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Spinnerbait Secrets

Of the dozens of bass lure types, only spinnerbaits can be thrown under docks, through grass, in rocky areas and across deep points. Pro bass angler Gary Dobyns tells how you can employ them now.

Gary Dobyns, the West's leading tournament money leader, turns to spinnerbaits to match a variety of fishing conditions.
Photo by Chris Shaffer

Gary Dobyns lives every bass angler's dream: He quit his job to become a full-time professional bass angler. Rather than wearing business suits to work, he hops aboard a Ranger bass boat and fishes as much as he can to tune up his skills, learn and invent new techniques and to better understand the tendencies of the fish he's trying to catch.

While bass fishing for a living hasn't been easy, Dobyns has done well. Having amassed more than $1.5 million in winnings, he's the all-time leading money winner in the West, and much of his success has come from fishing spinnerbaits.

"It's a highly efficient big-fish tournament bait," Dobyns said. "You catch a lot of big fish on it and you don't lose many of them. It's got a big single hook, which gives you great hook penetration, and you can use a stout line. It's a reaction bait. You get a lot of strikes."

Anglers have a misconception of how versatile spinnerbaits are. The lure isn't just a shallow-running bait. It can be fished in all conditions. Whether it is near the surface or down more than 30 feet, a spinnerbait is designed to run through grass, in timber, on rocks, under docks and near other structure.

"You can use it as a fast-cranking reaction bait or you can slow roll it deep if fish aren't active. You can use small blades on it if you are trying to mimic the baitfish in the lake or put big blades on it trying to get a big bite to imitate a big shad or a big baitfish," Dobyns said. "A spinnerbait can be used in any condition. I throw them in the dead of winter on Clear Lake for big bass and in the sweltering heat in the summer at Lake Mead. There isn't a place where they won't work."

Spinnerbaits are user friendly. They are the ideal bait for a beginner to feel comfortable throwing them, just as they are perfect for a bass pro looking for that one last sticker fish on which to win a tournament. Learning when and where to fish a spinnerbait can maximize angler success. Fishing a spinnerbait isn't rocket science, but there are certain techniques that can yield increased success.


"You can honestly just chuck and wind it. As long as the blades are spinning you can catch fish. As long as the blades are turning it's in a fish-catching mode," says Dobyns, a Northern California resident who fishes exclusively with Revenge spinnerbaits. "Spinnerbaits are easy to fish. There really isn't a wrong place to throw them."


One of a spinnerbait's best attributes is that it can be fished in natural lakes, reservoirs, ponds, river channels and tidal systems. Regardless of where bass live, they'll take spinnerbaits. Reservoirs are ideal spots to fish spinnerbaits for bass. Nearly every reservoir in the West harbors bass. While reservoirs, with their fluctuating water levels, require far different tactics than rivers or lakes, they too are ideal waters in which to use spinnerbaits.

"It's a body of water that fluctuates a lot so you don't have a lot of grass it in. Our western impoundments that are big and fluctuate a lot don't have grass, so you want to look for ambush points," says Dobyns. Rock walls, trees, docks, creek channels -- any structure is an ideal target for the spinnerbait angler. One thing is always certain: Bass will be on points.

"I'd fish it 10 feet deep and shallower," says Dobyns. "You have to fish all the way around the point, because you never know where the bass will be. Points are highways that always hold fish."

Be sure not to overlook docks and marinas. "Bass like to spawn next to pilings so it's always a great place to throw. You don't ever go wrong fishing pilings," added Dobyns.


Natural lakes are ideal places to fish for bass. Make sure to bring an arsenal of spinnerbaits when fishing these waters for bass.

"The thing about spinnerbaits in the springtime in a natural lake is that natural lakes usually have cover. They don't fluctuate that much so they usually have grass growth," says Dobyns.

Another factor to consider is that most natural lakes are shallower than reservoirs by nature. This means the water warms in them quicker than it would in reservoirs, rivers or tidal systems. Warmer water in the spring means more active and aggressive bass.

