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Putting A New Spin On The Old Spinnerbait

I really enjoy fishing Spinnerbaits. I appreciate their versatility. You can use them as a search bait, or cast to targeted areas in the pads. You can flip or pitch them to bushes and laydowns picking the structure apart carefully or retrieve them along weed edges. You can helicopter them followed by a slow roll, or burn the retrieve. You can alter numbers of blades, size, type and color. Same with the skirt- long and pulsing or short and full. The jig head and skirt can match many different hatch situations and you can even add a trailer hook to avoid short strikes…. or not. Largemouth, smallmouth, spots and even schoolie stripers and hybrids all will hit a spinnerbait at one time or another.

The safety pin style of spinnerbait with tandem blades has a history that goes back to 1852 when the first patent for something resembling what we know today was granted. Seems that a wanna-be inventor accidently dropped a tablespoon into the lake, and as it fluttered down, he watched a lake trout eat it.  From this observation came the Buel Trolling Spoon, but in an effort to more closely match the action, Julio Buel began producing in-line spinners with spinning blades that mimicked the fish attracting flash he observed during the chance encounter between the spoon and the Laker.

In 1917, the W.J. Jamison Company introduced the Shannon Twin Spin built with two overhead Indiana spinner blades on a wire shaft.  By 1925, Jamison was producing a single overhead spinnerbait resembling today’s modern day version.  Considering the early popularity of fly fishing, it should be no surprise that the first spinnerbaits were made with bucktails or feathers tied on with thread.  The popularity of fishing drove continued development and a strong demand for these early spinnerbaits,

Technology advanced as well. Naturally dressed hooks were replaced by more durable rubber skirts which have since given way to vinyl.  The rise of bass tournaments, and the popularity of bass fishing, brought further demand for spinnerbaits, which led to mass manufacturing.  Today, the “safety-pin” style of spinnerbait, identified by its 90 degree wire frame embedded into a bullet-shaped lead head, drssed with a skirted single hook, may be the most popular lure for bass anglers.

Aside from the sharpness of the hook, the most important part of any spinnerbait is the blade. The spinnerbait blade is attached at the tip of the wire overhead arm by a swivel or other type of enclosed wire loop. If a second or additional blades are desired, they are usually attached “in-line” to the first blade by means of a clevis to create the “tandem” or multi-blade effect that mimics multiple bait fish. There are several different shapes of blade. The two main characteristics you want from a spinnerbait blade are flash (the amount of light reflecting off the blade as it moves) and vibration (the amount of ‘thump’ or water displacement provided by  the blade as it spins). Some blade designs optimize vibration, while others produce more flash.

Generally the rounder Colorado blade, a round, spoon-shaped blade, is used for slow, steady, cold-water retrieves. They are effective when helicoptering them in a free fall and during retrieve pauses. Similarly, you can slow roll the bait along the bottom. The Colorado is designed for maximum vibration. The vibration stems from its broad shape which produces a deep, heavy vibration that bass can detect at long distances via their lateral line. I prefer a big single Colorado or a bait with two- one smaller and the other a lot smaller than the single- for situations where murky water diminishes the sight bite- including at night.

The Willow Leaf blade is, as foliage name suggests, a long, narrow shaped blade with an almost flat cross-section. The Willow Leaf is designed to emphasize flash vs. vibration. Compared to the Colorado, it has very little vibration at all. Willow Leaf spinnerbaits are commonly used when visibility is adequate for the bass to see the sunlight flashing off the blades as they rotate on retrieve. If you are in the spinnerbait aisle of your favorite tackle shop or perusing a catalog, you will note that one popular option on the market is to have a large Willow Leaf blade paired with a smaller Colorado blade in ‘tandem’. Here you get a bit of the best of both although this combo can also be viewed as a bit sub-optimal for the exact conditions you are fishing. It is also common to see a gold or silver Willow paired with a most commonly silver Colorado.

The Indiana blade is a bit of a hybrid- half Willow Leaf and half Colorado. Its design shares the narrower width and longer length of the Willow while employing some of the rounded shape of the Colorado. The hybrid nature of this blade makes it very versatile- a middle-ground between between the design extremes of the other two. All you have to do is look in a Mepps catalog to realize that it is the most prevalent blade type used for in-line spinners. The Indiana gets its name from the fact that it was introduced in tandem configuration by Hildebrandt, an Indiana spinnerbait maker.

