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Understanding Lures: Oldies but goodies!

IT’S time for a little time travel. We’re going back to a time when soft plastics, vibes, raps and rattlers didn’t exist. And yet, even without these fantastic lures, anglers still caught fish. There is no doubt that fish numbers were more plentiful back then, but the fundamentals of good lure design means that it needs to cause a fish to respond and attack it. Those fundamentals that worked all that time ago still trigger such attack responses today. Perhaps you just need to be courageous enough to blow the dust off some of your old tackle boxes and use a lure that is not in the current “fad” range. 

The four lures I want to talk about this month include spinners, spoons, slugs and slices. Individually, each can take on an extremely wide variety of shapes, styles and designs. All have been around for decades yet are still in production today. This is because they all still catch fish.

My reason for including these lures as a part of this lure analysis series came about largely because of my fishing travels overseas. Many of these trips involve going to places that are very remote, thus imposing restrictions as to how many lures you can take along. Also, it’s often hard to know exactly which lures to take, as there is often very little information about the fish and fishing in these places. To this end, I find that when I pack for such trips I seem to instinctively go for any or all of these basic designs. Maybe it comes down to a philosophy of keeping it simple? Or maybe, as I believe, modern lures are often designed to fit niche applications and therefore are often not suited to an environment where versatility reigns supreme. Another important reason for listing these lures is that they are a comparatively inexpensive alternative to “fad” lures.

We’ll start with spinners first. Spinners are a rotary blade lure and get their name from the fact that the blade spins when it moves through the water. The main body is often made from metal, which provides the weight for casting. A rigid central wire has an eyelet at either end. One to tie the line to and the other to hold the hook. A small, free spinning collar of some description is attached to wire and the blade attached to the collar. When the lure travels through the water, once there is sufficient pressure created, the collar spins on the wire shaft. A spinner’s functionality is based on the principles of noise and vibration combined with light and colour provided by the available light catching and flashing off the rotating blade. 

All spinners sink and this makes them suitable to fish a variety of depths, however, because they are mostly made of metal they are also quite dense and therefore will sink quickly and are not suited to subtle presentations. When fishing in shallow water, retrieve rates need to be quite quick whilst in deeper, more open waters; good quality spinners can be worked quite slowly. Another downside to spinners is that they are renowned for causing line twist. This is because the rotating blades can cause the body to, not surprisingly, spin. The better the quality of the spinner, the less the effects of line twist. Another way of reducing line twist is to tie a good quality swivel into your mainline or leader about 40cms above the lure.   


Spoons are one of the most simple lures ever made. While they come in all sorts of shapes such as oval, tear drop or even fish shape, they are all made from a sheet of metal that has been pressed to create the concave/convex form of a spoon. This form creates quite a bit of resistance when the lure is sinking which causes it to flutter. This means that even though they are mostly made of metal, they actually sink comparatively slowly. When retrieved they have a wide side-to-side wobbling action which is a universally attractive lure action. They can be retrieved at quite slow speeds and through a variety of water depths, depending on the metal thickness. The thicker the metal, the heavier the lure and the faster it sinks. Spoons, however, can be difficult to cast because they are  often wind resistant. However, I clearly remember a fellow travelling angler telling me that if he had to travel the world with only three types of lures, he would pack a spoon, a spoon and a spoon! 


Slugs are a baitfish impersonation. They are usually made from dense metal formed in the shape of a fish, but sometimes are just simply a sinker with a hook attached.  The density allows for long, efficient casts allowing the angler to cover lots of water, a key to catching pelagic predators. Slugs have very little built-in action but are designed to be retrieved at medium to high speeds, which in turn is intended to attract the strike. At high speeds, slugs can be ripped through the surface film leaving an enticing bubble trail. These are a dedicated open water lure intended to cover as much water as possible. 


Slices came to prominence in Australia in the land-based high speed spinning era of the 1960s and ’70s.  They were angular cuts of circular or hexagonal brass rods. These lures use the same basic principles of the slug in that they are aerodynamic and dense, which translates into being a great casting lure. The difference between slices and slugs is the angular cuts of a slice create an in-built action which usually means a rhythmic side-to-side motion. This in-built action means that they can be effectively used at slower retrieve speeds than slugs but will still work at high speed. Many slices these days are chromed or enhanced with reflective tape.

A great tip for all of these lures is to replace the treble hooks with one or even two larger single hooks. The singles need to be straight, not offset, and good quality. Offset hooks cause a degree of spin, which can cause your lure to go off balance and also create line twist. The reason for using single hooks is because they hold much better than trebles, especially when the lures are quite heavy.

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