Finally, as the last dirty patch of snow melts away at the end of the driveway and the first daffodils begin to pop through the thawing ground, the sounds and smells of spring begin to fill the ever warming air. For us Midwesterners, this means it’s time to bust out the open water rods.
Come to think of it, I should probably dust off my tackle box that’s been sitting idle in the garage since last November. Every year when this time comes, I always wonder why I have so many lures, when in all honesty, I only use about 10 of those baits. Maybe it’s because I know what I’m good at and I know what I can catch fish on, or maybe it’s because I am a chicken and afraid of trying new things that may or may not catch fish. Whatever the reason, the “Ol’ Reliables” seem to work just fine for me.
In my mind, there are a few go-to lures that you should try at every new lake you fish. Whether you are a novice fisherman staring at the never-ending wall of lures at the local sporting goods store, or you are an avid fisherman planning your next fishing excursion, these five baits should be in your tackle box. From bass to panfish to walleye, these time-tested baits are sure to produce.
1-Rapala Original Floating Minnow
If you don’t own one of these already, you need to stop reading and head to the nearest fishing store. No matter the selection, you can be sure that they will have one of these baits or a variation of it. Created in the 1930s, this bait has seen little change since the first lure was crafted out of balsa wood. Currently, there are numerous colors and sizes to fit the species you are trying to target, but a good size and color to start with would be a size 11 in silver which is 4-3/8” long. Many bait companies have tried to mimic this design, but the Original Floating® minnow still reigns supreme.
Species: panfish, bass, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, trout, salmon
If you live for an adrenaline rush, this lure should be on your next shopping list if you don’t already own it. A Jitterbug is a top water lure which only means one thing: explosive, heart-pounding, acrobatic, water-to-air attacks! The Jitterbug is by far my favorite lure on this list because of the vicious top water strikes that can often occur. Why I chose this lure instead of the many other top-water baits is due to the fact that this bait is easy to use. Because of the shape and lip on the front of the bait, all you have to do is reel it in. No twitching or awkward rod movement is needed to make this lure work. Like all the other lures on this list, it comes in many colors and sizes. My preferred size is the 2-1/2” length which seems to be just right for an array of aggressive species.
Species: bass, northern pike, muskellunge, panfish
While there are numerous, now when I say numerous, I mean hundreds of types of soft plastic baits on the market these days, one type still stands the test of time and that is the twist-tail grub. More often than not, this bait can be coupled with other baits as a trailer, but this bait can be just as effective on a plain hook with a split shot or two. You can find these baits on the shelves of every ma-n-pop bait shop. The movement of water that this bait’s tail produces is irresistible to any hungry fish looking for a bite to eat. Many colors and scented options are available to fit your needs.
Species: panfish, bass, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge
4-Inline Spinner Bait
Inline spinner baits like the classic Mepps #3 may be somewhat fazed out of the bass fishing world, but let me tell you first hand, these baits continually produce large numbers of fish nearly every time I tie one on. Since the bass world has moved on from these baits, the trout and musky fishing worlds have picked up the slack. A wide range of sizes allows for a wide range of species. From an inch in length for fishing small streams for finicky rainbows and brook trout, to 10” bucktails with two blades that are consistently pulling 50 inch muskies from the depths.
Species: panfish, bass, northern pike, muskellunge
Although these baits are very simple in there construction, you cannot deny the effectiveness of a spoon like the classic Daredevle. Because of their streamline form and heaviness, you can cover a lot of water throughout the day which means being able to put the bait in front of more fish. Although commonly found in the trout and salmon fisheries on the great lakes, the spoon’s use faded until about 10 years ago when they made a huge rush back into the fishing world. Bass tournaments have seen an influx in the use of large spoons to catch the biggest bucket mouths needed to win the tournaments. The action of this lure along with the various shapes allow for a vertical presentation which means you don’t have to put these baits away once the ice begins to form for us northerners.
Species: panfish, trout, salmon, bass, northern pike, muskellunge