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What lures to use, and when to use them

November 11, 2019
What lures to use, and when to use them

Current lure patterns and their various techniques for deployment, are now so effective at catching fish, that many anglers no longer even entertain the idea of using bait. Just about every fishing shop you visit will now be decked with walls full of lure options from all the major manufacturers (and a few boutique players). The patterns and designs often look so good you just have to try them out. Yes, some lures are certainly designed to catch the fisherman, but do they work on the fish? Yep! hard. Any popular lure pattern fished correctly will likely stock your bin, even on tough days.

Cover photo credit: Grant Bittle.  Angler, David Shin with a spectacular snapper on a Catch Beta Bug inchiku.

A great morning's catch off the beach using soft baits only

So with such a huge choice of lures available, where do you even start, and what one should you choose?  What works best and in what situation?  What pattern, what colour, what size, and what rod and reel do you need for the job?

Not sure? Don’t worry!

Here is a breakdown of all the key lure design segments and some advice on how, where, when and why you might use them.  Once you get to grips with the way these lures work, your fishing takes on a whole new dynamic as you pick and choose through your glittering arsenal with confidence, for the money pattern that out-fishes your mate.

Not only is lure fishing insanely effective, it’s clean and easy, with no mucking around anchoring, berleying, or dealing with smelly or frozen bait and its waste.

Heading out with all bases covered, rigged for stick baits, soft baits, kaburas and slow pitch jigs

To save repetition, every lure pattern covered here is fished on braid line with a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader, is fished on the drift, and you should use a sea anchor to slow you drift if there is any wind at all. That last bit is critical to success.  You drift too fast, and your lures won't work.

You will also need to learn how to attach braid to leader. Here’s a great knot…

And on lighter gear you can use a double Albright, which is a bit easier to tie in the field…

Kabura style ‘sliding head’ jigs

The prospector.

These lures are probably the single most effective fish catchers out there.  They are super easy to fish, work on just about every predatory species, will often catch fish when nothing else does, and are effective in almost any depth.  They are a go-to and a must for your tackle box.

So why use anything else?

A top selection of kaburas from Catch, Hayabusa and Duel

Somewhat contradictory to their glowing intro, there are times when these lures are not the best choice.

The downside of kabura style lures is that they have rather delicate rubber skirts that are quickly destroyed by a lot of attention from strong jaws, particularly those of snapper.  Start losing a lot of these in a hot bite and the dollars and frustration can add up.

They also have a pair of very small hooks, which requires a lot of patience if you hook a big fish and need to ease it to the surface.  These hooks can also be a pain to remove from fishy mouths, sometimes requiring pliers.  We’ve seen a lot of big fish beat the little hooks as anglers put on too much pressure.

To this end, the kabura also can’t be relied on in foul ground where you need to put the brakes on a strong run.

Although good for kids and lure beginners, they are also almost too easy to use, which can also get a little boring if you prefer to put a bit of skill factor into your fishing.

Lloyd O'Brien with one of many snapper fooled by a new season Shimano sliding jig pattern.

Kabura low - down

When to use: Kabura style jigs are the perfect prospector.

They are also the perfect lure to use if you want to progress from bait into lure fishing world.

Regardless of skill level, start your day with one, and ideally leave a rod rigged up with a kabura that you can return to between trying other jigs if it goes quiet. A good rule of thumb is to use double the depth in metres, in grams.  That is 40 metres – 80 grams, 60 metres - 120 grams etc.

Tip. Travel with the head secured to the rod using a rubber band to avoid a weighted head swinging about as your boat bangs out to find the fish.

Prospect.  When you see some sign either on the surface or on the sounder, haul up to a stop and get a kabura over.  It’s a quick and easy way to determine if there is much of value down there.  Kaburas are dead weights, they get down fast and get hit just as quick.

When the day is tough, and it’s hard to find feeding fish, rely on kaburas to grovel a few out for the table.

Kaburas are deadly in a workup, but there are better options that we will cover off.

Most of the available colours work with orange being a crowd favourite, and down deeper a bit of glow paint on the head will often out-fish other colours.

A new variation on the kabura with a rubber body.  We've found the traditional softer skirts have a better hook up rate though

How to fish: Drop them to the bottom and VERY slowly wind up a few metres.  Repeat. That’s it.  When you get a nibble DON’T strike.  Just keep slowly winding and let the fish hook itself, striking usually pulls the lure out of a fish’s mouth prematurely.

Rod and Reel: Anything will work, but the softer the better.  Specific rods are available, they are designed for overhead reels and have a very slow action with a lot of flex in the tip section.

Summary:  A must-have lure that you should always keep on hand rigged up to go.  Often just blind drifting and patiently fishing a kabura will still result in a good session.

Slow-Pitch jigs

Lead dynamite.

Certainly the hottest property in recent times, these lures are changing the face of fishing internationally.  If you haven’t tried them, give yourself a talking to and get down to your tackle store.

