Exploring your freshwater lure options

Steep banks where cod and yellowbelly hold are ideal for working with spinnerbaits, vibes, swimbaits and wakebaits.

by Jarrod Day •

The Victorian Fisheries Authority has been doing great things for recreational fishing in recent years and when it comes to freshwater fishing, they certainly have gone above and beyond. Tens of thousands of Murray cod, yellowbelly, brown, rainbow and tiger trout, Chinook salmon, Australian bass and estuary perch have been stocked in many lakes, dams, rivers and streams throughout Victoria, allowing anglers the opportunity to head out on any given weekend and catch fish.

For some anglers, fishing is about relaxation, sitting on the edge of a riverbank flicking out a mudeye under a float or a worm on a running sinker rig; while for those more energetic anglers, catching fish on a lure is far more rewarding. Lure fishing is exciting but each species will respond uniquely to different lures. On one day one lure might work, while on the next it may not. So, how do you decide what lure to tie on?

CRANKBAITS

These little bundles of joy tend to be smaller, often ranging in size from 30-70mm, although it is not uncommon to get larger crankbaits, especially for those targeting Murray cod. Crankbaits can be pretty much any lure with a bib that dives under water, but more specifically they are designed to be cast and retrieved in one constant smooth action. This allows the lure to dive to its desired depth while also presenting its natural swimming action.

All freshwater fish can be targeted using crankbaits but when making a lure selection, knowing which action to use is vital. Crankbaits can be sinking, suspending or floating models, as well as being shallow or deep diving. This is because fish often change their feeding patterns. For instance, it might be the middle of day and bass are held up under an undercut riverbank. A shallow diving sinking crankbait cast to the edge of the bank and left to sink for a few seconds may draw the strike.

Then again, you could be casting into some heavy, thick timber where a deep diving floating lure is required to float up over a piece of timber so it doesn’t become snagged when it draws a strike from fish suspended beneath the snags.

JERKBAITS

Jerkbaits are quite different to crankbaits, both visually and in their retrieve method. Jerkbaits are much longer than crankbaits and can range from 40-130mm in their more common sizes, however you can get larger models. Jerkbaits also contain various bib sizes to achieve different diving depths as well as being either sinking, suspending or floating styles.

Jerkbaits tend to not have the same crazy action as crankbaits and require the angler to twitch the lure in order for it to work its magic. A constant wind of the jerkbait can have very little action, while a rip ‘n’ pause retrieve will have the lure dart left and right in a fast action, often causing a reaction bite.

Jerkbait fishing is all about the retrieve and more often than not, mistakes are made. Jerkbaits work best with the use of the rod, not the reel. This means holding the rod’s tip towards the water after a cast, then ripping the rod to the left or right somewhere between 60-100cm and pausing. Jerkbaits will be pulled though the water, giving off their action, and then on the pause they’ll either sink, suspend or float depending on the model. To a predatory fish, this lure resembles an injured baitfish trying to escape and any fish that sees this will smash it.

VIBES

Vibes are one of those lures you can always fall back on when the fishing is tough. They will work all of the time but when it’s the middle of the day or the barometer has crashed and the fish have shut down, a vibe is the one lure you can count on to get that strike.

Vibe lures are available in either ABS hard plastic, soft plastic or metal and all are similar in shape. This is because they have been designed to ‘vibrate’ when being worked. The vibration given off under the water from the lure is enticing to predatory fish. They hunt prey using their lateral line, which allows them to pick up on any disturbance in the water that could represent a fleeing or injured fish.

Vibes are also extremely easy to work compared to the finesse approach often required with other lures. No matter the material they are made from, vibes can be used in numerous ways depending on their tow points. The usage of the vibe depends on which tow point you have attached your leader. If the vibe has a single tow point on the top of its head, then you can cast ‘hop’ and retrieve for Murray cod or yellowbelly down a steep rocky embankment or it can be vertically jigged next to fallen timber or a tree in a lake. You may also sound up a school of redfin on the edge of bank in open water, where a small vibe can be freespooled to the school and vertically jigged amongst them.

