September 24, 2010
The extreme versatility of spinnerbaits is well-known among bass fishermen, but few anglers take true advantage of this bait.
If a glance at your own tackle box isn't enough to convince you that spinnerbaits are popular, consider this: about 30 million spinnerbaits are sold each year in the United States. Just about everybody makes them, from individual fishermen who build theirs at home to multi-million dollar companies with international distribution systems.
What makes the spinnerbait -- something that looks like a helicopter fluttering over a jighead in a fancy skirt -- one of the most effective bass lures ever designed? Why do so many pros and weekend anglers have a gazillion of them?
The simple answer to both questions: they catch bass year-round.
They're also versatile lures that can be fitted to many different fishing conditions. The bait offers the best qualities of two contraptions by combing the spinner with the jig. A large measure of the spinnerbait's popularity comes from its ability to cover a lot of water in a short time and be effective year-round in the South for putting bass in the boat.
It can be made to offer eye-catching flash with more than a dozen of colors; with a little practice, any reasonably competent angler can learn to fish spinnerbaits using a diversity of retrieves for a variety of fishing conditions (it is ideal from fishing the water column from top to bottom); and these baits can be easily modified to fit specific needs.
Although most fishermen use spinnerbaits and know these baits are versatile, few anglers have learned to take full advantage of the bait's flexibility.
Before getting into details that can help you expand your use of spinnerbaits through a variety of specialized retrieves, the general rule for spinnerbaits in winter is to fish steep-to-vertical structure, fish deep, and select a bait that imitates prevalent forage, usually shad. In early spring when pre-spawn bass begin moving shallow, select a spinner that imitates crawfish in color and size. For an even meatier enticement, add a crawfish trailer.
Now let's get to the nitty gritty of selecting and fishing spinnerbaits.
SHAPES AND SIZES
Most anglers carry many spinnerbaits but you really only need a few basic types. Five colors -- white, chartreuse and white, chartreuse, silver, and black -- will cover almost all water color conditions.
Three different blade shapes typically adorn spinnerbaits: Colorado, Indiana, and willow leaf. Often, they are used in combination. The darker the water, the slower you should retrieve your bait. This general rule inspired the Colorado blade, and this blade type remains the standard choice in stained waters. In clear water, use tandem willow leaf blades. For conditions between stained and clear water, use the Indiana blade.
As a rule of thumb, the less visibility (due to dirty water, low light, or no light), the more bass depend on sensing vibrations caused by swimming prey.
Inversely, the better the visibility, the more bass rely on seeing their prey.
The Colorado blade is the most rounded and cupped of the three. It displaces more water than the other two, producing the most vibration. In addition to creating more underwater sound, it can be retrieved slower than the other two types. It's used in low light conditions because it "thumps" the loudest, letting the bass zero in on it easier using auditory senses.
The skinny willow leaf blade is the thinnest and longest of the three blade types, producing the least vibration, but its fast spinning blades throw a lot of flash. These blades approximate the shape of baitfish, another attracting quality when you're trying to match the size of the baitfish. When bass are eating shad, which is most of the time, cast a bait with double willow leaf blades.
The Indiana blade is the hybrid of the above two. It is more teardrop shaped and its vibration ranks between the Colorado and willow leaf. It's a good choice to use in somewhat stained water, or in clear water during low light conditions.
Spinnerbait blades come in many colors and reflective finishes. Generally, dark blades are used at night; a gold, florescent red, chartreuse, or copper-colored blade is used in stained water; gold is good on a cloudy day in clear water; and a silver blade is used on sunny days in clear water.
When it comes to selecting a plain or hammered blade, there doesn't seem to be much difference other than the angler's preference.
Blade size, on the other hand, is very important. The larger the blade, the more flash and sound it produces. Also, bigger blades provide more lift, which means that it will run slower and stay in the strike zone longer than a small-bladed bait will. However, spinnerbaits in many applications are a reaction bait: often a smaller blade and faster bait works well because the bass has to make an instant decision to eat it or pass it up -- and big bass don't get big by being shy about eating things. You can get a selection of spinnerbait blades ranging from size two to seven with four to six being most commonly used.
SKIRTS, TRAILER HOOKS,
Adding to the attractiveness of spinnerbaits are skirts that pulsate during retrieves. They add "life" to the movements, and you can use certain colors for more attraction. For instance, you can slip on a chartreuse or hot pink skirt for more visibility. If you're fishing clear water, try smoke, green, gray, clear flake, or something in a natural color. More times than not though, anglers favor white, yellow, and chartreuse.
