Working a noisy spinnerbait over post-spawn bass in northeastern Oklahoma lakes has proved a powerful tactic for the author. Here's why. (May 2009)
Bass fishermen sometimes pose the question, "If you could fish with only one lure, what would it be?"
Many Oklahoma anglers make a good case for the plastic worm. A good ol' Texas-rigged worm is, indeed, a lure that pays dividends. But worms are less effective when the water is cooler in the winter months.
High on many veteran anglers' lists, though, is the spinnerbait. It may be the most versatile lure in your tackle box.
Two of Oklahoma's most successful professional bass fishermen fished their way to the big leagues with the help of spinnerbaits. Although both Jimmy Houston of Cookson, and Ken Cook, who lives near Lawton, are versatile pros who can use a variety of lures well, both earned their reputations early on as proficient spinnerbait fishermen. Cook even helped a couple of lure makers design a line of spinnerbaits.
Spinnerbaits can be fished throughout the year, especially in the southern two-thirds of the state, and they can be fished successfully in open water, in thick cover, in deep water or shallow. They catch big bass and small.
They can be quickly and easily customized to fit the situation at hand. You can change skirts and trailers quickly and blades can be switched if necessary.
And at certain times of the year, they seem to be the best lure you can throw.
The post-spawn period is one of those times.
In this part of the country, rainfall is usually plentiful in March, April and May. That means that many of our large reservoirs are above normal levels and the water floods lakeside willow thickets and other areas that contain lots of brush.
Bass move into those flooded shallows and can be caught with plastic worms and jigs. But one of the most effective baits in such conditions is the spinnerbait, which can be used to cover a lot of water quickly.
In coming weeks, in many northeast Oklahoma lakes, lots of bass will be caught on spinnerbaits. So, for now, let's look at some of the lakes where you can put a spin on post-spawn largemouths.
Probably my favorite springtime bass lake is Grand Lake up in the northeast corner of the state. It gathers water from Kansas and Missouri rivers and its 46,500 surface-acres spread out into many willow thickets and bottomlands when springtime rains are heavy.
When the water is above normal levels at Grand, it is a great lake for "bumping the stump" with spinnerbaits. That is, you can throw a spinnerbait directly against the trunk of a tree that is standing in water, then let it fall straight down the side of the tree before raising your rod tip and starting to reel. Of course, if you are using a baitcasting reel, you have to keep your thumb ready to stop that spool from turning when the spinnerbait hits the tree and stops moving. Otherwise, you'll end up with a lot of backlashes.
I don't know why this technique so often produces strikes, but I have seen it happen many times over many years. My partner and I finished near the top of the field in a large tournament at Grand with this technique.
More often, spinnerbaiting in the shallows is just a matter of casting beyond the standing tree trunks and buttonbushes and laydowns and retrieving the bait back past the cover. But crashing the bait directly against the cover can sometimes yield strikes that occur as the bait slides down the side of the tree or other object.
When I am throwing past the cover, I often pause slightly when retrieving the bait and it passes a log or tree trunk. Strikes often occur just as you pause and allow the bait to fall adjacent to the cover.
It can also pay off if you make multiple casts to the same piece of cover. Sometimes the first or second cast doesn't produce a strike, but the third may do the trick.
For fishing in and around shallow cover, I prefer a single-bladed spinnerbait. It is the "feel" of the bait more than the appearance that dictates that preference. When you fish a single-bladed bait with a standard Colorado blade, you can feel each rotation of the blade through your line and rod.
And since bass often take a spinnerbait from behind, moving the same direction the bait is traveling, you may not feel the strike, but you may notice the sudden absence of the "tic, tic, tic" of the turning blade and it clues you to set the hook.
For some reason, I rarely ever use a gold- or brass-colored blade for fishing Oklahoma lakes with spinnerbaits. In clearer water, I've had my best luck with silver blades. In water that is more stained or turbid, I'll often go for a painted blade. At Grand, a white blade is usually my preference for painted blades. At other lakes, I may opt for a blade painted with red, fluorescent orange or another color. At one lake, which I'll mention shortly, I prefer a black or brown blade.
