When a new smallmouth technique starts to catch on, those of us who fish the Smallie waters of St. Clair and Erie often hear about it early. When I first saw this bait a few years ago, my senses immediately said prop bait, top water, probably not the ticket for Great Lakes type of water but maybe ok on rivers like the Delaware and Susquehanna. Well this is clearly a case where looks can be deceiving. Where a prop bait rips across the surface causing a commotion, the spy bait is a slow working, suspending finesse technique. The one true similarity is that both techniques require their own brand of patience.
Some say the origin of the spybait is attributed to anglers fishing Japan’s Lake Biwa near
Kyoto. Others mention that its popularity began in the small lakes around Tokyo and Yokohama. Either way, it is clear that the concept was the brainchild of the Japanese lure design community. The first versions appeared about ten years ago. These were jerkbait bodied lures with propellers. In fact, the early versions were so successful, anglers were purchasing just propellers to attach to their lures.
The first thing you notice, especially if you are thinking jerkbaits and prop baits, is that spybaits are compact and heavy bodied. Most have a fixed ballast system made to increase trajectory and accuracy when casting, and also provide a heavy side to side rolling action. This combination emulates the shimmer of baitfish. On some model spybaits the propellers are designed cupped to provide more pulsation at the slower revolutions called for when finesse fishing. Known as Spybaiting, this is an ultra-finesse technique requiring light line, long casts and a very steady, very slow retrieve.
Knowing how to use your electronics is key. This bait is for fish either suspending or
orienting to suspending bait. Therefore you need to have a good idea where the fish are. Once you get a sense for the depth you think bass are holding, you cast it out and reel it in super slow. Remember what you are trying to accomplish- the rolling action of the bait will give off a shimmering effect and the retrieve speed has to be such that you establish the subtle side to side action. This isn’t a search bait. The action is subtle, you are not creating an effect that will call bass from great distances, so as I said, you need to have an idea where the fish are. You're going to need to fish it where the bass are and in water clear enough for them to see it.
The technique is pretty straight forward- make a long cast, count it down to the desired depth and then reel it slowly, working to keep the bait down. How do you work to make sure you keep the lure down at the optimal depth? Focus on minimizing the resistance you create in the water. That means you need the right line- a higher diameter will pull the bait up so keep the line thin. similarly you don’t want your bait to sink. Too heavy on the Fluorocarbon will pull your bait down where it will get snagged. The key is choosing a small-diameter fluorocarbon like 4- to 5-pound test that will keep the bait in the strike zone longer, so optimize your line weight and diameter and keep your rod tip pointed at the lure. Then slowly reel…. very slowly reel, keeping the line tight and the speed steady.
As I said, the technique is not for beginners, and you need patience.
It also takes practice. I have seen very experienced anglers get tired of this technique
before really giving it a chance. A spybait doesn't have a lip so if it goes to the bottom it will snag. This will cause frustration. It will also take a lot of trial and error to optimize the retrieve speed. Finally, the bait has proven to be successful when groups of fish are focused on concentrations of baitfish. If fish are not grouped subtleties like line size will be a bigger factor. When you are fishing this bait, you have to fish it like it is one part subtle crankbait, one part slow rolling spinnerbait, then adding the slow drag of the swimbait and the long pause of the jerkbait. The last thing about patience is remembering that it's not going to call in the fish like any of those lures would individually. The lure is designed to catch bass already in the zone. If you fish it correctly and they are there, they won’t be able to resist it's natural roll and vulnerable steadiness.
As a last tip, remember to check your line often. You are fishing a lighter than usual line. The Smallie’s world is full of abrasion. After spending all the time perfecting the technique the last thing you want is to have the line break because you let down on your diligence over line checking. Who makes spybaits? The most popular are manufactured by the usual jerkbait suspects- Jackall, Duo Realis, Megabass, Storm, and Lucky Craft just to name a few of the more popular. So if the water is clear and the fish are suspending, throw a spybait out there and Live The Passion…. oh, and I really mean it this time….. tight lines!