Going Old School on Reds
One of my earliest bass fishing memories as kid was catching bass on a spinnerbait. Spinnerbaits were so easy to cast, versatile for all types of cover and allowed for covering a lot of shallow water fast.
Not surprisingly, my favorite way to fish spinnerbaits was to run them just under the surface so I could see the glimmering blades disappear into the white flash and boil of a big bass.
I was probably part of the last generation of anglers to enjoy the thrill of year-round spinnerbait fishing on public lakes. Lake Eufaula and Seminole were once spinnerbait havens in the 1980s. Several decades and millions of casts by thousands of fishermen later, bass have become pretty wise to a gaudy double-willow chartreuse and white lure whirling over their heads. Yes, the old spinnerbug will still catch a bass or two these days, but the windows for their effectiveness are much smaller than they used to be.
Luckily, I have found a replacement for my old school spinnerbait habits in the form of redfish, allowing me to rekindle those old bass fishing memories.
A while back ago I wrote a Saltier Side on bladed baits for saltwater, which discussed three different types of bladed baits that are effective in the brine: spoons, spinnerbaits and chatterbaits. This time, though, I want to take a closer look at the spinnerbait and the best areas and windows for its use.
For starters, let’s talk terrain. My spinnerbait rule of thumb is, the closer I get to freshwater influx, the more apt I am to use a spinnerbait. When fishing out on beaches, backsides of barriers or even big flats of pure saltwater, spinnerbaits are not high on my list. But if I get into a delta system, an area littered with creek mouths or especially backwater ponds where vegetation is prolific, it’s blades on!
Next, I won’t bother with a spinnerbait for reds in gin clear water or on low tide, or worse yet, a combination of the two.
Fortunately, these two sort of go hand in hand: the bottom end of the tide tends to draw out clearer water draining from the marshes and shallow tidal flats while a rising tide near the top of the cycle tends to bring in more colored water. That low tide, clear-water window calls for finessier tactics, so we’ll save that topic for another day.
On the contrary, that high tide, more colored-water window is prime time for some thump and flash. Of course water color is all relative, so here is another basic rule of thumb: If I can see the bottom at the base of the cover I’m trying to fish, the water is either too clear, too low or a bad combination of both and a spinnerbait might be too much.
However, if I’m fishing vegetation, oyster bars or even manmade stuff like riprap or seawalls and the bottom half of the cover sort of disappears into a nice, off-colored murk, that critical combination of tide, depth and water clarity starts to get the right look for blades. Now add a bit of current and maybe a touch of wind ripple on the surface and you’ve got spinnerbait bingo.
The following are examples my favorite spinnerbait scenarios for redfish, especially on higher tides. First, any kind of delta, bay or marsh that features freshwater inflow and tall emergent vegetation like cord grass, spartina, bulrush, or what some just call “marsh grass,” are great places to start with a spinnerbait. Any points, cuts, pockets, intersections or undercut banks in the grass are fair game. Sort of casting parallel to the grass is preferred to increase your chances. And don’t be afraid to contact the stems of the grass with the bait.
Oyster bars in current are killer spots for rolling spinnerbaits just over the submerged shells at high tide.
If you are lucky enough to find backwater marsh ponds with eelgrass or hydrilla in them you are in spinnerbait heaven. The water clarity is likely to be much better in these areas, but if you can catch a flood tide when it’s over the grass, you can use the old school “pulsing” or “bulging” method with the blade just under the surface for some vicious strikes.
When the top of the tide starts to fall and the water first starts draining off these areas, spinnerbaits are at premium.
As for the kind of spinnerbaits you want for redfish, single spin is the way to go. I first started with ¼-ounce tandem Colorado blades made for bass fishing. I would cut the front blade off and turn it into just a single spin. While bass spinnerbaits will work, they seldom hold up to redfish abuse. Fortunately, several companies make beefed up versions of the single spin just for redfishing, which is a good thing. Hildebrandt’s Drum Roller, Strike King’s Redfish Magic or Bass Assassin’s Redfish Daddy are all made with heavier wire for the job.
You will notice that most redfish spinnerbaits don’t come with skirts and they are usually tipped with a 3- to 4-inch swimbait with a boot or knob tail. Toothy pinfish often patrol the same waters where spinnerbaits are thrown and will easily nibble your boot-tail off. If you grow weary of this, switch to a Berkley Gulp Shrimp or Z-Man ElaZtech plastic as your trailer – not only are they tougher, but they’re scented which only helps the cause with redfish.
Finally, due to the off-colored water, I usually tie to straight braid, SpiderWire Ultracast Ultimate Braid in 15- or 20-pound test on casting gear is a reliable choice.
If the bass in your favorite lakes are getting a bit picky about blades, head for a marshy coastline in the southeast and see if you don’t find redfish to be a bit more cooperative.