Don't be surprised at Grand if you hook up with an occasional channel catfish when fishing spinnerbaits in flooded shallows in the spring. Of the three most popular catfish species -- flatheads, blues and channel cats -- the channel cats are the first to move in to spawn in May or early June. And when they are prowling the shorelines and temporarily flooded areas, they are often aggressive enough to pounce on a spinnerbait fished around shallow cover.
I recall one Saturday at Grand several years ago when I caught five good-sized channel cats in one morning on spinnerbaits. Almost every one grabbed my bait as I brought it over or along the side of laydowns in shallow water and allowed the bait to fall a little bit beside the logs.
After the third one hit, I started putting them in the livewell and I came home with a small mess of catfish fillets from my bass-fishing trip.
Another of my favorite lakes for springtime spinnerbaiting is big ol' Lake Eufaula, the 102,000-acre impoundment that gathers the waters of the North and South Canadian rivers, the Deep Fork River and several large creeks.
Because Eufaula is fed by the very turbid Deep Fork, which flows through many miles of red-clay prairies on its way to the lake, and by the two Canadian Rivers, which also carry a lot of silt, the upper half of the lake is often pretty murky and stained. The lower portion of the lake, down around Duchess Creek and the dam, is typically much clearer because much of the silt settles out of the water before it passes throu
gh "the chute" east of the town of Eufaula.
So, if you're fishing spinnerbaits at Eufaula, you may need to choose different colors of skirts and blades depending on where on the lake you are fishing.
The late Joe Krieger, who hosted television fishing shows in Tulsa for 30 or more years, and who was a meteorologist, taught me an important lesson about choosing lure colors. It is applicable here.
Krieger said that, back in the 1940s when he was in the military in Alaska, he released a lot of weather balloons to gather meteorological data. He and his fellow observers noticed that on clear and sunny days the brighter colors and white balloons were more visible, but that on cloudy or darker days the darker-colored balloons were easier to see.
He developed a theory that fish are usually looking up at lures like meteorologists looking up at the sky for balloons, and so he started using brighter, lighter colors on bright days and in clear water. On darker days or in darker water, he went with darker colors. It worked.
I have applied Joe's theory to fishing for many species of fish from Canada to Mexico, and even in the jungles of South American while fishing for peacock bass. It works for me. It even works for trout fishing.
No matter whether I'm fishing small jigs or finesse baits for river smallmouths or probing big reservoirs for largemouths, I choose my bait colors based on the amount of light and the clarity of the water.
I mention this in conjunction with Lake Eufaula because it is especially applicable there. If I am fishing in the lower lake or Duchess Creek, I use a spinnerbait with a white or chartreuse-and-white skirt and one or more silver blades. If I'm fishing thicker, shoreline cover, I'll opt for a single blade. If I'm fishing more open water I may go with a two-bladed bait for added flash and visibility.
But if I'm fishing the upper lake, especially in the heavily stained Deep Fork River arm of the lake, I'll usually go for a darker skirt and painted blade. One of the men who taught me a lot about various kinds of fishing was Jack Frisbie from Checotah. Jack owned a tackle shop, was a fishing guide, and later served on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. He taught me about what he called "Eufaula Chocolate" spinnerbaits.
That was a spinnerbait with either a black or dark-brown skirt and a black or dark-brown painted blade. It produced results in the brushy coves of the Deep Fork and North Canadian arms of the lake when brighter, shinier baits did not.
I don't use those colors anywhere else, although I'm sure they would work in just about any water that is heavily stained and murky.
When I'm fishing reservoirs with relatively clear water, like Broken Bow in Southeastern Oklahoma, or like the lower end of Tenkiller, I usually start with a shiny spinnerbait with a bright-colored skirt. At both of those places I may even use a twin-spin, with two spinner blade arms, or a conventional spinnerbait with two, three or even four blades that spin on clevises on the upper arm.
