Making a Traditional Native American Fishing Lure


artwork by Charles Buchanan

As a fisherman I admire all types of fishing lures. The Native Americans from the Northwest Coast made beautiful and simple fishing lures from horn, antler and bone. With the arrival of the White Man, metal became available. It is only natural that these people would marry local materials with metal to fashion traditional fishing lures. This is a step by step instruction on how to make a traditional fishing lure that can catch fish and looks great in a lure collection.

Things You'll Need:
  • deer antler, horn or animal bone
  • jig saw, band saw and/or coping saw
  • carving knife or Dremel tool
  • drill and bits
  • iron nail
  • hammer
  • sand paper
  • metal file
  • plyers (optional)


If you have a deer antler cut off the tips. Pick out a tip that fits the size lure you want to make. If you make your lure from bone or horn cut it to size. The Northwest Coast Native Americans used to make large lures for salmon and ocean fish. You can make your lure to fit the type of fish you are fishing for. I suggest you select several pieces and pick the one that suits your needs. (Hint: split the antler tips with a saw before removing from the antler so that you have a larger piece to hold on to, this is safer and gives you better control, then cut them off.)


I only select the pieces that have the shape I like. Be imaginative. This is fun so don't worry about making a mistake. Some mistakes can give you a more interesting shape.


I shape my lures with a knife and dremel tool. Once satisfied, I drill two holes. One hole for the nail "hook" and the other for attaching the fishing line. Drill the hole for the nail slightly smaller than the nail so it will fit tightly when forced into the hole.


I chose to make this lure about the size of my thumb. I used a small brad nail about two inches long with a head large enough that it would not go all the way through the hole. Hammer it through the hole for your hook. Then bend the nail forward so it stays in place. Be careful placing the nail and bending it, you do not want to crack or break the bone. The bend will help the nail stay in place and allow it to "hook" the fish. If you need to, file the nail so that it is sharp.


Decorate your lure with carved lines, dots and patterns. leave natural, color with oils or colored shoe polish. You can also color by heating over a flame. Clear shoe polish can be used to shine the lure up using a rag or shoe brush. The lure will then make a great addition to a static collection of lures or can actually be used to catch your dinner.


  • Antler and bone is harder than most woods
  • Antler and bone will accept oil, and oils will keep the hook from rusting
  • the hole for the nail must be a little smaller than the nail itself.
  • A safe way to split antler blanks and bone is to split the antler or bone when it is complete then cut off the blanks. This gives you a good hand hold when using saws.
  • You can also add tuffs of feathers or fur where you tie on the fishing line.