Lures for Less
by Leroy Bigler
Four decades ago SuperDupers® replaced Monti® spinners as the hot lure for Sierra trout. As I recall, red and black chevron painted Montis® ran 75 cents at the local store. Super Dupers®, in hot gold and red, cost the same. When I was 13, and kid wages ran a buck an hour, maybe, I didn't waste money buying lures that I lost at the rate of four or five a day. I dove for snagged lures, and rolled my own from parts and pieces. For me, this meant Herters parts which cut my cost per spinner down to a dime, and home-made SuperDupers® cobbled together from flattened strips of chrome pipe only cost the price of a snap and hook.
Today, lures cost a lot more and savings are even greater. Still, you probably will find, as I do, that taking good fish on your own lures is reason enough sans savings. You can fine tune lures for your favorite waters too.
For example, on tiny Elk Creek near home, I find the hot lure is a 1/8-ounce French spinner with a black body and odd bright green blade in front of my favorite size 10 single Siwash hook with the barb mashed flat. This lure lets me cover pockets in thin water and skates over weed that tangle trebles. It's about twice as effective as similar store-bought lures. It's about a quarter the cost too!
On the Clearwater River, I've worked out the bugs with 1/8-ounce jigs under smaller than usual home-made bobbers. My jigs feature smaller than usual heads, ultrasharp hooks and home-wrapped brown tails with a hint of foil flash. These take more fish during low and clear water periods than the usual rigs. Other favorites include Wob-L-Rite®-type thick spoons with single hooks, spinners like Lindy Rigs® with 6X long hooks so worms string on nicely, counter-rotating spinners to avoid line twist and the like. I also replicate favorite store-bought designs like Mepps®, Panther Martin® and the like.
Custom lures aren't new. Production models start as custom types, and fishermen have always modified commercial lures. For example, before photo imprint plugs hit the market, we painted our own rainbow trout finish on monster saltwater plugs used in big trout waters such as Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Today, we paint plug blanks to match local bait fish for an exact match that seems most important in extremely clear waters. Making plugs from scratch or unpainted parts also lets us use single barbless hooks for more catch and easier release.
Steelhead fishermen are usually into lure design anyhow. Choices boggle the mind with the monster assortment of Worden oddments, beads, hooks and other terminal tackle to thread on lines. Cabela's even has a slide-on clevis so you can add spinners and such to leaders. Cabela's, like Pro Bass Shops and other outlets, sells a great many lure parts at very competitive prices.
Spinners are my favorite kit lure. They offer major savings and infinite combinations of blade type, body weight and hooks. For example, I find copper or brown blades very effective in clear water and for brown trout anywhere. Painted blades also work well.
Spinner designs start with blade choice. Wider blades spin more slowly and offer more lift. So your spinner sinks more slowly and is effective at slow speeds. Colorado Blades typify this class. French Blades offer intermediate speeds and sink. Willow Leave and other thin blades sink more quickly and spin faster. These blades maximize casting distance. I should note that, with ultralights so widely available, smaller than usual spinners can take a lot more stream trout than you might expect.
Body types affect sink rate and casting distance. Lead bodies -- painted worm hook heads are cheap and effective -- sink fastest. Solid metal, hollow metal, solid metal beads, solid plastic beads, hollow metal beads, swivel and split shot designs and hollow plastic beads offer progressively slower sink rates. Wooden bead bodies from the craft shop may not sink at all. Adjusting blade and body designs so you get the right depth and running speed can pay big dividends.
Note: if you tie spinners in pairs you can crimp the blades so each will rotate in opposite directions to reduce line twist. Don't trust swivels! The only ones that work well are ball bearing models like Sampos®.
Clevis choice -- flat vs. folded -- seems a matter of choice. I prefer the former on large spinners, the latter on smaller types. Buy several sizes so blades move freely.
A clevis, or a blade like a Panther Martin® type that needs one clevis, should spin on a bead or, for maximum revolutions, a mini bead plus a larger bead in front of the spinner body. Red beads -- I like glass better than plastic -- suit my tastes. But I doubt they're more effective that plain metal.
I know single hooks like my favorite Siwash catch more fish and fewer snags. Singles also cost much less than trebles and don't develop snarls in the tackle box. Every tackle designer I know says, "singles are more effective, but fishermen won't buy them." You're on notice!
Spinner assembly is simple. You can use a fancy wire bender like that sold in Worth spinner kits or through mail order. I like to use a pair of needle nose and a pair of fine point pliers from the tool box. Bending isn't difficult. Just avoid tag ends. Don't worry if your wire eyes aren't perfect. I deliberately bend off-line wire eyes to reduce line twisting.
Spinner assembly only takes a small wire bender or a pair of needle nose pliers. Don't forget spinner baits are just spinners with slightly different wire setups. You can buy them with jigs cast on.
