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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, as we have come to know it, has a history that goes back to 1852 when the first patent for something resembling what we know today was granted. Seems that some fisherman and 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 he observed, Julio Buel began producing in-line spinners with spinning blades that mimicked the fish attracting flash Buel observed during the chance encounter between the spoon and the Laker.


By 1917, the W.J. Jamison Company doubled down with the Shannon Twin Spin built with two overhead Indiana spinner blades on a wire shaft.  By 1925, Jamison was also producing a single overhead spinnerbait resembling today’s modern day spinnerbait.  Considering the early popularity of fly fishing, it should be no surprise that the first spinnerbait were made from bucktail or feathers tied on with thread.  With both the popularity of fishing and the resulting demand for baits such as these early spinnerbaits increasing,

Technology developed as well. Naturally dressed hooks were soon replaced by the more durable rubber skirt which has since given way to vinyl.  With the advent of bass tournaments and the ensuing popularity of bass fishing, there came an increased demand for spinnerbaits which led to mass manufacturing.  Today, the “safety-pin” style of overhead bladed spinnerbait, identified by its 90 degree wire frame embedded into a bullet-shaped lead head with a skirted single hook behind it,  is probably the most popular lure among bass, northern pike, and even redfish anglers.

Aside from the sharpness of the business end, 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. This mimics the presence of multiple baitfish. There are some general guidelines that outline the benefits of particular designs, colors and size of blades to be used. 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 flickering or 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 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 common to see a gold or silver Willow paired with a most commonly silver Colorado. This is not the optimal combo when fishing clearer water on a sunny day when gold-gold would be a better choice, or on a cloudy day in stained water where a silver-silver twin Colorado would be preferred.


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 highly versatile, providing 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 manufacturer. 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 much of its flash characteristic. 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. Not only might it be less “common” to the well pressure bass, it also creates a vibration pattern that is unlike the other three more common blade types.

There are quite a number of variations on these four blade types. The Royal, Dakota, Tomahawkand Hatchet styles are typically used to achieve a cross between a buzzbait and a spinnerbait as these are designed to be run shallow- virtually right under the surface. Tomahawk and Hatchet are also used- varying in size- in configurations of from three to five blades to create a spinnerbait that creates the illusion of even more bait commotion. the French, Fluted and Ripple blades, and I could even include the Dimpled blade, are not really different shapes as they are basically Colorado or Indiana, or even Willow, blades that are altered by a metalsmith or manufacturer’s press to achieve a cupping effect or other altered sonic signature to appeal in a slightly novel way to the bass’ lateral line. You could also add the Deep Cup Colorado to that list. The proliferation of distributors that offer lure making components will continue to add to this list of variants. Finally, there are some “physics” of blades and their configuration that must be considered. Over-sized, swivel-mounted blades, when retrieved too fast, have a tendency to roll due to the torque created by the spinning blade. This decreases the odds of getting a solid hook set. You want to make sure your bait runs true, with overhead arm and head/hook vertical during the horizontal retrieve.

Just as in the fashion world, skirt lengths, types and material options are another area where bait manufacturers and their angler customers have advanced the spinnerbait from days of old. I am a big fan of the Terminator Pulse skirt and have given it my exclusive over the past two-three years, but there are many different options when it comes to the body/target/action profile you need to best match your fishing situation. Skirts today are either tied-on or attached by way of a latex/silicone collar to the lead-

headed hook. Silicone skirts basically dominate the field today, along with the latest innovation the “living” rubber skirt. The skirt’s pulsating or fluttering motion is really caused by the blade spin and the related blade profile. The skirt adds resistance, which enables anglers to retrieve the bait slower depending on how many strands are used (thickness of the skirt), but this also is heavily influenced by blade size and shape. The length of the skirt is typically 1/4-inch past the curve of the hook, but some skirts, like the Terminator Pulse, have a longer section which provides extra action.

