Three Best Lures to Have on a Deserted Island

You Need Lures that Go Where the Fish Swim.

I once had a friend with a radio show called the Captain Mel Berman show. It was a Saturday morning call-in format broadcast on local AM that at-its-peak was drawing some 60,000 listeners between the hours of 6 and 10 am. Over the years, the show became the cornerstone of our local sport fishing community, and being close friends with him allowed me to watch how he put the show together. We would often fish on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Mel had some standby topics. At least twice a year, show prep was deciding using an age-old and always favorite question as the basis for the Saturday discussions. So what was the secret question that ensured a winner show with a ton of callers anxious to provide their insight? Simple and always the same, the question was "What are your three favorite lures?" To add some flavor, he would change the question to read "If you were stuck on a deserted island and only could have three lures with you, what would they be?"

The six phone lines coming into the station would be lit up by 6:10, and stayed lit up until 9:50, when he told callers to stop trying; that they were not going to get through until (maybe) next week. The show - and the questions like that that made it so popular for and about the old man on the other end of the phone every Saturday morning was so popular it literally took three months for listeners to believe it was true that he had died, and that there would be no more Captain Mel on the radio every weekend.

The first time he decided to make the "Three Lure Question" the topic of the show on the Saturday show, I listened with a good degree of interest to the incoming calls. It was before the incredible growth of soft plastics like the now famous Gulp! Baits, and was still early in the life of something still one of our major favorites; the DOA shrimp and later the DOA Bait Buster - a proven producer for both tarpon as well as the shark-like cobia that cruise our waters in the springtime. Lures were simple, selections weren't unlimited, and there were no $17 swimming plugs. There were anglers, and they were lured by lures even then, but they weren't seventeen bucks. Rods weren't seventeen bucks much less the lures they threw.

spanish mackerel lure

This story isn't about how old I am or how wise old guys like me are. It is a story about those three favorite lures. What three would you choose? Fifty years on the water, combined with those Saturday shows, and now this website, have given me a good idea of what three lures I would have.

Your Favorite Lures - Not Lure Manufacturers

There are as many lure manufacturers as there are fish. Let me take that back. I live in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Although it is the Florida Keys that have somehow purchased the brand "SportFishing Capital of the World", the truth is that they are -- while beautiful beyond belief and certainly a step above us on the sports-focus chain of existence - a subset of fisheries. There are as many fisherman here as there are there. There are almost as many species here as there are there. And some of them - snook in particular - are considerably heftier here in Tampa Bay then they are in Islamorada or Key Largo. That said, I could name twenty targets of recreational and commercial anglers. I couldn't name as many lure manufacturers as easily, but I bet there are way more than twenty. Way more than one lure-maker for every species they're built to catch. So forget naming manufacturers when you first decide on your three must-haves. Think of three categories, not three manufacturers. Because in the real world, you are not on a desert island. You are up the street from a tackle shop (not Walmart, please. Support the independent near you!!!!).

Lures come into three categories based on what they do when you cast them out and they begin to return to you. You hope, of course, that a hungry, angry, or just stupid fish decides to grab it and try to eat it. To make sure that happens, you have to make sure you cast the lure where the fish happens to be. Where they are physically, as in where they can be found on a map, can be determined by knowing the theory of the three "P"s of fishing. They are Pockets, Points, and Passes; fish are normally in one or all of those places. There are plenty of other places too, where you can find fish. Sea walls come to mind, as do residential canals. But you could sort-of describe a dead-end residential canals as a pocket. And a seawall is often part of a point or on the sides of a pass of some sorts.

515 pockets

Pockets, which we talked about in another story, can be holes in a grass flat where baits think they can hide from hungry snook. To a certain extent they can, but snook are efficient predators that can force them out of their shelter. Where you place a lure should simulate the level at which likely baits are appearing in the "water column" or the depth from the surface. Topwater lures bounce on the surface, swimming lures in the middle, and jigs and soft-baits normally on the bottom. That is the first three categories you need to establish before choosing the manufacturer that creates one kind or another.

So where you are going to cast your lure or bait is pretty much determined, right? You are going to make it a point to fish where the fish actually live and eat. There is something else to think about, though.

Where in the water are the fish? Are they grinding around on the bottom eating crabs, or are they swimming fast in the middle of the water "column" (an imaginary column of water that is split into ten foot thick slices.) or are they grabbing very frightened sardines or finger-mullet from the surface, where the fish want to fly in the air to escape the predators below? It is those three different behaviors that should determine your three "favorite" lures.

  • At least one lure that bounces, crawls, or skips around on the bottom. Most of the time fish are feeding on the bottom, and almost any fish will eat something bouncing on the bottom.
  • At least one lure that swims like a slightly-injured fish in the middle of the water column.
  • At least one lure that splashes around on the surface.

Bottom Lures

More than half the time, fish eat things off of the bottom. Even fish that eat only other fish often find those other fish where they feel safe" which is near the bottom or near walls or near structure that is attached to the bottom. Lures that work on the bottom are called jigs. You need at least one, but preferably more than one jig in your tackle box.

Jigs and soft baits, which come in a vast selection of sizes, shapes, colors, smells, and patterns are primarily meant to creep, crawl, and bounce around the bottom. Of all lures, if I had to pick one category, it would be these. More fish eat off the bottom or near it more of the time than any other. Even open-water predators will, at times, grab something that comes close enough to them, looks tasty enough, or just aggravates them.

Swimming Lures

Swimming lures are lures that sink if you do not start pulling them, and when you do start retrieving them they will stay under the water as long as you retrieve them slowly. You should always try to retrieve lures slowly anyway, except in feeding frenzies - like lady fish schools, or bluefish schools, or schools of jack, or schools of tuna. Then you can rip that lure as fast as you can. When you are fishing most lures slow is good. That's true for the bottom the middle, or the top of the water column.

Swimming lures might swim just under the surface, nearly floating until you reel them in, causing them to swim slightly below the surface (MirroDines do this), or they might dive deep, like this deep swimming Mirrolure. But whichever part of the water column they're designed to swim in, lures designed to simulate bait fish are the second of the three categories. Arguably they're the most difficult to master, and the ones least likely to draw a strike except under certain conditions. We'll be talking about each category of lure in depth in the series connected to this story.

Bubbling Topwater Lures

Topwater lures make noise, they are really fun to use, because when a fish hits a topwater lure they often do it in eye-opening blasts. If you have never fished a topwater, you should try it. And if the water is very calm, but you see flashes and birds that are pretty active, you might consider tossing a topwater. They do produce - particularly trout. That said, I have caught 36" snook on topwaters in the middle of the day in three feet of clear water, too. So you never know; fishing rules are meant to be proven wrong.

Another one from the Mirrolure company, this surface lure has propellers that cause the lure to bubble as it swims. They're destructive at the right times and under the right conditions -- like calm water where baitfish are being chased to the surface by hungry predators. Of the three lure categories, they are -- without a doubt (at least to the author) the most exciting and fun lures of all. Slightly less productive then bottom-bouncing jigs, when they work they work well, often drawing strike-after-strike as you retrieve them.

Like all three categories of lures we're talking about here, what it does is more important then who makes it, and even, to some extent, what color it happens to be. Color is a factor that changes under changing environmental conditions, with one working far better on some days then another. But if the fish are hitting topwaters, they're gonna hit any color you throw at them most of the time. Knowing more about topwater lures will teach you to know more about the fish that eat them, when they eat them, and why they eat them. Know the fish and you will know more about our love for them.

The Online Fisherman

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