I've been fishing since I was 8 years old and began fishing artificials 25 years ago with Cotton Cordell's Big O crankbait and Bill Norman's Snatrix plastic worm. I've read hundreds of articles that gave reasons that fish attack lures, but my experience tells me that there are abstract qualities in a lure that cause it to be seen, tracked, and struck.
Anyone who believes that fish bite because of traditional reasons, (i.e. 'match-the-hatch' or simulate-the-forage), may be completely right based on their experiences and confidence in lures that support those concepts. But, there are too many lures that resemble nothing in nature and that catch fish when the forage looks like something else. The fish-catching characteristics of a lure that I want to relate to you, concern lure 'contrast-qualities' that account for it's year-after-year success.
A lure has basic physical qualities that appeal to a fish. Vibration is key when distance is a factor; visual is key when a lure moves close, especially in murky water. Fish biologists have confirmed that fish can track a living thing in the water by its lateral line even with eyes blinded. In nature, fish with cataracts have lived to healthy old ages via lateral line tracking. Lateral line tracking works because of a still object's reflected vibration, not inherent vibration. A bell is heard when rang. A submerged bell can be 'felt' by the lateral line's, nerve receptors that pick up sonar-like reflections off of its surfaces. Fish 'feel' the size, direction of movement and swimming characteristics of a living creature within a fish's detection range of many yards. Color in clear water supports what the lateral line 'knows' and stimulates a response similar to a hungry person looking at a steaming steak through a restaurant window. Keeping this in mind, I believe that the simple, elementary, physical characteristics of light (color or flash) and sound vibrations (inherent and reflected) make a lure effective.
Lures that look like the real thing may contain those characteristics, but unrealistic, looking lures that display abstract qualities of one or more of those characteristics will at times do as well or better. Color contrast, (not a specific realistic hue), is what gets their interest and provokes a bite. A drab colored (i.e. black) lure in drab colored water is drab, period, but it is the object's reflective surfaces, that indicate size and motion, that cause a 'contrast stimulus', and which causes it to stand out from other edible objects that may be near. The flash of tiny, silver flakes, a florescent color combo, a sound chamber, or a jerk-jerk-pause retrieve, may provide the needed 'contrast' to provoke a predatory strike. Again, I'm not talking about color, although color confirms shape, contrasts with the background and which is very important at dawn and dusk and in stained water. I've used many colors to catch fish in one day such a sapphire blue, ruby red, florescent colors, silver, grape, purple and black. The color didn't matter as long as the lure did! I use Fish Formula on my soft plastics because an oily surface reflects light better than a flat, dull surface. (I also like to smell anise on my hands.)
Realism applies to people, not fish. Some anglers fall for a realistic finish and spend big bucks for it. They want to believe that a fish is interpreting the visual image the same way a human does. HooDaddy worms don't represent any living thing, that can be proven, but they work superbly in all colors and sizes due to moving surfaces that enhance reflectivity and color and that are felt by a fish's lateral line. Try working a no-weight, Texas rigged, 6" Hoo across matted weed or pads. The fish will target the 6" lure without seeing it and will repeatedly hit that lure until it 'kills' it. Note, it can't see it, but it feels its bulk and creature-characteristics, (kind of like when you 'get the creeps'). Compare the hackles of a dog that go up when it see something it doesn't like but would like to kill or attack and fish's dorsal fin as it goes up just before it attacks.
'Contrast' characteristics in a lure, are what I look for before buying it. If it looks like the real thing, great, but it must reflect light and color a certain way that is enhanced by the lure's action and inherent or reflected sound . A Rapala that swims in a steady retrieve is not natural or realistic. Fish do not 'wobble'. A twitch or jerk-and-pause retrieve simulates a dying minnow being attacked. The Raplala's 'realism' is in its flashes of reflected light and the water dimpling as it floats to the surface and not what the lure looks like physically. What the lure and angler causes to happen, namely realistic light-flashes and water disturbances, provoke the fish's bully response. The gliding action of a small Fin S Fish on a 1/16 oz. jig head, is exactly the way a minnow looks gliding or darting through the water. My point is that both lures and many types of retrieves applied to those lures will catch fish, and for the same basic reasons.
The major point I'm trying to get across is that a successful angler can find 'triggering contrasts' that will provoke strikes. Total realism cannot be exactly achieved, but an abstraction of life, (like a painting), can be, artificially, and exaggeration through light, sound, and motion combine to compel a fish to bite even if hunger is not a key reason.
re: Understand The Principles of Artificial Lures
Thanks for the article, Frank. Finally a common sense text that told (and taught) me more than all the articles on artificial lures I read so far together. Regards, Mikhail
re: Understand The Principles of Artificial Lures
Great article! It confirms some of my observations. I love bass fishing on artificial minnows (hard baits). I noticed that bass go crazy when I keep twitching the minnow as if it were lost or frightened an darts about aimlessly. Even small fish like bluegills follow it but don't strike (the minnow is almost the size of the bluegill :)))