Tackle, Tactics and Experience

Absolute Beginners

So, you want to be a lure angler...

The number of anglers using lures boomed in the 1990s, and this boom is continuing, fueled by publicity in the mainstream angling press, access for lure anglers pursuing pike on trout waters and the increased availability of both lures and suitable tackle. But for newcomers to the sport that choice of lures and tackle can be bewildering, this article is to give those anglers a helping hand in making their first steps in the sport.

If you have got this far then you have obviously made a good start! There is all sorts of advice on these pages but there are a few articles in particular that will be of benefit to beginners which I will list at the end of the article.

Some of the advice here may well repeat parts of those articles, that is unavoidable, but some will be new.

Making Contact

You should join the Lure Anglers' Society, this is the only society dedicated to using only lures for catching all species of fish. As a member you will receive the quarterly magazine, full of articles about all aspects of lure fishing, news of special lure fishing events and advertisements for specialist lure and lure tackle suppliers. You will also be able to join in with the special fish-ins where lure anglers gather to sneak a look into each others' lure boxes, laugh at badly-painted homemade lures and maybe catch a fish or two. Seriously these are great opportunities to see what sorts of tackle options are open to you as well as seeing different techniques in action and making a few friends. There are a growing number of local "chapters" where LAS members gather regularly to talk lures and arrange their own local fish-ins, going to one of these meetings must be one of the fastest ways to gain advice especially relevant to your own area. The level of experience and favourite techniques and species of the members at these meetings will vary so you need not be afraid of being left out, you will be made welcome.

Apart from the LAS you can make use of this website. I will always reply to emails requesting advice or help with a problem, and usually within 48 hours. If I do not have an answer I can usually recommend a course of action that might find that answer. Use the message board and you will usually get several replies offering advice from anglers with differing experience.

You might get help at your local tackle shop, but you will be very lucky to learn much there, and the chances are you may be sold tackle that later proves totally unsuitable for your own needs. Take care. If they have a big range of lures of various sizes then there might be someone there who has some experience, otherwise steer clear. Similarly your chances of bumping into a lure angler on the bank are slim, but if you do get lucky that is a great opportunity of getting some first-hand guidance on your water, usually lure anglers are enthusiastic rather than secretive, if they are evasive then it is probably a sign that it is a good water and they fear the competition! I am a little guarded when questioned on the river bank because of the hostility to pike and zander that many local anglers show, I don't really want to encourage a pike-hater to remove the fish I want to catch. My stock reply to enquiries about my sport is "Just a couple of jacks, mate", anyone enthusiastic will not be deterred by that and I am usually happy to talk for hours to another lure angler.

Choosing Your Tackle

You have to make a decision quite soon about what sort of lure fishing you are interested in. What species do you want to catch? What waters do you expect to fish most of the time?

You may want to catch whatever comes along, pike, perch, chub, zander, trout or whatever. This approach will allow you the maximum number of opportunities for sport, at the expense of a few compromises.

The compromises are connected with the range of lure size you can use with one one rod and reel. Pike prefer bigger lures, zander and chub select slightly smaller while trout and perch much smaller (these are generalisations). So the all rounder tackle set-up uses lures at the smaller end of the pike's preferred size range and at the larger end of the trout and perch preferences.

There are many rods that will cast this range of lures, between say 10g and 50g, with plenty of slightly heavier and slightly lighter options, so you can slightly tailor your choice according to the likely sport you will find on your waters. Going slightly lighter will make a bigger improvement in your choices for small species than going slightly heavier will make to your pike catches. (For a big improvement in in pike results you will have to move up to specialist gear which is not suitable for the other species - more later.) There are a few guidelines for choosing rod length. For extra casting distance a longer rod has the edge and it will enable you to have more control over the retrieve path of your lure if the near bank is weed-edged. On a small river a shorter rod is sometimes much more practical if overhanging branches are a problem, and it is also easier to carry a shorter rod along overgrown paths, a longer rod is also heavier and more tiring to use. A final but important consideration to bear in mind is your own build and strength, the bigger and stronger you are then the longer and heavier rod you will be able to use comfortably. I have gradually changed my own prefernces, and prefer a shorter rod for nearly all my lure fishing these days - casting distance is largely decided by the lure and line diameter, and the advantages for fishing around near-bank foliage and weeds is not great, the extra weight and awkwardness of the long rod I find tiresome.

