To look at a typical blade bait, you'd never guess it was something a walleye would want to eat. Blade baits are heavy. Most are made of solid metal, with a bullet-shaped body and a thin vertical "fin" or blade that gives this lure its generic name. The things look like they would have no action at all, but in the water they vibrate like crazy, and that vibration is the key to their phenomenal effectiveness.
Depending on where walleyes are holding or feeding in fall, you can cast, jig or troll a blade bait and catch them. Blades look and act like wounded minnows, and so they trigger reaction strikes from walleyes, whether the fish are hungry or not.
Pro angler Brian "Bro" Brosdahl says blades are among the most versatile tools in his tackle box and the baits he often relies on to put fish in the boat, whether he is guiding, competing in a tournament, or just fishing for fun. Their combination of vibration and color is what makes them so deadly.
"Blades are loud," Brosdahl says. "They vibrate with minimal jigging motion, and that attracts fish. Once a walleye feels the vibration, bait color comes into play. A blade that matches the colors of the main forage will usually catch fish."
In rivers, a silver or white finish will imitate shiners. Perch patterns typically are good in most lakes. Some manufacturers now offer baits with a glow finish that shines in deep water.
Walleyes are attracted to vibration, but with blade baits it is easy to overdo it, Brosdahl says.
"Don't rip it so hard that you scare the fish away. It doesn't have to be a rock concert down there. A light jigging motion will cause enough vibration to grab a walleye's attention. I love jigging because when you feel the bait and set the hook, you get to be a full participant in your fishing."
To jig a blade effectively, lift your rod a few inches or so with a smooth motion, then drop your rod tip and follow the bait down without putting slack in your line. Walleyes usually grab a blade as it falls, but they will even pick one up off the bottom.
"Let the bait fall to the bottom, let it pound the sand," he says. "But then pause and let it sit there a second or two. Give the fish time to swim over to the bait. After a couple of jigs, you go to rip it again and they're on."
The hard metal body doesn't seem to deter walleyes from grabbing a blade bait lying in the sand, either.
"They pick it up right off the bottom," Brosdahl says. "Yeah, it's made of metal and all that, but they have hard mouths and they go to kill it. By fall, they've been feeding on crayfish all summer anyway, so they're not afraid to eat something hard."
When the water is 70 degrees or warmer, walleyes readily hit fast-moving baits. But when the water cools down below 65 degrees, a slower presentation will draw more strikes. Blades can be worked as slowly as a jig-and-minnow and still catch fish.
Brosdahl uses blades made by different name-brand manufacturers, including Sebile, Echo-Tail and Cicada, but he looks for locally made baits as well, and sometimes finds gems by small lure makers that are just as effective as the name brands.
Use the lightest blade that water depth and current speed allow. A 1/4-ounce size will do the job in most situations. Choose heavier blades for faster or deeper water.
Spool your reel with a 6-pound-test diameter super-braid line and add a section of 10-pound-test monofilament as a shock leader. Two feet will do in dark water, but go with 6 feet of mono in clear water. Tie a small barrel swivel between the braid and the mono to prevent line twist and provide a secure link between line and leader.
FISHING BLADES IN RIVERS
"Blades are phenomenal in rivers in fall," Brosdahl says. "I think it's because the vibration imitates the 'click' of a crayfish swimming away from danger or the sound of tightly schooled shad slapping tails or bodies."
Brosdahl likes to slip downstream slightly faster than the speed of the current, jigging a blade as he goes. For some reason a bait moving faster than the current triggers more strikes, he says. Could it be perhaps because it appears to be escaping?
Blades can be fished in 3 feet of water or less in rivers, Brosdahl says, even when the water temperature is in the 40-degree range. He has taken good numbers of walleyes by jigging one rod in 8 feet of water and another tight to shore.
"I see people standing on shoreline riprap and casting out into deeper water, when the fish are right against the riprap," he says.
To fish blades in shallow water, use a short jigging motion of just a few inches. Be careful when a fish takes it and you set the hook. That's because you may pull it right to the surface.
FISHING BLADES IN LAKES
Strong winds blow baitfish onto reefs and shoreline rocks, where walleyes feed aggressively in fall. To fish these spots, keep your boat offshore and pitch blade baits toward the rocks, then retrieve them with a lift-drop, lift-drop motion to impart a slight vibration to the bait.
"And if you're catching sheepshead or white bass, there will be walleyes there, too, so keep at it until you find them," he says.
Experiment with colors until you find what the fish want. Sometimes natural colors work best, but other times, exotic colors produce more fish.
"Glow colors are often good," Brosdahl says, "But in dark water perch patterns can be effective, as can multi-colored 'Wonder Bread' patterns. Nothing looks like a Wonder Bread wrapper, and fish have never seen it, but they like it, apparently."
In clear lakes, especially those that have been infested with invasive zebra and quagga mussels, long-line trolling with blade baits is a good way to catch walleyes that are too easily spooked by boats or shadows.
"Let out a lot of line — — farther than a cast — — and keep it out there," Brosdahl says. "Then zigzag as you go to drag your lures over places where you haven't been with your boat."
Walleyes sometimes hold tight to bottom at the transition between hard and soft bottom. If you mark fish in this pattern, try pounding bottom with blade baits. The sound a blade makes as it hits bottom, combined with the puff of sand seem to trigger strikes. I had good luck on a mixed school of walleyes and saugers several years ago when fishing with guide Chuck Pohlman. We worked a deep hole with 1/4-ounce Cicadas and caught a dozen nice fish in an hour or so on a cold November day.
If you mark walleyes suspended below a pod of baitfish, drop a blade down through the bait to mimic a wounded shad or cisco falling out of formation. Walleyes find that trick hard to resist.
Brosdahl, who has used blade baits since high school, finds they often outperform other lures, including live bait.
"Blades are one of my favorite baits, but I can't wait to see what the next hot bait will be," he says.
If something better comes along, you can bet he'll be the first to try it. Meanwhile, why not join the blade parade and stick it to a few walleyes this fall?
BLADE BAIT SAFETY
Blade baits are potentially more dangerous to use than other baits because of their weight. That's according to guide Brian "Bro" Brosdahl.
"When fishing with blade baits, keep a pair of needle-nose pliers handy and use them to unhook fish," Brosdahl says. "A walleye that shakes its head as you are unhooking it can drive a hook into your hand. And when you cast a blade, it flies at high speed so don't try to make super-long casts. If the bail is closed or the line tangles, the bait can swing back and hook you or your partner."