From crude and prehistoric decoys carved from bone to simple but effective spoons made from bronze and iron, right up to the incredibly high-tech baits produced today, humans have invented a lot of ways to catch fish. That long history has included some truly innovative and remarkable lures that hammer fish and completely revolutionized the market. But then there have been some that just plain flopped.
Whether it’s due to a mechanical issue, design flaw, mismarketing, or plain serendipity, a lot of lures out there either aren’t all they’re cracked up to be or just flat-out won’t catch fish. I’m not talking about those gimmick lures shaped like a can of beer or the various naughty parts of human anatomy, the gag lures you hang from your rearview mirror or only keep around so you can toss them to a buddy having a slow day on the water –"Hey maybe you should try this! Yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck!” No, I’m talking about actual lures that were designed to catch fish. Well, some were probably designed to catch fishermen rather than fish, especially if they were sold on an infomercial. However you view it, the fact remains that after using the eight lures on this list, most anglers came back from the water feeling disappointed.
The Hover Lure The Hover Lure was one of those products built with the coolest of intentions that utterly failed upon delivery. Marketed as a bait that would float above the water’s surface, enticingly causing a monster bass to leap completely out of the water to eat it, the Hover Lure was quickly snapped up by anglers excited by the concept. However, what they ended up with was a plastic lily pad attached to a faux dragonfly on a stick. One of the earliest “complete fishing systems, as seen on TV!” the Hover lure was a pain to assemble, difficult to cast and land accurately due to its awkward shape, and for the most part was completely ignored by bass uninterested in eating a plastic lily pad.
The Berkley Blade Dancer I’ve always felt like this lure was designed by two guys smoking illicit substances in their basement: “Bro, ya know how I really like to fish soft plastics and you really like to fish spoons? What if we combined them?!”—Boom! The Berkley Blade Dancer was born. This now-discontinued bait was essentially a flat spoon with a soft-plastic baitfish hanging off the back of it and was originally marketed as “Like nothing any fish has ever seen before.”
This turned out to be true; the fish had never seen anything like it before, so they didn’t want anything to do with it. The lure had terrible balance, which made it ungainly to cast and gave it a tendency to spin like a helicopter hit with an RPG whenever it was retrieved or jigged too quickly. Often, an angler’s only solution to this problem when fishing the Blade Dancer was to pull it through the water at a snail’s pace. Fishing the lure this way gave it little to no swimming action at all. Instead, the lure would simply trail along the bottom like a stick dragged across the lawn by a kid trying to get an old lazy dog to come and chase it.
The Banjo Minnow Perhaps the most loved and hated lure of all time, the Banjo Minnow was all the rage in fishing circles when commercials for the lure hit television screens in the mid 1990s. Claiming to trigger a “genetic response” in fish, the Banjo Minnow’s inventors boasted that the lure was irresistible to everything from bass and trout to catfish and crappie and would even work on saltwater species like stripers, snook, and redfish. It was said to be the only lure with an action that was completely controlled by a fisherman (uhhh…) and once you bought it, you would never use another lure again.
Like everyone else, I was sold on the Banjo Minnow’s commercials and quickly ordered my own set, almost ready to toss my entire tacklebox in the dumpster when it arrived. However, after I opened the package, assembled one of the “banjo” rigs and went fishing with it, I came home glad I didn’t actually get rid of my prior lure collection.
The Banjo Minnow was just too complicated. It had a corkscrew hooking system that had to be constructed beforehand and then drilled meticulously into the head of each plastic bait. After getting it all together and attaching the eyes and little rubber bands that made the lure weedless (yet somehow caught every tiny piece of vegetation in their path) you’d cast it into the water where half the time, the lure would break away from the hook and go sailing off into parts unknown. Even when you did manage to get it together and actually fish with it, what you ended up with was merely a decent soft plastic, and not a miracle. Fishing the Banjo Minnow was perhaps one of the most disappointing points in my fishing life because, like so many anglers before me, I believed.
Dance’s Eel Bill Dance is one of the most beloved anglers and television personalities ever. His show “Bill Dance Outdoors” first premiered in 1968 and is officially the longest running fishing show in history. The three-time B.A.S.S Angler of the Year continues to entertain and educate anglers on the show to this very day. It’s no wonder that any lure with his name slapped on it would sell like hotcakes, and so did the Dance’s Eel. Yet most of the anglers who bought it back in the 1980s when it was originally released still haven’t managed to catch a bass on it.
Designed to mimic a giant tadpole rather than an eel, Dance’s Eel was a simple lure with a fat head, elongated body, crankbait bill, and single treble hook. Despite its good swimming action, most bass seemed to simply ignore it. Maybe it’s because the more northerly waters don’t have a lot of 6-inch tadpoles swimming around in them—or eels for that matter. Or maybe it’s because in places where tadpoles do get that big, bass won’t eat them because they’re scared of getting their ass kicked in retaliation by a giant bullfrog. Seriously though, Dance’s Eel doesn’t catch a lot of fish because unless you can fish the lure with Bill Dance’s skill and in places where the bass are big enough to be interested, the lure just isn’t going to work like it should. It probably makes for an excellent striper and pike lure, though.
The Jackall Chop Cut Just looking at the Chop Cut completely sold it to every angler who loves a good topwater bite. I mean, most torpedo style baits are awesome enough on their own, but give one a propellor big enough to power a small aircraft and you can’t stop fantasies of explosive topwater strikes from dancing through your head. Of course, once you actually fish the Chop Cut, those fantasies will quickly change to strangling the lure's inventor.
