Don Allphin: Why do lures stop working? | Water Sports

A reader and longtime friend asks, “Why did my jerkbait stop working on Deer Creek?”

While deciding on an answer, I thought of all the times in my fishing career when a certain lure simply stopped catching fish. Without a doubt, having a lure that worked for a month or even a year and then suddenly stopped attracting strikes was and is extremely frustrating.

My friend’s question about his jerkbait not working on Deer Creek is actually much easier to answer than the broader one. Jerkbaits, such as minnow-style Rapalas, are generally the first lures to attract fish after the ice leaves Deer Creek. Most late winter or early spring anglers don’t target bass or walleyes but instead try to catch trout.

Trout in Deer Creek are “very” minnow oriented. Much of their forage base are perch, smallmouth bass, blue gills, white fish, chubs and suckers.

The vast majority of early season anglers troll for their fish. My friend trolls at the 10-to-15-foot level, which means that his targets are very shallow fish. As the water warms (with longer days) trout begin to use more of the water column and literally spread out in all areas of the lake. This leaves fewer and fewer trout in the zone my friend likes to fish.

Eventually, even those stragglers that remain in the 10-to-15-foot zone either move into the backs of bays and coves and come shallow, or begin to focus on aquatic insects or tiny crayfish in much deeper water.

As spring replaces winter, more species of fish become active and compete for the same forage with the trout. Walleyes, small and largemouth bass, and even perch can then be found in very similar-looking water. However, they too will shift their main forage from minnows to insects and crayfish.

The jerkbait bite will temporarily stop working (at least as it was earlier in the spring) due to changes in forage and the natural migration of fish throughout the reservoir. Once the various spawning periods in the spring pass, the jerkbait bite will recover and remain strong all the way to ice over in early January.

Now, allow me to tackle the broader question of why certain baits stop attracting fish. Although you would have to ask the fish to be certain, I have learned that when a lure or bait is “new” or “different” to the fish and looks or acts similarly to what they generally eat, the fish will bite.

I remember the first few years I fished with Yamamoto senkos (soft plastic stick baits that slowly sink to the bottom). All I had to do was put that lure near fish and they would bite. But, after a few years, the fish returned to eating grubs and other baits and left the senkos alone.

My conclusion was and is that fish see so many of the same baits that they stop reacting to every bait they see. That is why tackle companies continue to develop new sizes, colors and actions of every bait and…

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