If the vibe has multiple tow points, it can also be fished using the same methods but as an added advantage, can be trolled. While single tow point vibes can also be trolled, those with more tow points allow the vibe to be forced down deeper with the pressure of the water hitting the forehead of the vibe (depending on which hole your leader is attached to).

It’s not just in lakes that vibes are used. While they are more common there, smaller 30-50mm vibes can be used in rivers and deep pools for trout. Given the limited depth though, a faster retrieve is required for success.

Most vibes come stock standard with treble hooks, although in today’s market newer models can come fitted with either single inline hooks or are weedless, such as the Zerek Fish Trap. This makes fishing around timber and snags easier, as it allows you to get right into the thick of it without the risk of snagging up and potentially losing your lure.

SPINNERBAITS

Spinnerbaits are quite a unique lure constructed with a single piece of wire, almost resembling a paperclip. They come in many forms but they usually contain the same features of a metal arm moulded into a lead head with a selection of blades attached to the top of the wire. They are a highly effective lure for Murray cod, yellowbelly and Australian bass.

Spinnerbaits fall into two groups: long arm and short arm. Long arm spinnerbaits tend to contain multiple blades for use in heavy structural territory where resistance is required. On the other hand, short arm spinnerbaits tend to contain a single blade and are used for a vertical presentation or when being worked down a steep embankment.

While there are many colour variations, their weights can also differ depending on the depth of water being fished as well as their blade configuration. In most cases, typical spinnerbaits might be fitted with round style blades known as Colorado or leaf style blades known as willow or willowleaf.

There are no rules when it comes to using a specific design. Instead, the design is dictated by how you want to fish on the given day. If a slow retrieve is required for a more finesse approach because the fish are lethargic due to colder water temperatures, then the Colorado blade baits will be more effective. However, if the water temperature is high and the fish are more active, willow blades can be worked with a faster retrieve. There are also combination blades where you’ll get one Colorado and one willow, and these can be worked either slow or fast.

Another lure that still falls under the spinnerbait category is the chatterbait, also known as a mumbler. These use a horizontal blade at their tow point rather than a vertical wire. Chatterbaits serve to create disturbance in the water when retrieved, by the blade rattling side to side displacing the water and creating noise that predatory fish pick up on, even worked at a slow pace.

One thing to know about all spinnerbaits is that they can be manipulated. Out of the box they might work fine, but anglers have the ability to customise the lure to make it more appealing. This can be done by adding a soft plastic to the hook or swapping the soft plastic for another colour or size/style if they come with one. This can also be done with the skirts and blades that come attached to the lure. Additional coloured skirts and blades can be purchased, and anglers can chop and change them as they see fit to come up with their own colour combinations.

SWIMBAITS AND WAKEBAITS

Originating from the USA bass market, swimbaits and wakebaits may fall into a similar category but are in fact behave completely differently when fished. Although they may both contain segmented body designs for action, they are not the same.

Swimbaits do exactly as the name suggests; they swim. Generally, swimbaits have a multi-jointed body, which causes the lure to swim like a live fish would. However, swimbaits do not have a bib, so when retrieving they swim just under the water surface. Swimbaits can come in a sinking or floating model and while the floating will sit higher near the surface, a sinking model can be left to sink to a desired depth before being retrieved or if you retrieve the lure as soon as it hits the water, it will swim just below the surface.

When retrieving swimbaits, most of the time they are retrieved with a constant wind of the reel. However, in some instances (usually with a floating model) you can rip the rod left or right, causing the swimbait to be pulled fast through the water. Then, once you stop the ‘rip’ and begin gathering up the slack line, the lure will do around a 270-degree swim before stopping dead in the water. When the slack line becomes taut, the lure can continue on its retrieval path.

In contrast, wakebaits do have a bib. While they can also come with a segmented body, the bib causes them to swim on the water surface, creating a ‘wake’ of water as they are retrieved. This water disturbance can attract Murray cod, as wakebaits are designed to imitate a sick fish, bird, reptile or water rat. They are particularly effective at night.

