Written By: Rick McFerrin Sept/Oct 2004 Owner/guide www.tennesseebassguides.com
One of the reasons that I have loved fishing for largemouth bass, now for over 40 years, is their inbred tendencies to ambush their prey. Or to put it a little closer to home, ambush the particular artificial bait that I might be using at the time. I have always leaned toward running type baits such as crankbaits, jerk baits, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits as my main lures of choice. Having a bass smash a diving crankbait so hard it almost jerks the rod out of your hand is a feeling that is hard to describe. The only thing that could make it better would be if you could "See" the bass hit, which you don't most of the time unless you are fishing clear water. But on the other hand, there is a versatile bait that can be used not only in deep water, but in mid range and shallow water presentations that will allow you many times to "See" the strike. This, of course would be the safety pin type spinnerbait. Over the next several paragraphs I want to share (1) how I choose a spinner bait; (2) the rod and reel combinations that I use; (3) where and how I fish the bait. How To Choose A Good SpinnerBait
Let's get this out of the way up front. The Price Tag on the spinnerbaits isn't always an indication of how well the bait is made or how well it will perform under heavy usage. Cheaper seldom is better. But, the most expensive isn't always the answer either. To me there are seven tests that spinnerbaits must pass to make it a good tool. Some of these elements can be determined with the bait still in the package; unfortunately others can only be determined by using the bait. That is why I would suggest not purchasing more than one until you know it is worth an additional purchase. Now for a little Q&A.
1) What kind wire is the bait made of and what is the wire gauge? I'm sure there are those that are saying right now, why is this important? It is very simple. I have found that spinner baits made with wire that is less Than .045 gauge just won't hold up under rigorous usage. The price on the bait might look attractive when you pay for it at the store, but how good does it look to you when it bends beyond repair after you have used it a time or two and you have to throw it away? The wire in my opinion that holds up the best is stainless steel. I have used spinnerbaits made of everything from small gauge wire cable to titanium. Wire cable was so flexible that it created too much shaft movement it negated the blade action and Titanium spinnerbaits have a tendency to snap because the compound is very brittle when heated as they are at the head and bends. For my $$$$$ stainless is the best choice.
2) Where is the hook point in relationship to the line tie? This is another test you can do while the bait is still in the package. Again why is this important? Back in the mid 70's I was burning the roads up between home and the famed Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border when I made friends with a great fisherman from Monroe Louisiana. He introduced me to Louisiana lakes with names such as Black Bayou, Lake Bruin, Lake Providence, and more. All these lakes are full of cypress tress and custom made for spinner baits. I watched him open the hook up on his spinnerbaits explaining that this was done to get better hook up's. What he was saying was the absolute truth. But the reason for having to do this was that the line tie was higher than the hook point which meant when my friend set the hook he would actually be jerking the hook downward and out of the bass mouth. This is why it is so important.and believe me, it will make a difference at the lake. The next time you are in a fishing tackle section just take a few minutes to look at the various spinner baits and you will see what I'm talking about.
3) What brand of hook is used on the bait? Why is this important? Simple! There is nothing worse than having a bait with a hook that won't penetrate butter. As I said earlier many baits look good at the store. But they loose their looks at the lake when you see a big fish jump and throw the bait because of bad hooks. I would just suggest this rule of thumb. If a spinner bait manufacturer doesn't list on the package the type of hook used (such as Laser Hooks-Mustad Needle Point and others) I would pass on by. Believe me if they used a premium hook on their bait they would sure want you to know about it! No hook information on the packaging might even indicate cutting corners in other parts of the manufacturing process. Just food for thought.
4) Is the spinner bait equipped with a good premium silicone skirt? How many times in the past have you bought a spinner bait and put it in you boat storage or tackle box to use on your next trip? Trip day is here... you reach down to get this new bait only to find that the skirt had melted together and is unusable? Now not only do you have an additional expense replacing the skirt-but more annoying is the sticky mess the skirt has made in your tacklebox. I do believe however that there is a slight difference in the way a 100% rubber skirt will perform in cold water verses a silicone skirt. When that time rolls around and it is necessary, I change the shirts out. But it is very rare that I leave a 100% rubber skirt in my boat during hot weather. It may sound like a small thing,but it isn't when you have to clean up the mess.
5) What about blades? A test for the lake! Do you buy a spinnerbait with willowleaf Blades, or Colorado Blades, or Indiana Blades? Should the blades be painted, or hammered nickel, or hammered copper, or mirror finished, or metallic finished? Do I need tandem blades or single blades? And the answer is yes! You may need a combination of all of these to effectively fish different water conditions. But no mater what the combination, the blades need to be made of high quality material where they will hold up under heavy usage.
