Who knows who our first ancestor was to tie a feather to a makeshift hook and return home with a fish, wagging on the end of some archaic piece of string.
Putting the fish down next to the fire that night, they would have cast an animated shadow as they told the first story of the fish that got away. A billion fish-that-got-away stories later, and we’re still gripped by lure fishing. Today, our methods and lures have evolved with us to reflect the incredible variety of the fish we try to catch.
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Three things you need for lure fishing
Spinning Rod & Reel Combo
Most modern lure fishing in the UK is best done with a 7-9ft rod with a casting weight up to 28g (1 oz). Most UK sea anglers use spinning rods that cast 2-3oz, which is handy if you’ll use the rod for bait fishing too. However, if you want to use a full range of unweighted spinners, you’ll be needing a light spinning rod like a bass rod or you won’t be able to cast lures under 1oz.
Line suitable for lure fishing
Braid can help you cast much further and dramatically improve bite detection and sensitivity. A braid mainline is usually tied with a uni knot to a lower breaking strain 1m flourocarbon leader. This then connects to your lure. The flourocarbon is invisible, abrasion resistant and will break first if you get snagged.
View FishMag’s favourite braid here
You need a selection of hard and soft lures that are within the casting range of your rod, to cover you in different scenarios and for different species and conditions.
The most versatile lure is the Fiish Minnow, which is as popular in smaller sizes for perch as it is for bass. If you could only have one lure, it would have to be this.
View FishMag’s top ranked bass lures
Popular lure fishing guides
The game of lure fishing
Each time you cast your lure of choice into the unimaginable soup, you’re pulling the lever on a living slot machine. You could hook a monster, an average fish or nothing at all.
Fishing is about anticipation – and lure fishing in particular provides a lot of it. It’s the not knowing what you might catch. A splash over there from a leaping fish. A gannet crash diving 200m off shore. A knock on your lure that could have been a fish. And most tantalizing of all – those bites that don’t result in hook ups.
“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” – John Buncan.
We enjoy fishing because we might catch something good, not because we will.
Thankfully, even with considerable skill and experience, you can’t understand all the factors that determine if you will catch fish. Part of what I love about fishing is the slightly BS speculation most of us come up with to try to do this anyway.
It’s fun to speak confidently like: “In murky water, white lures are best – oh yes yes – don’t bother with red mate you won’t get a nibble”.
Maybe white was best on that day, at that spot, but does that mean it will work on all murky days? It doesn’t matter. The wild speculation, the undue pride and confidence, it’s all part of it.
The skill of angling is about making increasingly informed guesses and controlling the things you can control.
“It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
Lure fishing for beginners
In the early 2000’s, all lure fishing from the shore in the UK looked pretty similar (fly fishing being the exception). Most sea anglers would head out with a relatively large reel, a 10ft spinning rod, 20lb line and some red gills, dexter wedges or a sidewinder sandeel and a few packs of mackerel feathers. If you were into the relatively niche pursuit of specifically targeting bass on lures, you would use the same kit but with large hard lures and braid instead of mono. This approach would be considered sporting and light weight. But things have changed, and now this approach would be considered quite heavy (that is, the rods are stiffer, stonger and cast heavier weights).
It’s also important to try different types of retrieval. For instance, in particular, it’s worth really slowing down your retrieve a lot. Many anglers on piers around the country will be casting out and immediately retrieving with reels that are large and so bring the lure back so fast that it never has time to sink. It’s better to fish the whole water column from the top to the sea bed.
Once you cast out, don’t retrieve immediately, but allow it to fall down the water column. You’ll get most of your takes while your lure is falling, rather than when you’re retrieving it in. For species like garfish, you need your lure to stay high up in the water column, though.
Since modern lure fishing equipment from Japan and the US started being imported into the UK, peoples expectations for the size of lures they would use and the strength of lines and rods, changed. Some anglers today are using specialist light lure rods that cast much lower weights than traditional British lure rods and use much lighter lines than were used in the past.
But most lure anglers in the UK are still using all-rounder tackle. An all-rounder spinning set up is great if you want one rod that can do it all – you can catch mackerel on feathers or target bull huss on the bottom in calm conditions. It’s also harder for beginners to break the rod.
If you prefer to use the same setup for bottom fishing as well as lure fishing, then a classic spinning rod of 10ft that casts 2-3oz is perfect. There’s not a lot you can’t do with a rod like that, save hold the bottom with lead weights in a strong current or fish from a boat.
