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Understanding hardbody lures

HARD bodied lures in general refer to lures made from plastic or timber that incorporate a diving plate known as a “bib” that gives the lure its inherent movement as it is pulled through the water.

From tiny lures used for trout through to large blue water minnows, these lures catch a wide variety of predatory fish. They are the mainstay of many lure fisheries. Over the past 50 or so years I’ve accumulated many thousands of hard bodied lures. I still have the first ones I ever owned, a Bill Norman minnow, an ABU Killer and a Cotton Cordell “Little S”. As a kid I used the first two to catch tailer in Cowan Creek and the Little S to catch bass. Since that time accumulating lures has been a passion bordering on an obsession. I’m not a collector looking for something old and valuable. I buy lures to catch fish.

Tackle shops are toy shops for adults, it is hard to walk away when you see something bright shiny and new twinkling at you from the shelf. I have a particularly stressful job and buying lures works as a very effective stress relief therapy for me.

Hard bodied lures have a lot of different design features. For the sake of keeping things simple, this article will concentrate on bibbed diving minnows, rather than stick baits, hard vibes and poppers. The design of these lures takes into account a number of specific features. These are buoyancy, depth, profile and emitted sound. The bib, in floating minnows, controls the running depth of the lure. It pulls the lure down into the water column. The depth the lure dives to is controlled by the size and shape of the bib, the angle of the bib and the shape and buoyancy of the lure body. It also controls the action of the lure. A “wide” action is when the lures sway from side to side is quite strong. A typical lure with a wide swaying action is the famous Australian made Stumpjumper. This wide swaying movement pushed a lot of water from side to side, and these lures work well on freshwater species such as Murray cod and golden perch. This action is achieved by having a large buoyant lure being pulled downwards by a big diving bib. Lures with a wide action generally need a slow retrieve to get down to their running depth. They pull hard on the rod due to the resistance of the bib.

In contrast, a tight action lure generally has a smaller bib and a longer profile lure. This means the side-to-side movement of the lure is far less than a wide action lure, but the vibration achieved has a much faster frequency. This is known as the lure’s ‘cadence’. This is the number of side to side movements when the lure is pulled through the water over a specified distance, generally a metre. Good example of lures with a tight cadence and high vibration frequency includes the small Zerek Tango Shad and the Lively Lures Micro Mullet. Both of these lures have a very tight vibration despite being able to achieve a good running depth, and this tight vibration creates underwater harmonics that attract flathead like few other lures do.

It is also important to understand that all hard bodied minnows have a distinct harmonic profile. Water transmits sound much more effectively than air, and most diving hard bodied lures can be heard from considerable distances underwater. To illustrate this, put your favourite hard bodied lure in the water and troll it at its optimal speed. Now put the rod but in your ear. The rod acts as a transmitter and receiver, and you will be surprised at how different lures sound. While this all sounds a bit weird (I came up with this idea many years ago on a day where bites were few and hours were long!) it is amazing how different various lures sound as they travel through the water. This harmonic profile also probably explains why some lures are extremely effective on their target fish, whereas cheaper copies often just don’t work nearly as well. One of the greatest barramundi lures of all time, the Classic Barra 120, has a very distinctive almost unique harmonic profile that is further amplified by the rattle chambers within the body. This lure is the most popular hard bodied barra lure in the Northern Territory, and the fish never seem to tire from eating it! When you listen to it through the rod but, you soon realise that it is a very loud fast vibrating lure.

Lure profile is also very important. A lure is generally designed to imitate a type of baitfish or invertebrate that the target fish eats as its normal prey. Most saltwater baitfish tend to be long and thin, and effective lure profiles match this shape. As lures get longer, a small bib will generally achieve less side to side vibration but more body roll, that is, the lure will roll on its axis rather than sway from side to side. Good body roll is the key to success in many saltwater hard bodied lures. A lot of tuned in anglers look closely at a new lure and evaluate both its roll and sway. A good example of a lure that has both these features is the Australian made Halco Laser Pro 190. The first Laser Pro designs came out in the 1980’s, and gradual refinements over the years have led to the current successful models. This lure is one of the best blue water trolling lures ever made and is exported all around the world. Designed in Western Australia, it copes with the rigors of tough strong fish. It is also a great lure for monster barramundi, and the late barra legend, Col Cordingley, popularised these lures on the Daly River.