Spoons maximize casting distances and go together easily. You just add two split rings and one hook and you're set. You don't even need split ring pliers! You can paint spoons, or add sparkle bits, prismatic stick-on and other goodies very easily. Thinner blades and wider body spoons sink faster than thicker blades and thinner bodies.
You can make spoons from, what else, table spoons by cutting off handles and drilling holes. I make custom spoons from sheet metal. Thick copper beats into wonderful spoons; all you need is a block with a dished hollow side and a ballpeen hammer. Split chrome pipe, flatten it and cut it into strips and you can make chrome or brass lures much like SuperDupers® -- painted "innards" and exteriors increase options. This material also makes decent spinner blades and great flashers.
If you want spoons to stay bright, add finish before you put on your split rings. I don't worry about this. Mottled old brass or copper spoons seem more productive than bright ones in clear water.
Cast parts -- jigs, sinkers and worm heads
Stainless steel pot on an electric or, since cast shot, sinkers, worm weights, jig and spinner bait heads by melting lead in a my wife tossed my lure making out of the house, a small camp stove. PLEASE DON'T MELT LEAD IN AN ALUMINUM POT!!!! The pot may melt and, if you heated it on the stove, your wife may move you to the garage along with the dead stove.
All sorts of molds make casting easy enough that I cast once a year with a buddy. Molds do need to be hot -- the first pour or two might not work, but you can remelt them anyhow. Aside from that,casting lead isn't difficult. Just remember to buy the right size jig hooks for jig molds.
You also can find molds for plastic worms, grubs, crayfish and other soft plastic lures. I no longer cast these because they don't cost much to buy in bulk, but you can make all sorts of special lures of this type most easily with kits.
What I do instead is ask buddies to save me "old worms." I often trim these down into "trout size" lures that cost next to nothing. These, after cross threading using a large needle with rubber band "lively legs," are ideal to toss or drift into heavy cover most don't fish. I just add a lead shot for weight. Since you can "weld" one type of plastic lure to another by heating both surfaces with a hot knife, your only limit is your imagination!
A buddy turns out wooden custom plugs on a lathe. I'm not handy enough for this. I have tried buying plugs and plug parts, like wiggling scoops, in bulk, but when you add painting time to assembly, it does not seem cost effective.
The exception here is the spinning plug, like the Oakie Drifter® that's easy to assemble. Traditional Cherry Bobbers with balsa, plastic or cork bodies are another good choice available in bulk from sources such as Cabelas or Yakima Bait.
You need neither a $100 Orvis kit nor much manual dexterity to tie flies. Fish don't care. Yarn flies, Glo-Bugs and the like are so easy to make they hardly need instructions. A cheap fly-tier's vise, some thread and yarn gets the job done fast. I also buy Victorian Curtain edging with plush balls in a host of colors from craft and yardage shops. These balls can be cut free and hooked onto appropriate-sized salmon egg hooks. Buy this in white, and you can use Pentil or other waterproof marking pens to customize colors.
Flies need not be pretty to catch fish. Nymphs whip up fast if you wax thread and spin on a mix of fur and flash materials. Shaggy types often take more fish. Dry files assemble quickly if you use the tap of your hackle as a tail, strip off a bit of hackle, spin on a wax body and complete the fly by winding on hackle. You can skip patterns too. With colors from white through gray to black and whites through tan to brown, plus a few green types, you can get the job done in most areas most of the time.
Streamers, feathered trailer hooks on lures and other oddments wrap up quickly too. A basic fly-tying book and a few simple tools are all you need. Unfortunately, few can stop here. So we invest hundreds of dollars into super hackles, hooks in all sizes and types and more exotic feathers and fur than you could find in the San Diego Zoo.
TIP: If you live near a zoo you might provide some fiscal support and ask about exotic hair, as such is often tossed out.
I suspect my home-made flies cost about $12.65 each, but am afraid to cost this out. If you buy just the materials and hooks you need to tie the few flies you use most you may, with as much good luck as good management, get your money's worth!
You get your money's worth in other areas too. I make bobbers out of balsa or hardwood dowels that work better than spherical red and white store-bought plastics. Bobbers, like jig heads, spinner bodies and, for those who want color-coordinated plastic worm heads, get dip-painted. Fancy folks might invest in a small air brush. Spray cans of paint -- naturally you won't buy water soluble types at the hobby shop -- do a tidy job too. I stick items to be painted on nails so I can spray or dip-paint them evenly. The best place to find details on these methods is C. Boyd Pfeiffer's Tackle Craft.
Other fish kits
Rod wrapping kits and parts let you wrap up special rods. I like very long rods for bobber fishing, so use 12 to 15 foot flyrod blanks. You can assemble electronics like depth finders and such from Heath Co. and others. There are at least 100 boat kits on the market too. Add custom clothing and vests, vehicles and, to hold everything, a log cabin kit for your stream-side abode, and it's easy to see why you can get hooked on fish kits.