The Oklahoma blade, also referred to as the Turtleback, Olympic, or Mag Willow, is a shortened, slightly more rounded, variant of the Willow Leaf blade. It looks as if someone took a metalsmith’s hammer and pounded a Willow out to get a slightly altered shape. Due to its increased surface area as compared to the Willow, it has greater vibration without losing too much of its flash. As a fatter blade, it does fall between the Colorado and Indiana blades in terms of blade speed and thump in murkier waters. The Oklahoma is also a good blade to use in more heavily-pressured waters as it is seen as being less “common” to the well pressure bass

There are quite a number of variations on these four blade types. The Royal, Dakota, Tomahawk and Hatchet styles are typically used to achieve a cross between a buzzbait and a spinnerbait as these are designed to be run shallow. Tomahawk and Hatchet are also used- varying in size- in configurations of three to five blades to create the illusion of even more bait commotion. The French, Fluted and Ripple blades, and Dimpled blade, are not really different shapes as they are basically Colorado, Indiana, or Willow blades altered by the manufacturer to achieve a cupping effect or other novel sonic signature to be detected by the bass’ lateral line.

Finally, there are some physical properties of certain blades, as well as their configurations, that must be considered. For example, an over-sized, swivel-mounted blade, when retrieved too fast, has a tendency to roll due to the torque created by the spinning blade. This decreases the odds of getting a good hook set. You want to make sure your bait runs true, with overhead arm and head/hook vertical during the horizontal retrieve. Furthermore, skirt lengths and types of material are other areas where manufacturers have advanced the spinnerbait from days of old. I am a fan of the Terminator Pulse skirt and have used it extensively over the past five years. Skirts are an feature of focus in best matching your "hatch" situation.

Skirts today are either tied-on or attached by way of a latex/silicone collar to the lead head hook. Silicone skirts dominate the field today, along with the innovative “living” rubber skirt. The skirt’s pulsating or fluttering motion is caused by the blade spin and profile. The skirt adds resistance, which enables anglers to retrieve the bait slower depending on how many strands are used. Some skirts, like the Pulse, have a longer section which provides extra action.

For years, I used spinnerbaits right out of the package. But in recent years, using a tip from my “saltwater fishing son, I started adding a Keitech or Bass Assassin trailer to my spinnerbaits. This falls under the category of fish striking when they see something different. Trailers have become a regular part of my spinnerbait bag of tricks as have trailer hooks for short striking fish.

There is another consideration when choosing a spinnerbait: short-arm or long-arm. Short-arm spinnerbaits are preferred for more vertical presentations, such as flipping bridge pilings or docks, or working down structure like bluffs or underwater “cliffs”. They excel when applying a “yo-yo” retrieve. The short arm allows the spinnerbait a more natural, fluttering fall without a nose-dive. It is also more effective than long-arm models when the bait is dragged across the bottom like a jig or slow-rolled. Short-arm baits and Colorado blades go together “like peas and carrots.” In combination they are effective when a slow fall is desired, creating maximum fluttering vibe and good flash as the lure descends.

On the other hand, the short arm is not as good at shielding the hook thereby making it more prone to snagging weeds and brush. Long-arm spinnerbaits are used when a bait has multiple blades or when there is more weed resistance on retrieve. Long-arm baits are typically preferred for “walking” a spinnerbait. Experts like Hank Parker and Jimmy Houston, two of the most prolific spinnerbait anglers, generally prefer small wire/short arm spinnerbaits to create more vibration. I find that experimentation will lead you to a conclusion that works for you on the water you fish.

Finally, consider your rod and reel. I find that spinnerbait fishing is best with a rod designed to handle at least a ¾ ounce bait. I also prefer a casting rod to a spinning rod for spinnerbaits. I rig mine with 20 lb. braid with a 15-20 lb. Fluorocarbon leader. You are fishing in weeds and around cover so you'll be happy you are not using light line. I also don’t let the spinnerbait sink out of sight before I start the retrieve- if you do, you will probably be reeling in a pile of slop.

As I said at the start, I like spinnerbait fishing. They are definitely one of my confidence baits. Spinnerbaits will catch fish in most waters and they offer the flexibility to choose a type that will fit almost any condition. Throw’em and get to know’em. Gain confidence and you’ll be a believer.


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