Wise anglers never participate in piscatorial pursuits with only one kind of lure in their tackle boxes. Some try and have noted success on occasions, but over the long term it is the versatile anglers who are the most successful in a verity of fishing conditions.
While holding this truth to be self-evident, we thought it would be interesting to ask some of the most experienced anglers we know what lure they would choose to fish with if they were limited to just one.
We also thought it would be informative if we got them to reveal some of their techniques for fishing the lure of their choice.
The first person we interviewed was noted bass fisherman Charlie Brown. He has not fished for anything but bass in many years. When asked what lure he would select, he did hesitate.
"If I am fishing for largemouth bass, which is what I fish for most of the time, it would be a jig-n-pig," he replied. "And it doesn^t matter what time of year I^m fishing. A lot of people only think of it as a cold water lure, but not me.
"What I like about it is you can fish it a lot of different ways. I^ll throw it in trash right up on the shore and work it right through that with a lot less snags than other lures.
"I fish it through that thick stuff whether it is weeds or brush by holding my rod high and just moving the tip a little at a time. The idea is to get it to move along the bottom just six to eight inches. That^s hard to do with a lure because under water it tends to move more than the rod tip. That^s because of the buoyancy of the lure. You got to keep as much slack out of the line as possible so you can quickly set the hook when you have a strike. Most of the time, bass don^t keep a jig-n-pig in their mouth for more than a couple seconds. I try to detect the strike and set the hook before they figure out they don^t like the taste or feel."
When largemouths are in deep water on drops, Charlie will work the jig-n-pig in much the same manner. The deeper the water the harder it is to keep the slack out of the line.
"You^ll never keep all of the slack out of the line when the fish are on the drops, " he said. "The idea is to keep it to a minimum. The more slack the harder it is to feel the hit and the more time it takes to set the hook."
If he should locate suspended fish, he will go to a lighter jig. Usually, 3/8 ounce. If he has located suspended bass on his depth finder, he will anchor right over the fish and just lift the lure every 10 or 15 seconds. Bass are more likely to come up for a lure than go down for one, he contended.
If he locates suspended fish in exceptionally clear water, he will anchor off of the fish and cast to them. He pointed out that is really tricky fishing because most of the time you will see the line moving one way or another rather than feel the strike. Under these conditions, if you wait to feel a strike you will not catch very many bass, he said.
In cold water, Charlie noted that the keys to success with a jig-n-pig are the speed of the lure and detection of the strike, which may be just a slight tick .
"I don^t think you can fish a jig-n-pig too slow in cold water," he said. "You just want to move the lure a couple inches at a time. If you feel anything, no matter how slight, get the slack out and set the hook. It may be a snag or grass, but you can^t take a chance. I like to tell everybody that you have to feel the bass looking at the lure to be successful in cold weather. That^s a slight exaggeration, but not by much."
While different color jigs and pork rinds are available to anglers, Charlie keeps it simple. He uses brown jigs and brown pork with orange spots. He thinks it looks like a crawdad to bass and they will eat crawdads anytime they can find one.
John Arve, a retired fisheries biologist now living in Cumberland, Maryland has a much different approach when selecting the one lure he would pick if he was limited to one. He would pick the shallow swimming Rapala.
"I know that there are times when you are extremely handicapped when fishing with a Rapala," Arve said and added, "But I have caught bass on it every month of the year. And it will catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass. When I was growing up on the Potomac River, I caught a lot of smallmouth on it. And back them, this lure was so popular that the stores kept a waiting list and you could buy one when your name got to the top of the list. Not many lures have been that popular over the years.
"It is an extremely easy lure to fish. All you have to do is cast it out and crank it in. Of course, you can do some things to make it even more effective. The faster you retrieve it the deeper it goes, but it doesn^t go more than two feet deep. Besides varying speed, you can fish stop-and-go patterns that will really get bass excited at times.
