Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Mike Barnes pushed the little flat-bottomed aluminum boat off the bank, and I cranked the outboard.
“Let’s head over to that flat just off the creek channel,” he said. “That’s where a lot of bass were up shallow and spawning a couple of weeks ago. I’m willing to bet they haven’t moved too far.”
Our game plan was to fish for post-spawn largemouths. It was the middle of April, and on this particular lake, largemouth bass had pretty much finished the spawn. We figured that they had moved out to structure just off the shallow flats.
I motored over to the flat, where we started casting lures that are drop-dead perfect for covering a lot of water and finding bass that tend to be scattered over a large area of water: spinnerbaits
The lake was just a little off-color from a recent rain. I tied on a spinnerbait with a chartreuse skirt and double Colorado blades. One was an orange-colored No. 4; the other was a white No. 5. My thinking was that I needed a big bait that would be easily visible in the stained water of the big public reservoir. Those particular blades put off a lot of vibration — more bang for the buck. The combination of a chartreuse skirt and twin blades with differing colors would be hugely attractive to post-spawn bass holding on timber, brush or aquatic vegetation.
I dug around in my spinnerbait box and found a chartreuse twirl-tail grub. I skewered it onto the spinnerbait hook and was good to go. Barnes, one of the top bass fishermen on the lake, opted for a Stanley Vibra-Shaft with twin willow-leaf blades. The skirt was white; the blades were silver and brass.
“I’ve always been an advocate of matching the hatch, so to speak,” said Barnes, who’s also one of the best on the lake at finding post-spawn bass. “There’s a submerged weedline just off the edge of this flat. That’s where I’ve caught post-spawn bass on spinnerbaits about this time of year.”
Matching the hatch was the ticket along that weedline. Within a few hours of fishing, Barnes had caught seven bass to 4 1/2 pounds. Although I had only caught three, my heaviest was a whopper pushing 7 pounds; at the peak of the spawn she probably would have weighed close to 8 1/2 pounds. She hit my big ol’ bulky spinnerbait as I slow-rolled it along a line of brush in 4 feet of water.
There are all sorts of ways to catch bass on spinnerbaits. The safety-pin type of design in this particular lure has been a killer over the past few decades. It’s a lure that can resemble anything from a perch to a shad. It can be rigged with big multiple blades for ultimate vibration, the skirts can be of one, two or three colors, and anything from a split-tailed chunk of pork to a plastic-tailed grub might serve for trailers. Indeed, a spinnerbait is one of the most versatile artificial lures that you can have in a tackle box.
“The spinnerbait is a lure that can be used on lakes, rivers and even streams to catch bass anywhere on Earth,” said Lonnie Stanley, owner of Stanley Jigs, creator of the very popular Wedge and Vibra-Shaft spinnerbaits and five-time Bass Master Classic qualifier. “The blades on the Wedge spinnerbaits are the perfect combination of performance. The Wedge blade is tapered from .15 inch at the swivel, to .030 inch on the back end of the blade. The unique design in weight transfer and wedge shape coming through the water creates more vibration and flash than any other spinnerbait I’ve used.
“The Vibra-Shaft spinnerbaits produce a tight vibration when coming through the water. That vibration is similar to what a panicked shad or perch will emit when moving erratically through the water. The Vibra-Shaft spinnerbaits are built with fine wire diameter for maximum vibration. Also, that fine wire moves out of the way when a bass hits the lure. That’s why you don’t need to use a trailer hook on these spinnerbaits.”
The most effective spinnerbait blades over the years have been either a willow-leaf or a Colorado design. The Colorado shape, something like an egg, puts out a lot of vibration and is one of the best lures to use on bass in murky water. The willow-leaf blades, on the other hand, don’t generate a whole lot of vibration, but they convincingly simulate a shad swimming through the water.
“It’s very important to pay attention to what bass are feeding on at any given time,” said Stanley. “If they are feeding on shad in clear to semi-clear water, you probably want to go with a single or double willow-leaf spinnerbait. If the water is real clear you’ll want to go with a 3/16-ounce spinnerbait. If bass are feeding on perch, like they so often do, in the post-spawn, you’ll be better off going with a 1/4-ounce spinnerbait in a sun perch pattern.”
