Introduction: Fishy Fishing Lures

About: Husband. Father. Artist. Musician. Teacher.

Were you once the kid that was left on a small mosquito infested island in the middle of a lake by your elders during a fishing trip, because you’d eaten the day’s snacks in the span of 20 minutes, and exhausted every possible way of being annoying as a result of being bored to near death while waiting for that elusive nibble? Well then, this project is for you champ! Because with these homemade lures, you won’t even have time to open the snack bags, you’ll have fish practically jumping into your boat! Let’s reel ‘em in!

Step 1: What You’ll Need and Prep Work

You won’t need all that much to make these lures; however, you will need a bit of drying time, so take that into account fellow fishmonger.

- Air-Dry Clay

- Sculpting Tools (store bought or homemade, more on that in a later step! )

- Acrylic Paint + Painting supplies

- 5-Minute Epoxy Resin or a Waterproofing Resin

- Fishing Tackle (simple hooks, treble hooks, small rings, swivel snaps, etc. )

- Small Eyelets and Wire (if you’re unable to find fishing tackle in your area )

- Vinyl Gloves

- Toothpicks

- Disposable brush

- Water Bowl


Fishing Rod, Fishing Line

Prep Work:

Prep your work surface by laying down protective sheets of either paper or plastic to protect your surfaces from air dry clay residue. Next, prepare a bowl of lukewarm water for both smoothing the clay and later for rinsing your brushes. The last step during this preparatory stage is to don a pair of disposable vinyl gloves as the air-dry clay with dry out your hands severely (not completely necessary but it is my preference, especially in winter ).

Step 2: General Sculpting Guidelines

In sculpture it’s important to remember that subtractive processes are as important as additive processes. What does this mean? Molding a lump of clay into a sphere by rolling it on the table or between your hands is an additive process whereas carving the same sphere from a block of square marble is a subtractive process. Be aware that at times, it may be easier to remove material to create a certain shape rather than by adding material to try and form that same shape.

As far as tools are concerned, literally anything can be used as a sculpting or texturing tool for clay. I force my students to make their own tools out of popsicle sticks and tongue depressors before they gain access to traditional tools to understand how the different shapes of their tools effect the clay (and because I’m cruel).

As they can modify their tools easily, they discover which types of shapes they gravitate towards during different tasks. Often, even after they have access to traditional tools, most stick with their handmade tools for the bulk of the work. Whether your tools are homemade or bought, they all function pretty much the same and there are excellent sculpting tutorials online to get you started. But the important thing is to simply start. Try different things until something starts to look like the something you’re after. As a rule, be gentle with your clay, it’s a delicate and extremely malleable material to work with.

If your clay starts to crack and harden up, simply add a bit of water to it. Water is also used to smooth out the surface of the clay and to stick pieces together.

Use different tools to impress different textures into the clay, this is one of the best things about sculpting with clay, take full advantage of it!

Step 3: Sculpting the Fish Burger (Filet ‘o Clay)

To sculpt the burger, I started by forming a sphere. The outline of the different sections were done with a sharp bladed sculpting tool (similar to a No. 11 X-Acto blade, so use that if you don’t have this specific tool ). Because the clay is so soft, sharp bladed tools work better for outlining than a pointed wooden tool.

Once the outline has been established, I begin to shape the fish portion of the burger, using a flat ended tool I square off the middle section. I then use the blade tool again to demarcate corners of melted cheese. I use a dimpling tool (headless nail shoved into a wooden handle ) to create the fried fish texture on the sides of the patty. You’ll notice as the clay is so soft that simply having held it while working on the other details will have squashed it just enough to resemble two buns.

Using the dimpling tool because it was on hand, I separated the rings of the small split ring and chained it to the x-small split ring. Then I inserted the small ring into the top of the fish burger so that the x-small ring remained proud. I inserted a swivel snap into the bottom of the fish burger to which I will later add a treble hook.

Step 4: Sculpting the Fish and Chips and Fish Stick

Using the surface of the table, I pressed the clay flat and tidied up the edges to form the general trapezoidal shape of a battered fish filet. Picking it up off the table, I then used my dimpling tool improperly by dragging it across the filet horizontally, pulling and cracking the clay in my wake. I also let the clay dry for a little while and came back to bend and deform the edges, causing them to crack. I used the same technique on the fish stick. While the fillet was temporarily drying out I worked on the fries (or chips ) by squaring off two small pieces of clay, turning them into rectangular prisms. I used water to smooth out the surface of the fries and to glue the two pieces together at a slightly splayed angle. I then inserted tackle into the pieces trying to be as creative as possible while increasing my odds of catching a fish (by using multiple hooks ).

