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- Fishing lures are fun-looking contraptions, but first and foremost they are tools.
- They’re also expensive, so it’s worth doing a bit of homework to understand what is needed and what isn’t.
- Below are brands and retailers I use to fill my tackle (and fly) boxes, and the ones I’d recommend to anyone looking to do the same.
Superstitions abound around which colors and sizes are best when choosing a lure or fly. "Match the hatch," goes one old adage, which is to say, try to imitate the flies hatching in a body of water where fish (usually trout) are feeding on said flies hatching or laying eggs at the surface. The same goes elsewhere: If there are herring around, it’s a good bet to assume that the larger predators (say, striped bass) are eating them and not menhaden, for example, which might be out of season or simply not around at that given point in time.
Another theory, which is wholly contradictory, is to stand out. Simplistically, if there are lots of green fish swimming around, throw a pink lure and try to catch the eye of your target species off guard.
What about quality, or specifically, attention to detail? Does it really matter how lifelike a lure is? Yes and no. Some of my simplest lures have caught more fish than the meticulously detailed lures, especially along the bottom in murky conditions with poor visibility where fish can’t see all that well anyhow. In others, such as dry fly fishing in gin-clear streams, a fly must be an immaculate imitation in order to even catch the attention of, let alone fool, a cunning trout.
Finally, your lure is only as good as your hooks. If you do buy inexpensive lures, I’d advise that you change out your hooks, particularly if you’re fishing in saltwater. I also tend to get rid of treble-style hooks unless my full intention is to eat every fish I hook. They can do a lot of damage to fish (not to mention your hands), and it’s rather cruel to toss them back in such rough shape. I try to change out all of my hooks to Gamakatsu single hooks, which are sharp, sure, but they also barely rust.
Taking all this into account, I’m leaving particular lure selection (i.e., size and color) to you, dear readers, lest I should be at the receiving end of whatever aspersions you cast on your next angling adventure.
Below are various brands I’ve found to provide the best and most reasonably priced equipment I’ve encountered over the course of more than two decades of sportfishing and working on fishing charters. These will, of course, also be highly subjective recommendations, but they’re products and brands which I’ve relied on time and again, from the High Sierra of California to South Pacific streams and fjords, and the South Carolina Lowcountry to the Long Island Sound.
Here are the best fishing lures you can buy in 2019:
- Best hard plastics for saltwater and freshwater: Rapala
- Best soft plastics for freshwater: Yamamoto
- Best soft plastics for inshore saltwater: Storm
- Best surface lures: Yo-Zuri
- Best place to buy flies online: Big Y Fly Co.
- Best bucktail jigs: Sea Striker
- Best soft plastics for offshore and big game: RonZ
Keep scrolling to read more about our top picks.
The best hard plastics for saltwater and freshwater fishing
Rapala lures have been around since 1936, and they’re among the world’s most popular lures. They’re hand-tuned and -tested, and among the very few (if not the only) fishing lure manufacturers still mass-producing balsa wood lures.
Lauri Rapala did it first and he did it best. His life, or at least his livelihood, depended on it. Back in the 1930s when he was a child, he was faced with either a harsh life of labor in a factory or on the lake. A good day’s haul of fish, however, could amount to two weeks’ pay in the factory. In short, the kid learned how to fish.
So much time spent on the water and around fish in their habitat led to his creating what came to be the definitive modern-day fishing lure, the balsa wood minnow, which floats and swims like a wounded baitfish — something Rapala noticed would almost invariably attract the attention of otherwise precautious big fish.
That’s the backstory, but today, Rapala the company is still, more or less, the front and center in the world of lures. The brand makes all sorts of lures to imitate wounded baitfish, and I can attest that they all work. In freshwater, my favorite model is the original balsa wood minnow. It comes in various sizes and will do the trick on everything (respective of size) from small panfish to larger pond and lake fish like bass and pike.
In the brine, the CountDown Magnum is about all I ever use for trolling lures, for everything from bluefish and striped bass all the way up to tuna, king mackerel, and wahoo. I’ve trolled thousands and thousands of miles along coastlines and during open ocean passages, and the CountDown Magnum almost invariably outfishes any other lure I put out unless I’m going for truly big game, at which point I tend to splurge on custom skirts, the prices of which I’m embarrassed to divulge.
There are hardly any professional reviews of Rapala lures because fishermen already know all too well of their legacy, but if you don’t trust me, read these Amazon reviews of the Original Floating Rapala. Here’s what goes into the making of a Rapala lure.
Pros: Hand-tuned and -tested, almost staggering variety
Cons: Mostly (if not only) come with treble hooks, which you might want to change out (specifically for catch and release), not cheap
The best soft plastics for freshwater
Soft plastics are affordable, easy to store, and surprisingly effective on just about every species of sport fish. Yamamoto’s Senkos are a more technical (and expensive) option, while Culprit’s 7.5-inch Tequila Shads are more simplistic, but will almost always get the job done just the same.
The best ones in the freshwater world right now, in my humble opinion (though Bassmaster and Wired2Fish agree), are Gary Yamamoto’s Senkos, which are wobbly, slug-like cylinders with some weight, so they’re easy to cast, and sink in a beautifully enticing manner without requiring the added (and expensive) steel weight. While these are relatively pricey even without having to buy weights, they tend to last a little longer.
The whole Yamamoto line offers just about everything you’d need in freshwater, along with a bit of inshore saltwater tackle as well. What I like most about these lures is that almost all of them (and especially the Senko) do the work for you, and you may find that the less you do in terms of "working," or bouncing these soft plastics along in an attempt to make them look more lifelike, the more bites you get.
In a pinch, I’ll reach for any old brand, figuring fish will chew them to bits so it doesn’t much matter how durable they are, as long as they work. My favorite worms on a budget are Culprit’s 7.5-inch Tequila Shads. They’re certainly cheap enough, and while they break up after a little while, there are 18 to a pack, which should easily last you a day if not a season.
Both of these soft plastic worms I’ve mentioned are best fished with a Gamakatsu worm hook; I like a slanted 3/0, which tends not to end up down a fish’s throat and/or in its gut like straight ones can.
Pros: Weighted, extremely effective on largemouth bass
Cons: Pricier than the average worm
The best soft plastics for inshore saltwater
Some of the brands we recommend for freshwater do produce a few saltwater-oriented designs, but there is one brand I stick by when it comes to saltwater soft plastics: Storm (a subsidiary of Rapala), which covers all of your inshore needs.
Saltwater is a whole different arena. Crabs, shrimps, and other crustaceans drive a lot of lure design, as do cephalopods like squids and octopi. And, of course, the fish tend to get a whole lot bigger, which means the baits do too. By and large, the price tags also correlate.
I’ll often try to scour the used section of my local tackle shop if I can, which helps, but I often don’t find what I need. Inshore, I’ll generally reach for anything from the Storm-branded lures line. A younger company, Storm entered the market with affordable lures with high performance. No, they’re not made from balsa wood, but they’re balanced and, far as my human eyes can tell, nearly as lifelike as Rapalas. It also doesn’t hurt to note that Rapala recently purchased the brand.
Storm also has a series of swimbaits called the WildEye, which aren’t nearly as durable (fish with teeth tend to rip the tails off and render their action useless), but they’re lifelike and are highly effective without much angling finesse. In other words, all that takes to make these things work is cast, retrieve, repeat.
Pros: WildEyes and Chug Bugs are effective on a wide variety of fish, both fresh and salt (size down for freshwater, generally)
Cons: Wildeyes’ tails get bitten off frequently; Chug Bugs’ hooks are worth changing out, especially when pursuing larger fish in the brine
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