With age I’m becoming more of a minimalist. Less is more, or at least less is easier and usually just as effective. When it comes to fishing tackle, minimalism means that where I once carried the equivalent of a hockey bag’s worth of gear for just one afternoon on the water, I now take only a couple of those flat, plastic boxes with all the dividers for a full week’s fly-in trip. And despite the significant downsizing of my tackle box, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.
What I’ve learned over time is that I typically use only a handful of lures no matter how broad the selection at my disposal. I have my favourites, the ones I’ve gained confidence in over the years, and I rely on them time and time again. In fact, I would suggest that if I was limited to just 10 different lures (allowing me some latitude for several sizes of each), I’d feel completely comfortable fishing most of western Canada’s freshwater species. Here, in no particular order, are my top 10:
1. Len Thompson Five of Diamonds
If there’s a more quintessential western lure, I can’t imagine what it would be. Alberta-made, some might even suggest you need no other. I won’t go that far, but I will say that the yellow/red version of this spoon has repeatedly proven itself to me and countless other pike, walleye, perch, lake trout and stream trout anglers. They can be cast, trolled or even jigged, and in sizes ranging from 1/7-ounce up to 1 1/8-ounce, can be easily matched to virtually any fish or water body.
2. Mepps Aglia
Spinners are a highly underrated class of lure. There’s something about the combination of flash and noise they produce that compels fish to strike, and for my money the best of the lot is the Mepps Aglia. Most often fished in flowing water, when they’re cast down and across, allowed to swing through the current on a tight line and then retrieved slowly back, they are deadly on stream trout. In larger rivers, goldeye, saugers and walleye can all be fooled by the subtle dance of the Aglia. In lakes they have proven to be extremely effective on pike when cast along the edge of submerged vegetation. They are available in a myriad of sizes and colours, allowing you to match them to the water and species you’re fishing.
3. Heddon Zara Spook
There’s no better time to chase pike than shortly after the spawn, when the big hens can be found in relatively shallow water. Top-water lures offer the most exhilarating fishing opportunities – there’s nothing quite as exciting, or nerve-wracking, as seeing the wake of a broad-shouldered northern as it closes in on a surface plug. And the best of them is Heddon’s Zara Spook. Cast and retrieved in the traditional “walk the dog” presentation, the Zara Spook leads to some of the most vicious, boiling strikes imaginable. Just be sure not to leave your heart medicine at home.
4. Swedish Pimple
When you live in a province where winter can last up to six months, you’d best be prepared to fish the hard water if you want to maximize your time afield. It’s tough to beat the productivity of jigging spoons whether you’re seeking walleye, perch, pike or whitefish, and the long-proven favourite among prairie anglers is the Swedish Pimple. Available in four sizes and a variety of colours, the Swedish Pimple is deadly when tipped with a maggot or a piece of frozen minnow.
5. Rapala Husky Jerk
Some call them plugs, others call them crankbaits, but by any name Rapala’s family of hollow-bodied lures needs no introduction. My favourite among the group is the Husky Jerk, a rattling, suspending lure that can be cast or trolled. This minnow-shaped crankbait comes in four sizes and eight colour combinations, though if I had to settle on just one for an all-around pike and walleye bait, I’d choose the size 12 in firetiger colouring. Perfectly contoured to move effectively through the water at any speed, this lure’s neutral buoyancy means it will suspend during any pause in your retrieve. It’s best suited to water depths of less than 14-feet; when you have to get down a little more, try the Down Deep Husky Jerk.
6. Cotton Cordell Super Spot
I have a Super Spot in my box that has been attacked by so many walleye and pike over the years that 80% of the chrome has been stripped away. A versatile plug, the Super Spot can be jigged vertically (in open water or through the ice, with or without bait), trolled, or cast and retrieved. When casting, allow it to sink to the depth you’re targeting, then retrieve with either a steady or jigged motion. Cotton Cordell was among the pioneers in rattling baits, and the multiple beads in the Super Spot have proven to produce among the most alluring vibrations of any of the rattling lures on the market. Three sizes and numerous colours are available.
Jigs come in any number of styles these days and remain as perhaps the single most popular lure. They’re most often “jigged” as the name implies, but can also be trolled, cast and retrieved, or suspended under floats, usually sweetened with live bait or soft-bodied tails. Available in a wide assortment of colours and sizes depending upon the water depth and species you’re targeting, jigs are as versatile as they are popular.
9. Worden’s Flatfish
I caught my first walleye many years ago on a trolled Flatfish, and since then have come to rely on these uniquely-shaped plugs in a number of fishing situations. Most effective when cast and retrieved, or trolled at slow speeds, the Flatfish and its one-of-a-kind swimming style have few peers as a trout lure. In the smallest sizes (1”) it’s deadly on pond rainbows and brookies, while in the largest size (6”) the T-60 model is a mainstay in the tackle box of any serious lake trout fisherman. There is a vast array of colours available, with rainbow and frog my favourites in the smaller sizes, and chrome or orange my preference in the larger lures.
10. Rapala Shad Rap
When fish want a “shad” style crankbait (deeper and fatter) instead of a “minnow” style (longer and thinner), I always turn first to Rapala’s Shad Rap. A balsa wood lure with a reputation for running true at all speeds, the Shad Rap can be cast and twitched, retrieved steadily, or trolled. Available in several variations, there’s a Shad Rap to meet virtually every angling situation. I use the Deep Runner 3 ½” model in silver or blue as my “go to” walleye plug, and I’ve even had success casting it from shore along rivers, particularly as an evening or night bait. Don’t be shy about fishing the Shad Rap when lake trout or northerns are on your hit list, either.