Working the edges of lakes is very productive with jerkbaits. Simply cast and twitch back t the boat and without hesitation, trout will attack them.
Spoons work exceptionally well on trout for land-based anglers. From the bank, you can cast them long distances to cover ground.
Targeting yellowbelly can be done with many lures, but if your fishing hard up against the timber, 2” fat grubs worked along tree trunks is ideal.
There is no surpassing the Zerek Flat Shad. When it’s slow rolled, it is dynamite on Murray cod.
In some of Victoria’s lakes, specific coloured Tasmanian Devils are favoured. This Lake Toolondo brown couldn’t resist the clown colour.
Berkley’s T-Tail minnow is dynamite on trout.
When targeting big Murray cod, swimbaits and wakebaits are both used. These are usually retrieved with a slow wind to maximise their action.
Jerkbaits aren’t used with a typical cast and wind technique, rather they’re cast, ripped, paused, wound, paused, ripped and so on to get the desired action from them.
Whether you’re targeting Murray cod or yellowbelly, spinnerbaits are a very effective lure to use, especially when working steep embankments.
Vibes are becoming much more popular amongst freshwater anglers. Simply cast, rip and retrieve.
Trout are a sucker for a soft plastic and whether you’re fishing a dam, river or stream, shad styles are very easy to use. Just cast them and slow wind them back.
If you’re going to target trout by means of casting or trolling, you can’t go past a Tasmanian Devil.
Crankbaits are widely used for Murray cod, trout, redfin and yellowbelly. They are available in a range of sizes and actions.
Surface lures come in many forms and are available for all freshwater species.
The humble spinner in its true form. Spinners are undoubtedly one of the most widely used lures for trout.

SURFACE LURES OR ‘PADDLERS’

While surface lures do encompass swimbaits and some wakebaits, I’m talking about actual surface lures or paddlers, as they are more commonly called. Surface luring is undoubtedly the most exciting form of fishing for any species of fish, whether you’re salt or freshwater orientated. Trout, Murray cod and Australian bass are the top three most targeted species using surface lures and when you get that hit, it’s easy to become totally immersed in how to approach on the top the next time you head out.

Paddlers come in many forms, from oversized hand calved timber to small 30mm ABS moulded baits. They are quite similar in that many will have an aluminium or polycarbonate bib. These bibs sit horizontal and are ergonomic in design. When pulled through the water, the angle of the bib causes it to ‘paddle’ or almost walk in a side to side action. This creates noise and disturbance on the water’s surface, replicating a water rat or baby bird that has fallen from its nest and is trying to stay afloat.

Murray cod and Australian bass will vigorously attack the lure, providing the retrieve is correctly used. This could be a constant cast and wind or a cast, wind and pause. It is always a good option to mix up the retrieve to find out which presentation they want.

Not all paddler baits come with a fixed bib; some baits, both large and small may have retracting side wings made from metal, plastic or rubber. While the action is still the same as a fixed bib, these retractable wings aid in further casting distance against wind resistance.

Trout, bass, bream and estuary perch will also take smaller sized paddlers without hesitation. Once again, it is the retrieve that triggers the attack from the fish being targeted.

TASMANIAN DEVILS

Celebrating their 40th year anniversary this year, Tasmanian Devil lures are as synonymous with trout anglers as tomato sauce is to a sausage!

Tassies are more of a sub-surface lure.  The main technique is to troll them either flatlined behind a boat or kayak or using a downrigger, allowing them to be sent to a desired depth. Land-based anglers can also cast and retrieve them and given their 7g or 13.5g weight, they can be cast quite a distance. The retrieve is simple, as soon as they hit the water’s surface, click the reels bail arm and retrieve at a constant pace. This will initiate the side to side action they are known for.

While there are colours aplenty, it is known amongst trout trollers that certain coloured Tassies work exceptionally well in specific waterways. For instance, in Lake Eildon, clown, pink bomber, frog and fire tiger are the colours of choice. In the western lakes such as Toolondo, spotted dog and clown work best.

Every lake, river and stream in Victoria will have specific colours that work better than others and with these inexpensive lures, it is worth having a very wide colour selection in your arsenal.

SPOONS

Spoon lures have been around for donkey’s years and they are still one of the most reliable lures to use for trout and redfin. Some anglers might still remember the Wonder Wobbler. Spoons can be made from plastic or metal and come in a wide range of weights, shapes and sizes. They get their name from their shape as in some instances, they do resemble an actual spoon.

