Make your own effective fishing tackle while you save money and recycle scrap
by Rev. J.D. Hooker
My long time friend Hearold Ruby passed away. Death came as sort of a reprieve. He’d been terribly sick and utterly miserable for years and he was worn clear out. He was ready to go on home to rest.
Hearold never made much money in his life and he never was much of a hand when it came to hunting, shooting, or a hundred other important things. But he was the most fantastic fisherman I ever met. He was a live, walking, talking fishing encyclopedia, able to “read the water” of any lake, river, pond, or stream, far easier than you can read this page. The man was a fishing marvel and he was always happy to share his treasury of angling lore, knowledge, and experience with anyone. But he’s gone, so I won’t get the opportunity to ask him anything else.
But most of what I do know about catching fish, including making much of my own fishing tackle, consists of bits of information gleaned from Hearold over the years. And though BHM’s readers were never fortunate enough to have met Hearold Ruby, if you try your hand at making and using a few of these self-manufactured tackle varieties, you’ll be glad that I did.
Sinkers(please note: working with lead can be hazardous to your health)
Let’s start off with something really simple—producing your own lead fishing sinkers. At one time or another I’ve used almost every imaginable sort of scrap lead for this: used wheel weights, scrap lead plumbing pipe, broken battery cable ends, scrap linotype, and even used X-ray room shielding plates from a remodeled hospital. You name it, I’ve pretty well used it all, and all with equal success.
Making your own split shot is really simple, especially since I already have several different sizes of round ball molds for use with muzzle-loaders and hunting guns (.25" for #4 buck, .311" for 00 buck and a squirrel rifle, .440" for a Kentucky style rifle, .490" for a .50 cal. muzzle loader, etc.). I simply cast extra round balls in varying sizes, then use an old butcher knife and a wooden mallet to make a slice nearly through some of the lead balls. Through others, I drill a tiny hole all the way through and these I use as sliding sinkers.
Bullet style sinkers are just about as easy to make. I drill a small hole through a bullet I’ve cast using any sort of regular bullet mold. Many times I’ll even deliberately under-fill the mold to provide an even larger range of weights to choose from.
I think, however, that my favorite method for manufacturing lead fishing sinkers is to use a standard set of metal measuring spoons. I simply fill the desired sized measuring spoon with molten lead and then carefully touch the base of the spoon to the water in a bowl. Dump out the hardened chunk of lead, wipe the spoon dry, and repeat the procedure. Once you’ve cast a sufficient quantity of sinkers in this manner, drill a small hole near the edge of each one for affixing to a line.
I also learned to keep a small spool of regular solid core solder in my tackle box from which I can snip short sections for instant wrap-on style sinkers of any size.
Floats and bobbers
Floats and bobbers in any size are also readily fashioned by any angler with a minimum of DIY inclination. The simplest float is nothing more than a piece of twig tied in place on your line. Drill a hole near an end of a twig, or bind it on a wire loop, and add some high visibility paint, then thread a button onto your line as a bobber stop. This makes for a handy slip style float for easier casting.
My own favorite type of user-built fishing bobber has to be what I call the “Hoosier Farm Cork Float.” It is readily fashioned from a piece of dried corn cob. In fact, these floats work so well, and have such an unusual yet attractive appearance, that I’ve never understood why no one has started producing them commercially.
To make up a few of these for yourself, use a piece of extra coarse sandpaper to smooth up the rough cob a little. (Smoothing up the cob on a belt sander will leave you with an appearance very like those commercially made corn-cob pipes and give you some really nice looking floats.) Then saw the corn cob into appropriate lengths. Drill 1/4" to 3/8" holes through the corn cob’s center, then slot one end of a piece of dowel or smooth stick and insert this through the hole. Occasionally I’ll use one of these “corks” without its dowel center as a slip type bobber.
Unless you apply some sort of finish, these corn cob “corks” will gradually become water-logged and useless as you fish. So when I make up a batch of these, I just dip each one in any sort of exterior paint or varnish, and hang them up to dry—instant water proofing.