Water clarity also has a lot to do with what blades and color of skirts Stanley will be using. “If I’m in water that’s slightly murky,” he offered, “I’ll go with a bright-colored skirt. Chartreuse, yellow and chartreuse/orange are good in that type situation. For slightly more vibration I’ll use a spinnerbait that’s got a small Colorado blade up front and a big willow-leaf blade in back.
“If I’m fishing in real murky water, like just after a rain, I’ll go with a spinnerbait with big double Colorado blades for maximum vibration. I’ll also go with a big teaser tail for more visibility and vibration.”
Stanley’s favorite time of year for fishing a spinnerbait comes during April, as most of the bass will be coming off the spawn then. When they leave the beds, they’ll hang up on points, along vegetation, brush, logs or anything they can find. He considers this period great for slow-rolling a spinnerbait.
“I like to slow-roll spinnerbaits in 7 to 12 feet of water,” he said. “That’s when boat position is very important. I’ll keep the boat in 12 feet of water and cast the spinnerbait up to 7 feet of water and slow-roll it down past stumps, brush and vegetation. When slow-rolling I’ll go with a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with a No. 4 1/2 Wedge blade.
“When slow-rolling, the trick is to keep the blade turning, while reeling the lure through the water as slowly as possible. That can be tough to do. But it’s how Rick Clunn has won many tournaments. One of his favorite tricks is to slow-roll a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait with a No. 4 1/2 blade. The bite can be slow, but it’s a way to pick up some solid bass. That’s big-time important when you are in a tournament.”
On sunny days in April, Stanley says, bass will move up to feed in less than 5 feet of water. Those bass will probably be feeding on perch moving through vegetation and br
ush. “If I’m fishing in less than 5 feet of water I’ll want to speed up the spinnerbait,” he explained. “The bass will be more active in the shallow, warm water. That’s when I’ll go to a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait in a golden shiner pattern. I’ve found that gold is a very good skirt color in the spring; it looks a lot like a perch. That’s a forage fish that bass will be feeding on heavily during the spring.”
When fishing in 3 to 5 feet of water, Stanley likes to go with a double willow-leaf spinnerbait. He’ll have a No. 3 1/2 blade in front, and a No. 4 in back. “If you’ve got fairly good visibility — say, 12 to 18 inches deep — that’s when the silver willow-leaf blades are real good. And if the bass are feeding in vegetation, the willow-leaf blades will not get hung up in the grass, or whatever type of aquatic vegetation you’re fishing in.”
It was while pre-fishing a bass tournament last April that Stanley caught three bass over 7 pounds. He was working a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait through vegetation growing in 5 feet of water on a point. The key was to fish a perch pattern like the golden shiner.
“If I’m fishing in water that’s murky, I’ll go with a bigger spinnerbait and a fire tiger-colored skirt,” he said. “I’ll also add a big curl-tail trailer that’s anywhere from 3 1/2 to 4 inches long. It can be the same color as the skirt, or maybe a contrast in colors. That’s when a buoyant trailer will allow you to keep the spinnerbait moving deeper with the blade still turning. The main thing is to fish the bait slowly but keep the blades turning for more vibration.”
In clear to off-colored water, Stanley will go with a grub tail that matches the spinnerbait skirt. Or, he’ll slide on a twin-tail grub.
Toward the end of April, the water will begin warming up, and you’ll want to speed your retrieve up gradually as the temperature rises. Waking or buzzing a spinnerbait will attract more bites as the water temperature warms into the mid-60s.
“Once the water hits the upper 60s in late April and May, I’ll almost always be using a 3/8- or 1/4-ounce spinnerbait,” Stanley noted. “I can fish it faster, cover more water and catch more bass. As the water warms bass will be more aggressive. That’s when a medium to fast retrieve will get you more bites.”
Waking or buzzing a spinnerbait is akin to working topwater plugs for bass — and it’s a blast.