The straightforwardness of the traditional spinning approach still holds strong appeal today, and is the most suitable introduction to fishing for those that want to get out there for the first time. It works. If you’re just starting out in fishing, this is where most people start.
Here’s an example of a more traditional spinning rod and a modern rod, for comparison. Some will prefer the modern rod for playing fish because it bends more. Others prefer to stick with classics and enjoy being able to do a mixture of bait fishing and lure fishing with one rod. Bear in mind throughout the rest of this article this key difference between the modern and the classic lure fishing approaches.
Spinning: the traditional approach
The easiest way to go spinning is to whack on a dexter wedge, go to a rock mark or harbour – anywhere with reasonable deep water – and start fishing.
Shallow water marks can be good too for bass, but in general deeper water attracts more pelagic species (fish that roam the open seas, like mackerel) which attract larger species to feed on them. Places where you have deeper water and underwater structures, like harbour walls, rocks or wrecks are the most fruitful.
The biggest mistake you can make while spinning is avoiding rough ground for fear of snags. like kelp and rocks. That’s where a lot of the fish hang out! It’s also worth trying to fish closer in as well as further out. Both bass and wrasse will hug the rocks, so a long cast is not always necessary, but can be very beneficial from time to time.
One thing every beginner really must get right is using an appropriate weight. The only occasion it would make sense to use a 3oz+ lead while lure fishing from the shore would be if you’re fishing for mackerel with feathers at a deep water mark or when a very long cast is required to reach the fish. More generally, lighter weights (2oz) will stop your lure sinking straight into the snags, forcing you to retrieve quickly just to keep it up off the bottom. Sometimes, a lure slowly sinking is absolutely deadly, and you need lower weights to achieve that.
If you use lures like wedges and some toby spoons, you won’t need to use any additional weight to be able to cast your lure. This saves you tying knots and improves the presentation of your lure to the fish.
Other guides on this site go into more detail on specific spinning methods, the mackerel guide and bass guide may prove useful.
Lure fishing for bass
The short cut to catching a lot of bass is to buy some reliable kit and then go fishing with someone that has already put in the hours. You can learn much faster fishing with someone that catches a lot of bass than you can trying to figure it all out alone. Catching bass is not at all like fishing for mackerel or pollack. These fish are a lot more astute and your lure presentation needs to be decent, especially for more cautious older fish.
Ultimately, lure fishing for bass is a very simple business.
You explore a stretch of coast, particularly looking out for areas where there is a large amount of water movement. Bass feed on fish lost in the churn – they love white water, currents – basically all the things that make a fishing spot dangerous to fish (so safety is key).
You using a bass fishing set up that’s light enough to be mobile and effectively cast the 10-30g lures you will be using.
You find a few places on Google earth that look promising and fish there at different times and states of tide, experimenting with various retrieval styles and lure types.
After a while, you start to notice patterns and get in the groove. Then, you blank much less often and eventually join the very small group of committed anglers that catch hundreds of bass a year.
Progress in bass fishing means gradually controlling the variables – timings, tides, lure presentations – pushing luck into an increasingly small corner.
Once you’ve controlled the big things – you’ve got a decent fishing set up, your knots are strong and you know what at what state of tide your mark works, what lures and retrievals different species prefer etc, the rest is just subtle little things that I’m not sure can be communicated. If you want to accelerate the process of learning these subtle tricks, you can do that by fishing with obsessive anglers and imitating them.
Boat fishing with lures
Boat fishing with lures is a whole different beast from lure fishing from the shore. Unless you’re fishing closer in around the coast, you’ll be using shorter, heavier rods, stronger lines and you may need to use multipliers so you can hold enough line to get your lure down over the wreck or seabed.
Two popular approaches for boat fishing include drifting over a mark known to hold fish or anchoring up and jigging directly down the side of the boat. Drift fishing allows you to cover more ground and helps your lures to move very naturally with the current. If you’re fishing over a wreck you need to know where the thing is so you can drift just alongside it. Drifting over sand banks with lures also works well for plaice and a huge number of other species.
Jigging involves anchoring a boat and fishing directly down the boat, dropping your lure down the water column and then lifting your rod with large motions to bring the lure up, before allowing it to fall back down again. This is extremely effective for squid. In the Med, you will often see boats out with bright lights shining into the water. These may be squid jigging boats, since the light is used to draw the squid in.