Old dogs can learn new tricks. After years of fishing the Spinnerbait “out of the package”, on a trip with my “saltwater son”, I noticed he was adding a Bass Assassin trailer to his spinnerbait. When I queried him, he said “the bass like to see something different, and this Bass Assassin is a finesse bait I use successfully on Stripers.” Well, no sooner had he added it, he had three bass on three successive casts. You did not have to hit me over the head. Trailers have become a regular part of my spinnerbait bag of tricks. Fishermen generally have their personal favorites, but in addition to the Bass Assassin, I like adding Power Team Lures grubs or Keitech Swing Impacts or Fat Impacts. Some anglers like a shaped pork rind or a trailer resembling a crawfish or a frog. It all depends on time of year and forage you are trying to match. The crawfish is good for colder water slow rolling applications, frogs for when you are pitching between the pads or fishing the weed pockets. Your trailer will change your lure profile, action and lift depending on its shape and size. For example, a straight, split-tail design will have the least lift or drag resistance and will basically act as a skirt extension. On the other hand, a large curly-tail grub produces more rear action, more lift, and creates a larger profile within the pulsating skirt.  A Pork or soft plastic chunk bait will contribute the most lift to the bait on horizontal retrieve. Trailers have another advantage. When a fish takes the lure into its mouth, the trailer will at times catch on the gill rakes making it a bit more difficult for the fish to spit the lure, thereby giving the angler another second to set the hook.


There are two more considerations when choosing a spinnerbait. The first is 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, as Forrest Gump would say, “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. When dragged over a tree limb, the angler must give the short arm a quick tug to skip the lure over the branch before the weight rolls the lure and burying the hook into the wood. Long-arm spinnerbaits are used when a bait has multiple blades or when more weed resistance is needed during a horizontal retrieve. Long-arm baits are typically preferred for “walking” a spinnerbait. On the down side, the long arm can actually block the hook point, especially when a large fish crushes the entire lure in its mouth. This reduces the lure’s “hook-up” efficiency. So how do you really decide? Well, experts like Hank Parker and Jimmy Houston, two of the most prolific users of spinnerbaits, generally prefer small wire/short arm spinnerbaits creates more vibration. But as I often say, experimentation will lead you to a conclusion on the water you fish.

The second consideration is whether or not to add a trailer hook or “stinger” hook behind the main hook. This is also a personal preference and, when they are biting short, may ensure more hookups. It also can minimize the probability the fish will jump and throw the bait. Some anglers will add the hook point up and others point down. hook down is  generally preferred on open water situations but either way, it has the possibility of grabbing more weeds.  One way to minimize pulling up a bowel of salad is to cut 1/8″ length of tube, inserting the eye of the trailer hook and forcing the main hook through the tube-covered eye. This will make the stinger more fixed behind the main hook. One approach does not fit all situations. I usually do not use a stinger until it is proven that I am missing hooksets.

Some final advice. Spinnerbait fishing just plain works better with a rod designed to handle at least a ¾ ounce bait. You will also generally make out better with a casting rod than a spinning rod. I rig mine with 20 lb. braid with a 15-20 lb. Fluorocarbon leader. Keep it simple. I definitely do not recommend going lighter than 17 lb. test. You are fishing in weeds and around cover, you are going to be glad you are not using light line. I start throwing a ½ ounce but I am not afraid to move up to the ¾ ounce. You may snag a few more weeds but your chances are greater of catching a big fish. And by the way, don’t let the spinnerbait sink out of sight before you start the retrieve- you are just asking for a pile of slop. I have not discussed lure color. I prefer white or a very natural appearance in clear water on sunny days. For example, think more natural perch and less fire tiger on those occasions. Chartreuse and white is a great go to for dirty water and sunny days, while blue and/or chartreuse can be the ticket for clear water on overcast days. In dirty water, bright colors are the rule regardless of the weather.

Speaking of weather, if you fish with me, you know I hate wind but as luck would have it, I am a wind magnet. Bruce Edward Litton wrote about how to handle the wind with spinnerbaits- when wind or current stir the surface water, take advantage of it and increase the vibration and flash in your spinnerbait offering. conversely, if it’s calm, downsize with smaller blades with less flash. You do not want to spook fish by throwing big, noisy lures under calm clear bluebird conditions. I carry extra skirts. When changing a skirt remember to always put the skirt on backward to give the lure more lift. As I said to 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, get to know’em. Gain confidence and you’ll be a believer like me, Living the Passion of a spinnerbait bite.