Fishing with Surface Lures, Minnow Baits, Crankbaits & Creatures
The word “Plug” was used many years ago to describe a lure that was handcarved from a block of wood, but most modern day plugs are made from hollow plastic or molded plastic.
Many avid anglers still consider wooden plugs the best lure having better action than similar ones made from plastic. A few lure manufacturers still use wood in making lure bodies, mainly balsa, some hardwoods and pine.
Most plugs replicate some type of baitfish but some types of plugs resemble mice, crayfish, insects, frogs, and snakes that fish prey on. Plugs attract fish by there action and flash, producing sounds that draws the attention of game fish.
It may be the vibration of a minnow bait swimming through the water, or the splash pop and gurgle of a surface plug or just the sound of hooks clicking the lure body. Many new plastic plugs today have internal chambers filled with shot producing a rattling sound that attracts fish.
There are two category of plugs Surface (Topwater) and Subsurface (Diving).
Listed below is a reference guide to help you identify the common types of plugs and how they are used:
Surface Lures (Topwater)
There is nothing more exciting to see a fish strike a surface lure. Surface lures work especially well when fish are shallow and the water temperature is 60 degrees or warmer. The water should be relatively calm otherwise the fish do not notice the action. The best hours to fish surface lures are generally early in the morning and at dusk into the evening. But there has been fish caught on surface lures in the middle of the day.
For lure colors a very good universal color is black, it works well on all water types clear, stained or dark. Black provides the best silhouette against the sky as the fish looks upward towards the water surface. Other colors will work as well dependent on the forage in the water system such as Orange/Yellow for Perch, Green/White for Frogs, and White/Blue/Chrome for Shad and Shiners.
Crawlers produce a plopping/gurgling sound, used on calm water with a steady slow retrieve. (Left) This crawler, also known as a creeper, has wings mounted on the side that will swim across the water. (Right) A large face plate will make this crawler body move back and forth producing a wake on the surface.
Chuggers have an indented cup on the face of the lure, it catches water when the lure is jerked over the surface producing a popping/chugging sound. A favorite of bass anglers for many years.
Center Rotating Blade
Commonly know as a Globe, this has been a favorite surface lure for muskie anglers for many years. The center blade rotates upon the retrieve producing a bubble trail.
The tail section rotates creating a plopping noise from the blade attached. The tail rotating lures works well on calm water to slight chop. Commonly used for fishing pike and muskies.
The jointed surface wobbler creates a clicking sound as the lure rocks back and forth when retrieved, and the tail prop adds a wake. Work this lure slow on calm water in the evening.
The propeller lure has props on the nose and tail or on the tail, this topwater lure is versatile, run it slow with a straight retrieve, pop it using a stop and go method, or buzz it across the water to trigger aggressive feeding fish. Excellent lure for new anglers to experience top water fishing. Also know as Propbait or Topper Bait.
The stickbait has no lip or propellers, they also have no built in wobble. The angler must supply lure action through a series of short sharp cadence pulls upon the retrieve creating the side to side action known as “walk the dog” on the surface. Also known as torpedo lure.
The flaptail rocks back and forth while the brass blade on the tail slaps the water with a plopping sound. The retrieve is very slow allowing the bait to work. Used on calm water.
Subsurface Plugs (Diving, Floating, Sinking)
There are two categories of subsurface plugs, both have floating or sinking models. The first are diving lures that dive with attached plastic/metal lips or dive based on the lure body design such as cupped, pointed head or a flattened curved forehead, all have a side to side wiggle action as they travel through the water, these are commonly known as crankbaits.
The second group of plugs refer to the action of the lure provided by the angler in the retrieve. These are classified as gliders, jerkbaits and twitch baits, the action of the each lure is achieved through a series of cadence pulls, strong jerks, or short stop and go techniques.
Diving lures will catch fish in any type of water calm or rough any time of the day. In selecting lures with a lip attached to the nose of the lure the angle of lip will determine the running depth of the lure, for instance a deep running lure will have a elongated lip attached approximately 90 degrees horizontal from the nose which acts as a diving plane forcing the lure downward. Mid range divers will have a lip set at a 45 degree angle. Shallow running lures will have lip placed vertically off of the nose creating a water resistance forcing the lure to run shallow.
