Anglers have been fishing with lures since the beginning of the sport. Today, lure manufacturing is a multi-million dollar business in the United States alone. Visit any store that sells fishing tackle and you will see what I am talking about. Rows upon rows of lures tempt all of us, that is until you see the prices. It could cost you anywhere from $5 to $20 for a lure. All of them are the “must have” lures, meaning you aren’t a real angler unless you have these latest and greatest lures in your tackle box.
In my opinion, some of these lures are designed to catch more anglers than they are fish. The angler doesn’t need to fall prey to the advertisement gods. Thirty years or so ago, many of the popular fishing lures were made out of wood. Our forefathers often spent
time carving those little things they needed, including fishing lures. Today a great many of these lures, despite the company name on the package, are made from plastic and are made in China. With a little time and effort, you can make your own just like they did back in the day, and save some money doing it.
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I am a person who never throws anything away. You just never know when you will need it later, which includes scrap pieces of wood. Many of my go-to lures for freshwater fishing are minnow-style baits and plugs. Minnow-style baits are those that actually look like fish. Plugs are lures with concave fronts that make a popping noise when retrieved. For saltwater, I like large plug-type lures or lures that closely mimic the type of food that the fish are eating. For the most part, saltwater fish like large lures, but with that being said, the principles of carving the lures is the same whether it is for fresh or saltwater. It all starts with the wood.
Supply Scavenger Hunt
All wood is not created equal. To carve lures, you need a wood that floats well and is easy to work with. Around here that usually means white pine. Hardwoods such as oak and maple, while they will work, are very hard to carve and thus I would suggest that you stay away from them if possible. Pine is readily available almost everywhere, but if all you have are scrap pieces of oak then use them. Think like the old timers who used whatever they had on hand. Old broom and mop handles work well for carving the larger plugs. A large, 0.75-inch or larger dowel will also work. Around my home, there never seems to be a shortage of pieces of old 2x4s. They are the perfect width and they are usually made of pine, which makes them perfect for carving.
There are specialty tools out there for the wood carver, but I prefer to use the same tools that those who came before me used—a pencil, a pocketknife, a saw and some sandpaper. With that being said, a Dremel tool will cut down on your carving time. I’m what you would call “old school,” so I prefer to use all non-powered hand tools when I carve.
If you want to add color to your lures, then some model paint and some paint sealer will be needed. Once the lure(s) is completed, you will need some small eye screws, split rings and hooks. The size of each of these will depend on the size of the lure you are making and the fish you intend to go after.
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How To Carve Your Own
What follows is the step-by-step process in carving your own lures.
1. Gather all of your supplies. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a project and not having everything that you need.
2. Whether your wood is a piece of scrap pine board, an old 2×4 or a piece of a broom handle, cut it about 2 inches longer than you will need. This extra length will give you plenty of wiggle room.
3. Take your pencil and draw out the basic shape of the lure that you want to carve. For the sake of the photos, I went over my pencil marks with a marker as well. You may want to do this anyway as it makes everything easier to see.
4. Now the fun begins. Let your imagination and drive take it from here. I have easily carved a lure in one day, while others have taken me a week to complete. I use my lure-carving time as a way to relax. I always carry a pocketknife and a piece of wood in my truck, and often while sitting in fish or deer camp I will find myself carving. Despite your best plans, sometimes you just never know what will happen once you start carving. The wood may split or there may be a hidden knot or other defect in the wood.
The old timers say that the wood has a mind of its own, and they are correct. The wood will do what the wood will do. If your first plan fails, don’t quit. Just go with it and see what happens. Your minnow-style lure just may turn into a bass plug that’ll help you land a whopper.
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5. Now that you have your lure(s) carved, it is time to finish them. Start by sanding out the rough spots and knife marks. I like to start with #60 grit paper and work my way down to #120 grit. Sand it until you get the wood surface smooth. The smoother you get it, the easier it will to finish.
6. Put one eye screw into either end of the lure. This will allow you to hang the lure or give you something to grab while applying the protective finish.
7. Apply a primer or wood sealer to the lure and allow it to dry. This will help the lure stand up to exposure to water. This step is very important if you plan on using the lure in saltwater. A primer will also make the finish coats of paint go on smoother. I like to use white, water-based acrylic paint as my primer coat. This paint is readily absorbed into the wood, is easy to clean up and the white is a very good base when adding other colors. I usually apply three or four coats of white before I add other colors.
8. Using the paint of your choice (stay away from water-based latex paint), apply multiple light coats instead of one heavy coat. Allow the piece to dry thoroughly between coats. If you are painting multiple colors, do one color at a time, allowing each one to dry before applying the next. Once the paint is dry, I like to apply a clear marine sealant to the lure. This additional step helps protect the lure from damage. If you are using a water-based paint, make sure that your sealer is water-based as well. Adding an oil-based sealer to a water-based paint will usually lead to a big mess. If there is any doubt, test it on a piece of scrap wood before putting it on the lure.
9. Put on the rest of your eye screws. Attach the split ring to the eye of the screw and then attach the hooks to the split ring. If the lure is to be used in saltwater, I would suggest all metal parts that you use should be made out of stainless steel. Stainless steel is a little more expensive, but it could save you money in the long run as stainless steel will not be damaged by the saltwater. Go fish!
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This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN ™ 2015 issue #174. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.