Monday, January 26, 2009

Do fish get wise to new lures?

Blaine Carpenter
There is a brand new sensational lure just about every year.

Last year it was Berkley Gulp Alive artificial leeches and worms. The year before it was the deep-diving Rapala Tail Dancer. The year before that it was the ChatterBait swimming jig.

It's still too early to tell if Gulp Alive has staying power but we've already seen the other two fade to mediocrity with Red Lake fishermen.

So what gives? How can a lure be so popular that there is a waiting list for it at tackle stores one summer and then languish on the shelves the next?

Was its desirability among anglers just due to its newness or did it really catch more fish than other lures for awhile and then its success dropped off?

It could be a bit of both.

There aren't many rules in fishing but one of them is that whatever lure you use WITH CONFIDENCE will catch fish. It makes sense that fish only bite the lure you are using. (They don't, after all, hang on to the gunwale and suggest you try something else in your tackle box!)

If you always use 'Ol Lucky, you always catch fish with it.

But that tendency to stick with the familiar doesn't explain why new lures become such hits. In fact it would work against anglers even trying something new.

Of course we're also continually on the lookout for devices that will give us ever-better fishing. Witness the continual evolution of fish finders plus electronic color-selection devices, underwater cameras and the like.

We're not averse to trying new lures, just to sticking with them for very long.

New lures that become sensations then had to be successful almost immediately.

With that said it would seem that new lures really do catch more fish, at least at first.

Of course, a few continue to work well but our experience is that most quickly lose their effectiveness. I don't know how to explain that phenomenon other than to conclude that the fish eventually become wise to them. They learn that these new baits are fakes.

And if fish can learn this with one model of lure then why don't they do the same with all lures?
It's a good question.

One reason might be that many tried-and-true lures appeal differently to fish than does the new model.

For instance, spoons and spinners, which continue to work year after year for anglers who cast for northern pike, don't look anything like a minnow or a fish. Instead they just offer a flash and a glimpse of color. Somehow that triggers a strike response in northern pike. A lot of time these lures work better than minnow imitations that are ultra realistic. It's almost as if the vagueness of the presentation given by spoons and spinners is the key to their success. Maybe the action of the lure means fish never get a good look at them.

Minnow imitations work for northern pike too, especially when trolling. But it's the new minnow imitations that seem to lose their effectiveness with time. Still there are some minnow imitators that work year after year for casters too. These would include floating and suspending models as well as some divers of Rapala, Storm, Cotton Cordell -- virtually every manufacturer.

For walleyes, the old standbys are the leadhead jig with live bait and the single-hook-single-spinner with beads also fished with live bait. With these two lures it's obvious that the main attractant is the live bait. The brightly colored leadhead might call attention to the live bait as does the spinner.

Last year many anglers used Gulp Alive instead of live bait on these two lures with great success, at least early in the season. By fall live bait worked much better. It remains to be seen this season if the fish were catching on to the Gulp or if there was some other explanation.

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