Spoons have quite a unique action where they can swim with a similar action to that of a Tassie Devil on the retrieve or if ripped through the water, can give off a more vigorous action. Due to their weight, spoons are a sinking lure so if you pause for a few seconds during the retrieve, they will flutter towards the bottom. Any fish following the spoon will think it is a bait that has died and will drill it hard.

Lakes aren’t the only location where spoons can be used. Small 5g models are ideal for streams and rivers, while the 10g and above weighted models are best suited to lakes where anglers can cast them long distances to cover more water.

Spoons are available in a wide range of colours like all lures and it does pay to have a range of colours and weights. The specific spoons that regularly appear in freshwater fishing reports include the Yakamito 5g and 10g, Zerek Twinkle, Blue Fox Matrixx, Nories Metal Wasaby 12g, Pegron Minnow, Strike Pro Bob ‘N’ Spoon and the ever reliable Luhr Jensen Krocodile.

SPINNERS

Still to this day, spinners are highly sought by freshwater anglers fishing in lakes, rivers and streams. Spinners are undoubtedly the simplest freshwater lure to use, as all you have to do is cast and retrieve with no other action required. If I was a betting man, I’d say that the majority of children in Victoria that go on camping holidays near a lake or river start out their lure fishing exploits by casting a spinner about.

One thing about spinners is that not any spinner will spin. These days there are a lot of no-name imported spinners that may look good in the packet but when cast, they don’t spin. The idea of a spinner is to attract the fish and imitate a water insect as if it is swimming toward the river or lake bank. While there really isn’t much to a spinner in its construction, it all comes down to the blade being able to spin freely on the retrieve.

Advancement in technology today has produced some branded spinners that make different sounds in the water caused by the blades dispersing water at different speeds. Some brands like Mepps provide the sound of each blade emits when under the water on their website.

Even today, the Rublex Celta closely followed by the Blue Fox Original and Wordens Spinners would be the biggest names in spinners. The Mepps Black Fury is also a popular model that is most suitable for trout in Victoria.

Spinners are often chosen on colour. I still remember fishing Lake Dartmouth some thirty years ago and I had to use a copper bladed green no. 1 Celta, and yes, it worked. Spinners are a great lure to fall back on if the fishing is tough but they work best early morning and late evening.

SOFT PLASTICS

If there wasn’t enough of a freshwater lure selection, the category of soft plastics is endless. From jerkbaits to shads, wrigglers and grubs there is bound to be something to tempt a freshwater fish. As the soft plastic models are extensive, you really just need to stick to a good handful to avoid getting confused.

Shads are a very reliable plastic for all freshwater species, as they can be constantly wound at a slow pace, jerked vigorously or hopped along a riverbed where the tail action excites fish. Murray cod like shads such as the Zerek 9” Flat Shad, Megabass 10” Magdraft and Lunker City 8” Shaker. These same plastics in smaller sizes can also be used for yellowbelly, although yellas are partial to quite small baits too. Berkley’s 2” Gulp Minnow Grub in black is a yella lollie. These tend to be worked right next to submerged trees simply by freefalling next to the trunk, and ever so slowly being wound to the surface. They need to be worked extremely slow so that just the tail spins. Yellowbelly holding under the timber will suck them in as they swim past.

Trout are also partial to a plastic. While a shad style plastic can be trolled in a lake, smaller 3” models are ideal for river fishing. These can be cast into pools or riffles and wound, hopped or jerked to get attention. Alternatively, you can’t beat a nymph or small wriggler styles, as these replicate the water insects trout are used to feeding on.

Bass, redfin, estuary perch are also willing soft plastic takers. It all boils down to what model you want to toss out to try. Keep in mind that when using plastics, the jighead used is equally as important, not necessarily for the actual hook but the weight of the lead. You don’t always need to go heavy, in fact, quite the opposite. A slow sinking plastic allows the lure to be in the strike zone longer to encourage a strike.

Hopefully now you can see just how easy it is to fill up a tackle box. One lure will never do the job, so a good selection of the above allows an angler to be versatile and adapt to how the fish are feeding on any given day. Having all bases covered will bring a higher chance of success.