Great jigs! from left - Catch Boss, Seafloor Control x 3, Daiwa slow knuckle, Sea Falcon, and Shimano colt sniper.

Ideal for prospecting, perfect in a hot bite, good for just about all species, killer in workups, and economical with no soft parts.

They are fun to fish and you will soon develop skills that you can vary depending on the shape of lure you’re fishing.

The downside is that they sometimes just disappear to barracuda and sharks, and can be ineffective in water 30 metres or less compared to other lures.

The other thing which may be a positive or a negative depending on your persuasion, is that they require a specialist rod to work best.

John dory love lures, this one ate a slow pitch jig in 45 metres

When to use: Anytime you are heading out wide, deeper than 30 metres.  When you do, ideally take two rods, one rigged with a kabura and one with a slow pitch jig.  Both lures are great for prospecting, and sometimes the slow jigs fire better than anything else.  Their erratic, frantic fluttering action will often trigger a strike where more sedate lures don’t.

These jigs work best in 30 metres to 100 metres plus, with the sweet spot really being 50 – 80 metres using 100 – 150 gram lures.

Available in an eye watering array of sizes and patterns, it’s often the simplest looking lures that are more effective.

A great colour option is silver with lumo stripes to kick off, and orange/red is another strong performer.

Bullet / cigar shaped lures such as the Shimano 100 gram coltsniper are great fished in any depth, and work well when there is a bit of drift or current.  Flatter bladed lures such as the Catch Boss or Daiwa slow knuckle have a bit more hang time and sink slower, so can be good when more movement is needed.

Check out the dental attention from snapper on these high end Japanese jigs.  Expensive to buy, but they have caught countless fish making them worth every penny

How to work slow jigs: There is a real technique involved, and it differs a bit depending on lure design, but essentially the lure is deployed overboard and makes its way to the bottom with a surprising amount of movement.  Sometimes it looks like you’re lowering a kicking livie!

Your line is attached to the SOLID RING of the swinging assist hooks, making the lure act like an underwater kite darting and shimmering around like a panicked or injured baitfish.  Irresistible.

When it hits the bottom, it is often grabbed immediately by fish that have followed it down.  If not, a gentle lift and wind down, lift and wind down action imparts life.

The specialist rods make a big difference imparting the correct dynamic of lift and flick.

Here’s the key.  The fish can’t catch these lures until they stop, so STOP them, and that’s where you will hook up.

Lift, drop, STOP – PAUSE, lift, drop, STOP-PAUSE….BOOM! Hookup.

The cigar shaped lures can be worked more aggressively than the flatter leaf versions, which tend to spin if you give them too much lift.  Don’t be afraid to leave them hanging, fish are lazy and the water movement around the lure is often enough to induce a take.  

When these lures start firing in a hot bite, you will often connect almost immediately every drop, so barbless hooks are a good option for easy release.

Inchiku jigs of various patterns, all strong fish catchers

Inchiku jigs    

Workup warriors.

When they first hit the market (Shimano Bottom ships, Daiwa Pirates jigs, Catch Beta Bugs) they looked like some sort of unlikely mutant lure lovechild with a twin hooked rubber squid hanging off a metal lure.  Where to even attach the line was a mystery given several options on most lures (the tail end usually).  They weren’t a joke the moment you popped them into a workup.

John Donald from Catch Fishing with a fat kingfish that fell for an orange-assasin  Beta Bug

When to use: Although challenged for popularity now by kaburas and slow jigs, the Inchiku is still a demon, and is well worth trying on anywhere you are fishing the aforementioned patterns.

They are better than kaburas in a workup due to having stronger hooks, and also require very little skill to use.  Just drop them over, slow wind, twitch them, jig them, or even leave them in the rod holder and they’ll catch fish.   Again the key is to let them stop enough for fish to grab the skirt.

Workups and hot bites are their forte, when fishing is slower and the fish are shy, these Christmas ornaments are often out fished by other patterns (but not always so feel free to experiment).

Rod and Reel: Any slow pitch rod is also good for inchikus and kaburas.

Early morning and shallow water.  Get your soft baits ready, this is where they shine

Soft baits:

Dominators of the shallows.

Where to use: In anything from 2 to 30 metres of water, over sand, structure, weed lines or casting into wash, soft baits are still the king.

They are the most natural looking and feeling lures, and soft bait bodies mimic real bait fish in texture and some brands such as GULP, even scent.  If you can get them down deeper on a quiet day they will often catch fish where everything else fails, even kaburas.

If you are fishing inshore, from small boats, kayaks, or even from shore, you will be wanting to fish softies.

Good jig heads are very strong and can put a lot of pressure on a big snapper to stop them fouling, and they also ride hook point upwards for reduced snagging in shallow.

Rod and reel:  Lighter weight spin gear with 2500 to 3000 size spinning reels.