"As the water starts warming the bass go shallow to look for food and to spawn. A spinnerbait is a great search bait. You can fish it through all kinds of cover. You can't go wrong fishing a spinnerbait as a natural bait," Dobyns added.

The key to fishing natural lakes is to vary your color. Adjusting the color of your bait to the water you are fishing can dramatically increase your catch rates. Here are a few simple rules to follow: the dirtier and darker the water, the brighter the baits you want to use. On the other hand, the brighter the day and clearer the water, the more subtle the color you'll want to use. In clear conditions a white or shad color is best.

There are hundreds of spots where spinnerbaits are effective. If available, weed lines and points should be your prime target zones. Keep in mind, bass are looking for anything they can use as an ambush spot, therefore finding cover in the form of wood, rock or vegetation is ideal.

"I would try to throw a spinnerbait in front of rocks, tules or the weeds and bring it right across the ambush points, or you can slow roll it out and the fish will come off the bottom and ambush it," said Dobyns. "The fish will come a long ways for a spinnerbait in the spring. You've got flash, you've got thump, and you have everything working for you when throwing a spinnerbait."


Approaching ponds with spinnerbaits can be a lot of fun. Ponds often warm quicker than natural lakes and see much less fishing pressure. Finding action on reaction baits in the spring won't be a problem.

"Ponds are awesome spinnerbait places. They warm up fast so you can fish them right away early in the spring. You don't get the pressure that lakes do either, so it's easier to catch fish," Dobyns said. "There's also a lot of forage and the spinnerbait plays into that. Ponds and spinnerbaits just go hand in hand. There's usually a lot of grass, and spinnerbaits go through the grass well."

Because spinnerbaits come in many sizes, choosing the ideal bait for ponds often calls for downscaling. Larger baits are effective, but you'll increase catch rates with smaller baits. If you are searching for a trophy bass, a larger spinnerbait might suit your needs.

"Most ponds are shallow. For the average angler, I'd recommend using a smaller spinnerbait, like a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce, but personally I use a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait most of the time," added Dobyns. "When you get in ponds that are shallow, you will do better with a smaller bait because the ponds are shallow and with a smaller bait your spinnerbait won't sink as fast. And you won't have to reel it in as fast to keep it off the bottom."


Most anglers overlook bass fishing in rivers. On the other hand, largemouth and smallmouth are readily available to anglers pitching spinnerbaits in water out of the main current. Finding fingers off the main thoroughfare is a sure way to more hookups.

"Look for chutes off the main channel and any kind of cover. In the spring, bass are going to be headed to oxbows, dead end channels and any kind of slough or bay off the main channel. Those are their main spawning areas. These areas don't get as much current flow, so they warm up fast," says Dobyns. "For the most part, a spinnerbait is a bait that comes through cover really well, and it's an awesome bait imitation which is perfect for rivers. When fishing rivers in the spring you are looking for a slow-running bait. You couldn't ask for anything better than a spinnerbait."


Spinnerbaits come in three standard sizes: 3/8-, 1/2- and 3/4-ounce. Determining what size bait to throw can affect your success.

"I throw a 1/2-ounce 90 percent of the time," Dobyns said. "If I'm fishing a lot of grass and I'm trying to throw really shallow, I'll fish a 3/8-ounce because it doesn't run as deep and it's easier to work, but in the spring a lot of these bass are looking for a big meal and the 1/2-ounce is bigger."

The size of the bait can dictate the depth at which the bait swims. "With the 1/2-ounce bait you can put bigger blades on it and get the same affect as you would throwing a 3/8 because the bigger blades create a lot of lift," Dobyns said. "It's very versatile. You can fish a 1/2-ounce really deep or shallow. It's a good bait to put little blades on it if you want to run it deeper too."

A 3/4-ounce bait is ideal for slow rolling and fishing deep. If you are fishing deeper than 10 feet or around steep ledges and rocks walls, a heavier bait can be effective, but in many cases it can also be more difficult to control.

