October 03, 2022
The flash of metal has universal fish appeal. The flicker of light off a metal-body lure undoubtedly conjures the image of a fleeing baitfish; the pulsing vibration prompts thoughts of a meal within reach. Indeed, flashing lures provoke strikes from bass all season long. However, they're at their very best in autumn. Right now, baits with pulsing, flashing metal blades make the biggest splash—both literally and figuratively—and bass prowling for forage take notice.
Here, three pro bass anglers explain how to make these metallic baits—spinnerbaits, bladed jigs and lead-bellied blade baits—work for you.
SPIN TO WIN
Jason Christie, the 2022 Bassmaster Classic champion, characterizes fall as a season of dramatic warm-to-cold transition in which bait is of the utmost importance. Find baitfish, and you’ll find bass—that’s Christie's autumn credo. Fish want to eat, he says, and they can get very aggressive. One of his favorite tools for finding these feisty fall bass is a spinnerbait.
Christie, who recently designed the Booyah Covert spinnerbait series, points to the bait's versatility as one of its most important assets. He notes that you can throw it to the bank in six inches of water, then slow it down and let it sink down in five to six feet of water. When paired with the right blades and right color based on water temperature and clarity, Christie feels nothing can top a spinnerbait.
As part of his work on the Covert spinnerbait line, Christie also developed a "Heat Map," an application chart that identifies the precise combination of spinnerbait blade(s), weight and head and skirt colors for specific conditions based on water temperature (40 to 60 degrees) and water color (clear to murky). These differing conditions call for varying components, and anglers should ensure they're using the right combinations. For example, spinnerbaits featuring large, roundish Colorado blades give off strong, thumping vibration. They’re ideal for dirty or off-color water when bass rely on sound and vibration to zero-in on their prey. When visibility is around a foot or less, Christie recommends size No. 4.5 to 6 Colorado blades to grab a bass’ attention.
In the clearer waters of upper Midwest lakes, like St. Clair or other typical Northwoods smallmouth water, he favors a willow blade design. Specifically, he likes a 3/4-ounce tandem-willow style Booyah Covert Series JC Special with a small Colorado blade up front and a large willow blade in back. That bait can be thrown a long ways and reeled in fast. In exceptionally clear water, says Christie, you don't want fish to get a good look at the lure. He adds life to his bait with quick turns of the reel handle, a pop of the rod tip, movements that add flash or skirt flair.
On a typical inland lake or river system, he looks for a creek channel or other area with a transition from shallow to deep water. Christie will fish each side of that transition to quickly determine whether bass are going to be deep or shallow. Fishing areas offering both types of water speeds up the learning process.
For bass relating to vegetation, he concentrates on tops and edges. When the water temperature is between 62 and 65 degrees, Christie burns a spinnerbait across the top of the grass. He says bass often crush it when it gets to the edge in these conditions. However, two weeks later, on that same grass line—when water temps may be 52 or 48 degrees or colder—a different tactic might be necessary. He'll still fish across the top of the grass, but now, when he reaches the edge, he’ll slow the spinnerbait down and follow the grass as it goes down in the water column. He says you don't necessarily have to crawl the bait at this time. As long as the water is clear, bass will still come and get it.
Christie's typical trailers include a light YUM Swim’n Dinger or YUM Pulse swimbait. The former offers a slim profile and enables him to work his bait deeper at a comfortable clip. The thicker-bodied Pulse slows the bait’s fall, making it well-suited to dirty- or cold-water conditions.
Most modern bass anglers are familiar with the bladed jig—aka vibrating jig, aka Chatterbait. For pro angler Stephen Browning, who has earned more than $1.6 million in tournament winnings, it’s a perennial favorite—especially in the fall.
This time of year, Browning scours shoreline cover from his boat deck, often with a Z-Man Chatterbait dangling over the bow. He'll fire casts across a brush pile or some other type of cover, then use a mix of twitches and off-speed reel rotations to punctuate his retrieve.
"I never 'just retrieve' this bait," he says. "I like to juice it. Most of what I do centers on twitches with the rod tip and turns of the reel handle to give it a darting action. I don't rip the bait with the rod. That could leave me out of position when a fish strikes. A turn of the reel handle is enough to rip through grass or a laydown."
