Winning means using this versatile bait to its full capacity
To compete successfully on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, a pro has to be a versatile all-around angler capable of handling every technique from power fishing to finessing sissy baits. Such versatility is a must when you consider the wide variety of water and weather conditions that we encounter throughout the country.
But if I had to select one lure as my favorite, it would be a spinnerbait. And a large number of bass pros would agree with me. The spinnerbait is one of the greatest fish-catching baits of all and a year-round lure for me.
At seminars, I often am asked if there is one spinnerbait that does it all. The answer is no. Every fishermen needs to become proficient with spinnerbaits ranging from 1/4 to 3/4 ounce. Somewhere in that range, you will find a spinnerbait that will catch fish year-around.
Without a doubt, my favorite cover for spinnerbaiting is sweetgum trees and buck brush, which is the kind of bass habitat that I learned to fish while growing up on Buggs Island. In the springtime, Buggs is one of the greatest spinnerbait lakes of all time, and that’s where I learned to throw a spinnerbait.
The key to spinnerbaiting has always been the prevailing conditions. Prime spinnerbaiting fish, to me, is when I’m on a good reaction bite, and the fish are fairly loose in the cover. With regard to weather conditions and spinnerbait fishing, wind is your biggest friend. Cloud cover is also a big help, along with any kind of stain in the water (as long as it’s not too dirty).
When it comes to seasons, I am a huge fan of springtime, especially when the shad are spawning. It is important to be able to recognize when the shad are going through their spawning ritual. During the shad spawn, you will be spinnerbaiting a stretch of bank and you will suddenly see a school of shad up against the bank. If your spinnerbait mimics a shad well enough, these spawning shad will actually follow your bait. And when you get into that situation, you will experience one of the greatest spinnerbait bites of all time.
It’s neat to watch, too, because you will be reeling your bait back – and if it’s a clear-water situation – you will sometimes see 40 or 50 shad following your spinnerbait. Then, all of a sudden, the shad just disappear. They just run off and leave. That’s when you had better hold on to your rod. What made them disappear is a bass that is about to eat your spinnerbait.
When it comes to spinnerbait size, I have found applications for the entire range of sizes.
The 1/4-ounce bait is one of the best hot-water and fall-of-the-year spinnerbaits. In the springtime, I start heavy and go light. In the fall, I start light and go heavy. When the water is the hottest, I want to use the smallest spinnerbait. When the water is the coolest, I use the bigger baits.
I’m a big fan of a double Colorado blade combination. I think that is a bait that doesn’t get fished as much as it used to – or as much as it needs to be used. It still catches fish. In recent years, everybody seems to have gotten caught up in using double willow leaf spinnerbaits. The tandem willow configuration is a situational bait. It’s one of the best springtime baits there ever was. But as the temperature rises, I’m more into Colorado, double Colorado and a Colorado willow leaf combination.
To me, the worst time of the year to use a spinnerbait is the dead of winter. That’s when the shad are suspended, and there are not a lot of bass on the bank. You can still catch some fish by stair-stepping the bait – dragging it off of the bank and letting it flutter to the bottom as it gets progressively deeper. But it’s tough to catch a lot of fish in the dead of the winter unless you are spinnerbaiting a grass lake.
Regardless of the season, one of the most important elements with spinnerbait fishing is the retrieve. I get a lot of questions throughout the year on retrieving spinnerbaits.
In most situations, I start off with a medium retrieve and then vary from that until I get a strike. But as a rule, the colder the water, the slower you should retrieve it. The hotter the water, the faster you should bring it through the water.
I’ve seen situations in the summer and fall (especially when you get around wind-blown fish) when you can’t retrieve the bait fast enough. That’s the time of year people miss out on some of the best spinnerbait action of all. That is because most fishermen are so dialed into a medium retrieve that the fish come up, get a good look at it and pass it up. In that situation, the faster you can retrieve it and still keep that bait under the water, the harder the bass will hit it because it’s a reflex action. If it is clear water and you’re ripping it over their heads, the fish get a glimpse of the bait. It resembles a baitfish that is getting away, so they eat it – no questions asked.
But if you slow the bait down in that situation, the bass get a glimpse of it, decide to take a closer look, but then they turn away from it. A fast retrieve is one of the most important aspects in the summer and fall of the year.
Successful spinnerbaiting begins with selecting the proper tackle. My outfits for spinnerbait fishing stay very simple. For light spinnerbaits, I use a 7-foot, medium-action rod and a fast gear ratio reel. For 1/2-ounce and heavier baits, I switch to a 7-foot, medium-heavy rod and the same reel.
