A Beginner’s Guide to “Traditional” Freshwater UK Lure Fishing

A Beginner’s Guide to “Traditional” Freshwater UK Lure Fishing

Lure fishing really is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours and if the predators are in the mood, it can be even more productive than bait fishing for them!  By frequently moving swims – and of course by fishing a moving bait – a lot of water can be covered in a relatively short space of time, meaning you’re sure to be pulling a lure past a fish before too long and if it’s hungry, it will generally have a go.  The range of freshwater species you can target with lures in is amazing; besides the usual suspects pike, perch and zander, you can also catch chub, trout, salmon (if you’re lucky!) and if you get really adventurous, even carp, barbel and bream!

Lure fishing in the UK has been a massive sport for a few years now and seems likely to continue to grow in popularity, but knowing where to begin can be bewildering.  As with any faction of angling, everyone has their own preferences toward methods, tackle and of course, lures; so with this article I’ll try to cover some basics of lure angling, so if you’ve never tried it you’ll get an idea of what you need to buy and how to get started catching some fish.  This is a very general guide and once you get some practice, you’ll no doubt plan your own path into the vast and fulfilling world of lure fishing.

Lure fishing tackle

For starters you’ll need to kit yourself out with a lure outfit.  Lure rods are designed for their purpose, they’re powerful enough to handle large predators, much shorter than bait fishing rods and very lightweight, so they’re comfortable to hold and cast with all day.  I have a few lure rods which are good for specific situations, but I have one very versatile rod & reel setup which covers most of my regular lure fishing and – more importantly – it’s great fun to use; so this is roughly what I’d suggest you go for. 

My rod is a Shimano Beastmaster BX lure rod, which is reasonably priced, although there are loads of brands with similar rods available nowadays.  The main thing to look for on a lure rod is the casting weight it’s designed for. The one I use has a casting weight range of 15 to 40 grammes.  With this I can comfortably cast out everything from a small spinner right up to an 8-inch crankbait (although with the larger lures it’s more of a gentle lob, but the weight of the lure still carries it a good distance).

When it comes to reels, you may see lure anglers using multiplier-type baitcasting reels.  Whilst these have definite advantages for certain aspects of lure fishing, they are by no means easy to use and for the majority of lure fishing, a good fixed-spool reel is more than adequate. For starting out, you may already own a 5000 or 6000 sized baitrunner reel, or even a large match/feeder reel, which will suffice to begin with. If so, invest in a spare, deep spool to load up with line specifically for lure fishing. Front-drag reels offer you a more compact and more lightweight design, which is ideal for use on a short-handled lure rod, although a rear-drag reel will do just fine. I use a 4500 size Shimano FA front-drag reel, which is well balanced with the aforementioned rod and has a wide spool and powerful clutch.

For mainline, the only choice is a good braid. The best I’ve used is called “Power Pro”.  Braid has several benefits over monofilament for lure fishing.  Firstly, the lack of stretch lets you really “feel the lure” working.  Braid passes so much more information to the rod tip and to your hands than mono ever could.  You’ll understand when you try it, you can feel each twitch and wiggle of a lure, you can feel as it brushes against snags (and can act accordingly) and with practice you can even tell the difference between a snag and a taking fish, so you know when to strike.  The second major advantage is its low diameter.  The big treble hooks on many lures love to snag and it’s surprising just how small a snag can break even 15lb line.

Because braid has around half the diameter of mono, you double up on breaking strain, allowing you to retrieve more snagged lures.  When you consider that lures can cost anything between £2 and £20 each, you want to lose as few as possible!  There are some situations – such as jigging in deep water – when super-low diameter braid is better and in these cases stepping down to 25lb or 15lb braid can catch you more fish, but on my general everyday lure outfit, I spool up with 50lb Power Pro.

To complete your setup, you’ll need a wire trace.  I make my own using 50lb single-strand titanium wire (in my opinion, there is no better all-round lure trace material), with a strong snap clip on one end and a ball-bearing swivel on the other.  There are, however, plenty of decent ready-made traces on the market so try these to start with. 

