Wooden Fishing Lures | Popular Woodworking Magazine

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Turning the body is half the fun.

When I picked up Silvio Calabi’s book Ancient fishing tackle, my interests in fishing, antiques and woodturning met head-on: now I like to make wooden fishing lures. I know this passion is somewhat irrational, because plastic baits are plentiful and cheap and catch fish. I make my own wooden lures because it’s fun. I love recreating old patterns as much as exploring my theories of catching fish. I like to try out unusual shapes and unique finishes. And I can report firsthand that catching a fish with a lure I made myself is a real pleasure. You should try it for yourself.

I like to fish for bass, moss and pike, all of which are known to feed on the surface, so most of the lures I make are designed to jump to the surface of the water. These “top water” lures can be made with almost any type of wood that holds screws well. (There is nothing worse than having a trophy fish run away because it was able to snatch the screw that anchored it to the bait!) I usually work with poplar and start with a 1-1 / 2 square. “to 1-3 / 4” blocks. My bass lures range from 2 “to 5” in length, while my musky and pike lures tend to be 5 “to 11” long.

Use your imagination

1. Most baits have a simple shape, so it’s easy to turn them with a miter chisel or detail / chuck gouge. Cylinders and elliptical shapes like this are typical. Sizes vary depending on the type of fish you want to catch.

Usually, spinning a wooden decoy is basic spindle work, but the shapes you can experiment with are almost endless. Imitate a minnow or minnow, lobster, frog, mouse, insect, bird, eel, worm or snake. Sometimes the twist doesn’t look like anything specific from nature.

2. Embellish the basic shape to create variations. The addition of a head and unique details, such as lips and a necklace (the little pearls on either side of the head), show an individuality not always found on factory-made lures.

Most bait shapes are turned between centers with basic tools (Photos 1 and 2). If you are experienced with a miter chisel, you can complete most of the work yourself.

3. Add a hollow collar to create additional noise and surface noise. The hollow shape causes the lure to pop as it is pulled over the water. To hollow out the collar, cut with an oblique chisel, long point down.

Use the skew or a 1/2 ″ round tip scraper for emptying, a detail that gives the lure more “action” (Photo 3).

4. Create a lure with an offset snout by activating two different centers. Turn the body with the blank centered between the ends. Then compensate for the stock mounting point at the end of the tailstock to rotate the nose.

Use a 3/8 ″ detail / spindle gouge and rotate from two different centers to create a lure with an unusual face (Photo 4).

5. Create your own designs. I call this “Leapin ‘Lacer” lure. The twist is just a squat-shaped ellipse with hollowed-out collars at both ends. But as you will see, the completed bait will look like a tasty frog to a largemouth bass.

Refer to old bait shapes you find attractive or use your imagination to come up with your own shapes (Photo 5).

6. To reinforce the bait, drill completely and attach the hook to a solid line. Install the bait into a slide chuck and drill from the end of the tailstock, using a long bit and a Jacobs-type chuck.

Whatever the shape, chances are you’ll be done turning it before you know it, so you might as well turn another one (Photo 6).

7. Most lures take ten minutes or less to spin, so it makes sense to spin multiple, whether they are unique or all the same. Leave the rubbish attached for now – it makes painting a lot easier.

To eliminate any possibility that a fish will tear the hook, attach it to a line that passes through the bait (Photo 7). Drill a 1/8 ″ hole through the bait from one end to the other. Glue into 1/8 ”aluminum tubes to accommodate the wire. Then insert the wire and create loops at both ends to tie the bait and to mount the hook. This through yarn also creates a nice base for adding helices, beads, and other details.

What the fish want

8. Here is the lazy man’s painting method: just hold the brush and let the lathe do all the work. Run the lathe very slowly and dilute the paint so that it flows evenly over the bait.

As far as I know, fish do not appreciate woodturning, as such. To attract fish, wooden baits are usually painted and almost always have eyes.

9. Lower the waste material on both ends after the paint has dried. Then separate. This step reduces the time it takes to produce finished surfaces at the ends.

Historically, lures were brush painted, dipped, marbled or sprayed. Red was often used as a primary color or for detail, in the belief that predatory fish saw it as blood, a sign of injury. Examples decorated with genuine frog skin have also been documented. All of these options are open to the contemporary lure maker (except, perhaps, the frog skin option). I usually use a variation of the brush painting method to apply the paint while the bait is still on the lathe (Photos 8 and 9). Epoxy paints are the most durable, but they take a long time to dry. This makes applying multiple colors a lengthy process, so I often use acrylic paints for color coats, followed by a coat of clear epoxy paint for durability.

10. Flattening one end on a sanding disc turns the twist I call “Leapin ‘Lacer” into a frog, especially from the perspective of a wide mouth.

Another option is to carve or sand the turned body, before or after painting, to make the bait attract more attention than the fish moving on the surface of the water. Carving the end of a bait’s head will cause it to wobble or dive, just like digging on a lathe. A little sanding can drastically change the look of a transformed bait (Photo 10). Viewing historical examples is a great way to get ideas for further forms (see Sources).

Eyes Really Make a Difference – Ask anyone who throws a lure. The eyes can be painted or stippled, or they can be small nails or nails that are driven in and then painted. You can also buy eyes – made of glass or plastic, with adhesive backs or with stems to glue into a hole, or even “doll eyes” with loose pupils for that “come here” look. Whatever your choice, adding eyes gives expression to your lure and can help hook the big one.

Please the consumer

11. Attach eyelets, hooks, weights, and other hardware to complete each lure. Outsmarting fish isn’t always easy, so use both your experience and your imagination. And don’t hesitate to change any hardware that doesn’t seem to work.

There is an almost endless array of options for mounting hooks and adding the finishing touches that make a piece of wood irresistible to fish (Photo 11). You can buy hardware online, remove it from an old bait, or make it yourself out of metal or plastic. You can keep it simple or go all the time by installing fur or feather wrapped hooks, eyelets, diver lips, spinners, propellers, fins, collars, glass and metal beads, threads, spacers, cup washers, weights and split rings . The bottom line throughout the entire bait manufacturing process is to think like a hungry fish, because ultimately, the hungry fish will be your biggest critic.


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