As far as line size goes, I use fluorocarbon line as light as 12-pound test for 1/4-ounce spinnerbaits and as big as 25-pound test for 3/4-ounce baits if I’m around a lot of heavy wood and big bass.
This is an area where many fishermen make a mistake regarding spinnerbaits. I think we use line that is too heavy at times. Everybody thinks 20-pound test does everything for spinnerbait fishing. But I think smaller spinnerbaits (1/4 and 3/8 ounce) on lighter line will generate more bites because you get a better action out of your lure.
I recently had the rare opportunity to design a line of spinnerbaits for Gambler that includes every feature that I felt was important. Over the years, I have spent countless hours experimenting with things like wire diameter, spacing, blade gauges, head shapes and paints. And that all came together when I designed the new Gambler Pro Series of spinnerbaits.
I wanted to design a spinnerbait that was a professional tool but also one that went back to the good old basics. The spinnerbait industry today has gone too far with their holographic finishes and such. In the process, they’ve forgotten about the basic elements that make spinnerbaits such an effective lure.
The Pro Series features the finest of components in a precisely designed package that comes close to being the perfect spinnerbait. The difference with this spinnerbait begins with its head design. The Pro Series features a round, bullet-shaped head, which is ideal for penetrating wood and other forms of cover without getting snagged. The next important element inherent in this series is a short-shank hook. The hooks match the head sizes precisely.
I’m a big believer in short-shank hooks on spinnerbaits, which is something that the industry has gotten away from. As a spinnerbait fisherman, I want a compact bite.
The Gambler Pro Series features blades that are made of a little heavier gauge material than typical spinnerbait blades. The heavier blades displace more water, giving the bait more vibration. And the blades are attached to a wire diameter that precisely matches the head size of the bait. I have found that light-wire spinnerbait arms make it difficult to set the hook properly with a medium or heavy spinnerbait.
When it comes to spinnerbaits, I have never been one to get caught up in color combinations. That’s why we stuck to basic head and skirt colors with the Pro Series – the colors that people know will produce fish. They include four basic head colors and skirts with a scale pattern and a translucent color to match each head. That gives you a clear-water color and a dirty-water color.
I’m also a big fan of the Gambler Ninja Spin, which is one of the top shallow grass spinnerbaits I’ve ever had in my hands. It’s unique in the fact that the three blades rotate differently at the same time. When I first looked at it, I thought it was a gimmick. But after using it for the last couple of years down around shallow grass, there is not a doubt in my mind that it’s one of the best spinnerbaits ever designed for grass in less than 5 feet of water. (In fact, I finished fifth in the 2000 Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee on the Ninja Spin).
Shallow cover is where a spinnerbait can really strut its stuff. There is no better bait in shallow cover where there is stained water and baitfish are present. Current is also important – especially in summer and fall. If I can find all those conditions, it’s a great shallow spinnerbait situation.
But successful spinnerbaiting is not limited to shallow cover. Some of today’s top pros are experts at slow-rolling these bladed baits in water 15 feet and deeper.
Deep spinnerbaiting is a whole different ballgame from fishing the shallow stuff.
First, you have to use a little bit heavier head than normal. I use a 3/4- or 1-ounce bait, which is tied to 15- to 20-pound test line and cast on a 7-foot rod.
For spinnerbait fishing in deep water, I like a rounded head, because I think it gives more deflection angles (meaning the spinnerbait can come through cover better and has less tendency to roll). Plus, a round spinnerbait head tends to run truer. I also like heavier gauge blades, which displace more water – an important element down deep.
Shallow or deep, I prefer smooth blades. I think a smooth blade reflects light better than a hammered blade.
When I am deep-spinnerbaiting, I rely on three blade combinations. My workhorse is a 4 1/2 double willow leaf combo. It allows good depth penetration at a moderate retrieve speed. If you get too big with your blades, the spinnerbait won’t sink well and stay down during the retrieve. It will have a tendency to rise.
For any kind of spinnerbait fishing, I match my color choice to the water clarity. When I’m in clear to moderately stained water, I like Gambler’s natural series heads, blades and skirts. I like a gold head or silver head with a similar skirt (gold glimmer or silver glimmer) and matching blades. In stained water, I go to painted head colors. I’ll use chartreuse with the gold-glimmer head or white with the silver glimmer. Any time I use a chartreuse head, my back blade is always gold and the front blade is silver. On a white painted head, my back blade is always silver and my front blade is always gold.
One other tip about spinnerbaits: regardless of the depth, I never use a plastic or pork trailer, but I almost always add a trailer hook. A trailer hook is the key to catching short-striking bass.
As I said earlier, although I pride myself on being a versatile angler, I am a huge spinnerbait fan. From shallow cover to deep structure, few lures have the allure of these bladed baits.