Common traditional lure types

All lures have different actions and properties; some lures float, others sink quickly, while others “suspend”. There are now simply too many Lure types to mention, but here I shall try to explain the main categories and also list a few models which you might like to buy to start your lure collection. Beware though, lure buying can easily become an addiction and one thing to remember is that all lures will catch fish on their day, so stick with a few tried and tested designs and you won’t go far wrong; you‘ll soon find your own favourites.

Spinners and spinnerbaits are some of the easiest lure types to fish.  Generally these sink fast and a straightforward retrieve is all that’s needed to make their metal blades rotate, giving the illusion of a swimming fish.  Some classic spinners include most of the Mepps patterns, the Abu Droppen and the lightweight Rublex Ondex. 

Crankbaits,or plugs as they are often known, can be floating or sinking and usually feature a shaped “diving vane” which makes the lure dive and imparts a swimming action.  Classic patterns such as Rapala minnows, Shakespeare Big S and Creek Chub Pikie have accounted for many big pike, including the current UK record.  Try a jointed crankbait for an even more exaggerated swimming action. 

Variants of crank baits are known as are Topwater lures, which don‘t have the diving vane and sometimes have a spinning blade at the front and/or rear.  These mimic frogs, rodents and reptiles swimming on the water‘s surface.  Heddon make many successful patterns including the Meadow Mouse and Crazy Crawler. 

Spoons are simple metal lures which flutter through the water when retrieved.  Look at getting some Abu Garcia patterns such as the Toby and the Kusaamo Professor. 

Jigs, Swimbaits and Shads are weighted soft rubber lures which can be fished in a straight line or by repeatedly raising and lowering the rod tip as you retrieve.  Some great ones are made by Storm, Calcutta and Pro-Logic. 

Many Hybrid lures, such as the Squirelly Burt and Musky Mania Invader, are now on the market and these feature a hard body with a rubber tail and sometimes a diving vane. 

Lastly, Jerkbaits are a relatively new development but the larger ones require specialist heavy tackle to fish them effectively.  Jerkbaits have no diving vane and their action is either entirely imparted by the angler “jerking” them back in, or on some models the shape or the lure body makes it glide in opposite directions each time it is twitched.  Salmo make some very effective patterns, such as the Slider and the Fatso, which are available in small enough sizes to use with the 15 to 40 gramme rod described above.  To get the most action when lure fishing, your lure needs to be at the depth your prey are lurking at for as long as possible, so the waters you fish should influence the lures you buy.  If your regular venue is quite shallow then you will only require light and shallow diving lures.  On deeper waters you need a lure that will dive or sink quickly to maximise the time it spends in the strike zone.

More modern lure techniques to have been adopted in the UK include Dropshotting and rigging soft lures in different ways, including Ned Rigs. I’m yet to try either of these techniques, which shot to popularity over here and have accounted for many fish. However, the more traditional lures and techniques have a proven track record of decades, so they should never be overlooked.

Lure colours

Lure colour could make up several articles in itself, so all I will say on the subject is try to have at least one shallow diver and one deep diver in natural (silver, gold, white or fish pattern) colours and one of each in a bright colour such as chartreuse, pink or fire tiger and a mixture of coloured spinners in varying sizes and weights.  These will get you started and will catch you a few fish while you get used to the techniques involved in lure fishing.

Technique & location

The basic principle of fishing with a lure is that as you retrieve it, the movement of the water over the lure will give it an “action”; usually an action which imitates a swimming or wounded animal, be it a fish, worm, leech, shellfish or even a mouse!

Learning where and how to fish lures is an art in itself which you can only learn through experience. Locating predatory fish and keeping the lure in the “strike zone” (i.e. close to the fish and at the right depth) for as long as possible is the key to catching. Read the tips below for advice on technique.