Jigging also works for a huge number of other species and is incredibly straight forward. You are effectively letting your lure fall, lifting it back up and then letting it fall again, over and over. Simple and tremendously effective, since fish love a falling lure.
Owning or hiring a boat opens up a lot of angling opportunities. The fish you can catch are in a different league for size and power, and your ability to change locations if the fishing is poor in one place give you a markedly unfair advantage over shore anglers.
Much of the skill with boat fishing is learning about the best places, the best timings, using fish finders etc. A good skipper can very often put anglers directly over the fish, give them a rod and lure that’s known to work and effectively set people up for some excellent fishing. See my boat fishing guide for general boat fishing advice.
Hard rock fishing is primarily used for targeting wrasse in the UK, often when bass aren’t biting. These fish are targeted most effectively with a texas rig, a simple straight tailed soft plastic and weedless hook. It’s very important that the soft plastic is rigged on the hook carefully, so that the soft plastic maintains its natural shape, not being stretched, warped or twisted. This is because a piece of plastic that spins around in the water or looks very unnatural in the way it moves will put fish off.
Deadsticking: the secret to catching more fish on lures
The key skill in wrasse fishing is imparting less motion into your lure. Wrasse respond very well to deadsticking – simply casting out a lure and doing nothing to it. If there are wrasse in the area that have seen the lure fall down into the kelp, they will swim over to investigate, and very often will pick up the lure and smash it to bits. Typically, Wrasse anglers will cast, leave the lure to hit the seabed. Wait for about 30 seconds if they’re patient enough, then lift it up and reel for a few seconds before repeating the process. You can also twitch the lure slightly while it’s sat on the bottom, but you should try not twitching too, as sometimes lure movement acts as a deterrent. This is quite a radical idea for a lot of anglers, because it used to be thought that fish like bass were like dinosaurs in Jurassic Park – only able to see prey as they moved. This is not the case. Anyway, even if the angler doesn’t move a lure, water movement will, so a lure sat on the bottom isn’t necessarily static.
Why do Wrasse hit lures?
There is an interesting debate around why Wrasse hit lures, given that for a long time they were considered merely the bicatch of bait fishermen. Unlike palegic species like mackerel which roam the open seas, wrasse are territorial. All wrasse are born female, and then when they reach a certain age (and size), which can be considerable (they live for decades), some will change sex and become male. These larger males are very territorial of their females, so it’s possible they hit lures because they simply don’t want some random UFO lure near their slimy harem.
I do not subscribe to this theory, I think they clearly rely on both scavenging for food as well as actively hunting prey fish when they get the chance. I have heard of divers reporting seeing wrasse smashing into shoals of sandeel, and I think I may have seen this at some point too. Primarily, they feed on small crabs and shell fish.
LRF & Modern Japanese Lures
Light rock fishing is the lure fishing method that many expected to transform fishing in the UK forever after it emerged in the UK in the late 2000’s It involves the use of ultra light rods that cast up to 10g (1/3 oz) and very small lures. Because the lines are so thin and the rod so light, it’s possible to cast just as far as you would with a traditional set up, or even further in some cases.
Light rock fishing – opens doors in angling we didn’t know were there
In an estuary, a bass angler might be casting and retrieving a Fiiish Minnow or plug, and will be able to hook bass and pollack. An LRF angler can cast out a plastic worm, bounce it along the seabed and catch gurnard, flat fish, pollack, bass, and a whole lot more.
LRF fishing allows you to use lures that imitate worms and do so with finesse. This changes what’s possible with lure fishing.
Lures can be presented to fish with a far higher level of control than is possible with any other angling method, which is why LRF is associated with ‘finesse’ and in that sense, is more akin to fly fishing than traditional bait fishing or lure fishing.
In Japan, the US, Aus and many cities in Europe like Paris, this kind of approach to fishing is considered much more normal and they don’t refer to it as LRF. In Hong Kong, they don’t think of this as some modern, strange type of lure fishing, it’s just lure fishing. But, in the UK, we are addicted to using heavier rods, even when most of the fish we catch do not require it. If you think about a typical summer fishing trip, very few of the fish you catch will be over 2lb. It’s normal for anglers to overestimate the size of their catch, but a pretty decent shore caught pollack weighs 1lb. A good wrasse is 3lb, but can reach more like 6lb. Bass above 3lb are very good fish, and you don’t tend to catch them unless you are specifically targeting them with larger lures. Therefore, the shortcomings of LRF kit for targeting and playing British fish species are almost non-existent.
