Carve out your own piece of the action.

Don’t recognize this one? Neither will the fish, which is good!

Among my half dozen honeyholes on Charlotte Harbor, there is a deepwater point I love to fish. I did not stop there, however, on my last trip, since another boater was in place, a man in a black baseball cap and bright green tee shirt, reeling in a fish.

Would he wear out my spot? Overfish it? Would the snook and redfish become too wary of the jigs, plugs, and plastics he’s using?

Frankly, I was not worried because I have a secret weapon: homemade lures.

In 2012, researchers for the University of Florida’s Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences conducted an experiment on a bass lake near Gainesville, catching, releasing and tagging fish, using two top-selling bass baits.

Catching 260 fish over a period of 4 weeks, they found “strong evidence” that bass learn to recognize frequently presented lures, which they then decline to strike.

But fish will not recognize a lure you’ve carved and painted yourself.

Collection of homemade plugs.

I started making my own decades ago while living up north, where the fishing season is only four months long. It was a brutally long winter when I cured cabin fever by crafting my own lures, discovering what fly tiers have known over a century: that nothing is more fulfilling for a sportsman than fooling your prey with something you’ve created.

You don’t need expensive equipment. The average homeowner already has the requisite tools such as a portable drill, a hand saw or electric jig saw, utility knife, sand paper, metal file, long nose pliers, and wire cutters.

For materials, I bought balsa and pinewood dowels in various diameters, which I cut to 2-, 3- and 5-inch blanks, ready to be carved, rigged, and painted.

Treble hooks, fish eyes, split rings, diving lips, and rattles are available from multiple online vendors. In pre-internet days, I relied on the catalog from Herter’s, the original mail order house for the outdoors.

That first winter, I had so many surface and sinking lures hanging from nails on a joist in my basement, that I gave away dozens as Christmas gifts.

The others I tested the following June on my favorite waters, the Spider Lake chain in northwest Wisconsin, where a week of fishing produced as many muskie and bass strikes on homemade lures, as in the year before on store bought’s.

The writer’s work bench with tools, components, work in progress and finished plug.

Start out easy with a bag of soft balsa cutoffs sold at hobby shops. Whittle and sand a chunk till it’s the size and shape you want. Saw and dissect it lengthwise to insert a skeleton of wire with looped extensions for attaching the main fishing line and the treble hooks. Insert split shot for weight and balance, and press and glue the two sides back together. Resand, paint, and finish with a couple of coats of exterior polyurethane for a protective shell.

Granted, if you count hours of labor, homemades might cost $100 a copy. But based on just materials, each masterpiece is under a buck. Creative possibilities abound.

I made half a dozen chuggers from wooden clothespins that made great conversation pieces, though they never caught much. Then there were my poppers with “brunette” tails, cuttings I pilfered from my wife’s “fall,” a kind of wig that young women wore back in the day in between trips to the salon. Marianne wasn’t happy, but the bluegill and bass couldn’t get enough of them.

The best news is that homemade plugs have been proving popular with ladyfish, snook and speckled seatrout in Charlotte Harbor. Though I’ve not conducted any formal, university style assessment, I can personally attest that after decades of seeing jigs with plastic tails, gold spoons, and walk-the-dog style surface lures, Charlotte Harbor’s fishery is eager for more exotic fare.

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine October 2016

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