A fixed spool reel will be best for this rod and line strength should be between 20lb and 50lb b.s. braid. Braid is the only choice for all lure fishing, its longevity and strength will soon repay the high initial cost. The choice within these limits should be made according to the water and the fish. The bigger the fish and the snaggier the water then the stronger the line should be. But thicker line will mean that the lighter lures will not be so easy to cast.

Continually casting and retrieving lures will subject your line and reel to a lot more wear than you would get from less active methods, these line strengths may seem on the heavy side to you but light line costs lures. When I began luring I used 8lb b.s. mono (Maxima), which will land anything that swims, but I increased line strength as my experience grew and about 12 months later I was up to 11lb Maxima, finally preferring 15lb b.s, then braid came along transformed the sport. It is unforgivable to use line that allows a risk of a lure being left in a fish so I always lean on the heavy side. Sport is not about line breaking.

You really do have to watch your line and leader constantly, they will let you down if you ignore them, it takes time to get into this habit but a few lost lures will speed up the learning process. Choose a reel that will stand up to a lot of wear, and one that you can get spare parts for easily, a no-fail bale arm spring is essential. This will not be cheap, but if you buy right you only buy once.

Pike are present in most British waters so wire leaders are essential, pike teeth are amazingly sharp and nothing but wire will do. Length should be around 15". The strength of your leader should be the same as your line, there is certainly no advantage to be gained by using a lighter leader whilst stronger leaders last longer. I have never been aware of fish being put off by a thick leader, I did try without a leader once to catch some wary chub but it made no difference and I would not even consider it now unless I was in a guaranteed-pike-free water. A few lures can have their action affected by the weight of the leader, using a lighter or shorter leader will alleviate this to some extent but the real answer is to not use them, there are plenty of others.

That is the all rounder set-up dealt with. If you want to focus specifically on pike then you should check the list of articles at the end of this piece.

Finally there is "ultra-light", this is using very small lures and fine line for all species of fish. It originated in the USA where pike are not present in many of the waters that contain numbers of other, smaller and toothless predators - and they generally don't care if a pike does bite their lure off because pike are not valued as sportfish in many waters over there. This is very important to remember, in its American form wire leaders are not necessary. In the UK you will need wire leaders for over 90% of waters and wire leaders often spoil the action of the very small lures used for this method.

But if you have access to waters with large numbers of perch and trout the small lures will give plenty of sport. Chub, zander and pike will all fall to this method. The lures will weigh from 1g to 7g and there are a few imported rods that will cast these weights, a fixed spool reel and braid of between 10lb and 20lb b.s. will allow you to cast these tiny lures. I want to stress that with such fine lines tackle maintenance becomes very important, there is no margin for error. If this sort of line gets damaged it will break like cotton at the first pull of a fish.

I would not recommend this technique to a lure fishing beginner mainly because of the tackle maintenance implications. Knowing the water well is vital, it is not the way to go after big pike although you might hook one and have a merry dance trying to land it, try to use the method responsibly. It does offer an interesting avenue for the more experienced lure angler to pursue with a lot of fish being potential targets. There is a surprising amount of fun in trying to catch a tiny perch or chub, just to prove you can!

Buying Your Tackle

When you have decided on your tackle set-up it is time to part with your money. Sources of specialist lure tackle can be found on the links pages of this website, in advertisements in the Lure Angler magazine, Pikelines (the Pike Anglers' Club magazine), Pike and Predator magazine, or even the general angling press. If you have seen the rod and reel that you want you can shop around for the best deal, do remember to take into account carriage charges from mail order suppliers. If you only have a general idea of the type of rod and reel that you want life is a little more tricky.