The limitations of LRF fishing
LRF is my chosen method for targeting pollack and mackerel from the shore, as well as the catching of mini species. I’ve caught over 40 species on an LRF rod in the UK, which gives you an idea for the range of species that can be caught in this way. I do not think it advantageous to use an LRF rod for actively targeting bass or wrasse, since the number of lost fish will go up, even if you are highly skilled. Wrasse bolt into the kelp every time you hook them. Even a 2lb wrasse cannot be stopped with an LRF rod, only steered away from snags. If you hooked a 5lb wrasse on an LRF rod, your chances of landing it would be slim, and if you did, it would not be down only to skill, you need a good deal of luck also.
My preference for a versatile set up for British lure fishing would be an 8ft rod that casts 20g. This is light enough to get very good sport from most fish, but has the power to be able to have some degree of control over decent bass and wrasse too.
Balanced LRF set ups are essential
It’s important to note that LRF set ups are very dependent on balanced tackle in order to function properly. If you put 6lb monofilament on an LRF set up, that’s likely to cause trouble because it’s too thick. It would restrict your casting distance and make you more prone to tangles. You would also miss out on the benefits of the rods sensitivity, sine mono stretches, giving reduced bite sensitivity (though it can be useful when stretch in a line is preferable). If you bought a very small reel from a more traditional, trusted company like Penn, it would not fit properly on a Japanese ultra light rod, even if it was labelled as being 2500 size. This is because the diameter of the line lay (which is determined by the diameter of the bail arm), is likely to be too large for the size and position of the rod eyelets. For this reason, when you buy a fancy LRF rod, you need to buy the full works to go with it, including a comparably modern reel designed with ultra light fishing in mind. Shimano and Dawia are safe bets.
Watch out for copycats
It’s also worth noting that part of the success of LRF fishing is down to the superiority of the design and materials used. When mass market companies release an ‘LRF Rod’ it’s often not built to a high standard and is essentially just a traditional style rod that’s been made very thin and light. A Japanese LRF rod will have power in the butt of the rod for steering fish, as well as a fast action that allows for the effective casting of tiny lures. Many rods that are marketed as LRF rods would not be capable of casting lures under 5g, they are just light spinning rods.
In other words, if you’re going to get into LRF, go all the way – don’t dabble!
Why some anglers like LRF:
- Fishing with highly sensitive, sporting rods is extremely fun and doesn’t compare to anything else.
- LRF anglers catch far more fish, because there’s almost always a fish species there that can be effectively targeted.
- LRF anglers catch more sporting fish like bass, wrasse, mackerel and pollack, because lures can be presented more carefully and naturally than is possible with heavier lines, weights etc.
- Light rock fishing forces you to think a lot more and fish more intentionally. The rod is giving you more feedback (feeling the bottom, feeling what type of kelp your lure is sat on). This makes it more engaging for many.
- Light tackle makes moving spots and mobility easier, so you can cover a lot more ground
- Light tackle makes your life simpler because your tackle takes up a lot less space
Lure fishing Q&A
How can I lure fish for Flounder?
Lure fishing for Flounder involves bouncing or dragging small spinners along the seabed and is particularly good in winter when little else it biting. Try tipping your spinner with a rag worm or worm imitation.
How can I lure fish for bass?
Use larger lures than you’d use for mackerel and cast out just beyond the white water. Bass feed behind the waves. Avoid treble hooks which harm the fish.
How can I lure fish for cod?
To lure fish for cod you need a boat, a huge lure and preferable a ship wreck to drop your lure into. Fish finders are helpful for locating cod on the move.
How can I lure fish for trout?
Trout can be cautious fish, so you need to mix up your approach. They are fond of small spinners and crank baits, but sometimes a more subtle lure is required, like a fly or soft plastic.
How can I lure fish for perch?
Lure fishing for perch is best done with weedless soft plastic lures which you twitch through the water to elicit a bite.
Can I lure fish at night?
Lure fishing in the sea is often better at night time than in the day in the winter, but in the summer the day time is more fruitful.
Can I lure fish in winter UK?
Lure fishing in the winter is tougher, but many species are around still, including bass, just in lower numbers. Some species are more plentiful in winter than summer, like herring. Try utilising the guides on this site to target a wider range of species to increase your chances of catching in winter.
Is it hard to learn to lure fish?
It’s easy to start fishing, but to catch a lot of fish often you need to invest a lot of time or go fishing with experienced anglers to learn the ropes.