5 essential fishing lures for the Boundary Waters

Recreation By Rob Christ

If you could only keep five lures in your tackle box, what would they be?

Most of us have probably spent a few hours arguing this question with a friend. It’s easy to come up with dozens of different lists. After all, there’s more than one type of fishing and really, who can be content with just five lures?

On a trip to the Boundary Waters, space is an issue. You have to be pretty selective in what you bring.

So, at the risk of stirring up a lot of strong feelings and opinions, here are five lures you need to bring if you’re going to fish in the Boundary Waters. These are the ones I’ve had the most success with, in the most situations. 

1. Rapala Original Floating

Size: F07, F09

Depth: 3-5’ running depth

Color: Firetiger, Yellow Perch, Silver, Gold

Rapala original floating lure

The Skinny: This extremely versatile lure is no secret, yet fish, even in the most visited lakes, still can’t resist it. It’s the lure that’s probably responsible for most of my artificial lure catches in the BWCA. The Original Floating is designed to run shallow with a wide wobble action.  A slow or fast retrieve will alter the diving depth slightly.  Placing a few split shot ahead of the lure or upsizing your hooks will aid in getting the lure down deeper for trolling. It would be remiss to not have this lure trolling behind you as you are paddling to your next fishing spot or setting out for the day.  

2. Rapala Shadow Rap

Size: 4-3/8”

Depth: 2-4’ retrieve

Color: Yellow Perch, Olive Green, Halloween

Rapala Shadow Rap lure

The Skinny: My go to jerkbait. Sharp ‘jerking’ action during the retrieve mimics a struggling fish, which is just too tempting of a meal for game fish. Jerk style of fishing is typically used in colder water temperatures in the spring and fall months. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how effective this lure has been when trolling at differing depths, including deep trolling for lake trout. The short bill tends to give the lure an erratic action.  Another great advantage of Shadow Raps is that you cast a country mile even while seated in a canoe. Use a braided line to impart direct action on the lure during retrieve.  

3. Mepps Dressed Aglia

Size: #3, ¼ oz

Depth: Varies

Color: Brown Dressing, White Dressing

Mepps In-line spinner lure

The Skinny: A Mepps in-line spinner is a mainstay in any angler’s tackle box, but for those canoe trippers trying to reduce their pack weight, this lure may just be the one that does it all. The Aglia is multi-species lure that works well in still or moving water. Blade color selection should be based on forage and cloud cover. The #3 size blade is a perfect attractant for Bass, Northern, and Walleye. The downside to this lure is it easily gets caught up in weeds. However, the vibrations the blade puts out work extremely well when retrieved next to the weed line.

4. Kalin’s Lunker Grub

Size: 3”, 4”

Depth: Varies on presentation

Color: Chartreuse Copper Flake S&P, White, Black

Kalin's Lunker grub lure

The Skinny: This is the absolute go-to plastic when casting towards structure.  There are many other grubs out there, but none have the same enticing tail action that Kalin’s presents to hungry, angry fish. Rig your color choice up to a jig of your choice and toss it out towards structure. It can be twitched over downed timber, jigged off the bottom, or retrieved with varying speeds. I prefer to fish this with a fluorocarbon abrasion resistant leader when going for walleye. When this presentation is working make sure to hang-on to your rod, because the fish are going to hit this hard. 

5. Yamamoto Senko

Size: 4”/5”

Depth: Near bottom or on the fall

Color: Smoke Black, Blue, and Gold Flake; Bubble Gum; Watermelon Red Flake

Yamamoto Senko lure

The Skinny: The most unassuming lure you can find on the market.  However, when whacky rigged it is an irresistible snack for hungry Small Mouth, Northern, and even an occasional Walleye. I would highly recommend fishing this with a drop shot rig by steep drop offs. Slight movement of the rod tip is like ringing the dinner bell for small mouth. Of any lure I fish, this one seems to be the most color dependent. Make sure to bring varying colors and enough of each type! To get the most out of this lure, check out this piece on fishing Senkos.

Needless to say, there are plenty of other lures out there that could very well land you that trophy trout or walleye.

The best lure you can bring to the BWCA is the one you are most confident using. You can read all the articles published in all the magazines and follow all the guidelines that ‘guarantee fish’, but if you don’t fish confidently you aren’t going to be as successful as your fishing partner in the opposite end of the canoe.

What are your standby’s? What lures have landed you lunkers, or the most meals? Leave your favorites in the comments section below.

Rob Crist is a South Carolina transplant who has made Minnesota his home for the past 12 years. He’s an avid fisherman with a love of the outdoors and a goal of paddling every entry point in the BWCA. Over 10 years and two dozen trips to the Boundary Waters has given him an insatiable drive to be in the Boundary Waters. Each summer he can be found navigating his red canoe throughout the Boundary Waters with his lovely wife and Springer Spaniel.

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