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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
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.
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.
Use the skew or a 1/2 ″ round tip scraper for emptying, a detail that gives the lure more “action” (Photo 3).
Use a 3/8 ″ detail / spindle gouge and rotate from two different centers to create a lure with an unusual face (Photo 4).
Refer to old bait shapes you find attractive or use your imagination to come up with your own shapes (Photo 5).
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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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