The finish on the blades need to last and not discolor or flake off after you have bang it into various structure a few times. And each blade style needs to provide you with maximum vibration and water displacement for their size. At the lake, blade performance can be determined rather quickly. The durability test may take a little longer. To help you understand the difference in blade types look at the attached picture to the left. (1) This is a Colorado blade. This blade will put off more vibration and is the blade that I turn to in heavily stained to muddy water and at night in deep water. I also like to use it in areas where I'm fishing more wood than grass. (2) This blade is called a Willow Leaf. For the water that I fish the most here in Tennessee it is probably the best over all style. It is good in clear and stained water and will put off a fair amount of flash based on it's finish. I fish a lot of weeds on Old Hickory and the willow leaf tends to come through them much better that other styles. (3) This is a Indiana Blade. It is a mixture of the willow leaf and Colorado blade/ It also will put off a good vibration (little Beach Boys there) and a lot of flash based on the blades finish. Size of blade is normally dependent upon how fast I intend to retrieve the bait. The smaller the bade the faster the retrieve. The larger the blade the slower the retrieve.
6) This test you unfortunately won't know until you get to the lake. When you Burn the spinnerbait just under the surface (I'll explain this technique later) does the bait come back straight to you or does it roll on one side or the other? So what if it rolls? If it rolls the blades won't displace the maximum amount of water possible and your percentages of provoking a reaction strike diminishes. Even with .045 gauge stainless steel wire after you have beat and banged the bait into structure over and over again it will sometimes bend to the point where the bait will roll. When this happens, gently straighten the wire with a pair of pliers the problem can normally be corrected. Other reasons that spinner baits roll is that the blade or blades are too large for that size spinnerbait or the wire gauge is to flimsy. In the last two cases you have just bought a bad spinner bait which more than likely will be added to your "I wish I hadn't bought that bait pile"
7) Another test you can only perform at the lake. The opposite of "Burning" a spinner bait just under the surface would be "Slow Rolling" (Another technique we will discuss later) the bait in deeper water. It seems that most smallmouth fishermen here in the south love to slow roll big bladed spinner baits in deep water. Most of the time they literally "drag" or "crawl" the bait. But that's hard to do when you continually have to increase your speed just to get the blades to turn. To me a good spinner bait is one where the blades begin to turn immediately upon retrieve, and you can feel the thump of the blades when you slow it down to a crawl. This is my seven tests that I use when selecting a spinnerbait that will perform and last over a reasonable amount of time on the water. I have fishermen ask me what my favorite spinnerbait is and hands down I have to reply Secret Weapon! Why? Because they pass all 7 tests in flying colors and the value to cost ratio is the best available today! Check out our links page or www.secretweaponlures.com But we aren't done yet. Next you need to determine colors and the weight or bait size needed for each fishing situation. We will address that next.
Choosing Size And Colors Of SpinnerBaits
I'm going to try my best to keep this fairly simple. One of the most important considerations that needs to be addressed in any lake is the size of the predominate bait fish that the bass are feeding on. If I can I try to match the size as closely as possible. But (and there is always a but) there are other factors that need to be addressed as well. Such as water color, cloud cover density and are you fishing daylight or darkness. If your fishing at night is it the light or the dark of the moon?
Let's start with size. Do I use a 1/4ounce, 3/8 ounce, 1/2 oun, e-3/4 ounce or 1 ounce bait? This explanation is going to be very basic. If I'm fishing water that is stained to muddy or if I'm fishing slowly in deeper water at night I will use larger spinnerbaits. 1/2 ounce and up. The reason for this is that larger spinner baits are bulkier and the larger blades will create more vibration which will help a bass locate the bait. If the water is real muddy or if it is pitch black dark, I might even add a big trailer of some sort to increase the bulk. If I'm fishing daytime clear water (or) shallower clear water at night with a moon I prefer smaller baits, 3/8 ounce and down because the bass can see them much easier and most of the time without a trailer.
Now what about color? Once again I will try to keep this simple. In clearer water I like to use white-chartreuse & white-off white sliver pepper and a see through silver flaked skirts. If I'm fishing moderately stained water I will almost always opt for chartreuse and white or chartreuse and blue. If it is muddy I like pure bright chartreuse. At night I like combinations of solid black, solid purple, black & blue, black & purple, black & red. And at night if the water is clear with a moon and I'm fishing in shallow to moderate depths I even like pure white or pink.