Step 5: Sculpting the Sushi

Probably the hardest item to sculpt but not for the obvious reasons. Making the wrapper, inserting the ingredients and rolling it up aren’t difficult. It’s cutting it up. Because of the nature of the clay, any cutting action, squishes the clay to a degree, blending all the different components together. To work around this, I left the ingredients a bit proud of the ends of the roll and made it double ended so that I could cut it in the middle and have two faces unaffected by the action of the cut. I used the handle of my dimpling tool as a rolling pin to flatten out the clay into a sheet and used a knife to cut it into a wrapper shape. I then used a blunt but pointed sculpting tool to both make the rice texture and to join the different ingredients together.

Step 6: Sculpting the Salmon Steak

In a similar process to sculpting the battered and fried fish filet, I flattened out the clay and molded its perimeter to the correct shape. Then, using my bladed sculpting tool, made a belly cut and rounded the sharp edges with my fingers. I then used a hole punch to create the spine by lightly indenting the surface of the clay. Next, again with the bladed sculpting tool, I marked out all the other details of the salmon steak’s texture, being careful not to cut too deeply. Finally, I inserted the tackle and set them all aside for a day or two to fully dry.

*A word of warning to those who try to speed up the drying process by blasting heat guns at their tiny sculptures. The trapped water and air in the clay will create pockets of steam and chunks of material will literally explode from the surface of the sculpture. This results in it looking like the surface of the moon. Which can be used to great effect I guess, but I suggest wearing safety goggles if you decide to do this!

Step 7: ​Painting –General Guidelines and Suggestions

There are plenty of great tutorials on colour theory and painting out there to devour. As an art teacher; however, I would be betraying the oath if I didn’t leave you with at least some tips to facilitate your learning process.

- Working with acrylic paints can be tricky. Their beneficial fast drying time can also be their downfall. There are homebrew ways around this; however, the best method is to purchase a –retarder. When seeking to purchase online, search: acrylic retarder. For those who prefer to support their local art shop, it is found on the shelves stocked alongside the acrylic paints. These retarders are great because they extend the curing time of the paint without altering its colour.

- Another thing to keep in mind when using acrylics or any paint for that matter is carefully selecting the right type of brush. As a rule, natural bristle brushes should be used with natural paints such as oil paints; synthetic bristle brushes should be used with synthetic paints such as acrylics. White or gold Taklon bristled brushes is generally an economical choice for those who wish to dabble in painting with acrylics.

- Brush shape isn’t obvious either I know, but most small things can be painted with the same number 3 to 6 round brush. The tip allows for fine detail work and its side enables the artist to cover larger sections as well. An 8 to 10 flat brush is also good for covering large areas.

- When mixing colours, it’s important to understand the colour wheel from a painter’s perspective. Without diving too far into colour theory, here are some take away tips:

o To dull and darken any colour, mix in variable amounts of its compliment, on the wheel it is the colour that directly opposes the colour you wish to darken or dull.

o To brighten a colour, add pure yellows instead of whites.

o You can make values such as black, grey and white warmer or cooler by mixing them with warm and cold colours. They will still appear black, grey and white out of context but placed next to other variants they will appear much different (explore the white, black and grey section of your local home center’s paint swatch aisle if you need a better visual ).

o Certain colours cover more or are more lightfast than others. Generally, yellows and reds tend to cover poorly, whereas whites cover well. These paints will also seem thicker, generally it is due to the types of heavy metals, binders, and pigments used. In my experience, cadmium-based colours cover less well than titanium-based pigments for instance.

- It’s also a good idea to seek out mixing guides that certain paint companies produce for their pigments as they can help get you started. Research the brand of paint that you’re using to see if they have produced a mixing guide.

- Use painting palette pads instead of traditional palettes (less heavy metals are flushed back into our water tables ).

- Use two water dishes when painting, the first (dirty ) for washing off most of the pigment, the second (clean ) for rinsing and charging the brush with water.

- One of the most difficult things to fully grasp when starting out is to imagine what each colour will look like a shade darker while mixing, as acrylic paint dries a shade darker. When mixing, try not to match a colour exactly, aim instead to match a shade lighter than the colour you are trying to match. By squinting at your mixed colour, you should be able to perceive it a shade darker as your eyelashes darken your vision just enough. But it takes a lot of practice to nail it so don’t become discouraged if you don’t get it right away.

A Side Note on Painting Lures:

Fish are attracted to reflective things, so I painted the back of most of my lures with iridescent silver paint. It reflects the light extremely well.

Step 8: Finishing the Lures in Epoxy

After painting the lures, apply a couple of heavy coats of epoxy resin to waterproof the clay. It’s best to mix up small batches at a time as large amounts of epoxy cures faster as the thermodynamic reaction is concentrated. Use a disposable brush or your gloved fingers to apply the coats of epoxy. A good drying tip is to hook the lures into a piece of suspended paper to let them dry.

Step 9: Gone Fishin’

Once the epoxy has fully cured your lures

are ready to use! Be a responsible fisherperson and respect your local fishing laws!

*All the lakes around me are currently frozen…but not frozen enough to go ice fishing… I tried the lures out in the bath and they survived. Their longevity will be tested throughout the next season.

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