I would not buy a rod without seeing it, I suggest you fit a reel to it and thread the line through the rings. Fix the end of the line and try to bend the rod against the line, this is far more helpful than just swishing the rod about a bit or getting someone to hold the tip while you bend it. A specialist lure fishing rod will have a recommended range of casting weights, use this as a guide, but sometimes these numbers are only loosely connected to reality. I would clip a couple of lures to it, the heaviest and the lightest that you expect it to cast. Does it feel like it will cast either of them with no problem? Funnily enough, rods are relatively cheap compared to lures so a mistake is not the end of the world and you can always resell the rod if it doesn't suit you. Personally I wouldn't know a Fuji SiC ring if it bit me and such details are wasted on me so I cannot make any recommendations there, just check that the rings are lined up, and that the liners are all tight and secure. See that any joints are a snug fit - I've got one 2 piece rod that occasionally comes apart on a big cast if I haven't been checking it. This usually scares the daylights out of me, as well as reducing fishing partners to hysterics. One final thing to watch is the reel seat, make sure it is secure.

Buying a fixed spool reel is less of a problem - I've found one brand that consistently delivers top quality performance - Shimano. There are other good fixed spool reels but nothing superior. The main consideration is the size of the reel. A big reel is reassuring but sometimes awkward while a small reel can be out of balance with too heavy a rod. Choose the reel for its casting ability. The bigger the surface area of the line on a loaded spool the further it will cast. Line capacity is less important, you will never cast further than 70m (with a good tail wind and a Toby spoon) and it is quite unlikely that you will cast over 40m (or need to) very often. So a line capacity of 100m of the thickest line you will use will be totally sufficient and allow you to lose some when you inevitably snag up.

Now to look at a few lures.

The glossary will give a basic definition of the different lure types.

For the all rounder set-up I would start with:

Spinnerbaits in 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2oz sizes Pike, zander, perch
Spoons like the Lucky Strike Lizard and Kuusamo Professor Pike (smaller spoons take all species)
Creek Chub Pikie in 4" and 6" straight or jointed versions Pike
Shakespeare Big 'S' Pike and chub
Spinners: Mepps Aglia sizes 3,4,5
Spinners: Mepps Comet sizes 3,4,5
All predatory species
Spinners: Rublex Ondex size 5 & 6 Pike

Sometimes you'll find that the different species will not have read this article so anything might take anything!

This is a very basic selection. But most lure anglers will be familiar with them, if you are asking for advice you can always use them as a reference point.

As for colours I suggest you get a variety of colours that you like. If you don't like them you won't use them and they will be a waste of money. Try to aim for a selection of bright, dark and natural.

Your First Fishing Trip

I would start luring in the summer or early autumn, I wouldn't say that winter luring is particularly harder, but it is different, and a hard day is not made any easier if it is cold and wet. I would also start on a river, they are easier to read than lakes with more predictable holding areas, they also usually hold chub, which are a vital part of a beginner's sport.

If you want to specifically target chub with lures you will find they are not difficult to catch, but... pike are daft and they will not realise you are chub fishing, they will take your chub lures. As noted elsewhere you must use a wire leader, you must also be prepared to unhook any pike you land. If you have caught pike before then this will not be a problem to you, but unhooking your first pike can be a frightening prospect. Many experienced anglers hand land their pike but this is not a smart plan for your first one! Net it, then lay the net down on soft grass or an unhooking mat. If the hooks are outside the pike's mouth it will be simple enough to free them and release your fish. If the hooks are inside then you are going to have to open the pike's mouth and meet some teeth!

The simplest and most reliable approach now is as follows: leaving the pike lay on the grass or the unhooking mat roll it onto its back. Then (assuming you are right handed) slide your left hand under the pike's gill cover - on the opposite side of where the hooks are - and you will find that the pike's mouth will open quite easily. Those teeth are very sharp but there is plenty of room in there to work. You should be able to see the hook and release it using either a pair of long-nosed pliers or a Baker Hook-Out tool. If the hook is difficult to free use cutters to snip the hook points. You should be aiming to get the pike back into the water as quickly as possible and unhooking usually takes a lot less time than it takes you to read and understand this.

By far the smartest way to learn pike unhooking is to go with someone who has had a few, it is much quicker to learn from a demonstration.