Try putting skirts on forward and backward for different silhouettes. The "backward" skirt adds more action when retrieved.
Another item that should be on every spinnerbait is a trailer hook. You can find kits with the hook and pieces of tubing cut to hold the hook in place. A friend and guide swears that a red "bleeding" treble hook is the most effective trailer he's ever used. Experiment with trailer hooks to be sure that the bait runs true after you've added the hook.
Many anglers feel better using trailers. These, like skirts, add an extra fish attracting power. It also adds to the silhouette when bass are looking for a larger mouthful. This occurs when there is a good population of big fish in a lake and competition for food is high.
In winter and early spring, bass are
n't usually looking for a big mouthful but do respond to a slow descent. This calls for a pork frog or pork chunk. The common trailers are plastic worms, grubs, crawfish, and pork in its various shapes.
Trailers add buoyancy to let the bait fall much slower when fishing steep drops; and the Colorado blade also contributes to a slower fall rate.
Sometime bass that follow your bait and trifle with it will eat it if you change colors. Rather than change the lure or the skirt, change your trailer to a different color or add a trailer. Large changes in fish eating habits can occur with small changes in your bait.
The weight of the spinnerbait's head helps determine how deep the lure can run. Your retrieve also has a lot to do with the depth it runs. Most anglers favor 1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-ounce baits. Sometimes one-ounce baits are called for.
For fishing shallow, 1/4- to 3/8-ounce baits are best. Increase the weight of your bait the deeper you need to fish. Sometimes conditions, such as high or gusting winds, require the extra weight. In fact, spinnerbaits are one of the easiest and most effective bass baits you can use on windy days. They're relatively easy to throw, and for most retrieves, they run true even with tremendous wind-drag on the line. Thrown across a wind-blown point, they also become deadly imitations of distressed baitfish. If there's any wood cover or rock structure on the point, you have a good chance of latching onto a good bass. Go to a heavier bait to gain casting distance.
The 1/2-ounce bait casts better. It appeals to larger fish and it goes through heavy cover better because of its weight. It also comes with larger blades, producing more vibration and flash. It's a good choice when bass are very active and when the forage is large. The large blades mimic the larger baitfish. The best time for fishing the 1/2-ounce is late spring and throughout the summer.
The 3/8-ounce spinnerbait is good for late winter, early spring, and late fall when bass are less aggressive. It's also a good choice when the baitfish are small.
The 1/4-ounce spinnerbait is not typically a popular size with most bass anglers. But when the barometric pressure rises after a frontal passage, and the activity level of bass lessens, the appeal of a smaller bait is greater. Another time for the 1/4-ounce bait with small willow leaf blades is when baitfish are quite small.
For modifications made while fishing, carry a variety of extra blades and skirts in various colors and shapes, and trailers. You can store these in a clear plastic box with compartments or in re-sealable plastic bags. Include split ring pliers for changing blades quickly. Other items you may want to include are extra clevis and split rings, high quality swivels, scissors for customizing skirts and trailers, trailer hooks, and rattles.
Remember that word "versatile?" Here are eight different presentations that prove its versatility. You can create more.
Chunking and winding is probably the easiest and most prevalent presentation. You simply chunk it out and reel it in. For winter and early springtime conditions, a slow to moderate retrieve works in lowland reservoirs. In hill-land and highland reservoirs, let the bait sink deeper before retrieving.
Slow-rolling is probably the most effective presentation for fishing all reservoir types in the South. This presentation is used when fishing deep water. You need to keep the spinnerbait as close to the bottom as possible and bump it into cover and structure.
Cast your bait and let it fall to the bottom or the depth you want if the fish are suspended. Retrieve at a slow steady pace.
Jigging a spinnerbait (it is part jig, after all) can be most effective.
Pitch your bait like a jig next to cover or above bass holding structure and let it slowly fall. Keep a tight line, watching for the pickup. Let the bait hit the bottom, then lift your rod tip a few times, letting the bait fall each time.
Yo-yoing is a cross between the slow-rolling and the jigging technique. When the spinner hits bottom, slow-roll but intermittently and abruptly lift up your rod tip, let the bait flutter down, and then repeat. This technique can trigger strikes when nothing else seems to work.
Dragging the bait along the bottom is similar to slow-rolling but you work the bait like it was a plastic worm. Let the spinnerbait hit the bottom, take in the slack, lift your rod tip slowly, take in that slack, and repeat. Keep tension on your line so you can see a tick or feel the bass engulf your bait.