Of course, if for some odd reason you found corn cobs unobtainable, pieces of 3/4" dowel or suitably sized sticks will work just as well, though they will be slightly less buoyant than the corn cobs.
Besides floats and sinkers, a whole slew of different lures can also be very easily user-manufactured. These lures have the additional benefit of being tailored to specific requirements. This allows most, if not all, of your hand-crafted tackle to out-produce anything you could purchase.
For bass fishing I used to buy a lot of relatively inexpensive plastic worms. Now, I braid my own artificial worms in a variety of lengths and thicknesses, from bulky acrylic yarn. While I’ll admit that using a loose braid to produce fake worms probably doesn’t end up saving me any money, I do catch more fish with them.
One method that really seems to work well is to add an extra color. For example, adding one strand of red and another of yellow, when braiding together a purple worm, makes it more effective.
Of course these braided worms can be rigged and fished in exactly the same manner as regular artificial worms and they perform at least as well as the purchased varieties.
Another home-built lure that I’ve come to like adds sound as an extra attractant. This lure is easily put together from plumbing fittings and a few buckshot or BBs. You can use either copper or plastic plumbing supplies, depending on the particular size and action you prefer as well as whatever it is you have available.
Drill small holes in the centers of a pair of end caps, then glue or solder one cap in place. Run a length of copper or stainless steel wire through the hole and make an eye, as shown in the illustration. Drop in a few BBs or buckshot, run the wire out through the other end cap, and glue or solder the second end cap in place. Fashion another eye in this end of the wire.
Now, attach a treble hook and tie on a “skirt” of horsehair, yarn, feathers, or whatever you prefer. Use paint or left-over nail polish (with a wife and four daughters, there’s always plenty of that around here) to add some color and you’re ready to reel in some fish.
Even more easily fashioned is another home-built lure that I’ve had plenty of success with. I just tie a skirt of brightly colored yarn onto a treble hook, then affix this to the line right behind a brightly painted slip-style round-ball sinker. A lot of times this will turn out to be my most productive panfish lure.
I also often use a bullet sinker and a long “streamer” of yarn, put together in the same fashion, to bring in largemouth or walleye with similar excellent results.
Eventually, even most empty cartridge cases usually end up being recycled into fishing lures at our house. Centerfire cartridges, that have outlived their reloadable life spans simply have their primers punched out at the loading bench. For spent rimfire cases, I use a hammer and nail to punch holes through the base. Then I paint a couple of bright eye spots onto the case and thread this empty case onto a line ahead of a yarn skirted treble hook. This very quickly produces another lure that catches fish.
With the aid of a drill, hacksaw, and some sandpaper, a whole bunch of really nice lures can be produced from a single deer antler. First, saw off all of the tines (or points). These are drilled through, painted, and have treble hooks attached to produce the torpedo-shaped lures illustrated.
Now, diagonal slices of varying thickness can be sawn off the remaining antler. These are sanded smooth (maybe even buffed and polished), painted in differing patterns, and drilled as shown. With skirted hooks attached, these are usually very productive lures. Leftover antler pieces, too small to make into lures, can be sawn into thin slices and drilled button fashion to be used as bobber stops.
While you’re using your metal measuring spoons to cast sinkers anyway, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally insert a hook into the molten metal, as shown, and hold it in place with pliers until the lead solidifies. Paint these spoon-type lures in varying color combinations. I also produce spoon type lures from thrift shop silverware by cutting off the handle and filing the lure smooth.
Many top water lures, or plugs, can be simply fashioned out of wood by even a mediocre whittler. Just about every lure I’ve ever made in this manner has done a good job of catching fish. For your very first attempt, you might want to try turning an ordinary clothespin into a fine floating bass lure, as shown, just to give you a sense of how well this can work.
Possibly my very favorite wooden lure, though, is a copy of the ancient Devon Minnow, one of the first successful artificials ever recorded. To fashion this lure, you’ll first need to carve one piece of wood into a nice tapered cigar sort of shape, then sand this lure body real nice and smooth.