"When bass are feeding on the surface in late spring, early in the mornings during the summer and in early fall, Raplas can be worked as a surface lure. Just cast them out and let them sit still until the ripples go away and then just twitch the lures. Be ready for an explosion because if there is a bass around he will have a tough time resisting this lure.
"A lot of people say it is not very good as a winter lure, but I^ve had a lot of good days in the Eastern Shore rivers, particularly the Pocomoke, with Raplas. I remember one day during a warm spell in February when I had one of my greatest days on the Pocomoke. One of those days you never forget. I lost count of the bass I caught and released.
"I picked up another little trick over the years that makes Raplas a little more versatile. You can only do this when fishing from a boat, but if you stick your rod straight down in the water so it is submerged almost up to the reel, you can get the lure to run about eight feet deep. That trick will put bass in the boat when the normal shallow running will not."
Arve said he has no preference for either of the old standard patterns. He will use either the gold or silver sided lures, depending on which one he grabs from the tackle box.
The next fisherman we approached was Earl Shelsby, a veteran outdoor writer from Baltimore. His response was immediate.
"One lure," he replied. "That^s easy. I don^t care whether you are talking about freshwater or saltwater. A bucktail, or jig, is a lure I use more than half of the time anyway. That is because I consider it the most versatile. I can catch fish on the surface or on the bottom or anywhere in between by controling either the size of the lure or the speed of the retrieve.
"And by selecting the size I can catch any kind of fish from panfish like crappie or bluegills up to really big fish like trophy size striped bass. The biggest striper I ever caught on a bucktail was just over 30 pounds. Freshwater fish that I have caught on bucktails include largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, crappie, bluegills, rainbow trout, brown trout and yellow perch. I^ve even caught a couple nice channel catfish on jigs.
"When it comes to saltwater, just about every kind of fish the swims in the Chesapeake can be caught on bucktails. Besides stripers, that includes weakfish, bluefish, channel bass, and Spanish mackerel. I^ve even caught a couple flounder on bucktails while casting for rockfish."
Earl pointed out one of his favorite ways to use a bucktail was when chasing schools of breaking rockfish in the fall or anytime they decided to feed on the surface. He said the great thing about this lure was that you could catch the fish while they were churning the water on top and then go right down to the bottom to catch them when they went down.
"My favorite size bucktail when casting for rockfish is 1/4 ounce and my favorite color is white head, and green feathers in a white tail," he said. "I^m not too particular about the shape of the head. Just about every jig maker has his own shape, but I do care about the color. Bucktails with green feathers are not easy to find anymore, but plain white hair will work fine for rockfish."
Earl likes to cast bucktails to breaking rockfish with a light-medium action spinning tackle. The rod should be limber enough to create a whipping action that causes the lure to make about three feet dashes through the water. To catch fish on the surface, you try to start your retrieve about the same time the lure hits the water, he pointed out.
When surface feeding rockfish go down, he lets the bucktail sink to the bottom and uses the same rod action to work the lure back to the boat.
He also noted that trolling bucktails is one of the oldest ways of catching rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay. There is almost no limit to the different sizes and color patterns that bucktails come in. Generally speaking, the larger the fish the larger the bucktail, he said.
"Without a doubt my favorite way to catch weakfish is to add a red plastic worm to a 3/8 or 1/2 ounce bucktail and work them along the bottom," he said. "This best done when you locate schools of weakies in deep water and are able to drift over the fish. Everyone has there own peculiar way of working bucktails for weakies. I fish straight down from the boat and just lift the lure about a foot off the bottom every 20 or s0 seconds as the both drifts along. You need at least a medium action rod for this kind of fishing."
Earl said someone could wite a book just on the different ways to fish jigs.
He said that bucktails were his favorite smallmouth bass lure and in some situations was the best lure for largemouths, too. He uses brown or black bucktails for bass.
