Fishing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Spinning Lures.

Spinning is arguably the most efficient way of catching fish. Some other techniques may be better for some particular fishes or places – for example, flyfishing is supposed to be the best way to catch trout. Bottom fishing is good for bottom feeders; when fishing with live bait you should first somehow get the bait, which can become a problem in itself; trolling requires a boat and a large body of water, and for ice fishing you need the weather to cooperate. In short, most fishing techniques are specialized, whereas spinning is universal. You can catch all kinds of fish, big and small, in all kinds of water – ponds, lakes, rivers, mountain streams, offshore and inshore – up near surface and down close to bottom. A proper spinning rod in your hand makes you the master of all predatory fish – as long as you have the right lure. 

Yes, there’s the rub – there are thousands of different lures on the market, and it is not so easy to decide which one to use. This post will give you a brief explanation of what major types of lures for spinning there are, and how each of them works. And yes, we don’t yet have a complete understanding of what triggers the predatory response in fish. It can be sight, so most lures resemble some kind of prey, or smell. But apparently what’s even more important is the motion of water, including in the form of acoustic waves, that the predatory fish senses and uses to identify their prey. This is why many lures wobble, rotate, or even produce sounds.

A spoon type spinning lure
One of the earliest shapes of spoon type spinning lure


A spoon is the original spinning lure, and the first ones actually resembled spoons in shape. In an emergency situation you can still take a spoon, break or file off the handle, drill two holes, one for the line on the thinner end and the other for the hook in the rear – and it will catch fish. However, most lures classified as spoons today have a more sophisticated shape. Spoons wobble in the water, and imitate fish that are about as large as, or even slightly smaller than themselves. Spoons are relatively heavy, and work better when you need to cast the lures a long way, and lead them well below surface. The downside of spoons is they are typically sensitive to the speed and manner of retrieve (though moderately slow and intermittent tends to work best). Northern pike is one of the prime targets for spinning with a spoon. 

Three spinners of the classic inline type.


Spinners are lures with a small metallic blade that rotates, or spins, as the lure moves through water. A spinner imitates the motion of a larger prey than its size suggests, and excels in waters with fast current, as most of them requires quite a bit of speed to play right. The advantage of spinners is that they are among the easiest lures to use. Spinners are further classified into classic inline spinners, and offset spinnerbaits. Offset spinnerbaits have two or more wires, one with the hook and the other with blade (usually more than one); they imitate a bigger prey, and are used for biggest predators such as muskie and pike. Inline spinners have the blade(s) and the hook on the same wire. They are arguably the most universal spinning lures and can be used to catch most species of fish in most scenarios. Never go on a spinning fishing trip for perch or trout without a good collection of spinners in your tackle box. 

A variety of crankbaits


Those are floating, wooden or plastic, lures that are floating or have neutral buoyancy, and go deep into the water with the help of special structural elements, that work like an airplane’s wing, only in the other direction. These elements can be in the form of a plane or a sloping flat on the top of the lure. Many crankbaits are long and may have two or three sets of hooks. They should be a little bigger than the fish your intended prey prefers. Smaller crankbaits work for all kinds of fish, including bass and even trout. Some experts recommend leading them in such a manner that they bump into obstacles, which they say is irresistible to predators waiting in ambush nearby. Bigger crankbaits are a preferred lure for many trolling enthusiasts, but work with a spinning tackle too. Be sure to pack a number of those when fishing a big river or lake for walleye, muskie or northern pike. 

soft bait frog
A frog-shaped soft bait

Soft Baits

Made in different shapes, such as frogs, minnows, worms or even lizards, soft baits can be thought of as an artificial equivalent of the real live or dead bait. With simple hooks, they float and work on the surface, and with a weighted jig head they will attract bottom-feeding fish. However, you can add a soft bait to almost any lure, as long as the bait is not too big to interfere with the lure’s original action. Some soft baits are made of porous material and can be scented, which makes them the only lures that attract fish through olfactory receptors. The downside of soft baits is that they aren’t very durable – in fact, think of them as disposable. Floating soft baits are great for fishing in deeply overgrown lakes for fish such as bass. With the hook hidden in the body, they won’t drag on grass or logs – throw them in, reel them in with little twerks and twitches, similar to a real frog’s motion, and watch a monster largemouth emerge from the depths and grab your lure. 

A jig head with a worm-shaped soft bait.
A jig head with a worm-shaped soft bait.

Jig Heads

Jig heads are, in layman’s terms, a big sinker with a big hook. In most cases, the hook is hidden by feathers, or a soft bait. The original use of jig heads is for vertical jigging, from a boat or for ice fishing, but they work well for spinning, too. In this case, most anglers use jig heads with soft baits shaped as a minnow or a worm, in short, something that will give the lure a natural play as you retrieve it. Some worms have a serpentine shape and wiggle in motion, while fish-shaped bodies are made to imitate an actual living fish. The environment where jig heads thrive is fishing near the bottom; lead the lure in stepwise motion so that it bumps the bottom now and then. Walleye and catfish are especially vulnerable to this type of lure. 

popper spinning lure
A popper. The cavity at the front creates the bubble and popping sound.


A popper is a specialized lure for surface fishing. It is made floating, and with a hole up front, that creates a bubble and a characteristic popping sound when the lure travels across the water. Many bass anglers swear by poppers, but you can use them for surface-feeding fish, mostly in still or slowly moving waters.

How to Pick the Right Lure

To answer this question, think about what the species you’re after feeds on, and look for a lure that will imitate it. Never limit yourself to just one lure: first, it’s impossible to predict what will work on a given day, and second, it’s a dull day spinning if you haven’t lost a single lure to a log, rock, or the big one that got away. Most anglers agree that you can never have too many lures in your box. You’ll be using 5% of your lures to catch 95% of your fish, but to discover what these 5% are you’ll have to experiment. Try this and that – bright lures, dull lures, big and small, fast and slow, but don’t switch your lure too often. Make at least 10-12 casts before trying something else. 

There are many varieties of lures, as you can see for yourself in any tackle shop. These tips may help you make sense of them and pick a few that will get you on fish. But don’t forget that the wrong lure in the right place (including depth, speed, and manner of reeling) is better than the right lure in the wrong place. Heed the advice of your guide, but don’t take it as Holy Writ: often, a fish can be seduced with a new lure or approach that the guide doesn’t recommend because they never tried it. Above all, don’t spend too much time reading theory. Book a fishing trip on and go ahead.

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