Browning concentrates on two things in the fall: grass and wood. "If a lake has grass, I will fish in that grass 100 percent of the time, whether it's submerged vegetation or emergent," he says. "If the lake is devoid of grass, I concentrate on wood."
Browning, who also has a bachelor's degree in fish and wildlife management, links the cover type he is fishing to forage and chooses his bladed jig/trailer combo accordingly. He suggests bluegills and grass pair well, so while fishing grass his bait is some combination that mimics a bluegill. When wood is the predominant cover, he uses a white or opaque "spot remover" pattern to simulate shad.
The veteran angler is an ardent fan of the Chatterbait JackHammer, a premium-grade bladed jig co-marketed by Z-Man and the Japanese lure maker Evergreen. He employs both the original JackHammer, available in 3/8-, 1/2-, 3/4- and 1 1/4-ounce sizes, and the Chatterbait JackHammer StealthBlade, a "finesse" version of the bait featuring a polycarbonate blade and available in 3/8- and 1/2-ounce varieties. He generally prefers the stealth version over the original in the fall, especially when there’s high pressure—whether it's from a weather system or other anglers.
For his trailers, Browning rotates through a trio of Z-Man soft plastics. He likes the RaZor ShadZ, a slim-profile minnow plastic, when he’s fishing fast and aggressively. He prefers the DieZel MinnowZ for slower presentations. And the GOAT, a twin-tailed plastic, gets the nod for probing thicker cover or working the bait high in the water column. Browning gears up with a 7-foot 2-inch St. Croix Legend Tournament Rip-N-Chatter rod (heavy power, moderate action), a 7.5:1 Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel and 14- to 20-pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon. "My biggest tip for fall?" Browning muses. "Don't be afraid to go into the back ends of creek arms and fish the flattest parts. In the fall, fish roam."
Bait selection on the cold end of autumn is easy for pro angler Scott Dobson of Clarkston, Mich. "A blade bait is 100 percent my 'go-to' bait in fall when the water temperature drops to 55 degrees on down to 44 degrees," says Dobson, whose tournament success on Lake St. Clair, Erie and Great Lakes connecting waters has merited his reputation as a smallmouth guru. "Find fish. Catch fish. A blade bait will do it!"
I got a crash course in "blading" from Dobson years ago after hearing about a 29.68-pound smallmouth sack he had taken. Blade baits had accounted for the catch, then regarded as the five-fish Lake St. Clair tournament record.
Contrary to a lot of advice out there, Dobson preaches a "less is best," approach. All too often, anglers work blades with a big ripping action. But, he argues, a retrieve fashioned from a series of short, pulsing pulls of four to six vibes will bring far more fish to the boat in cold conditions. He says that a blade fished this way resembles a dying or crippled baitfish, which smallmouths can rarely resist. He’s seen firsthand how Great Lakes smallmouths react to blades fished at this pace.
"I've watched them in 15 to 20 feet of water … hopped the bait, let it fall, watched the fish follow it," he recalls. "I found that if I killed it—dead-sticked it—and then just rocked it to get that blade to flash, they would take it. You can dead-stick it for 5, even 10 seconds sometimes."
In the realm of blade baits, the Heddon Sonar and Silver Buddy somewhat pioneered the category. These are still good choices today, as are the Damiki Vault, Sebile Vibrato, Nories Jaka Blade and SteelShad. Dobson fishes a variety of blades, including the Silver Buddy in chrome, gold and other colors in both 1/2- and 3/4-ounce sizes. He employs the larger blades on the big waters of the Great Lakes where long casts and big bass appetites rule. On inland lakes, he prefers smaller 1/2-ounce blades. Dobson also likes the new Freedom Tackle Blade Bait, which, with its four line-tie holes and unique hook placement options, gives anglers lots of different possibilities, including turning it into a jigging spoon.
For his blading, Dobson uses a 7-foot, medium-fast Halo HFX Pro cranking rod (HFHFX70MCC). He pairs this with a Daiwa Tatula SV reel spooled with 12-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line.
Blades are most effective when fished over clean bottoms and edges. While smallmouths are gluttons for a shiny blade, largemouth bass will take one with equal relish. Grass edges (weedlines) and sand breaks are promising targets. As with all fall fishing, Dobson says the key with blades is to fish where the bait is. On the Great Lakes, particularly, this often means areas where a river dumps into the lake or any break or flat where baitfish like shad and emerald shiners gather.