Big Spinnerbaits: Ace In The Hole

When nothing else seems to be working, a super-heavy spinnerbait can put bass in the boat in a hurry. Here's the inside story on how and when to employ these heavy-duty offerings.

Heavy heads increase the weights of spinnerbaits, allowing them to get deeper and stay there.
Photo by Chris Ginn.

Avid shallow-water spinnerbait angler Jack Tibbs began to get wind of rumors that some of his angling peers were using his favorite lure to catch big bass from Lake Eufaula's deep river and creek channels.

"I heard they were taking a regular spinnerbait and adding weight to it by wrapping lead around the hook shanks," Tibbs recalled. "That got me to thinking, and I wound up buying some heavy muskie spinnerbaits, which I cut the wires down on, and started fishing them on deep structure, where lots of other people were fishing crankbaits and Carolina rigs."

Tibbs quickly discovered that deep-water bass that had rarely seen a spinnerbait buzzing past them loved them just as much as those that he frequently targeted in shallow water. Realizing that he could now use spinnerbaits to cover every part of Lake Eufaula from the shallowest water to the deepest, Tibbs began tinkering to come up with a specialized spinnerbait that would allow him to fish the deepest water more efficiently.

The resulting spinnerbait, which Tibbs dubbed the Ledgebuster, featured either a single No. 7 Colorado or a No. 6 willow-leaf blade. Heavy heads up to 1 1/2 ounces got the lure to the bottom quickly, and it stayed there throughout the retrieve. The Ledgebuster became a popular tool for catching bass in places that used to be the realms of deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina rigs.

Since then, super-heavy spinnerbaits have become a mainstay in many anglers' tackle boxes. While the Ledgebuster continues to be a popular seller, many other companies including Strike King, Booyah and Stanley now offer their own versions of heavy spinnerbaits designed for pulling over deep structure.

Many of the nation's best bass anglers who compete at the highest levels have come to see super-sized spinnerbaits as a way to push the weigh-in scales down as much as they can when they place their sacks of bass on top. Take Bassmaster Elite Series angler James Niggemeyer, for example.

Niggemeyer has come to rely on super-sized spinnerbaits to put the big fish in the box when nothing else seems to be working. While it might not be the first lure he ties on when he goes fishing, it is often the last.

Together, Tibbs and Niggemeyer have enough years of experience fishing big spinnerbaits that their tips and advice can help even the most novice anglers learn how to use these lures more effectively. Given the right set of circumstances, there isn't a better bait to throw.

With so many options available for fishing deep structure, one might wonder: Why go to the trouble of heaving and retrieving up to 2 1/2 ounces of lead with the added resistance of large blades? According to Tibbs, that's the great thing about super-sized spinnerbaits -- they aren't any trouble at all. And, they have some decided advantages over the typical techniques.

"All the young guys can get on those ledges and crank DD22s all day long during the heat of summer," said Tibbs. "Crankbaits catch a lot of bass off deep structure, but they are also a lot of work. On the other hand, a big spinnerbait like the Ledgebuster does much of the work for you. You can lob them way out there. They get down quickly. And they stay on the bottom."

A heavy spinnerbait's ability to stay on the bottom throughout the retrieve is one of the main reasons Tibbs reaches for a Ledgebuster rather than a crankbait. Whereas a crankbait takes almost half the length of a cast to get down to the strike zone and the other half to sweep back up, a heavy spinnerbait stays in the deep strike zone the entire length of the retrieve.

One of the positive attributes of a bait that gets down to where big bass live during the summer is that it will also force some of those big bass to bite. That's why Niggemeyer keeps the new Strike King Bottom Dweller spinnerbait rigged and ready to go. Rather than something that he throws to get a limit of fish, these super-sized spinnerbaits are what he throws to catch big bass.

Heavy spinnerbaits can extend casting range and maintain deeper water depths than other more commonly used lures.
Photo by Chris Ginn.

