Can You Use Nail Polish To Paint Fishing Lures (Tested)

Lures, jigs and spoons come in a huge assortment of eye catching colors.  This is mainly because anglers are notorious for switching lures with the hopes of enticing a strike with different colors.  Maybe golden shiner is the hot ticket today?  Or how about chartreuse?

One thing is for sure, most anglers prefer lures that aren’t all banged up from the punishment of a full day of fishing.  Let’s face it, we are hard on tackle.  Everything from snagging rocks to the razor sharp teeth on a fish wreak havoc on the paint job of most lures.

It got me thinking.  There must be an easy way to spruce up a lure and make the paint look new again.  A quick search online showed several ways to paint lures but only one seemed worth a try.  Nail polish!  

Women usually have some basic colors on hand and most department and dollar stores carry a wide variety of colors.  It’s the cheapest option too.

But can you use nail polish to paint fishing lures?  Yes.  Nail polish can be used for painting lead jigs, touching up scratches or adding some glitter flash to already painted lures.  Nail polish is a fairly durable paint that comes in multiple colors.  However, the odor from nail polish lasts 2 to 3 days and some anglers believe it can repel fish. 

We decided to do some testing of our own to see just how durable nail polish is for fishing lures.  We performed several tests so read on to see the results.

Types of nail polish

This is a fishing blog so we won’t dive too deeply into the many types of nail polish.  Instead, we will focus on basic quick drying lacquer polish found at most department stores.

These are inexpensive ($1 or $2 a bottle) and have the best assortment of colors that work for fishing lures.  The best part of using nail polish is that each color comes with a small, built in brush perfect for applying the paint to lures.

We also tested a more expensive gel nail polish which supposedly lasts longer and resists chipping.  Although, at over $8 a bottle, it may not be worth it.  It’s probably cheaper to just buy a new lure or jig.

Feel free to experiment with other types of nail polish if you have access to some.  Just make sure you okay it with your wife or girlfriend first.  

Full nail polish test

We decided to use jigs for our test since they are usually fished on the bottom and suffer more abuse by anglers than any other lure. 

To keep it as scientific as possible we used a factory painted jig with a commercial powder coat as a control.  This was the standard by which to compare our nail polish painted jigs.

The basic lacquer nail polish was painted over a plain lead jig as was the gel polish.  Each nail polish jig got two coats and had eye details added.  The paint was allowed to dry for 24 hours before testing.

Next, we tested all three jigs to see how they compared.

Sniff test

First up was the sniff test.  After 24 hours, the lacquer based nail polish still had a mild paint odor.  

There is a lot of speculation among fishermen as to whether or not this repels fish.  Our later testing found that nail polish odor does not appear to matter in certain fishing situations but there may be times when it does.  The odor was also undetectable within 2 to 3 days.

The gel coat polish had a significantly lower odor than the lacquer polish and it was completely gone by day 2. 

Obviously, the control jig with the factory powder coat had no odor detectable by our sense of smell. 

Blunt force test

Jigs spend a lot of time in contact with rock, hard sand bottoms, and wood structure.  Instead of casting each jig a hundred times, we created a “lure torture chamber.” 

Basically, it was a large plastic container filled with rocks and water to simulate aggressive jigging contact with rocky structure.  The jar was inverted 100 times with mild agitation to replicate general abuse from a full day of fishing.  Then, it was shaken aggressively for 30 seconds to test overall durability.

First up was the factory control jig.  After 100 inversion and 30 seconds of aggressive shaking in the rock jar there were noticeable scratches, small dents and chipping on the eye of the hook and narrow shank.  The paint on the jig head remained mostly intact and was acceptable for fishing.

The gel coat polish faired better.  After blunt force testing the jig had only a couple minor scratches, a small chip on the eye of the hook and a slightly duller sheen.  Otherwise, it was in good condition for fishing.

The final test was on the lacquer nail polish jig.  We were surprised to find that the cheapest nail polish actually held up the best.  There were no scratches, dents or chips caused by the pounding rocks.  The only noticeable change was a duller sheen.

