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Freshwater Fishing Lures and Their Effective Use

For novices and experienced anglers alike, deciding what freshwater fishing lures to use and under what conditions can be confusing.

After all, many factors influence those decisions. These include the fish species you’re going after and whether you’re fishing in a lake, river, stream, or pond. You have to factor in the weather, whether the water is clear or murky, and — well, you get the idea.

Read on for a look at various types of freshwater fishing lures, from jigs to tubes and in between. You’ll also find some guidance on the effective use of each type of lure.

A tackle box of assorted freshwater fishing lures.


Look in any angler’s tackle box, and the freshwater fishing lures you’ll find will include an assortment of fishing jigs. Jigs are simple lures, comprising a piece of painted metal attached to a hook. The hook is concealed by feathers, plastic, or other materials. And because the hook is weighted, it will sink to the bottom of your fishing spot.

Jigs can be used as freshwater fishing lures to attract game fish, from crappie to bass to walleye. They do, however, require some expertise in technique, which any angler can acquire with just a little diligence.

Walleye caught with jig lure.

Jigging Technique

Once your jig is at the bottom of your fishing spot, your job is to make it look like an injured baitfish. To do that, snap your wrist to make your rod twitch. In the water, that motion will bring your jig up a few feet, then let it settle back down to the bottom.

The art of jig fishing comes in knowing how frequently and how hard to snap your wrist. Generally, freshwater fish respond well to quick jerks with long pauses between each motion.


Like jigs, poppers as freshwater fishing lures are designed to imitate baitfish. But unlike jigs, poppers are designed for use at the water’s surface. Poppers come in various sizes, but all have a concave-shaped “mouth.”

As a popper moves through the water, its concave mouth forces water to the sides of the lure and out in front of it. The commotion created by a popper moving through the water attracts fish to it.

A popper lure.

Popper Technique

Topwater poppers will attract several gamefish but are a very popular way to catch bass. To use a popper, like the Rebel Lures Pop-R, simply reel it in across the top of the water, twitching it occasionally.

A popper with a deep concave mouth will create the most surface action. That may seem like a good thing, but on calm days, a too-noisy popper may scare fish away. When using a topwater popper, reeling it in slowly will best imitate the actions of natural fish prey like insects or injured baitfish.


Like poppers, spoon lures are concave-curved lures. However, they are designed to move through the water much differently from poppers. Spoons are designed to attract fish by reflecting sunlight in different directions as they move through the water.

As a tip in selecting spoons as freshwater fishing lures, you should pay attention to their shape. The longer and more concave the spoon, the more pronounced the wobbling motion that will reflect sunlight and attract fish. A wide variety of spoons are available, with many adapted for a specific type of fishing.

A box of spoon fishing lures.

Spoon Technique

You should use a variety of techniques in fishing with spoons as freshwater fishing lures, depending on the type of spoon or spoons you choose. If you’re using a spoon designed for cast-and-retrieve fishing, for example, a steady-speed retrieval is a good strategy.

If you’re trolling with a spoon, vary the speed of your boat. As you slow down, the lure will sink, and that’s most likely when fish will spot it. Another tip for trolling with spoons as freshwater fishing lures is to try them at various depths. Soon enough, you’ll figure out where your target fish are located.

To really boost your chances of hooking a fish with a spoon, try a so-called “weedless” spoon. These spoons come equipped with a wire cage that pushes weeds aside as they move through the water.

Weeded areas in the water offer both oxygen and shade to fish. So, fishing with a weedless spoon will get you into places where many fish spend time during the day.


Crankbaits, also called plugs, represent a wide variety of freshwater fishing lures. Routinely formed to imitate baitfish, crankbaits also may have more than one hook. There are three types of crankbaits — diving lures, sounding lures, and lipless lures, which don’t have the “lip” that helps other crankbaits to dive.

Crankbaits can be made of wood, plastic, or even high-density foam. The “lip” included on many crankbaits can be made of plastic, carbon fiber, or metal. The lip helps impart a lifelike motion to crankbaits and can also help keep them from hanging up on underwater obstructions.

Sounding crankbaits are equipped with rattles enclosed in the body of the lure that produce noise as the lure is moved through the water.

Additionally, crankbaits are designed to wobble as they move through the water. The wider the lure, the wider its wobble will be.

A fishing rod and a crankbait lure

Crankbaits Technique

Diving crankbaits are further categorized by the depth they are designed to achieve, whether shallow, medium, or deep.

Shallow crankbaits are good to use around docks, bridge pilings, and submerged vegetation. Medium-depth crankbaits should be used when fishing in shaded areas or in submerged standing timber. Deep crankbaits are best used at the edges of shore bluffs and along underwater ledges.

Regardless of what depth you’re fishing, you’ll also need to pay attention to the degree of wobble in your crankbaits. Generally, you should use a wide-wobbling crankbait in the summer because fish won’t chase them down in the winter while trying to conserve energy.

You should also use a wide-wobbling crankbait when water clarity is low because even if fish can’t see it, they can sense motion both in the crankbait and the attached fishing line.