"To me there isn^t a better way to work a gravel bar for bass than with one of these dark colored jibs," he said. "And it doesn^t take a brain surgeon to do it. All you need to do is cast to the gravel bar, let the lure sink to the bottom and just make a slow steady retrieve. The gravel catching the jig head will give it all the action it needs to catch bass.
"The bucktail is more than just a lure to work the bottom for bass. You can fish it at just about any depth by varying the speed. But when I fish it off the bottom, I like to use a twitching wrist action to give the lure a fluttering action. This is a good technique when bass are actively feeding."
He pointed out that in contrast to using larger bucktails for lunker stripers, one could go smaller for the various panfish in Maryland. Crappie and rock bass are two species that feed largely on minnows, which jigs can be an imitation, and readily hit these lures. When after panfish, he uses a 1/8 ounce bucktail. The lures can be used under a bobber to control the depth. Sometimes, when fishing schools of crappie in the center, he will work the lures up through the schools.
Outdoor writer Joe Reynolds does most of his fishing with a fly rod, but gets a big kick out of chasing bluefish when they are feeding on the surface in either the ocean off Ocean City or in the Chesapeake Bay.
"This is great sport, " Joe said. "One of the great thrills in fishing is for a large fish to crash a surface lure and I don^t know of a fish that does it anymore viciously than a bluefish. When I run into this kind of action, I go to my tackle box for a lure that has been there for at least 25 years --- the Atom Popper. I don^t mean it is the same lure, but the same kind of lure.
"When bluefish are churning the water to a froth, I don^t think it matters too much what lure you have on your line as long as it can stand up to the teeth of these fish. But I like to use the Popper to stimulate blues to hit on the surface.
"A lot of times I would read fish deep at the Jack Spot, off Ocean City, and would just start casting over the fish provoking them to the surface from the depths. When one of these ten pound or larger bluefish crashes a lure from the depths, you have experienced the ultimate.
"It takes a lot of jerking wrist action and a fast retrieve to give the Popper the action you want to wake up the bluefish . If a fish misses the lure, don^t stop your retrieve as you would in fresh water surface lures. Keep the lure moving. I^ll even speed up my retrieve, if possible. Don^t worry. If a bluefish wants to catch a lure it will."
Ray Anseaume^s favorite lure is the plastic worm.
"Since my favorite fishing is largemouth bass fishing, and I don^t know of a lure that has caught more bass over the years than the plastic worm, it has to be my favorite," the late director of Santee-Cooper Country said right before his death.
"There are times when bass are aggressive and can be caught anywhere on any kind of lure, but day in and day out most largemouths spend most of their time close to the bottom and there is no lure that can be worked effectively in the lairs of the bass as the plastic worm.
"I really believe that the plastic worm would have wiped out largemouth bass from the face of the earth if a lot of bass fishermen hadn^t started practicing catch-and-release."
Ray said the plastic worms have changed a lot since they were introduced on the market as hard rubbery imitations of nightcrawlers in a limited number of colors, but the technique for fishing them as not changed as much,
"Basically, you crawl the worm over the bottom in the deep drop offs or snags or snarls of shoreline cover or you try to make bass thing a big juicy worm has fallen in the water," Ray stated.
"You want the crawling action to be as natural as possible. I will move the worm along the bottom by raising my rod tip slowly with a little twitching action. You have to stay ready for the strike and when it comes, drop your rod, take up the slack and set the hook. No more of that letting the bass run with the lure for a while. The longer you let him run the more the chance he will spit the lure out. As soon as a bass picks up a plastic worm, the hook is in position to be set.
"When bass are hanging close to stumps, under trees along a bank, in blow downs or around piers I will fish plastic worms on the fall. By that I mean, getting the lure as close into the main part of the cover and just let it flutter to the bottom. If a bass is there, he will usually catch it on the fall.
"Sometimes you will detect a strike by seeing the line move one way or the other or by not sinking as it should. Other times you will feel the fish as soon as you get the slack out of the line after a cast. In either case, be ready to set the hook as soon as you can."