The lawnmower-sized blade situated on the front of the lure makes it almost impossible to cast without tangling. Unless you throw it with the perfect amount of tension, any slack in your cast will inevitably get tangled around the blade as soon as the lure lands. Furthermore, even when you do start getting some good casts with the Chop Cut, the giant spinning blade will begin to twist up your line as soon as you reel it in. Even when using a barrel swivel, it’s impossible to fish the Chop Cut without eventually ending up with a complete pig’s tail of a tangle when you lift the lure from the water. This twisting also greatly weakens the line so that any fish that does hit the lure will likely break off and vanish with the Chop Cut still jammed in their mouth. Of course, when that happens, you’ll likely feel like you’re better off anyway.
Cotton Cordell Jointed Redfin Has anyone ever offered you a Coke, only to hand you a generic cola and tell you it tastes the same? That’s how I felt when I first fished with Cotton Cordell’s Jointed Redfin. Brand names are brand names for a reason, and while the Redfin may look like a Rapala, smell like a Rapala, and even sit on the shelf next to a Rapala, it just ain’t a Rapala. The Jointed Redfin is one member of an ever-growing family of lures that imitate brand-name lures in appearance but at a lower price. Now, that’s not to say that these lures won’t catch fish on occasion, but they certainly won’t stack them up like the original, and I’m not the only angler who feels this way. According to professional walleye guide and MeatEater contributor Ross Robertson, there’s nothing worse than a knockoff lure.
“Some lures work in different regions but won’t get a bite in others, that’s nothing new,” Ross said. “To me though, what’s truly bad are those knockoff lures with terrible quality. They may look the same, but materials don’t move the same. They don’t wobble the same. I can’t even think of a knockoff that’s worked even remotely as well as the original.”
Though the Jointed Redfin looks just like a Rapala, it fishes like a chunk of waterlogged driftwood. The diving lip is flat rather than cupped so that instead of swimming with an alluring wiggle when retrieved, the lure awkwardly vibrates like a constipated Chihuahua. The lip is also positioned at a steep angle, which means the lure will only dive correctly for short, periodic moments. Additionally, the jointed section on the Redfin is positioned so far back on the lure that it’s barely affected by the water moving around it. The gap between the two sections of lure is also so wide that it often gets an air bubble stuck in it when it lands in the water. This bubble forces the lure to float crookedly beneath the surface and sometimes spin in circles when retrieved. In short, it just looks terrible and most of the time the lure is either passed by or occasionally followed with morbid curiosity by fish that would normally slam a Rapala. Just like when drinking that cheap cola instead of a Coke, fishing with the Jointed Redfin will put a bad aftertaste in your mouth and leave you feeling slightly queasy after you're done.
The Mighty Bite The Mighty Bite was another lure that dominated those late-night infomercials you only saw after waking up to find out you passed out in front of the T.V. It claimed to be the only lure to appeal to “all five” of a fish’s senses. Like the Banjo Minnow, the lure guaranteed results because it triggered a genetic feeding response, or as its creators put it, “a DNA trigger,” in all species of predatory fishes. It had a bite mark and swimming fins for visual appeal, a rattle system so fish could hear it coming, plus a time-release stink stick that both left a scent trail in the water and apparently shot a load of flavor down the fish’s throats when they grabbed it. Essentially, the lure claimed to do everything but put the fish in a headlock and wrestle it to shore for you. However, like so many informercial lures before it, the Mighty Bite fell well short of its grand expectations when you actually went fishing with it.
Though the lure is less complicated than the Banjo Minnow, the Mighty Bite still requires the angler to assemble it before fishing. After inserting the rattle and scent stick, which makes you feel like you’re giving a minnow a suppository, and fishing with it for a day or two, you’ll come to find out that the Mighty Bite is…um…just OK.
Despite its grand assertions that it was irresistible to fish, most anglers who bought the Mighty Bite discovered that it fished just about as well as any other soft plastic paddle tail lure. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing barring the facts that the lure claimed to be the greatest ever, cost a whopping $20 a pop, and would often take months to arrive after ordering. After buying the Mighty Bite you’ll quickly realize that you could have saved some time and money by just going out and picking up a package of cheap soft plastic swimbaits at your local tackle shop.
The LaserLure Coming onto the market in the early 2010s, the LaserLure combined two things that every red-blooded American bass angler truly loves—crankbaits and laser light shows. Though it may have looked just like a normal crankbait at first, as soon as the lure got wet it would begin to emit a pulsing red LED light from the diving bill on the front of the lure. Frickin’ laser beams, man! The company claimed that since fish react to the color red, the pulsing red light would call them in from miles around. They even got some pro bass anglers to endorse it, including B.A.S.S Master Classic Champion and all-around awesome guy Mike Iaconelli (who, if we’re being honest, could probably fill a live well with big bass while casting a hook stuck through a wet sock).
As it turned out, though the LaserLure crankbaits were of good quality and fished well, the laser on the front of the lure didn’t make a heap of difference to the bass that wanted to eat it. In fact, many online testimonials claimed that they caught more fish on the bait once the 80-hour battery in the lure died. This would often happen quickly in places with a lot of humidity, as any sort of moisture would cause the LaserLure to pulse and a lot of anglers’ tackleboxes to light up like airport runways on the way to and from the lake. After only a few years, most bass anglers were over the LaserLure fad and, like the batteries on their lures, the company eventually faded to black.