My four-year-old son held up a grotesque soft plastic lure he found at the bottom of the tackle box: “I want to fish with this.” I have a B.S. in Zoology and I have worked in biology research labs at three universities, but I could not identify the lure as a representative of any creature known to science. Far from lifelike, the lure was part squid and part finger puppet; I knew the thing wouldn’t work.

I offered, “How about this rubber worm instead?”

“I want to try this,” he insisted.

“What about this crayfish looking lure?”


I tied the darn thing on his fishing line.

father and son fish with different lures
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.” ―Walter Scott | Illustration: Lorenzo Del Bianco

A few minutes later, he cast the contraption to the middle of the pond and, to my amazement, immediately hooked a three-pound bass that leaped and thrashed while he laughed and tried to crank the reel and hold onto the bucking rod.

After landing the trophy and posing for photos, the boy proceeded to catch four nice-sized bass on the monstrosity.

The logic behind lifelike lures

Some people say catching a fish on a lure takes more skill than using natural bait. If the lure looks nothing like any living creature, the angler claims greater bragging rights. The bigger the deception, the higher the angler’s talent.

Every lure suffers from bait envy. Lure makers go to great lengths to imitate an animal found in nature. Most lifelike lures strive to match a smaller fish, crustacean, worm, frog or insect anglers and sportfish recognize as a plausible organism in the ecosystem.

Some lures even imitate less-likely lifeforms such as lizards, birds, mice or even bats. I’ve witnessed fish eating these things. As a teenager I ran a trapline of mouse traps in the garage, picked up road-killed snakes and collected unfortunate sparrows that hit our bay window. When I would score a victim, I would run to our backyard pond and toss the fresh kill to huge bass that followed me along the shore like hungry dogs.

Some prey don’t make a good lure. I heard about backwoods anglers using whole chickens and rabbits to catch catfish. Where do you hook a rabbit? Sharks are famous for ingesting tin cans, license plates and unlucky swimmers. Pike and muskie are rumored to attack small dogs that wade too deep. I haven’t seen a lure imitating a sunburnt tourist or miniature poodle.

Novelty attracts anglers, too

New lures continue to evolve because anglers are never satisfied with their current tackle selection. I have boxes full of lures that reliably produce fish. But, when I walk down the tackle shop aisle, with the bright colors and alluring shapes calling my name, I pounce like a largemouth bass on a helpless mouse.

So, I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My son just came into my office with a lure that looks like a cross between a troll doll and a bratwurst. I hold my laughter and tell him, “Let’s give it a try.”

This article was first published in the Early Summer 2022 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Fish can be picky eaters, but your lures don’t always need to look lifelike just to get a bite. | Feature photo: Andrew Grabham/Pixabay




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