On our river I would make a start in water that was no deeper than 6ft deep. It is always easier to control the lure in shallower water, logically if you are fishing water 20ft deep you might be fishing 20ft too deep or too shallow, but in 6ft deep water you can only be wrong by 6ft! Whatever the reason fish in shallower water are usually more readily caught.

Be quiet and use bankside cover to disguise your approach to the water. You might not stay in a swim for too long so if a fish takes ten minutes to recover from the fright of seeing you it might not be active again until you are gone. I would start off with one of the multi-species lures, any fish will do to save a blank!

You will have already sharpened all the hooks and crushed the barbs, but you will check them again before you cast each lure. Start off with a Big 'S'. It is quite a good caster, compact with a small diving lip, the first cast should not go too far just a few yards, because a fish under the near bank may be spooked if you land a fish you have hooked further out. So after the cast close the bale arm and start cranking, the lure floats until the line tightens then dives under the surface, you can feel the lure as it wobbles. Stop cranking for a second and it bobs back to the surface. Restart cranking and it dives again.

Notice how the flow affects the wobble, as the lure turns against the flow the wobble feels stronger and the lure dives a little deeper, this is because the action is affected by the speed of the lure through the water and the flow against the retrieve direction increases the water speed in relation to the lure. If you cast upstream the lure will not dive so deeply nor wobble so strongly unless you increase the retrieve speed.

Try moving the rod to alter the lure's action, a pull increases the depth just as increasing the crank speed does, but is perhaps a little easier than cranking. Changes to the retrieve speed are very important in triggering fish to hit the lure. Stopping the lure and letting it float for a few seconds will also sometimes trigger hits, especially from pike. Of course on the river the flow will push the lure so the technique is limited to areas with slower flows.

The buoyancy of the Big 'S' makes it easy to fish around weed and in shallow water, but you may feel it does not dive deep enough for many swims. This is certainly partly true, but chub are often high-up in open water and pike might be near the surface if there is cover provided by marginal weed or trailing branches.

Now try the Creek Chub Pikie, the 4" straight version to start with. This does dive deeper and you cannot feel it throbbing so much through the rod. Look at it in the water as you retrieve it and it has a more subdued action than the Big 'S', it is less buoyant so it rises more slowly when the retrieve is stopped. The quieter action of the Pikie is often preferred by pike to very busy actions. Now try the 4" jointed Pikie. Similar diving and buoyancy to the straight version but a much livelier action. Jointed plugs can be retrieved more slowly while still retaining plenty of action.

There are very many floating diving crankbait type plugs, in sizes from 1" to over 10", generally they will have a diving lip. The size and the angle of the lip combined with the size, shape and buoyancy of the body decide the action and performance of the plug. Roughly speaking, the bigger the lip the deeper the dive.

Sinking lures are often a worry for beginners, they might get caught on hidden snags and be lost. There is always a chance that a lure will be lost but sinking lures are vital for fishing in deeper water. There are a few things you can do to minimise lure losses. Firstly use strong line and tie good knots, retie the knots from time to time and check the line for damage, especially the foot or so nearest the leader. Check your leaders for fraying wire or weakened clips. Have a look at the hooks, are they very thick in the wire? I used to swap hooks on smaller spinners for fine wire versions, they would often straighten when they were caught on a snag so I could retrieve the lure. I have never had one straighten on a fish, but there must be a risk that this could happen.

Try to cultivate your memory, if there is a snag in a swim one day, it will still be there next week. Make notes if it helps. Floods will sometimes move snags but some stay in the same swims for years. It is worth having a walk along the river when it is low and clear, simply looking for snags, Polaroids are obviously indispensable for this as they are for all lure fishing. Some of these snags can provide cover for pike and other predators so it is all useful information.

Next thing to master is control of the depth of the lure's retrieve. This is achieved by counting while the lure sinks. When it stops sinking it has hit bottom. On the next cast start the retrieve before it reaches the bottom. The speed of the retrieve will then decide the depth that the lure runs at. A too-fast retrieve will lift the lure, too slow and it falls. Every lure needs a different retrieve speed so there is plenty to learn. You can simplify this process by sticking to just a few and mastering them. Learning the performance of a few lures properly will catch you more fish than having a great box full that you don't know how to use.