Now, take a piece of dowel about half the diameter, and two-thirds the length of the lure body. Trim the ends of this dowel so that each end forms a flat section at approximately 90° to each other. Drill an appropriate sized hole crosswise through the body of the lure and glue the dowel in place through this hole. Insert a small screw eye at each end of the lure. Attach a treble hook (with or without a skirt) at one end, with the opposite eye serving to attach your line.
Paint each side of the lure with a different color, and paint on eye spots. This lure spins much like a rifle bullet as you retrieve it through the water, producing just as many catches today as when it was originated hundreds of years ago.
A couple of other carved wooden lures are also illustrated to help add a little inspiration as you begin thinking up your own styles and designs for producing these sorts of lures.
I’ve also learned to keep a sharp eye out at our area thrift stores for cheap costume jewelry. Until you get some experience of your own, you just can’t believe how many fine quality “fish catchers” you can produce from a 50¢ “junk” necklace. Sometimes you might need to add a short length of polished copper tube, a spoon blade, or some other extra to the beads and baubles you string on your line. But junk shop jewelry always seems to be even more attractive to fish than it was to its original wearer.
So, good fishing, and enjoy.
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Making Your Own Fishing Tackle
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More making your own fishing tackle
|Fishing Lure Making & Design - Eye Spots|
To make fishing lures that actually catch fish, you need to have a strong
understanding of response triggers. A response trigger is a fishing lure characteristic that makes a predator feel compelled to strike
at it. Although there are many opinions among fishing lure makers about which response triggers actually work, there is general agreement
about the effectiveness of one trigger in particular - the "eye spot" (a.k.a "eyespots"). The eye spot is considered one of the single
most effective triggers on a lure.
Research has shown that virtually all predator/prey relationships involve some sort of exchange
of eye responses (such as making or avoiding eye contact) that sets the social order among species. Over time, the predator and prey
species learn to interpret the intentions of each other by monitoring these physiological eye responses and reacting to them accordingly.
For instance, a predator fish's pupils will typically get extremely small at the moment of attack while the target prey species' pupils
will get very large at the same instant. Knowing that the predator fish expects its prey's pupils to rapidly dilate during the attack
helps us, as luremakers, to design fishing lures that mimic this behavior and thus provide better strike triggers for the fish we
are targeting. Likewise, knowing that a very small pupil is an aggressive sign that a fish is about to strike tells us we should avoid
making eye spots with very small pupils because that could actually scare our target fish away!
In addition to the pupil sizes, the
position of the eye in relation to the axis of the body also helps the predator anticipate the direction that the prey fish will go
when it flees. Predator fish will watch the eyes of their prey and then gauge their angle of attack based on the direction the eye
is facing and the level of dilation of the pupil. When the pupil gets big, it signals that the prey fish is about to flee, and the
predator fish will attack at an angle that intercepts the prey fish. When you're designing lures, the pupil should always be facing
in the direction of the line tie so the predator fish can anticipate the forward movement of your lure as you retrieve it and make
contact with the hook during the strike.
Fishing Lure Making Tips for Eye Spots
- The pupil should be large on your lures in comparison
to the overall eye (see "Prey" image above)
- If you're making an eye with only one color (a single dot), the eye spot should be darker
than the lure's surrounding body color
- The pupil should always face in the direction that the lure travels during retreive (on typical
lures, it should face the line tie)
- The eye boundaries should be crisp and well contrasted against the lure's body color
Clean Eye Spots on Lures
There are many different techniques for adding eyes to fishing lures, including stickers, stencils, brushes,
and countless other techniques. Without dismissing the value of these other approaches, my personal favorite is the common "nail dropping"
technique. With this technique, you literally "drop" a small dot of paint from the flat end of a nail onto the lure's surface and
allow it to spread out into a perfect circle and dry. During this process, you must take care to prevent the nail from actually touching
the lure...the only thing that should touch the lure is the paint! Use different size nail heads to create eye spots of different
diameters and allow the paint to dry between drops.
Please visit Tackle Encyclopedia for more outstanding advice for making your own fishing tackle!