The other important feature of body roll is that it can transmit flash through the water. A chrome or gold lure that rolls as it is retrieved sends out a lot of reflected light and this is a bite trigger for many predatory fish. This can be further enhanced by working the rod as the lure is retrieved. The weight of the split rings and hooks can affect the body roll and action of the lure. A lot of Japanese made hard bodied lures are designed for fish such as Sea Bass, a species that isn’t really to damaging on terminal tackle. These lures are finely tuned, often expensive and well made. The problem is that species such as barramundi destroy the fine hooks, split rings and small eyelets. If you retrofit these lures with stronger terminals the balance of the lure is often greatly affected and the lure loses its inherent action and its body roll. Australian tropical species such as barra, mangrove jacks and coral trout tend to be very tough on lure terminals so you need to be aware of this before investing in expensive imported lures. The hook hangers on many imported lures are quite small and only take small light split rings. Sometimes these light gauge eyelets twist and this can lead to water intrusion into the body of the lure.

Buoyancy of a lure is the force that pulls the lure back to the water surface. Most hard bodied lures tend to float if the hooks and rings are removed. While some lures naturally sink, the addition of the weight of hooks, rings and internal rattles to a floating lure can make it sink. One of the best ways to fish many diving lures is to carefully weight them so they achieve neutral buoyancy, that is, they suspend in the water column and will sit still at a given depth. This can be achieved by the use of extra split rings, bigger hooks or the addition of stick-on weights. Saltwater is a lot more buoyant than freshwater so when moving between the two you may need to make subtle adjustments. Some lures, such as the Zerek Tango Shads, are available in suspending models. With most hard bodied lures achieving “suspending” buoyancy is a matter of careful experimentation. The benefit of suspending lures is that they can be cranked down to a given depth, such as beside a snag, and then suspended and slowly twitched. This keeps the lure in the strike zone longer and works well on barramundi, mangrove jacks, bream and bass. Subtle variations such as this can make a big difference to your catches on hard bodied lures.

One of the key ways that hard bodied lures can be successfully marketed is by providing myriads of colours. Does this really matter? In some situations, colour is important, such as when fishing dirty water, but it is very important to understand the principles of fluorescence, luminosity and colour. Fish do not see colour the way that we do. If you obtain a blue light, it will show you how many commercial lures incorporate fluorescence into their lure finishes. One long standing popular lure is the Bomber Long A. These things have been around for over 40 years and catch a lot of great fish. Under a UV (‘blue’) light the eye of this lure lights up quite intensely. This focal ‘hot spot’ on a lure makes it visible to the fish from a greater distance.

Fluorescence is the scientific phenomenon where white light is absorbed by a surface and then re emitted at greater intensity in a single wavelength. These special pigments are found in many lures and can be seen by using a blue light. The Jackall range of lures incorporate a lot of fluorescent pigments. Luminosity is a similar principle, but unlike fluorescence the absorbed white light is emitted in a single wavelength for a prolonged period. I’ve used a lot of luminous lures over time and my mate Kelvin Williams was a master at incorporating a hint of luminous pigment into many of his repainted lures. In dirty water situations these lures were deadly. 

The next important considerations in lure colour are contrast and silhouette. Contrast between different colours on the side of a hard bodied lure gives a shimmering effect as the lure roll and sways. This is the reason a lot of popular hard bodied lure colours have vertical black stripes. These break up the single colour of the base coat and highlight the brighter underlying base coat. At night the best hard bodied lures are black in colour. Fished against a night sky, the lure silhouettes against the water surface and is easily seen by predatory fish feeding below where the lure swims. Similarly, small black coloured lures work well over sandy bottomed areas as in clean water they are easy to see. Black is a very underused colour when it comes to hard bodied lures as they just don’t tend to sell very well. But light penetration means that at depths below around three metres red coloured lures are, in the eyes of the fish, essentially black as red is the first colour to fade out as light penetrates the depths.

As you can tell, a lot goes into the design of hard bodied lures. Species such as bream were rarely caught on lures when I was a kid, but over the last 30 years a lot of experimentation and innovation has seen the development of hundreds of deadly bream lures. Similarly, barramundi, flathead, bass and a host of pelagic fish have seen new technology produce better more effective hard bodied lures. Selecting the right hard bodied lure for a given day or a given fish species requires a lot of careful thought. Don’t just follow the latest fishing ‘influencers’ or ‘pro’ anglers. Work things out for yourself! I love casting hard bodied lures. There are few things better in fishing than casting your selected lure, twitching it back and feeling it get slammed in a violent bite halfway into the retrieve. Hard bodied lures have the best ‘feel’ of any lure type. I’ve caught many thousands of fish on hard bodied lures. The best fish is the next fish! 

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