To start with, cast close to snags and weedbeds, as all predators use these as ambush points. You will be surprised at how close-in and how shallow water predators will lie-up in, in wait of their next meal. Approach any pegs stealthily and make your close-in casts first, so that any fish lying there are caught, rather than spooked as you retrieve longer-distance casts. To cover as much water as possible with your lure, work the swim methodically by varying the angle that you cast to each time. Once you’ve covered as much of the swim as you can, move on.

My best Top-10 lure fishing tips:

  1. When retrieving, point your rod directly at the lure, rather than at 90 degrees to the lure as many anglers do.  With braid especially, you’ll still feel the bites, but your strike will be delayed by maybe half a second, giving the fish chance to have a firm grip on the lure.  When fishing at 90 degrees, your reflexes are poised to strike instantly, sometimes too fast and the lure is pulled straight from the mouth of the fish!  If your rod tip is pointing straight at the lure, it takes your body a split second longer to sweep the rod around and set the hooks.  This results in so many more hook-ups you wouldn‘t believe, so employ it from day one and you’ll never look back.
  2. Always crimp the barbs down on your lures and keep the points sharp. You get better penetration with barbless, but only if the points are nice and sharp (they will take knocks on rocks & things and become blunt fairly quickly). Crimped-down barbs come out of clothing, other lures, snags and fingers far easier than full barbed hooks do, but if you fish the right way, they’ll only come out of a fish when you want them to.
  3. Strike hard, fish with a tight drag and keep plenty of tension on the line during the fight. Perch and pike both frantically head-shake to try and throw hooks free and if your line goes slack at this point, you’ll lose the fish. I love playing fish to the bank, but with lure fishing every second counts. Get a hooked fish in as quickly as possible, minimising the risk of them throwing the hooks, getting snagged or getting grabbed by a larger predator.
  4. Use a large, round landing net, preferably with either very large mesh or – even better – latex coated mesh. There are few things more frustrating than a fish with a lure thrashing around in your net, tangling the treble hooks and preventing you unhooking it. A net like this will help prevent this happening.
  5. Always use a wire trace. You can never be 100% sure that a pike won’t come along, even if you’re targeting perch. Big pike are caught every year on very tiny lures, so remember, “play it safe, use a trace”.
  6. Your whole setup is only as strong as its weakest point, so tie a strong knot (I go with a simple but reliable Palomar) and use a trace with a really strong clip (if you don’t make your own, try the Fox “Sure Fit” traces or the Greys Prowla “Supa lure trace”). Cheaper clips and snap links will simply straighten or spring open in a snag, so you’ll lose more lures. I generally use a 12” to 14” trace and I would recommend an absolute minimum of 10 inches because big pike have deep throats!
  7. Wear polarizing sunglasses. Get a decent pair and in clear water you’ll see how your lure is working and also see if fish is following the lure in, as they often do. This can lead to heart-stopping stand-offs between angler and fish, but without polaroids all the angler will usually see is a swirl as the fish spooks and turns away.
  8. If you see a fish follow your lure, but not striking at it, try casting to the same spot again but either use a different lure or change the speed of your retrieve; this subtle change can make the difference between an intrigued “follower” and a fish on the bank.
  9. If a fish follows your lure almost to the bank, taking another cast may spook it but you can gain an extra few seconds with your lure in the water by towing it around in a figure-of-eight shape with your rod tip. This is a common tip in lure fishing, though I must admit it has seldom worked for me, but it’s always worth a try.
  10. If lure fishing really grabs you, then find out more by joining the Lure Anglers Society.  It’s not just for seasoned lure chuckers, they are a really welcoming bunch and offer much help to beginners.  You can join the LAS forums at www.lureanglers.co.uk, even if you’re not an LAS member. Also look up articles by respected lure anglers such as Dave Pugh and Steve Collett, which will help you take your lure fishing to the next level. I would also be happy to help anyone and you can contact me any time.
A selection of traditional style freshwater fishing lures
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