Gurnard, cod, john dory and a nice snap. These four fish all taken on a single session in the same run using a soft bait in 35 metres

How to fish: Slip quietly into a likely drift that takes you across good ground, and cast ahead in the direction you are drifting.  Engage bail arm and follow your lure’s path to the bottom staying in touch and watching/feeling your line in case it tightens.  Sometimes fish smash and go, and sometimes they will mouth the lure for a while so let your rod tip bend over nicely, take a little weight on then strike.

Soft baits often work really well just tickled along the seafloor directly under your drifting boat.

They are also dynamite in the rod holder if you can keep them near the bottom whilst drifting along.

Many times the old Rodney Holder has been responsible for fish of the day doing just this.

Ideal spots to soft bait are where rocks or weed lines turn to sand, where there is fish sign on the sounder over sand, in channels where the current is running, or when it is any change of light situation inshore.

Fish the lightest jig head you can cast and manage to stay in touch with, 1/4 oz to ½ oz the most popular.

Downsides: They are too light to work well in deep water, and take a long time to sink even if you are patient, and the light spin rods are a bit vague at depth even using braid.

You may go through a lot of soft bait bodies in a session which can be pricey (however, the reward is usually worth it).

If you fish mostly inshore, you would be best to look at getting into soft baits and buying at least one good outfit as your primary weapon.


Mini - mighties

Microjigs look for all money like old school kahawai lures with a twist.  Where once there was a treble at the tail end, there is now a small assist hook at the head end.

Micro’s are really a fun lure for the enthusiast.  They are all about fishing inshore on nice light spinning gear.  There are times that the anchovy schools are running (such as March – April in the Hauraki Gulf) that microjigs really mimic the main food source and can be deadly effective.

Fish them pretty much exactly how you would a soft bait, and on the same gear.

They are not often your go-to lure, but they are good fun and you won’t have a complete lure collection without them.

Adam Royter with a tasty pannie on a Berkley Jig Its microjig

Speed Jigs:

Kingfish candy.

Kingies are the main species you will target with these lures, although you will also pick up anything from trevally, barracoutta, snapper, hapuka and bass.  We’ve even seen them account for skipjack tuna in the Coromandel in August!

Otherwise known as mechanical jigs, or knife jigs, you will need specific jigging gear including jig rod, reel, heavy braid, rod gimbal (bucket).  You will also need to learn how to speed jig, this is best covered in its own right.

When to fish: You’ll only need these lures if you are specifically heading out to target kingfish off the various pins around the country, or fancy trying to pull a kingfish out of a workup situation.

Stick baits:

More kingfish candy!

Stickbaits are an incredibly exciting way to target big fish feeding on the surface.  Overseas they will effectively hook Giant Trevally, mahi mahi, tuna, amberjack and even marlin occasionally.  Here in New Zealand they are pretty much exclusively munched by kingies.

Stickbaits ranging from $150 hand - carved-in-Japan models, to a more economical plastic commercial version

As per the speed jigs, the technique is best covered in its own feature


These awesome looking lures can be fished from shore, or boat.  It often pays to keep one on board rigged up so that if a bust up on the surface is spotted, or you are passing some floating debris or buoys etc, you can readily fire one out.

Floating stick baits are better used on calmer days, and sinkers when the surface cuts up or is affected by a big swell.


For the true lure freaks.

This category includes smaller plastic bibbed minnows and vibe minnows popular overseas.

We’ve yet to find any circumstance in New Zealand where hard body lures out fish the previously mentioned designs.  If you are looking for a bit of fun, it can be rewarding to catch fish using these little guys.

Plastic minnows designed to be trolled, cast, skipped and jigged.  They all catch fish

If you’re just getting into lure fishing, start with other options.

How to fish: The sinking versions can be fished like soft baits, and the floaters like stick baits. Where they can be quite effective is being towed slowly behind kayaks or small boats inshore, where they will pick up kahawai, kingfish and even the odd good snapper.  

You can also cast them into schools of skipjack tuna and the like if you’re bored.

The crazy and exotic looking:

There’s no shortage of lure designs that are just plain out there, and don’t really fit any particular category.

Some lures just look good enough to eat.  These guys swim like real squid, they work, but are not the best value for money

Some work well, some never leave the tackle box, and others just might want some time put into getting to grips with how they work for you.

We have seen some fantastic fish caught on the Catch Squidwings hybrid lure, including marlin and tuna on the troll, and big snapper and kingfish when jigged.  It tends to work best when the bite is hot and you want to bypass smaller fish.

A selection of lures that have no real category, including the unique Catch Squidwings crossover lure.

So there you have it.

No shortage of options.  If you are new to fishing lures try committing to a couple of trips dedicated to using kaburas, or if you are inshore give soft baits a good go.  You may be surprised, with a little patience.

Once you have been seduced by these patterns, advance on to some of the more specialist techniques.

Talk to your local tackle stores and fish your lures with confidence.  Once you’re hooked there’s no going back.

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