Diving lures will run at depths from just under the surface at 1 foot to 20 feet or greater. All lure companies provide the running/diving depth of each lure on their box or packaging. It is wise to have a few of each to cover the fishing situations you could encounter. The deep runners are classified as 10 feet plus, mid range 5-10 feet and shallow are 1-3 feet.
Floating Minnow (Crankbait)
This is the most popular type and the most versatile crankbait lure designed to imitate a thin bodied baitfish. For shallow lures running at 1-3 feet as a floater this will maintain the shallow depth. Anglers who use midrange running lures have a few more options.
In casting the angler can pop the lure along the surface or crank it a few feet down to 5 to 8 feet with a straight retrieve. For trolling using a midrange lip off of downrigger or lead core line the lure will maintain the set depth. When casting deep running lures this allows the angler to bounce lures off of deep structure (bottom bouncing) such as rocks or wood with out getting snagged by letting the lure just float up after making contact.
Floating Shad/Perch (Crankbait)
Similar to the floating minnow style with a diving lip. These lures imitate the forage of shad and perch with a wider or fatter body style. Made from balsa wood and hollow plastic with and with out internal chambers filled with shot to produce a loud rattle.
Floating Lipless (Crankbait)
The series of lures shown above have been made for many years, timed tested and still today catch many fish. The lure body design to dive is based on a cupped, or a flattened curved forehead all have a side to side wobble action as they travel through the water.
These thin bodied lures do not have a diving lip and are attached to the line with the eye on top of the head, resulting in a tight wiggle. All vibrating lures have internal chambers filled with shot to produce a loud rattle. Most are sinking models but some do float at rest.
Also known as a countdown this lure is weighted to sink horizontally. When fish suspend over 10 feet at a specific depth the sinking lure is a very good option to use. The angler simply cast the lure and count’s down at a rate of 1 foot per second to the specified depth and retrieves the lure. The sinking lure uses a midrange lip to maintain the depth until the end of the retrieve.
Also referred as a suspending lure or a jerk bait. The lure is designed using an internal weight system or a weighted tape to achieve neutral buoyancy. The presentation is an erratic jerk pause type of retrieve, when stopped the lure will remain suspended and motionless in the water. Very good lure for finicky fish that follows and don’t bite.
Floating (Trolling Plugs)
These are designed and used primarily for trolling as they are relatively too light to cast. Generally most trolling plugs float at rest and dive based on the flattened forehead that creates a wide erratic wobble through the water. To achieve the depth required for a successful controlled trolling depth anglers use a online diving plane (Dipsey Diver) or attached to an line release on a downrigger.
These are large elongated plugs intended for fishing muskies and pike. They float at rest and dive when given a strong jerk or pull then float upward to the surface. Many have a metal tail that can be bent to change the action and depth setting.
Sinking (Gliders & Twitch)
Gliders and Twitch baits are lipless and sink, the action of each lure is in part provided by the angler. The Twitch bait (Top) is retrieved with a series of short taps of the rod or twitches which gives the lure a erratic motion, up down side to side action. The Glider (Bottom) is retrieved using timed cadence short pulls causing the lure to glide side to side or a underwater walk the dog action creating a dart and flash of the lure.
Freshwater game fish are predatory by nature there also opportunistic and will take advantage of any food source presented to them to fill their feeding needs. Other than baitfish they will also feed on crawfish, frogs, water snakes, swimming rodents, amphibians and insects. The above photo shows lures that imitate each type.
Crankbaits are available in a spectrum of colors and finishes, painted, foil, chrome, prism, glass, photo and holographic finishes. In building your lure assortment the best is to mimic the dominant forage in the waters your fishing. Here’s a simple guideline of basic successful colors:
Open Water Suspended Forage: Shad, Shiners, Ciscoes, Alewives, Smelt
Black, Green, Blue, Purple top with Silver sides
Black top with White sides
All Silver Chrome or White
Structure Orientated Forage: Perch, Suckers, Crawfish, Minnows
Black top with Gold sides (Sucker)
Black top with Silver sides (Minnow)
Black top with Orange sides (Perch-Crawfish)
Black top with Green sides with Bars (Perch)
Brown top Orange or Red sides (Crawfish)
For dark, stained or muddy waters the hot colors work effective, here’s a few top producers.
Dark Green top Chartreuse sides orange belly ( Firetiger )
Blue top Chartreuse sides orange belly ( Parrot )
Orange top & sides Chartreuse belly (Hot Tiger )
Red Head Chartreuse Body ( Clown )