Choosing the best blade for your bait is also important. Three blades are standard: a willow leaf, Colorado and Indiana. A willow leaf, shaped like a finger, offers lots of flash but relatively little thump. A Colorado looks like a banged-up quarter and brings slightly less flash but more of a thump to the plate. The teardrop-shaped Indiana blade is a compromise between the two other blades.

"For some reason the Indiana has never caught on as a big-time blade, but they do sell them. It's an awesome blade; it just never got popular," says Dobyns, who advises anglers to use the thump of Colorado blades in dirty water and add the flash of willow leaf blades in clear water.

Spinnerbaits can be retrieved at any rate of speed. In dirty water a slower retrieve tends to be more effective, while it's better to practice a faster retrieval speed in clear water. Regardless of where you plan to fish, the springtime isn't the ideal time of year to burn a spinnerbait across the surface. Slow rolling or a moderate retrieve is more effective. Typically, bass aren't aggressive enough to grab a fast-moving bait early in the spring.


Choosing line is another variable. Some anglers swear by braded lines, while others back monofilament. Each has pros and cons. Deciding which line to employ can be a reflection of angler skill.

"The big deal with mono is it lets a fish inhale the bait. You get really good hookups," says Dobyns, who uses 12- to 15-pound CXX P-Line. "You are fishing it around cover. There's no need to throw less than 12-pound test. If you use light line you'll risk breaking off the fish."

Some anglers opt to fish lighter line, but it's not necessary and could work against you. Keep in mind that a spinnerbait is a reaction bait. It's not a slow-moving plastic worm the bass is going to watch and then decide whether to grab it. In this case they see it swimming by and make a quick decision whether to grab it. Having a lighter line isn't going to increase your catch rates, but it can make getting the fish back to the boat more challenging.

Braided lines are becoming increasingly popular, but they too must be matched to the style of fishing necessary. If you are fishing a braided line, chances on you'll be tossing 50-pound Power Pro. Braided line, which doesn't stretch like a monofilament, allows you to dictate the bass' movements without having to worry about breaking the fish off.

"Once you hook a fish up on braided line you have a lot more control, but the con is that you have to let them eat the spinnerbait. You can't be fast on the trigger," Dobyns said. "If you react right away you'll put it out of the fish's mouth before he has a chance to eat it."


Rod selection is important when fishing spinnerbaits. While you can throw a spinnerbait on any rod, to maximize results it can be beneficial to purchase a rod specifically designed to throw these baits.

"With a spinnerbait, you are talking about a reaction-type bait. You want the rod to let the bait work. Too many times guys will try to get one rod to work everything. When you use one rod to fish topwater baits, crankbaits, worms and jigs, what you are doing is compromising yourself quite a bit," says John Posey, national sales director for Lamiglas, one of the nation's leading rod manufactures. He recommends using a medium-heavy to heavy rod, to allow for enough backbone for hook-setting power. "You need to have a little softness in the tip so the bait can work, but when you want to set the hook you want to have some power too."

Dobyns is a firm believer in having several rods, including a spinnerbait rod.

"The spinnerbait is going to spin no matter what rod you are throwing it on. What's important is that you have a soft tip on it so the fish can grab the bait. Otherwise you'll put it away from it," Dobyns said. "You can't have one rod that does everything. You are seriously handicapping yourself if you are doing that. You have to have a spinnerbait rod, but it will double as a topwater rod as well and a lot of times you can throw a crankbait on it too, but it would be a horrible jig rod."

Narrowing the scope between fiberglass and graphite rods can further maximize the ability of a spinnerbait.

"Fiberglass works well because the softer action of most fiberglass rods allow

the spinnerbait to work as they are designed," Posey said. "Some graphite rods work for throwing spinnerbaits, but they need to have softer action. A fast-action rod won't allow the bait to work right."

It can be challenging to choose an ideal length for a spinnerbait rod. The length depends on several factors, including each person's casting style and height. For the most part, anglers use a 6 1/2- to 7-foot rod.

"Rods are so individual and people don't realize it," Posey said. "You need to pick it up and see if it feels right to you. The rod has to feel right to the individual angler."

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