"I don't think I would rest a whole limit on a big spinnerbait," he said. "But when you're in a situation where you've caught all you think you're going to catch on a spot with a crankbait or Carolina rig . . . pick up a big spinnerbait and get another bite or two. I think of big spinnerbaits as 'add-to' lures. I use them to either add an extra fish I might not have caught, or I use them to add pounds to my overall weight during a tournament."

While there may be some isolated situations that call for big spinnerbaits in shallow water, these super-sized lures most often come to mind when bass gang up on deep structure and cover combinations like stumps along a creek channel or the outside edge of a grass line beside a river bend. Any area that congregates groups of bass in deep water is where anglers should fish big spinners.

"One of the places where I would definitely (use) the Strike King Bottom Dweller is where I come across the deep edge of outside grass lines or riprap," said Niggemeyer. "When the shad start spawning around the grass and rocks, this big-fish technique can actually put numbers of fish in the boat."

Niggemeyer also likes fishing big spinnerbaits around deep brushpiles, and he recalled how 1995 Bassmaster Classic champion Mark Davis won by making long casts with a heavy spinnerbait and letting it sink all the way to the bottom before slow-rolling it back through deep brushpiles.

Although Tibbs fishes his Ledgebuster in many of the same places as Niggemeyer, he also passed along the fact that his spinnerbait was designed to effectively fish Lake Eufaula in Alabama, a lake that is known for its deep-water channel ledges.

"There are a lot of variables when it comes to pinpointing bass on a ledge," Tibbs said. "Cold, muddy, clear . . . all of it plays a part in positioning bass on channel ledges, but one of our best deals here at Eufaula

is fishing these spinnerbaits around the standing timber on the ledges."

Tibbs says that Eufaula anglers also fish heavy spinnerbaits around the migration routes that bass use to move from deep to shallow and back during the pre- and post-spawn. These migration routes on Eufaula are essentially small ditches that run from the main-river channel to the shallow flats.

As bass move up and down these ditches, they typically stop and congregate around irregular features, such as channel bends, intersections with other ditches, points and wood or grass cover.

Chunking and winding spinnerbaits up to 2 1/2 ounces doesn't really require specialized rods, reels and line, but anglers can't just go out and throw them on anything they want and expect everything to go right. Like most bass-fishing techniques, using gear that is properly balanced for the presentation will result in a much more efficient presentation and more landed bass.

"The first thing you've got to consider is your rod," said Niggemeyer. "A long 7-foot rod works best for me because it allows me to move more line when I set the hook . . . even if the lure is way out there.

"I use the 7-foot St. Croix Legend Tournament Sweeper Spinnerbait rod to get that extra line pull on the hookset and to help me get the skirt straight and blades turning as soon as the lure hits bottom. With a long rod, you don't have to move the tip nearly as much to make the bait do what you want it to do."

Since fishing heavy spinnerbaits is typically what many would consider a slow-rolling presentation, some anglers opt for low gear-ratio reels that take up less line per handle turn. While the argument is that low-speed reels aren't as fatiguing to fish, Niggemeyer takes the opposite approach.

"I typically use the same 6.3:1 Pflueger reels for everything I fish," he said. "I kind of just like to adjust how fast I turn the handle as opposed to having to adjust to the feel of a different reel. I would say to try both. If using the slower reel works for you, go with it. If not, just turn the handle slower, and you'll get the same result."

Having created the Ledgebuster, Tibbs has learned through trial and error that super-sized spinnerbaits work best when fished with super-sized tackle. Light rods, light line, and lightweight reels just can't stand up to the pressures these lures can put on fishing gear.

While Tibbs recommends the same kind of rod-and-reel setup as Niggemeyer, he mentioned that using the longer rods and low-speed reels wouldn't help a bit if anglers spool their reels with light line. In fact, Tibbs says using the proper line will do more to maximize heavy spinnerbaits than just about anything else.

"We recommend using 17- to 20-pound-test monofilament for most applications," Tibbs explained. "If you throw anything lighter than that, the weight of the lure will actually cause the line to seize up on itself on the reel, which will eventually cause that line to break. The main problem with mono, though, is that it tends to want to pull the bait up off the bottom more than braid or fluorocarbon line."