The first sinking lure to try is a spinnerbait. With it's single in-turned hook it will not catch on so many snags as spoons or spinners. It will also come through quite a lot of weed without fouling. Watch the spinnerbait as you retrieve it. See the skirt pulse as you pause and restart the retrieve. I would rarely use a spinnerbait without adding a curly tail grub as a "trailer", either in the same colour as the skirt or in a contrast colour, it provides a bigger target and encourages the pike to strike at the hook instead of the blade which happens occasionally. This type of lure looks the least likely catcher but it is the one you must have in your box if want to catch pike. All colours work, but a nickel blade and black skirt is a good choice for most days, zander will also take spinnerbaits sometimes, perch are occasionally taken as well, I've caught a couple of chub on them over the years but I don't think they are good chub catchers.

Note that the shape of the blade dictates the way the lure performs. A rounded blade gives more lift, so a slower retrieve will keep the lure higher in the water. A thin blade allows the lure to run deeper. All the different permutations of blade shape will catch pike, knowing how the shape affects the performance helps you to choose the right one for the swim.

Spinnerbaits are so easy to use, if it's in the water it is working. Takes might come on the drop, so keep a tight line as the lure falls, fast and slow retrieves at any depth, sink and draw (= crank and pause, causing the lure to rise and fall), jigging (lifting and dropping the lure under the rod tip) often takes pike that have followed the spinnerbait, or that were waiting tight to the near bank. Pike will often be resting in weeds, especially lily pads, the spinnerbait is one lure that you can work in and around the pads without constantly fouling the hook.

The single hook of the spinnerbait is more than adequate to land a lot of fish, but plenty will get off. In lily pad fishing the numbers of pike that you can hook means that you will lose a lot, but you will land a lot as well. If fishing open water you can attach a stinger hook, either a single or treble to the fixed hook, this will markedly increase the number of pike that you land, as well as the number of snags that you hook.

The rules about blade shape defining the performance of the spinnerbait holds true with simple bar spinners as well. Compare the Mepps Aglia with the Comet and it is easy to see the Aglia runs a lot higher in the water at the same retrieve speed, or can be fished a little slower at the same depth.

The spinners are easy to use, simply keep the blade turning. A straight retrieve usually works well enough but here again a slight pause will often trigger a take. Spinners are true multi-species lures, all predators will take them. The smaller sizes in particular provide interesting sport, you don't know what is coming next. Spinners are usually good hookers but sometimes fish manage to hit the blade and miss the treble. This good hooking attribute unfortunately makes them very prone to catching weed. Keep an eye on the hooks, they often get blunted when the lure bumps rocks or gravel.

I would try trailer grubs again, I think they make a huge difference sometimes, especially for perch. For chub I would make sure I had a few colour choices, I've had odd days when they would only take one colour, although they would follow others.

Finally to spoons. They cast well and are easy to use, either with a straight retrieve or a gentle sink and draw. They are excellent pike lures but there is a downside - they seem to find every snag in the river. I have caught pike retrieving them very quickly over shallow water but generally I would recommend using them in water deeper than 2m, keep to strong line and fine-wire hooks to minimise losses. I don't want to discourage you from using spoons because they catch a lot of pike but you should be aware of these problems. Getting the retrieve speed right is the secret to controlling the depth, and lifting the rod tip as the lure nears the bank lifts the spoon over shallower water.

Knowing when to use each of the different lure types is the aim of every lure angler. Learn how to overcome the different problems on one particular water but always be prepared to try somewhere new to broaden your experience. It takes some time to learn how to make the most of different opportunities but that time can be considerably shortened by fishing with others, seeing how they tackle the problems presented by different conditions and waters. Looking at the hundreds of lures I have bought and made over the years it is easy for me to say now that building a huge collection of lures is not the way to catch a lot of fish, most of them do such similar things that they might as well be identical. Choose lures that enable you to present something (anything) at all depths and retrieve speeds - it is the presentation, not the lure, that counts.

Other Articles on the Lure Fishing UK website of Particular Interest to Beginners