Waking a spinnerbait is easy: You cast the lure out, and when it hits the water you immediately begin reeling it back in, keeping the lure just under the water’s surface. It’s a way to cover lots of water in a variety of situations. For example, you can wake a spinnerbait over thick vegetation without it getting tangled in weeds. And we all know how important it is to fish lures in vegetation. After all, that’s where baitfish hang out — and the bass are rarely too far behind them.
There’s nothing quite like waking a spinnerbait through a bunch of lily pads. Bass and lily pads go together like vanilla ice cream and hot apple pie.
When waking it’s usually best to go with a single blade; either a Colorado or a willow-leaf blade will work. I’ve found that a Colorado blade will really cause a bulge on the water’s surface and thus is a very good option for working vegetation in murky water. That big blade turns out quite a bit of vibration, and can be worked super-slow to give hungry bass plenty of time to home in on the lure’s action.
In clear water a single willow-leaf blade is almost always your best bet, as it’s a smart pick for coping with all sorts of aquatic vegetation like coontail moss, hydrilla and peppergrass. It can be worked fast, and it’s practically weedless.
The combination of the spinnerbait’s blade breaking the water’s surface and the shimmering effect of its skirt and trailer creates an illusion of sorts — one that’s too much for most bass to resist.
From time to time as you’re waking a spinnerbait, bass will come up to blast the lure and miss it. When that happens you’ll want to keep up a steady retrieve. If you find that bass continually miss the lure, add a stinger hook. That’s a very good way to catch bass on a spinnerbait that might normally be missed.
Another little trick if you get too many missed strikes in clear water: Switch to a smaller spinnerbait. On the other hand, if you’re fishing in murky water and missing bass, you might simply want to slow down your retrieve.
As water temperatures inch up into the upper 60s, gurgling a spinnerbait across the water’s surface is an all-time favorite method for catching lots of bass. Gurgling a spinnerbait is simple: Cast it out and bring it up to the surface on the retrieve. You’ll want to reel fast enough to keep the blade turning as it gurgles its way across the water.
Talk about exciting! This type of retrieve is deadly to bass holding in thick vegetation or in brush. It’s a noisy way to fish a spinnerbait — and that’s why it’s so effective on bass. The combination of the spinnerbait’s blade breaking the water’s surface and the shimmering effect of its skirt and trailer creates an illusion of sorts — one that’s too much for most bass to resist. A 1/4-ounce spinnerbait is perfect for gurgling; most of the time, a willow-leaf blade is your best option.
When you’re fishing in aquatic vegetation like hydrilla or coontail moss, gurgling a spinnerbait is an almost perfect way to catch bass. In fact, gurgling in thick vegetation like that is one of the few topwater lure tactics that will fool bass bedded up in thick vegetation.
Gurgling and waking are also well suited for fishing spinnerbaits at night, and especially so if the moon’s full. At many lakes you’ll find that bass are still on the spawning beds in early April, and gurgling a spinnerbait over the beds under a full moon during this period will draw some wrist-jarring strikes.
If I had to pick one way to fish for bass, it would be to work spinnerbaits over and around vegetation and brush on flats in 4 to 6 feet of water at night during a full moon; that’s how I’ve caught hundreds of bass. And it’s a technique that will catch bass on lakes that get a lot of angling pressure.
Another way to work spinnerbaits is to slingshot them under boat docks and up under overhanging trees. Basically, you want to slingshot the baits to bass that are holding in hard-to-fish spots. This tactic is well adapted for fishing under boat docks at times of the day with a high sun. Bass will move into the shaded areas to avoid the sun — but that doesn’t mean they won’t hammer a spinnerbait.
A lot of pros will slingshot a spinnerbait under a dock and then rip it across the surface like a panicked perch or shad. Talk about drawing the big hits: This tactic will do just that!
Regardless of the technique you use to fish a spinnerbait, keeping the hook razor-sharp is very important. Most experts agree that touching up a spinnerbait hook with a file every 10 minutes or so will lead to an increase in solid hookups.