Lure Fishing for Freshwater Predators

A Perch caught on a lure

Image source: Tim Hughes
Perch caught on a lure

Do you find it hard to sit still waiting for the fish to come to you? Lure fishing is a great sport for born fidgets and anyone who likes to keep active on the riverbank.

If you’re tempted to give lure fishing a go but don’t know where to begin, here we provide a useful introduction to the sport – a quick rundown of all the basics you need to get started.

What species can you catch on a lure?

What species can you expect to catch if you’re new to lure angling? If you’re sticking to freshwater, you’re most likely to get into some pike, perch, zander, chub and even trout – great sport fish that’ll test your retrieval skills to the limit.

Zander - a fish that readily takes a lure.

Image source: Tim Hughes
Zander – a fish that readily takes a lure.

The Pike - These ultmate freshwater predators can be targeted exclusively with lures.

Image Source: Leighton Ryan
The Pike – These ultimate freshwater predators can be targeted exclusively with lures.

You need two things before you go lure fishing: a rod fishing license which you can buy at the Post Office, and the permission of the landowner or club day ticket. Many lakes and reservoirs don’t allow lure fishing, so you’re more likely to be looking at rivers for most of your sport. And do check the .gov website for details of freshwater fishing rules because they vary around the country.

Rods

lure caught chub

Image source: An Angler’s Dangling Log
Getting roddy

There’s no need to spend a fortune on a brand new rod for lure fishing. A short light rod will do the trick – and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Angling blogger Keith Edmunds says the ideal lure fishing rod measures between 6’ 6” and 7’ 6”, though anywhere up to 9’ is OK. Any longer and Keith says the rod will:

“hinder the ability to impart action into the lure and too much length will also reduce a lot of the ‘feedback’ from the lure”.

Keith also advises you to go for something light enough for you to cast and retrieve all day without losing the feeling in your arm. Aim for a rod that will cope with 5-30g of weight, so you can vary the lures you use without worrying about the ability of the rod to handle the heavier ones.

Reels

fishing reel for lures

Image source: Plugs and Spinners
Reely good

You need a fixed spool reel with adjustable drag to allow fish to run without snapping your line. The ‘bail arm’ also enables even spooling of the line during retrieval – this is vital because you’ll be casting and reeling in repeatedly.

Blogger, the River Piker says you should keep your choice of reel simple, buying one that’s compatible with the length of your rod:

“Retrieve speeds, gear ratios and lots of other complicated things can be considered. However, just try to match by size and you will be on the right track at least”

Line

lure caught pike

Image source: An Angler’s Dangling Log
Walk the line

You have two options: braid or mono. Braid costs more but its lack of stretch gives you a lot more ‘feel’ than monofilament line. Braid is also finer than the same breaking strain monofilament line, which makes it more sensitive, communicating the movement of the lure as well as knocks and bites more effectively.

Henry Gilbey says using braid is the “best way” to lure fish. He offers a really good tip for novices – deliberately underfill your reel:

“This really cuts down any chances of getting a dreaded wind knot. Do not be tempted to fill your spinning reel to the brim to try and get a few extra yards distance. I have done this, and then paid the price with a beauty wind knot first cast.”

While braid is best, you shouldn’t rule out using mono because as Plugs and Spinner’s Keith points out. If you’re fishing in areas with lots of rocks or branches, mono line might be a better option because it’s more resistant to abrasion.

Lures

fishing lures

Image source: River Piker
The allure of lures is strong

There are three main points you need to consider when purchasing lures:

  • Where will you be fishing?
  • What depth of the water will you be fishing?
  • What type of fish do you want to catch?

Plugs and Spinners’ share this nugget of advice:

“The typical rule of thumb is shiny lures for clear water and bright conditions and coloured lures for coloured water and overcast conditions”

That said, one of the attractions of lure fishing is that every lure has its day, giving you the freedom to experiment and see what works best for you.

River Piker has the following advice for pike hungry lure fishermen:

“Pretty much every lure will catch you a pike if you use it enough, if you use it where pike are and if you use it when a pike wants to eat something”

Broadly speaking though, he selects his lure depending on the weight of his rod and line:

Small lures

Are perfect for a 15-20lb line and wire trace combination.

Medium lures

Will work with a set up of 30-50lb braided line and wire trace.

Large lures

For anything very large use over 50lb braid minimum and a wire trace set up. Ideally this will work best with 80lb upwards.

Wire traces

A wire trace is an essential part of your lure fishing kit, especially if your prey has sharp gnashers such as pike. Even when targeting other species, if pike are present in the water always ensure you fit a wire trace or the inevitable bite off will happen. Choose the diameter of the wire according to the type of fish you want to catch.

