Beginner's guide to fishing lures

New to fishing and trying to wrap your head around all the different types of lures, and their uses? Our handy guide features everything you need to know about lure type, difficulty level, best lures for each species type, and more.

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Beginner's guide to fishing lures

This post was a contribution from our Pro Staff member, user ShiftyUSMC. Make sure to add him on Fishbrain!

Beginner's Guide to Fishing Lures

For a new or even experienced angler, the amount of lures on the shelves and displayed in front of our faces is undeniably overwhelming. Here's a guide to the basic categories of lures and how they should be used. They'll be broken down into general categories which will be grouped into Top Water, Middle Water, and Bottom Baits. I'll also include a difficulty rating on their usage in relation to someone who's a beginner.

Difficulty Scale: (1-3) One being the easiest, three being requiring some skill and practice

A Guide to Top Water Baits

An extremely exciting way to fish, predominantly for bass. Typically used late spring through early summer and most effective early morning or late evening. Style imitates a dying bait-fish that has floated to the top of the water or a small type of prey that's found itself in the water.

Types of Top Water Baits

Poppers: As the Name States... Throw it out, it will float, and you'll give your rod a twitch to get the bait to "pop" on the water. Twitch twitch retrieve. Vary speed, and pause length. Once bit, be patient and ensure the fish has it.

BuzzBaits - Like a large Spinner bait but for the top of the water. Big, Loud, intrusive, and perfect for getting the attention of an aggressive bass. Cast and Retrieve.

 Frogs- Pretty Straight Forward. Bass eat frogs. Throw around Grass, lily pads, cover or open water. One of the most weedless methods for getting into thick cover.

  • Difficulty (1.5)

 Spook- Almost like a popper but much more mobile and erratic. Typically a "walk the dog" method is used to retrieve creating a wide back and forth motion on the top of the water. Practice and rhythm required.

  • Difficulty: (2.5)

Torpedo- Simple Cast and Retrieve. Has a small propeller on the back to make some commotion

  • Difficulty: (1)

topwater bait

Guide to Middle Water Column Lures

The largest category of lures. Meant to imitate bait-fish or any other type of food swimming through and around where the fish hang out. Each Large category listed will have hundreds of options with different variances from many many companies. Understanding the category and its function will better allow you to understand the lure's purpose. Most Lure packages will contain information as to whether it floats, sinks, or suspends, its weight, and its dive depth if it has a lip for diving.

Crank Baits- A massive category with an endless amount of options. These come in 3 styles:

Lipless, and used as what is referred to as a "Search Bait". They are great for spring and fall when the fish are changing locations and you need to cover a lot of water quickly to find them. They cast far, and their depth is controlled by how long you allow them to sink. They imitate bait-fish. Cast, retrieve quickly, vary the speed, and introduce twitches and pauses.

Crankbaits with lips: The lips cause the bait to swim down in the water to a certain depth. There are two types. Square Bill, and Round Bill. The two types of bills or lips cause the baits to act slightly different. A square bill is predominantly for shallower waters. (12 feet and less) whereas the round bills are typically your deep divers. These are designed to be fished somewhat quickly and are supposed to hit things underwater. Keep them swimming along the bottom of possible, rip the through or over grass, and bounce them off as many logs and sticks as possible. Some are silent, some come with beads inside them to cause a rattle.

Difficulty (1.5)

Target Species: Predominantly bass, but will attract any other predators that feed on bait fish. Vary the size of bait to offer up to different species


JerkBaits - Similar idea to crankbaits but have a longer slimmer profile. These are typically designed to be fished in shallower water and neither rise nor fall in the water column once you stop reeling. Reel them down to their swim depth (they have lips) and then give your rod a jerking motion. The bait will dart in a direction and then sit still, perfectly suspended in the water. That pause is extremely enticing. These are a slower retrieve with many pauses in the strike zones.


Spinners- Two styles of these. Larger overarm spinners, and smaller In-Line spinners. Both are designed to create a flash, imitating fleeing baitfish in the water. The larger over-armed spinners come with skirts on them and trailers can be added. Typically must be tied directly to your line and predominantly used for bass. The smaller in-line spinners are a jack of all trade, master of none type of bait. They can catch almost anything depending on the size used. The ideal starter Lure. Cast and Retrieve. Ensure the spoon that sits on the spinner is spinning.


Spoons- Another very basic tried and true lure. Similar to the spinners in a cast and retrieve method, these dart and dash through the water a little more than the spinners straight-line course. The flutter of the spoon creates, what appears to be, a fleeing or dying baitfish while the flutter of the spoon also catches and reflects sunlight. During retrieve you can add pauses, twitches etc, or it can be fished vertically from a boat or during ice fishing.

  • Difficulty: (1)

  • Target Species: Almost any that consumes other fish. Bass, Pike, Pickerel, Musky, Trout.


SwimBaits- A wide category of baits that are meant to imitate the tail swaying of an actual fish. Instead of a fixed wobble like a crankbait these will have either a jointed body that curves through the water like a swimming fish, or will have all the action be in the tail to simulate the back and forth action of a casually swimming baitfish. These can come in many many styles. Some are hardbaits that swim right out of the box, some are soft plastic baits that will need to be added to an offset hook, or a swimbait hook. Depth, and action will typically be very dependent on user input. Very versatile

  • Difficulty: Depending on style (1.5-2)

  • Target Species: Almost any that prey on bait-fish.

A Guide to Bottom Baits

Here we focus on the baits designed to imitate bottom-dwelling grubs, insects, invertebrates, and we can include a rundown on the popular soft plastics and their uses. (Soft plastics don't necessarily have to be bottom baits)

Jigs- Jiggs pretty much cover the whole category. Jiggs in themselves typically aren't the lure. Jiggs are the device that help the lure/presentation get to the bottom. They come in many shapes, sizes and forms. Some have skirts some are just front weighted hooks. Some are designed to be swam like a swim bait, or are designed to be drug along or bounced up and down on the bottom. They are almost always paired with some form of soft plastics.


Worms can be added to be drug along, pulled through grass, bounced up and down, cast into cover, or to punch through thick lily pads. The worms can range in size and shape. Some are small curly tail grubs, other can be 6 or 7 inches long.

  • Difficulty: (1.5-2.5)

  • Target Species: Predominantly Bass


Soft plastic crayfish or craws are typically thrown on jigs to be pulled along rocky bottoms. Remember crayfish swim backwards. Usually these are thrown on jigs with skirts. More weight than your typical setup. High difficulty in my opinion, compared to the others, due to that weight, chance of getting stuck, and more difficult bite detection. Catches big bass

  • Difficulty: (2-3)

  • Target Species: Bass



Grubs are like small worms with more pronounced curly tails. Typically thrown on smaller jigheads for panfish, depending on the size and method they could almost catch anything. Drag them, bounce them (jig them), swim them. Overall a simple fake bait.

  • Difficulty: (1-1.5)

  • Target Species: Panfish, Trout, Bass


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