When faced with off-colored water, Tibbs doesn't hesitate to fish his Ledgebuster on braided line. However, using braid can be tricky if the spool starts spinning faster than the speed at which the lure is flying through the air. And anybody that has tried to pick a backlash out of braided line knows what an exercise in frustration it can be. The happy medium between braid and mono might just be fluorocarbon.

"If the key to fishing big spinnerbaits is to keep them in the deep strike zone as long as possible," Niggemeyer began, "then using a line that helps it stay down is critical to the presentation.

"A line like 16-pound-test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon, which is a denser line than monofilament, works perfectly with big spinnerbaits. Whereas mono wants to pull the lure off the bottom, fluorocarbon's tendency to sink makes it easier to keep the bait down where it should be."

Spinnerbaits are often seen as the ultimate beginner lure because any angler can cast one out, reel it back in and catch bass. However, the same can't be said for heavy spinnerbaits. Chunking and winding may produce a fish or two, but learning the finer points of fishing heavy spinnerbaits in deep water is critical to getting the most out of these super-sized lures.

"After making a long cast, I let my Bottom Dweller sink all the way to the bottom," said Niggemeyer. "Once I know it's down, I engage my reel and pop my rod a little bit to put enough water pressure on the lure to start the blades turning and to make sure the skirt is flowing properly."

After making sure everything is in order, Niggemeyer then just slowly cranks on the reel to keep the lure moving across the bottom. To combat the spinnerbait's natural tendency to rise, he kills his retrieve every now and then to make sure his lure goes back to the bottom.

"Killing it keeps your spinnerbait where it needs to be," he added. "Bass are very much cover- and structure-oriented, and anytime you can bump that structure or cover with your lure -- spinnerbait or crankbait -- you're going to trigger that bass to bite out of pure instinct."

Another approach Niggemeyer uses is to lift his spinnerbait off the bottom with his rod before allowing it to flutter back. Sometimes known as a pump-and-flutter retrieve, this technique is very much like what some anglers would call stroking a jig. The idea behind stroking a jig is to violently pop a jig off the bottom, then let it fall straight back down.

"This is just like that, only your jig has a spinner attached to it," Niggemeyer said. "So, this technique is going to give those deep bass a little bit different retrieve that they might need to trigger them to bite."

While Niggemeyer's techniques could work in just about any lake in the country, Tibbs explained a technique that specifically works great on lakes that still have standing timber.

"One of the ways we fish the Ledgebuster here at Eufaula is to cast it out past the standing timber on the edges of the channels," he said. "As you reel your spinnerbait back in, you'll feel your line begin to load up as it pulls over the timber. The closer the spinner gets to the wood, the more pressure you'll feel on your line."

When he feels his lure pop over the obstruction, Tibbs kills his retrieve and allows his lure to flutter straight back to the bottom. This technique targets bass that suspend around the standing timber no matter how shallow or deep they may be. Most times, the closer the spinnerbait is to the timber as it falls, the better the bite will be.

The very nature of the blades turning on a spinnerbait creates lift much like helicopter blades. The larger the blades, the more lift they provide. That's why most spinnerbaits designed to ge

t down and stay down in deep water feature a single blade. These single-bladed lures can be kept near the bottom at a much faster retrieve than those with tandem blades.

"We make the Ledgebuster with either a single No. 7 Colorado blade or a No. 6 willow-leaf blade," Tibbs pointed out. "And, of course, the Colorado blade produces more lift than the willow blade, so you've got to fish it slower."

Another way to keep a heavy spinnerbait down on the bottom is to use smaller blades, especially if you desire a tandem blade setup for more flash. Niggemeyer has often replaced the larger blades that typically come on heavier spinnerbaits with No. 4 and No. 5 blades to keep his lure down.

"Anything you can do to get a big spinnerbait down to the bottom and keep it there will pay off in more bites because you'll have your lure in the strike zone a lot longer than you would otherwise."

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