Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chris catches fish on homemade lures

Wanting to take advantage of the incredible weather, I left the house a little early today, my sights set on the pond. My goal: fish exclusively with homemade lures, and catch some fish on them.

The first one I threw out was my first hand-carved lure; my imitation of a jitterbug. I took a spoon from Flaco's Tacos, broke off the spoon part, and screwed it in the front of the lure. I painted the wood with model paint, affixed the screw things that hold on the split rings (eyelets?) by screwing them in by hand, put on the hooks, and added eyes. I spent about 3 hours carving the little piece of balsa wood with an X-acto knife, sanding it down, and carving it some more. And I wasn't even wearing flannel!

My impression of a jitterbug
First cast, I was impressed by the action in the water. I don't understand why, but when I retrieved the lure, it weaved back and forth like a fish. I expected it to just come straight toward me, but I guess the spoon made it wiggle. I realize now it was an extra large spoon, which pushed a TON of water. Watching it, it sure seemed like a good thing- any fish anywhere NEAR the pond could have heard it splashing.

Second cast, it hit the water with a big splash, and I let it sit for a minute. I looked down at my reel, trying to make sure I didn't have any line issues, when I heard a splash. I looked back up at the pond, and my lure was gone! My line started moving. Fish on!!

I knew it was a largemouth- it broke the surface and I saw its profile. I estimated it was 10-12" long, not a huge fish but average for the pond. It was fighting strongly- although nothing like the smallies yesterday. My drag was lose, so as I tried to bring the fish in, I tightened my drag... Maybe that was a mistake. About five feet away from me, my homemade lure in its mouth, suddenly all the tension went away and the fish disappeared into the water. 

It took me a minute to understand what happened. I looked at the end of my line and all that was there was a screw and the spoon, no lure. The short screws in the soft wood were no match for this powerful fish! I stood there, ecstatic that my lure caught a fish, but devastated that a fish was swimming around with a bunch of wood and metal in his mouth, and I couldn't get it out for him. I hoped that  the lure would work itself out his mouth, I'd heard that could happen. I'll admit, I wasn't too happy to immediately lose a lure I'd spent so much time making... On the other hand, I could make more, and I had the knowledge that it would catch fish. Just have to make sure everything is very sturdy.

My torpedo imitation.... not awesome in the water
Next I tied on the other topwater lure I'd carved: this one was supposed to be my impression of a Hedon Torpedo. I carved it, glued aluminum foil, scratched in a scale pattern with a paper clip, added eyes, painted gills, and added the hardware. I'm not going to lie, it looked pretty bad in the water. The propellor blades on either end didn't actually hit the water- the wood sat too high in the water! After a few casts, I decided to go back to the drawing board on this one. The action was lame, if I were a fish I wouldn't be interested.

I unhooked the silver lure and put on another one: yesterday I got the idea to make a lure with a soda can. I cut out some metal from a Coke can in a rough fish-like shape, and ran a wire through it. I used an old torn tube jig for the tail, and again added a scale pattern using a paper clip. I wonder how much of this detail is lost on the fish and only matters to the fisherman.

This looked SWEET in the water
I thought it looked AWESOME in the water! I've never seen a baitfish dying, but this sure looked like how I'd imagine it. The tube jig tail provided an awesome action in the water, and the silver coke can added GREAT flash. I could see it reflecting from deep in the murky water. Only problem was the huge amount of weeds that collected on the lure! I'd have to try this one in open water for sure.

I snapped on my Jackson Pollock Rattler - my first beer cap lure. I drilled two holes in it, attached split rings, put 3 tiny split shots inside it, and folded the cap. Added a tiny treble hook, some nail polish, and that was it. This one did not look amazing in the water, it seemed too heavy... It fell very quickly; I wondered if less weight would provide better action. I wouldn't have to wait too long- I have a few beers a week and have been keeping all the caps.

my Jackson Pollock rattler
Now it was time for the lure I was really excited about- my impression of a Mepps Black Fury. The Black Fury had been very successful for me in lots of water, especially the pond. At the craft store on the weekend I scoured the aisles for bucktail, and ended up buying a pack of fake feathers. At least I think they're fake. I don't have a fancy fly-tying vice; I just held the hook in my hand while I used light wire to tie the feathers on the treble hook. I attached it to a split ring to the hook (the idea was to provide more movement to the dressing) then added the rest of the hardware. One of my new brass bodies, a red bead, a white quick-change clevis, a green bead; then I twisted the top of the wire into an eye.