When I was editor of a bass-fishing magazine many years ago, some spinnerbait manufacturer sent me a handful of four-bladed spinnerbaits. When I opened the package and saw the baits, I thought they were just a novelty and I couldn't see the need for them.
But after fishing them successfully in clear water on sunny days, I soon began making my own spinnerbaits with multiple blades.
I don't use them all that often. A single-bladed bait is still my first choice about 90 percent of the time. But there are those times and places where the high visibility of lots of shining, spinning blades seems to trigger aggressive responses from bass.
Speaking of blades, the Colorado blade is what I prefer most of the time. But in clear water, I sometimes try a willow-leaf blade. I don't have a lot of confidence in willow-leaf blades in dark water, but sometimes switching to a willow blade in clear water under a bright sun seems to improve results.
Another Green Country Lake where I've had a lot of success with spinnerbaits is Fort Gibson. You can fish them anywhere on the lake, but in the upper lake, from Flat Rock Creek northward, there are lots of pockets and coves and creek mouths where spinnerbaits are especially effective.
I have great memories of several days fishing one small stretch of water at Fort Gibson with spinnerbaits, or, later in the year when water is warmer, buzzbaits. It is the Spring Creek arm of the lake.
Spring Creek is one of the clearest streams in Oklahoma. The spring-fed water there is so clear that I used to spend a lot of time snorkeling and watching bass under water there. And so, the arm where that creek enters the lake is often clearer than the water flowing down the Neosho River to form the lake. The fishable portion of that arm is probably less than a mile long. But it contains some great shoreline for spinnerbait fishing. It's one of those places where I almost always use light-colored skirts and shiny silver blades.
Above Fort Gibson is Lake Hudson, also a Neosho River impoundment that is sandwiched between Grand and Fort Gibson lakes. Hudson also has plenty of good spinnerbait water, especially in the creeks on the north and west sides of the reservoir.
And yet another place, or perhaps I should say places, to try your hand with spinnerbaits at this time of the year, is the Kerr-McClellan Navigation System pools on the Verdigris and Arkansas rivers
From the Port of Catoosa, just east of Tulsa, all the way down to Kerr Lake, south of I-40, each navigation pool has numerous oxbows and tributary creeks with shorelines littered with laydowns and similar, brushy cover. The main navigation channel is more sterile, with sculpted, straight sides and not a lot of cover. Plus, on the main channel, you may have to contend with the wakes from big barge tows passing by. But back in the oxbows and creeks, an angler can cruise the shorelines and probe the cover with spinnerbaits without having to worry about barge wakes.
Each pool has its own boat ramps and access points, from the uppermost Newt Graham Lock and Dam pool and the Chouteau pool just below it, down to the much larger Webbers Falls and Robert S. Kerr pools.
The Chouteau and Webbers Falls pools are my favorites for spinnerbaits, mostly because they both have a lot of backwater arms where I find prime shoreline cover to fish.
Spinnerbaits certainly are not the only effective baits on northeastern Oklahoma lakes in late spring. You may find days when buzzbaits or topwater plugs work wonders. And when the lakes are above normal and the water is in the bushes, an adept pitcher or flipper can produce amazing results with a jig-and-frog or jig-and-plastic or even a plastic worm or plastic craw. Crankbaits, too, can be effective.
a spinnerbait is versatile and you can fish it quickly and effectively in both thick cover and open water. You can fish it in deep water or shallow, and you can fish it in murky water or clear. It can attract bass both by sight and by sound -- and it works.
Why any fish would willingly attack something that, to me, looks like a hairy safety pin moving through the water, has always puzzled me. I've seen explanations that say a spinnerbait is supposed to look like a small fish chasing an even smaller fish through the water.
I don't buy it. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and late spring is maybe the best time of the year to catch bass in our Green Country lakes with spinnerbaits