Scrape test

Next up was the scrape test.  You might be wondering how this is any different from the rock filled jar test.  The scraping test demonstrates abrasions caused by a lure or jig snagged or dragged over rock.  The blunt force test on the other hand represented general jigging motion where the lure bangs on a hard surface.

To start, a rock was used to scrape the control jig.  The main powder coated paint held up well to repeated scrapes but the eye details suffered some damage since these appear to be regular paint applied on top of the powder coat.

Both the gel coat and lacquer polishes did not handle the scrape test very well.  These are softer paints that seem to be easily scratched.  Repeated hard snags, strong toothy fish or constant dragging through rocks would likely cause a significant loss of paint.  

Keep in mind though that the scrape test represents fairly significant abuse.  At the end of the day, it may only require some touch ups. 

Fish catching test

The final big test was to see how a nail polish coated jig caught fish compared to the factory paint job.  This mainly tests to see if there is anything that repels fish, such as the odor.  

To test this, one of us used the control jig with a twisty tail plastic grub and the other used the lacquer based polish jig with the same type and color of grub.  We only tested the lacquer polish since it smelled the strongest.

We headed out to our favorite smallmouth bass destination and started fishing.  To limit the variables, we casted in the same areas and took turns casting to keep things fair.

After 3 hours of fishing, the factory painted jig caught 7 smallmouth ranging from 12 to 19 inches and the nail polish caught 6 smallmouth of similar size.  

Basically, each jig fished equally well.  However, that was only one type of fish and jigging primarily entices a reaction bite as compared to still fishing where a fish has time to smell and assess the bait.

We have used nail polish to touch up our favorite Rooster Tail spinners for trout fishing as well.  We never notice a decrease in strikes by rainbow or cutthroat trout in streams or lakes.

Your experience may vary depending on the species of fish you target.  Salmon are some of the most scent wary fish out there.  Using nail polish might not be a good idea unless you use heavy amounts of scent attractants.

Overall assessment

From our testing we believe that nail polish is a completely acceptable means of painting a lure or jig.  It is economical, easy and plenty durable for most fishing situations.  We especially like using nail polish to touch up lures with minor scratches.

The overall look of a lure painted with nail polish is quite nice as well.  As with most things, giving more attention to detail will produce a better finished product.

What about heat

During our research we came across several complaints about lures painted with nail polish.  The first was these lures don’t stand up very well to heat.  It was also mentioned that the paint smears when stored in a tackle box exposed to sun.

Our experience showed that this could be true since nail polish does seem like a softer, heat sensitive paint.  To combat this, store your painted jigs separate from other lures and keep them out of the sun in a cool place.  Beyond that, we did not have any other problems.

Other paint options

Plenty of anglers won’t be sold on the idea of using nail polish on fishing lures and that’s fine.  There are some other lure painting options widely in use.  Generally, they work better than nail polish but it may cost a bit more money and requires more tools and setup.

Powder coat

There are several powder coating options on the market for painting jigs.  One of the easiest to use and most popular is Pro-Tec Powder Paint.  It cost about $7 for each color in a 2 oz jar.  All that’s needed is a heat gun or torch to heat up the jig.  Then you dip it in the powder.  Heat it up again to smooth out the paint and you’re done.

Other powder coat paints are available.  Some require additional equipment and baking with a small oven to cure the paint. 

Acrylic paints

You can also use acrylic paints for fishing lures and a quick internet search will yield a few online stores selling acrylic paints design specifically for lures.  A waterproof top coat is usually necessary to add a second layer of protection and durability.

Do you even need to paint jigs

In all honesty, we have caught plenty of fish with plain lead jig heads.  It is mostly the soft plastic grub or skirt that attracts a fish to your bait anyway.  But there are times when it seems like switching from a white jig head to an orange jig head makes a difference.  

It really is personal preference.  You’ll probable catch fish just fine even after your jig has long since started chipping paint but sometimes it simply makes you feel better to use a freshly painted one.

Final thoughts

Since it’s cheap, easy and seems to work based on our testing, we highly encourage you to try using nail polish the next time you want to paint or touch up your lures.  Experiment with colors and even add some sparkle polish to your favorite lure.   

Just remember to give it time to dry and only use nail polish if you think the odor will not affect your fishing success.