Everyone has a fishing buddy that loves shallow water.
You know, the guy with the chopped up prop and a skeg polished down to bare metal. You’ll know him because he’s usually got his front locator turned off, and most of his rod guides are missing inserts from using it to tell the depth.
We’ve got a name for those kinds of anglers in the business; we call them bank beaters. If you’re wracking your brain and still can’t come up with someone like that, you either live on one of the great lakes, or that person is you.
The good news is that spring is the bank beaters time to shine.
No matter the lake, whether a deep, clear, highland reservoir or a grassy natural lake, springtime bass will be moving shallow. The water is also at its seasonal high, and the bass are on the feed, preparing for their upcoming spawn. Concurrently, rains wash lots of sediment into the water, causing even the clearest waters to pick up some color.
So, what does the combination of shallow bass and high, stained water mean to the average bank beater?
It’s spinnerbait time.
Spinnerbaits are hall of fame fish producers in the springtime. They allow anglers to cover lots of water, can be fished through lots of snaggy cover, and generate strikes from big bass.
BASS Elite Series and Denali pro Dennis Tietje knows a thing or two about shallow murky water. He hails from Roanoke, Louisiana – a near the terminus of the Mississippi River, or ‘Big Muddy’ as it’s known around his home.
All that time spent on the backwaters of the Mississippi delta has caused Tietje to become a spinnerbait expert, and he was kind enough to share some tips with us to help you become more skilled with a blade.
1. Size matters
Lots of anglers see spinnerbaits as one-size-fits-all and throw the same models no matter the conditions. To Tietje, that’s a big mistake, especially in the spring when the bass are feeding on a large variety of different prey.
“You should always think about what you’re trying to imitate when you decide which spinnerbait to throw,” he said. “Around here, in the spring most of the baitfish are super small, so I’ll actually throw a little 3/16- or ¼-ounce spinnerbait with really small blades. It has a super small profile which really generates strikes. If you were to go down the bank throwing the same spinnerbait you throw in the fall, I can guarantee that you’re not going to catch nearly as many bass as if you’ve got the profile right.”To best match the hatch, Tietje always keeps an assortment of spinnerbaits in the boat, ranging from diminutive 1/8 ounce all the way up to ½ ounce for springtime duty.
“If you pay attention while you’re fishing, you’ll often get little hints as to the size of the forage the bass are feeding on,” Tietje said. “Sometimes you’ll see them scatter, or a bass will spit one out. Pay attention to that and try to get your spinnerbait to match the size profile of whatever baitfish are present.”
2. Let em’ see it
Bass feed two ways, by sight and by sensing vibrations through their lateral line. If they can’t sense your bait’s presence, they certainly can’t bite it. For that reason, it is imperative that you choose a spinnerbait that not only has the right profile, but also can be seen or felt by the bass, which becomes difficult with the wildly changing conditions of the springtime.
“Even if you’ve got the right profile, you’re not going to catch any fish if they don’t know your bait is there,” Tietje said. “The blade combination is what accomplishes that. Depending on the conditions, I may throw anything from a double willow combination for maximum flash all the way to a single large Colorado blade for maximum thump.”
Tietje’s general rule is that in clearer water you’re looking for more flash, and in dirtier the water, more thump. Because of that, most often in clear water you’ll find him throwing a double willow, moving to a tandem Colorado/willow or an Indiana blade in stained water, and finally to a single number 5 Colorado in the muddiest water.
“I look at spinnerbait blades as a tradeoff,” he said. “Willows have the most flash, and Colorado’s have the most thump. Indiana’s are somewhere in between. I’ll move steadily move down that continuum as the water gets dirtier.”
3. Use the right rod
Because Tietje uses such a diverse array of spinnerbaits in the springtime, he’s also unable to choose a single rod to handle all his blade duty. Instead, he relies on two different models depending on the conditions and type of blade he is throwing.
“Having the right rod is really important when throwing a spinnerbait in the spring,” he said. “You need to be able to cast accurately around cover, feel subtle bites from lethargic bass, and bring them to the boat once you’ve got them hooked. If you’ve got the wrong rod, you’re going to lose or miss more fish than if you’re set up properly.”
For light duty, 3/16- or ¼-ounce spinnerbaits and around close cover, Tietje relies on the Denali Kovert 6 foot 9 inch, medium heavy model paired to a Bass Pro Shops Extreme reel in 6.4:1 gear ratio and spooled with 20-pound BPS fluorocarbon.
For heavier, 3/8- or ½-ounce blades, or in open water where he’s making long casts and covering water, Tietje opts for the heavier Kovert 7 foot 2 inch, medium heavy model with the same rod and line.Shorter rods are more accurate, so the shorter Kovert performs best when I’m working cypress knees or in some of the smaller canals,” Tietje said. “When I’m covering big grass flats on a place like Toledo Bend though, I like the extra length and power of the bigger rod. It helps me get extra distance on my casts and bury the hook if one eats it at the end of the cast.”
4. Stay versatile
If anything, this is the most important tip that Tietje has for anglers regarding springtime spinnerbaiting. Conditions can change by the hour, and what you did last week or even the day before might cause you to strike out today.
“Versatility is hugely important in all aspects of bass fishing, but it is the number one thing you need to focus on when throwing a spinnerbait,” he said. “You might be catching them tossing a ¼-ounce spinnerbait along bank grasses one day, and then the water comes up and gets dirty pushing the fish up into the flooded cypress trees. In that case you might need to switch to a 3/8-ounce model with a big Colorado blade. I’ve seen that kind of change happen overnight on multiple occasions.”
For springtime spinnerbaiting, the bottom line is to pay attention to the conditions and experiment to ensure that the bait you’re throwing not only mimics the overall size profile of the prevailing forage, but also that it can be seen or felt by the bass. When those two factors combine, you’ll often find a bass tugging on the end of your line.