By Mike Stevens 

Fishermen have been tweaking and customizing lures for as long as there have been lures. From taking a red Sharpie to a lure, to dipping it in glow-in-the-dark dye or even getting brave with the wife’s nail polish, modifying the appearance of a fishing lure is just another outlet satisfying a man’s genetic need to tinker.

Customized Shimano Reel
FishHead Custom Lures designer Eric McIntire calls this customized reel the Dorado Curado. You can order custom lures on various Facebook pages and eBay. (ERIC MCINTIRE/FISHHEAD CUSTOM LURES)

In recent years, production lures have become increasingly more realistic. Decades ago, lure companies would have colors like “shad” and “crawfish” and the exotic “black and gold.” These days, companies can have 10 different shad patterns alone, and as many crawfish, and so many other color combinations that the Bass Pro Shops master catalog now directs you to their website to see the entire list of available colors rather than list them all in print.
They are also getting more expensive, and sometimes, your favorites get discontinued, turning you into a raving, bait-hoarding lunatic.
Recently, I have noticed a trend in the lure world that is changing the game in terms of getting the right type of lure in the perfect color for specific regions, or even, specific bodies of water. Custom lure building, and more specifically, painting, has become “a thing,” and I don’t mean to the tune of grandpa whittling topwater lures on the porch and painting them flat white with a red head. What I am talking about is this: individuals turning “blank” (prepainted) lure bodies into ultraspecific patterns via an airbrush, and selling them – for our purposes – on the Internet.

SURF ON OVER to Facebook and search for the group, “Bass Baits Buy and Barter,” and check out what I am talking about. The first thing you will see are the basic rules: as a bait maker/seller, you are allowed two auctions in a 24-hour period, and up to five fixed-price sales per day. Scroll down the wall below that, and you will see post after post of custom luremongers peddling their wares and the terms of their particular auction. There’s a short description of the lure – with a photo – something along the lines of, “Bidding starts at $1, increase bid in $1, PayPal only, shipping is $5, etc.” Then, bidders have at it by entering their bid as a comment under the post, and they’re off and running.
Oh, and at the time of this writing, there were 27,239 members of

A custom fishing lure
After purchasing quality lure blanks, custom lure makers apply a white basecoat over which they use stencils, mesh or their own hand to create realistic patterns – this one is a mullet Lunker Punker – then they apply a final clear coat. (ERIC MCINTIRE/FISHHEAD CUSTOM LURES)

the group. And that is just one such group on Facebook. This kind of thing is also happening on eBay, although it seems as though buyers and sellers are gravitating more toward the Facebook version.
Eric McIntire of San Diego-based FishHead Custom Lures (facebook. com/fishheadcustomlures; Instagram: @fishhead15) focuses on custom airbrush jobs on hard baits (there are guys in the group that sell other types of lures, too) and mainly sells them in the Bass Bait Buy and Barter Facebook group.
Basically, he buys blank lures from about four different suppliers after he decided they had the best stuff. McIntire will tape off the diving bill (if it has one), put down a white basecoat, and create the desired pattern utilizing stencils, mesh, and even freehand. Once it is painted, he will apply a clearcoat, then place it on a homemade “drying wheel” for 30 minutes and then let it sit overnight.
After a final inspection of that process, he will add quality split rings and VMC hooks, and it’s ready to sell, auction, or fsh with. Typically, his lures will sell for $7 to $17 in an auction, or at a flat rate to someone who might have come up short in the auction, but still wants one – or often times, many – in that particular pattern.
As for the patterns, you could probably imagine how many different things people want out there, but a lot of the time, it comes down to realistic reproductions of actual stuff the fish are eating.
“I have been trying to match forage baits; I really wanted to get bluegill and crappie patterns down first. I want to be as realistic as possible,” said McIntire. “One guy wanted 10 rattle baits painted in a Tennessee shad pattern. He sent me a photo, and I matched it. Another guy wanted 22 crawdad patterns. I spent a lot of time getting that one dialed in for him, and when I did, he was happy with it.”
To speak of their effectiveness, the proof is already in the proverbial pudding.
“The Tennessee shad patterns were for a tournament guy back East: those patterns have led to 40-pluspound limits on one particular lake,” McIntire added. “The craw patterns were for another tourney guy, and he wanted me to match the crawdads on his lakes in Oklahoma.”
While most FishHead Custom Lures available in the Facebook group are for bass, as a San Diego native McIntire has experimented with lures to use for local inshore, bay, and surf situations as well. These include jerkbaits that are dead ringers for local smelt, and a big topwater Lunker Punker painted to look like a mullet to a big San Diego Bay halibut or shortfin corbina.
I personally had McIntire paint a Berkley Flicker Shad to look like

A multitude of custome lures--one of which looks like a clown fish
Custom lures are designed to mimic everything from your favorite baseball, football or hockey team, or, in this case, making your refrigerator magnets suitable for casting into a lake. (ERIC MCINTIRE/FISHHEAD CUSTOM LURES)

the Sacramento perch from Crowley Lake, because even though Rapala and other companies’ perch patterns work there, the perch that they are imitating look nothing like the Sierra fish. A lure manufacturer who tried to replicate it would die on the vine if they did, because the dull, boring coloration on a Sac perch would never catch the eye of an angler weeding through lures in a tackle shop.
Naturally, requests for custom lures that will never see the water also come in. McIntire has made lures honoring favorite sports teams, crankbaits that look like big offshore fish like yellowfin tuna or yellowtail to commemorate someone’s first catch of each species.

And he does plenty of Nemos. CS