Using Lipless Crankbaits

Lipless crankbaits are much slimmer than other crankbaits among freshwater fishing lures. They also have flat sides. The slim, flat design produces a swimming motion as the lipless crankbait is reeled through the water. The vibration of lipless crankbaits mimics the sound waves produced by baitfish moving in the water.

If you’re using a lipless crankbait, a fast retrieval will accentuate the sound waves, attracting more fish.


Spinners, or spinnerbaits, are weighted freshwater fishing lures with various types of “skirting” that conceals the lure hook. Spinners get their name from the one or more shiny metal blades attached by angled wire to the body of the lure. The blades will be silver or gold, with some freshwater fishing lures featuring both colors.

Spinners have been around for about 80 years, combining flash and vibration into one of the most effective freshwater fishing lures.

Man holding a spinnerbait fishing lure.

Spinner Technique

Particularly If you’re a novice angler, your tackle box should include one or more spinners as part of your collection of freshwater fishing lures. They are an easy lure to use, requiring just a simple cast-and-retrieve. You can control the depth at which your spinner settles by simply waiting for a few seconds or more to let it sink to various depths.

You can “fast-retrieve” a spinner, creating a disturbance along the top of the water that will help attract fish. Or, you can use a slow retrieve, allowing the spinner to settle along the bottom of your fishing spot.

Spinners can be used effectively as freshwater fishing lures at any time of year, and they can also bring in fish regardless of water clarity. Routinely, white- or chartreuse-colored spinners are your best color choice as freshwater fishing lures. In terms of blades, silver should be your choice on sunny days with clear water.


Plastic lures are rubbery baits that mimic different kinds of aquatic life, from minnows to crawfish to frogs. And, of course, plastics also come in the form of the lowly worm, a popular live bait.

Plastic freshwater fishing lures come in a variety of colors, but that need not be too confusing. If you use bright lures on a clear day and duller-colored lures on overcast days, you’ll be on the right track.

Assorted plastic fishing lures laid out on a table.

Plastics Technique

A key to fishing successfully with plastic lures is to know how to connect them to a hook, a technique called “rigging.” There are a number of ways to rig plastics as freshwater fishing lures. The one mistake to avoid in rigging is having the hook come out of the mold line, where the two halves of the plastic lure are joined.

A properly rigged plastic bait will have the hook coming out at an angle to the lure instead of down its middle. Plastic baits rigged with the hook at an angle won’t move through the water properly.

As far as casting and retrieving a plastic lure, a slow and steady approach will produce the most lifelike action. You can also try “swimming” the bait along the surface, twitching it occasionally for additional movement.

You can also use plastics as freshwater fishing lures along the bottom of your favorite fishing spot. Just let the lure sink, then pause from time to time as you’re retrieving it to attract the attention of nearby fish.


Tube baits are a simple version of plastic baits, comprising a simple plastic head trailed by a number of plastic appendages. They’re not engineered to do much in the water, but they serve as remarkably effective imitations of baitfish and even crawfish.

A red tube plastic fishing lure.

Tubes Technique

You can fish with tube baits as freshwater fishing lures anywhere, but they are particularly effective in areas populated by crawfish. As with other plastic baits, there are lots of ways to rig a tube lure. If you’re just starting with tube lures, the simplest rig is a jig head rig.

For a jig head rig, all you’ll need is a fishing jig, a hook attached to a lead-weighted head, with an eyelet for attaching the fishing line. Simply push the jig through the soft plastic body of the tube lure. The eyelet will emerge from the lure, ready for the attachment of your fishing line.

One of the best techniques for fishing with a tube lure is to let it sink to the bottom. Once it’s there, jerk or raise your fishing rod. Then, simply let the tube lure drift back to the bottom. On its way down, it will mimic the appearance of a dead or dying baitfish and should attract aggressive bites.

You should also try your tube lure around bridge pilings and docks. The one trick is to cast the lure as close as possible to the structure you’re targeting.

Vibrating Jigs

Vibrating jigs get their name from the intense vibration they produce while being retrieved. A jig — a hook with a weighted head — with a blade attached. Vibrating jigs are a deceptively simple lure.

Vibrating Jigs Technique

The key to the vibrating jig is the shape of its blade. If you decide to add vibrating jigs to your tackle box, be sure to bring along a variety of blade shapes and sizes. Blades will have different patterns of holes cut in them to produce varying actions underwater.

You should also bring along a number of different-colored jigs to try in varying sunlight and water clarity conditions. Be prepared to experiment to come up with your ideas of what vibrating jig configuration works best in places you like to fish.

Wrapping Up Effective Use of Freshwater Fishing Lures

Catching a walleye with a freshwater fishing lure.

Now that you’ve had a look at a variety of freshwater fishing lures and how to use them, you’re ready to take those lessons to your favorite fishing spot.

In the meantime, there is lots more to learn about fishing at Life in Minnesota. Among other things, you’ll learn about bass, walleye, and trout fishing in the state. Also, you’ll get plenty of insight into the special world of ice fishing.