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Spin to Win: Rediscover the Trusty Old Spinnerbait for Bass

It's time to dust off those old-school bass lures and find out why they're experiencing a resurgence.

Spin to Win: Rediscover the Trusty Old Spinnerbait for Bass

Sometimes less is more. Don’t assume you must have a trailer to catch fish. Keeping the bait’s profile compact often results in more bites and hooked fish. (Photo by Brad Richardson)

The venerable spinnerbait has been around for a long, long time—more than a century, in fact. It was a success from the very beginning, and it stayed in the spotlight for many decades. During that time, no self-respecting bass chaser would be caught dead without a few at his or her disposal.

The spinnerbait, or "blade" as it was often referred to, probably reached its greatest heights in the 1970s. A spinnerbait was a big factor in the first six Bassmaster Classic wins (1971 to 1976), and expert after expert called it the most versatile bait in the bass world—a marvel that covered water, drew bass from great distances, appealed to bass senses that other lures ignored and came through cover like a beagle chasing a rabbit. There was little reason to throw any other lure, but all that changed about 20 years ago.

FISHING FASHION

In the early 2000s, events conspired to knock the spinnerbait off its pedestal. Square-billed crankbaits took some of the spotlight. They were winning tournaments and could be fished in many of the same places anglers were accustomed to tossing spinnerbaits. No, square bills didn’t fare well in vegetation, but they were built to deflect off wood and rocks, and they felt new and trendy. At about the same time, anglers were learning that you didn’t have to crawl or hop a jig. You could also "swim" it, essentially giving it the same retrieve in the very same places that you’d fish a spinnerbait.

Plus, a swim jig was more subtle than a spinnerbait and appealed to bass that had grown weary of all that flash and vibration. But it was a third lure that really pushed the spinnerbait out of the spotlight. In 2004, Ron Davis and RAD Lures introduced the ChatterBait. It might not have been the first "bladed jig" (the Whopper Stopper Dirtybird likely deserves that distinction), but it was a quantum leap forward and clearly the most impactful bait of the first decade of the 2000s.

The ChatterBait (now owned by Z-Man) could go anywhere a spinnerbait could go and some places it couldn’t (for instance, you can skip a ChatterBait). It was new and sexy, and it captured the bass fishing zeitgeist. With square bills, swim jigs and bladed jigs now driving the bass tackle market, the spinnerbait got lost in the shuffle. Fishing is fashion, after all, at least among anglers, and bait types and colors go in and out of style (remember "motor oil" plastic worms?).

But, ultimately, you can’t keep a good bait down forever. The same basic spinnerbait designs that produced great catches of bass a century ago still produce today. In fact, they may be even better than before. After all, the past few generations of bass have seldom seen a spinnerbait.

A SPRING THING

When bass are reacting and relating to some aspect of the spawn, their mating urges are either just being triggered (pre-spawn or spawn) or were recently on display (post-spawn). That tells us a few things. First, pre-spawn fish are likely shallow and feeding aggressively. The spawners may attack a lure that appears to be a threat to the nest. Post-spawners are in recovery mode and feeding to regain weight and energy reserves. The spinnerbait excels under all these conditions. Fish it near spawning areas, and you’ll be in good water.

Perhaps no lure in an angler’s arsenal is better suited for modification than the spinnerbait. All you need are a pair of cutting pliers, some spare blades (easily cannibalized from old spinnerbaits) and some spare skirts. Modern safety pin-style spinnerbaits come in two basic types: single-spin and tandem-spin. The difference is that a single-spin has one blade attached to the end of the upper wire arm with a swivel, whereas a tandem-spin has that blade plus a second blade attached to the shaft of the upper arm via a clevis.

More than 90 percent of the spinnerbaits sold today are tandem models, but it’s not because the tandem spin is 90 percent better than the single spin. They each have their role and deserve a place in your tackle box. Besides, you can turn any tandem-spin into a single-spin merely by removing the leading blade from the shaft arm. Voila.




TOOL UP

But when should you throw a single-spin versus a tandem-spin? There are at least three situations.

The first is when you really need to slow a bait down to keep it low in the water column or very near the bottom. It takes more speed to move two blades, so go with a single Colorado (round), Indiana (tear-drop shape) or willow-leaf blade.

The Colorado has more "thump" and lift, while the willow leaf may offer more flash. The Indiana lands somewhere in between. Letting a spinnerbait fall to the bottom and retrieving it just fast enough to keep the blade turning is known as "slow rolling," especially deadly in the pre-spawn.