The next presentation, called "Periscope Depth," is for when the water has warmed and the active bass have moved shallow, usually on sunny winter afternoons. After you cast past your target, wind it in just fast enough to create a swelling on the surface, but don't break the surface. This retrieve is also call "bulging," for the bulge it forms on the surface, like a submarine running shallow.
This works well when casting parallel to riprap or rocks that have warmed in the winter sun.
Flipping is a good technique to use when fishing heavy cover or vertically down a drop. Treat your spinnerbait like a jig.
A long-armed bait is fairly snag-proof when fishing cover. A plastic bristle weedguard helps prevent snags too. Flip the bait in the cover and pay attention for soft strikes; this is where the sensitive tip is most helpful in detecting strikes.
The problem with using the standard spinnerbaits like a jig is that some drop too fast. When the water is cold, bass react slower and a slowly falling bait stays in the strike zone longer to tempt the bass to take a bite. You may want to try a spinnerbait that uses small blades such as a two-armed spinnerbait to offer a slow descent.
The helicopter retrieve works best with a short-armed spinnerbait with a Colorado blade. This technique works well for fishing steep slopes, places bass like during the winter and early spring. Cast and let the lure helicopter on a tight line. The bait will fall parallel to the steep sloping bank. This is an excellent technique for bass in clear highland and hill-land reservoirs.
If you think of retrieving your spinner the various ways you retrieve crankbaits, topwater plugs, jerkbaits, and the other types of baits, you'll add more diversity to your spinnerbait.
SELECT THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Slinging a spinner bait does require some special gear. Some fishing conditions require different rods but for general purposes, a long handled baitcasting rod 6 1/2 to 7 feet long with fast action in a medium-heavy power is a good choice. For a reel, select a medium-speed baitcaster, such as a 5:1 gear ratio, with
a reliable drag. Line should be no less than 14-pound test with 20- or 25-test being a better choice of clear, abrasion-resistant monofilament. Smaller diameter lines are appropriate for clear water with no cover to abrade it. The heavier the cover, the stronger your line needs to be.
You may want to use a longer rod for flipping spinnerbaits. A 7 1/2-foot rod with an extra-heavy action is needed to pull the fish out of thick cover (laydowns, aquatic vegetation, etc.) but you need flexibility in the tip to make soft presentations.
WHAT THE PROS SAY
Jimmy "Mr. Spinnerbait" Houston, a pro who helped make the spinnerbait famous, says the concept of spinnerbaits hasn't changed much in 30 years but the components have. Improved blades that produce more flash and vibration, sharper hooks, better skirts, thinner and stronger wire, improved paint jobs and smoother swivels make the spinnerbait an important fishing tool.
Kevin VanDam chooses blades to get the amount of water displacement he wants, and he chooses colors to match the hatch or to match the conditions.
The same is true with choosing trailers. In his book, Bass Strategies, VanDam says one of the biggest strides he has made is learning ways to catch bass quickly during the coldest months of the year.
"We get into the rut of thinking the water is too cold," he said. "When the water is in that 50-degree range, a lot of times I have gotten them to strike a spinnerbait when I couldn't get them to hit any other bait. I've caught them in the winter by slow-rolling a spinnerbait over treetops. I believe spinnerbaits are more effective cold-water tools than any other bait. You can fish them in any zone and keep them there. And they can better finesse lures than jigs or even plastic worms. If the water temperature is above 45 degrees, a spinnerbait is a viable tool for anglers to use."
Cold-weather spinnerbaiting usually involves fishing for bass on the edge of a deep ledge or stump; VanDam switches to a single-spin bait better suited for a vertical presentation. He relies on a 7/16- or 9/16-ounce short-arm spinnerbait. He selects either a white or pumpkinseed skirt (depending on water clarity) and a number five Colorado blade. He selects silver in clear water.
In pre-spawn angling in cold water, he uses a slow horizontal presentation with a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait and tandem number one and four-and-a-half Colorado blades in silver and gold on bright days and painted blades when it's cloudy. When the water warms a little, he uses the same size bait but with a number one Colorado and a four-and-a-half willow leaf blade. When the water warms more, he employs a faster retrieve and switches to tandem willowleaf blades because he wants more flash.
That helicopter fluttering over a jighead in a fancy skirt should be tied to your line every time you go fishing. It's not just a warm water bait either -- try it the next time you go fishing. Happy Hooking!
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