On my commute I got the idea to use a sharpie to customize my lures, an easy way to draw patterns and add color. At home in my makeshift lure-making workshop (right next to my music-making workshop) I got the idea to take a black sharpie to a brass blade and make a Black Fury-style pattern. I think it looks pretty good!

This casted pretty well and looked incredible in the water. It only took a little pull to get the blade spinning, and the dressed hook moving around in the water even made me hungry. There was a lot of space for movement of the hardware along the wire shaft; I wondered how much that contributed to the great action of my lure. Standing on the pipe watching it move in the water, it seemed pretty similar to a Black Fury... maybe even better.

My imitation of a Mepps Black Fury
I reeled it in, and cast it out again, this time to the middle of the pond. It fell, and then, BAM! Fish on!

There was a giant splash, and from across the pond I saw the outline of a big fish. It was thrashing around, water flying everywhere. A few weeks ago I caught a giant LMB from around the same spot- on a Black Fury #3 - but this fish seemed different.... And I had a hunch on what it was....

My suspicion was confirmed as it broke the water again, and I saw the body of a catfish. A catfish! On a spinner! That I made! AWESOME!

I was giddy with excitement! I hoped it wouldn't break my lure; this was worth a picture for sure. I brought it close to the pipe, and I saw it was a big fish. A BIG fish. I am pretty good a lipping bass and treating them nice so as to not disturb their protective slime coating, but I really can't figure out how to deal with catfish. Especially one this big- I certainly couldn't hold it with one hand. Normally I do everything I can to treat the fish as nice and gently as possible- after all, I am the one who hooked them in the mouth with sharp metal! The least I can do is release them unharmed.

But with a catfish, particularly one this big, I'm at a loss. I suppose the best thing to do might be lay down some a wet garbage bag on the ground, and put the cat on that while I unhook it, perhaps wearing gloves to grip the fish. Today I didn't have a garbage bag, or even gloves. So, as carefully as I could, I placed the catfish on the wet grass, hoping to quickly unhook it, take a picture or two, and return it to the water.

20" catfish caught on my homemade lure
As soon as I set it down I saw that my lure was buried deep in its mouth. I was worried...! Added to that, the fish was incredibly feisty, and never really stopped jumping around. I took a rough measurement, using my rod as a guide.. I estimated this fish to be at least 20," and maybe even fatter than the 24" I caught two weekends ago at the same spot. Trying to hold the fish still between my legs- completely aware of the toxin-filled dorsal fin inches from my ankles, as well as the sharp treble hook inside the angry fish's mouth- I tried to unhook the beast. Tentatively putting my hand in its mouth, certainly not forgetting what happened the last time I put my hand in a catfish's mouth, I did everything I could do to get the lure out... to no avail. It looked like only one of the hooks was actually in the fish, but it was in there pretty good.

After spending a great deal of time trying to get my lure out of this amazing fish, I realized it just wasn't going to happen. The longer the fish was out of water, in the grass, its slime coming off, the worse off it would be. I hoped that the lure would work itself out. I was beside myself; I felt so bad for hurting this fish, and even worse for not being able to remove my hardware. I guess that's part of fishing- the goal of the sport is to grab fish with sharp objects; there's no way around that. I certainly don't want to inflict pain on fish for the sake of dishing out pain, but normally I can live with hooking fish in the lip. This case was not so cut and dry, and I felt bad.

As carefully as I could, I carried the fish over to the water, and put it in the water. Without any hesitation, it splashed and returned to the deep, my awesome lure attached.

I had to leave to catch my train. As I collapsed my rod and put my tackle box back in my backpack, I worried about my catfish friend... On the other hand, everything I've heard and read has told me catfish are survivors- maybe there was a good chance this one would be ok.

I made it, and it caught a fish!


  1. You should keep a pair of pliers or a hook extractor with you. I bet the cat is fine, you'd be surprised how long they can live out of water, they are much tougher than bass.
    Fish on brother.

  2. You got an awesome site! It definitely adds to the thrill of the catch when you bring them in with your own home made lures.


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