’s swim jig in “Bluegill Fire” is very hard to beat.
And for the nastiest cover, I like Booyah’s Boos, as their upturned head design really bounces off the thick stuff.
Punching thick cover is the Booyah Boo’s specialty.
I like to tie these to strong braid as excellent sensitivity and low stretch are needed to detect and react to a sudden strike.
Soft plastics are precisely what they sound like they should be, and they’ve taken the fishing world by storm.
Designed to be run on a single hook alone, as with the legendary Texas rig for plastic worms, or as a sweetener for a lure like a chatterbait, they’re among the most versatile, effective options in your tackle box.
They’re so good, in fact, that they’ve started to edge out live bait even on the hard water!
For example, more and more anglers--including pros like Brian "Bro" Brosdahl--are turning to micro-baits like the Berkley Ice Fry that are just ¾ of an inch long. Simply deadly on a teeny jig head, hard-water anglers are falling in love with swimbaits dozens of fish at a time.
Just the slightest twitch of your wrist causes the Ice Fry’s tail to dance.
Just ¾ of an inch of wriggle!
And legendary crappie anglers like Richard Gene can tell you that a small soft plastic is simply murder on slabs.
Indeed, it’s hard to beat a small soft plastic in the 2-inch range for crappie, and like pretty much every other fisherman, I reach for Strike King’s Mr. Crappie Slabalicious and Bobby Garland’s Mo'Glo Baby Shad. Both offer incredible action and color choices that get the job done, season after season.
These are deadly on crappie and big bluegill.
And as a finesse option for largemouth, soft plastics can’t be beat. Offering lots of action and a subtle presentation, plastic worms, craws, lizards, and swim baits are perennial favorites on the tournament scene.
That’s because options like Strike King’s Rage Tail Bug really deliver! Pre-spawn, bass are trying to fatten themselves on protein-rich crawfish, making this style of craw almost a sure thing.
The Rage Tail Bug mimics a crawfish, making it an exceptional pre-spawn choice.
This craw summoned a bass anyone would love to catch.
For drop shot rigs, where lively action is essential, the Senko from Yamamoto is simply unbeatable. Each tiny ridge catches air bubbles, giving this worm movement you can’t believe--no matter how you rig it.
And soft plastic swimbaits that mimic prey like shad are never a bad option, whether you’re chasing bass, pike, muskie, or walleye.
Soft plastics are my go-to for pike.
One of my favorites is Strike King’s Rage Swimmer. In 3 ¾-inch or 4 ¾-inch, this paddle tail moves like mad and draws out the strikes.
Rage Swimmers provide plenty of vibration, as well as shapes and colors that work like a charm.
Where I grew up fishing, spoons were among the most popular choices for saltwater enthusiasts chasing reds. But it wasn’t until later in life that I discovered just how effective they were on freshwater species, as well.
Composed of nothing more complicated than an asymmetrical hunk of metal, the cunning in the design of a spoon is the thump and wriggle that this shape imparts. Some models sport a single hook; others trail a treble. Both options catch fish like you wouldn’t believe!
Reds can’t resist a big spoon.
The Johnson Silver Minnow is a time-tested choice, and it’s caught more fish than you can imagine. Available in a range of sizes from 1 ¾- to 3 ¾-inches and plenty of different color patterns, when you’re after monsters, go big!
The Silver Minnow is a legendary choice for big fish like reds, muskie, and pike.
Ever wonder what the really big spoons are for?
Dardevle spoons wriggle like mad, and that wobbling action emits vibrations that reliably summon pike and muskie for a closer look. I like to run mine across the tops of weed beds, ripping them from the grip of vegetation. I also favor a long run down the side of cover, as I’m looking for a pike or muskie that are sitting still in ambush.
Both techniques deliver, especially when you spend the time to find where the baitfish are hiding. Use your electronics to find the shad, perch, and minnows--that’s dinner, and the hungry predators will be there every time!
Red and white is the classic combo for the Dardevle.
Plugs, poppers, frogs, torpedoes--topwater sports a diverse set of styles and designs with one thing in common: explosive action!
Predatory fish like largemouth and pike are always on the lookout for something swimming on the surface, whether that’s an injured fish or a fat frog. Silhouetted against the sky, predators use their impressive sight and sensitive lateral lines to find these easy meals, and then they hit them as hard as they can.
That’s why when you twitch a frog through the lilies, you can expect the strike of your life!
Soft plastic frogs are a great choice for pike, muskie, and bass. Essentially floating soft bodies that mimic the real thing, they sport two upturned hooks that ride close to the body to miss weeds.
Lunkerhunt’s Lunker is my top pick, and though the legs might not last as long as tasseled designs, the hyper-realism of this topwater frog wins my vote, hands-down. It floats all day and runs straight, and those two big hooks are practically weedless, as you’d expect.
Don’t throw this frog out in the open; you need to pitch it into the nasty stuff and hop it out. Pause after the cast--it’ll get plenty of hits just sitting there as the ripples subside, and if you need to move it, do so with plenty of pauses and a slow cadence.
Deadly on bass--and pike and muskie!
Heddon’s Torpedo, especially in clear, is one of my absolute favorites. Weighted to keep its nose up, it’s easy to walk, and that rearward prop buzzes like mad as you pull it through the water. Somehow that translucent body creates the illusion of something tasty, and bass hit this little lure like a runaway semi on a mountain road.
It’s that good!
I’ve stunned fishing buddies with the effectiveness of the Baby Torpedo.
And Heddon’s Super Spook is legitimately a legend. I’ve thrown this where the bass were chasing baitfish to the surface, and every cast--every single one--scored a bass immediately. Walked along the edges of grass, weeds, or lilies, and cast back into the breaks in shoreline vegetation, the Super Spook pulls big ones out like nothing else.
The Super Spook delivers awesome results.
Easily the most misunderstood lure in the world of angling, the chatterbait is a mystery to most.
Promising to eclipse the venerable spinnerbait, it was unveiled to much aplomb, only to quickly fade in popularity as few fishermen really knew how to work this amazing lure.
Basically a stripped-down spinnerbait with an angular blade, the chatterbait does what its name suggests--chatter like crazy. As Steve Wright explains, “Ronny Davis's much-tinkered with design makes the hexagonal blade bounce off the lead head of the jig and reverse itself.” That wild vibration makes this lure a killer, especially in high-pressure lakes and rivers.
That big, squared-off blade thumps vigorously, making way more noise than a Colorado blade.
Three techniques are ideal for working a chatterbait:
Z-Man dominates the chatterbait scene, and the Z-Man Original is a work of fishing art. It’s got the skirt, the vibration, and the action to drive bass and pike wild, and it’s one of the most productive lures out there.
Chatterbaits are made to be sweetened with a soft plastic. In pre-spawn, I like a craw like the Zoom Z-Craw for reasons that are obvious.
We hope this article has demystified lure choice, clarifying a topic that’s often daunting to new anglers.
If it has, we’d love to hear from you.
Please leave a comment below!