For chub or perch, you’ll need fine wire. For pike, you’ll need something with a higher breaking strain of 30lbs and above. In this clip, Mick Brown explains how to set up, but also suggests that for ease, beginners can consider buying ready made traces:

Types of Lure

types of lure

Image source: River Piker
Lure them in

Plugs

With a plastic or wood body, plugs are used to fish the surface of the water or just beneath it. They’re painted to look like bait-fish, and are designed to move as though wounded as you retrieve them.

Choose your plug based on the colour and depth of the water you’re fishing and also the size of the fish you want to snag.

Spinners

Spinners – as the name suggests – spin. And it’s this motion that creates a “flash” – a tried and tested method of attracting predatory fish.

These types of lures are usually made from metal and sometimes have ‘tails’ made from animal hair. Spinners will slowly sink through the water so it’s up to you to decide how long wait after casting and therefore how deep your spinner sinks, before you start to retrieve.

Even if you’re only planning on lure fishing occasionally, Keith Edmunds  advises that you always have a spinner or two in your tackle bag. He generally recommends

“Mepps Aglia size 5, Rublex Ondex size 6 and Mepps Lusox sizes 2 and 3”.

Rubber

A rubber soft lure.

Image source: Tim Hughes
A rubber fish lure

Freshwater fish will naturally feed on insects and worms, so something that imitates these creatures makes an ideal lure, which is why soft rubber eels are often a winner.

Shads, twin tailed grubs and curly tailed grubs are just a sample of the myriad rubber lures on the market. Keith Edmunds favours these types for the cooler months. He says

“jigging gets the bait bouncing along the bottom, ideal for rousing those lethargic toothy critters during cold conditions”

A selection of rubber soft lures and jig heads for jigging.

A selection of rubber soft lures and jig heads for jigging

Tools of the trade

lure fishing tools

Image source: River Piker
Tools to Lure

One of the ‘lures’ of lure fishing is that in terms of gear, it gives you the opportunity to travel light, moving easily from one swim to another to try your luck. But you’ll still need a few decent tools.

According to River Piker this is one time when size matters. “You need big tools”, he says.

“No tiny disgorger for pike fishing, just big tough tools. Get the best you can afford – don’t scrimp”

Three tools

There are three main tools that should always make it into your tackle bag. Keith Edmunds says a good pair of forceps are essential for fine wire hooks, as are a pair of pliers.  River Piker backs this up, suggesting you get two pairs, one regular and “a pair of extra long forceps for smaller lures”.

Carrying two different sizes of pliers is also a good idea, one large and one smaller, the latter to deal with simpler unhooking jobs.

Investing in a side cutter is wise. This tool comes in handy for the times when you simply can’t remove a hook. The welfare of the fish is priority, and a tool like this can prevent causing any unnecessary distress to your catch and injury to yourself.

One final idea from Edmunds is to buy a good, small unhooking mat. While he agrees that carrying something like this can be cumbersome, he says it’s worth it for the times when you might need to unhook on a tow-path or stony bank.

He also adds that an unhooking mat:

“doubles up as a great kneeling mat on small waters where I will often cast and retrieve in a kneeling position to stay off the sky line”

 

Where to fish

Where to fish - a decent looking spot for predatory fish with lots of features and cover.

A decent looking spot for predatory fish with lots of cover and features.

When deciding where to fish, lure angler Dave Pugh’ s advice is to ask around – talk to local anglers and ask where they fish. Many waters will have areas that produce good pike, and other spots that seldom produce anything.

Fish such as chub will use the same waters year after year, but perch and zander will use different rivers according to the seasons and the weather also affects their movement.

Camouflage is key

If you’re fishing in clear water, chances are a fish, like pike, will see you a long time before you see it. Fishing Lures recommend you invest in camouflage clothing, particularly jacket and trousers. They say that even though the fish might appear to be chasing your lure, it will be aware of you, and can see you clearly! If you’ve not convinced it to take your lure, its only real option once it gets to the bank is to swerve away and avoid you.

By comparison an angler in camouflage clothing who moves stealthily and quietly from the cover of vegetation or bushes is more likely to get their pike or perch with one or two carefully made casts with a spinner or lure.

Unhooking your catch

lure fishing rod

Image source: An Angler’s Dangling Log
Off the hook!

You’ve managed to lure a prize Pike, Perch or Zander, but you need to unhook it carefully. This is where the tools of your trade – forceps, pliers and unhooking mat – come in. The welfare of the fish is paramount.

Once the fish is netted, place it on the unhooking mat and turn it onto its side. From here Dave Pugh tells you to “slide your left hand under the pike’s gill cover”. Now you should be able to release to hook using your pliers.

If it’s proving tricky to free, use your side cutters to snip the points of the hook. The ultimate goal here is to free the fish and get it back into the water as soon as you can. In fact, Dave reckons it should take you less time to let the fish go, than it does to read these instructions.

Whether you’re new to lure fishing or an experienced hand we’d love to hear your hints and tricks which you can post our Facebook page.