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Second, when you want to use a yo-yo or up-and-down retrieve, a single-spin—especially one with a short upper arm—will "helicopter" on the fall, allowing the blade to spin enticingly as it drops. In fact, one of the best spinnerbait retrieves at any time of year is to work the bait fast until it reaches visible cover like a stump, laydown, weed edge or dock piling and then "kill" it, stopping the retrieve suddenly so the spinnerbait falls next to the object, often into the mouth of a hungry bass.

Finally, when fishing at night or in very muddy water, a single-spin with a big Colorado blade (#5 or larger) should be your go-to. Why? It simply has more "thump" and creates lots of vibration that the bass can easily find via their lateral line.

But what about the tandem-spin? Well, it has its place, too, and most of today’s bass anglers throw nothing else since the single-spin fell out of favor about 20 years ago. In fact, the tandem-spin is terrific for the way most anglers fish a spinnerbait. They simply chunk it out and wind it in—nothing more. If that’s all you’re going to do, a tandem-spin is not a bad choice. It has lots of flash, lots of lift and it’s tailor-made for aggressive bass that are targeting bait. It’s mostly when you need a more nuanced approach or retrieve that you should reach for a single-spin.

CHUNK AND WIND

Will spinnerbaits catch bass if you simply cast them out and wind them back in? Yes. Occasionally. But that’s also true of any other lure in your tackle box. Spinnerbaits will catch a lot more fish—especially early in the season—if you incorporate these elements into your basic retrieve.

  • First, "bump the stump." That was TV and tournament legend Roland Martin’s advice back in the 1970s, and it still holds up today. It means that you make your spinnerbait contact cover in the water. As much as possible, every cast should be made so that the lure can bump into a stump, weed patch, dock piling or other cover. This causes the bait to deflect or ricochet, often creating a reaction strike.
  • Second, don’t just casually wind the lure in. Snap your wrists sharply after every few turns of the reel handle. This will cause the blades to flutter and the skirt to flare. It’s just the thing to trigger a strike.
  • Third, use the right rod. The rod you want for your spinnerbait fishing should be softer than a worm rod and stiffer than a crankbait rod. Too heavy and you’ll have trouble making precise casts to cover. Too light and you won’t get good hook penetration.
  • Fourth, stick to basic colors. Know the forage in your favorite waters—especially the baitfish—and match your spinnerbaits’ skirts and trailers to it. If and when the water’s dirty, consider bold colors like chartreuse or black. A solid default choice for a spinnerbait skirt is white with a few chartreuse strands.
  • Fifth, don’t stress over trailers. A slim split-tail has been the standard spinnerbait trailer for a long time, and it works. A curly-tailed grub can be good, too, especially in warm water. Less can be more here. You may not even need a trailer. Don’t overdo it. But by all means, let the bass tell you what they want.

ORIGIN STORY

  • The first spinnerbait came to market more than 100 years ago.

The spinnerbait may be hot now, but it’s hardly new. Jesse Shannon (1878-1931) of Lake Geneva, Wis., is generally credited with designing the first spinnerbait—the Shannon Twin Spinner—in about 1915. He applied for a patent on the lure the next year, and it was granted in 1919.

Twin-spins (baits with twin arms) are rare these days, having been mostly replaced by safety-pin-style spinnerbaits (Shannon made those, too). Nevertheless, the Shannon Twin Spinner was remarkably successful and enormously impactful. It was in continuous production into the 1970s, by which time modern spinnerbaits had taken over the market.

Shannon was no one-trick pony, though. He also designed various spoons and spinners that were popular in the first half of the last century. But it was his Twin Spinner that cements his position as one of the all-time great lure designers.

BEST NEW BLADES

  • Spinnerbaits are back, and new ones are popping up in the marketplace.
bass spinnerbaits
Great new spinnerbaits: Booyah Covert (top left), Berkley Power Blade (bottom left), Shimano Swagy Strong Double Willow (right).

The "spinnerbait renaissance" is being fueled by several new designs. Here are a few of the latest and greatest to hit the shelves.

  • Berkley Power Blade spinnerbaits were developed by Bassmaster Classic and MLF Redcrest champion Edwin Evers. They feature Fusion19 hooks, a solid trailer keeper and PowerBait-infused skirts that smell and taste just like the stuff Berkley has been cooking into their soft plastics for years. ($4.99; berkley-fishing.com)
  • The Booyah Covert series was designed by 2022 Classic champ Jason Christie. The baits feature quality components like Hildebrandt blades and come in every size and color an angler might want. ($10.49; lurenet.com)
  • Shimano has dipped its toe into the spinnerbait market with the introduction of the Swagy Strong Double Willow Spinnerbait. As the name implies, the baits feature twin willow-leaf blades. Quality blades are standard, as is a silicone skirt and a tapered main wire to increase vibration and flash. ($13.99; fish.shimano.com)

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