There is no doubt in my mind that other solid colors or color combination work for other fishermen. But these are the sizes and colors that produce for me most consistently. Now that we have the right spinner bait what rod and reel combo do I use?
Choosing The Right SpinnerBait Rod/Reel Combo
This will be one area where there will be some disagreement. So I will just preface this portion by saying I'm going to explain what works for me. Having the "right" rod and reel combination for a specific technique in your hands makes all the difference in the world. I wouldn't use a flipping stick/casting reel combo filled with 20lb test line to throw a small # 5 Shallow Shad Rap. Nor on the other hand would I use a 5 foot ultra light rod/micro spinning reel with 4lb test to fish a 3/8oz spinnerbait. Once again having the right rod/reel set up for fishing a spinnerbait makes a big difference. The "One Rod Fits All Techniques" just doesn't work. Over the next few paragraphs my goal is to explain why I use what I use. I hope this will help you.
I guess I need to go all the way back to my friend from Monroe Louisiana to help explain why I use what I use. Rods have come a long way over the past 30 years. I can remember getting into Everett's 14 foot Jon boat and he would have 5 or 6 fiberglass rods rigged with different baits. He swore by those fiberglass rods, and I must admit he sure could put the hurt on largemouth every time he went. Graphite rods were just becoming somewhat popular-but he was dead set against these new rods. More than once I heard him say "Why change something that isn't broke?" To some degree back 30 years ago he was right. But as time and technology has raced by those new rods have become much more sensitive. Now I use two different AllPro APX Series rods for fishing spinnerbaits.
First is the AllPro APX7MSTN which is a 7 foot Medium action spinning rods for lighter baits and the AllPro APX610MHCA which is a 6 foot 10 inch medium heavy casting rod for my heavier baits. Both of these rods have soft tips and the sensitivity is amazing. One real point of difference that sets these APX rods apart from all other graphite rods no matter the brand or cost is the "Graphite Rings" on the handle. (See picture to the left) Other graphite rods are made where the graphite blank runs through a cork handle. The cork inadvertently acts as a buffer or insulator which diminishes some of the "Feel" or sensitivity. But the APX is designed where the strike is transmitted from the tip of the rod through the blank and into these graphite rings and then into the palm of your hand. Absolutely maximizing sensitivity. No buffer-no insulator just "Direct Feel"!!!
I have been fortunate to own some very nice rods in my life time. But these new AllPro APX series rods are the best I have ever had in my hands. The APX rod is 100% American made (which is unusual these days) is a light as a feather but extremely powerful and once again very sensitive. They are made of the finest 100% graphite with Fuji ECS Reel Seats and Titanium guides. When you throw a spinnerbait on these rods you can feel the "Thump" of the blade all the way through the rod handle. Even the slightest bite is magnified. It is so much more sensitive than fiberglass rods which have a very slow response when you set the hook. I like the longer handles which helps with two handed long casts. I also like the longer rods because they give you an extra advantage fighting a fish right at the boat. You can visit the AllPro site by going to our links page or by www.allprorods.com .
Back about 3 years ago I bought a 7 foot fiberglass cranking rod that I thought I just had to have. I used it 4 times and was so disappointed in the "FEEL" that I "WASN'T GETTING" that I hung it up on the wall, and it hasn't been used since. Another $100.00 that could have been put to better use. I have become so accustomed to the quick hook sets and feel that I get with my graphite rods that the fiberglass rod was just plain disappointing.
I guess for me it just plain comes down to feel. I want to be able to detect those subtle hit's when a big fish engulfs the bait and all you can "Feel" is something different. Have you been there before? Not a slashing-bone jarring strike; just a subtle difference. If you can't feel that subtle difference you are going to miss out on a lot of fish. I can hear some boooo's from the fiberglass fans that are reading this right now;that's why I prefaced in the beginning I just want to explain what works for me. If you can put a bunch of bass in the boat on a regular basis using fiberglass "Don't change what's not broke" But if your having trouble detecting those subtle hit's you might just want to think about buying a good (let me say it again) good-graphite rod.
All graphite rods are not created equal. If you buy a cheap rod-expect cheap results. I always urge new bass fishermen to buy the best they can afford. Use it until you can afford something even better then move up. Everyone's disposable income isn't the same. But we all have the same ability to use what we have wisely.
Now to the reel department. As I have said before, I settled in with Shimano reels and just stayed right there. I use a Shimano Stradic ST4000FH on my spinning rod. This reel retrieves 35 inches of line per crank-has 5 bearings-a 5.7:1 gear ratio and weighs 13.4 oz. I fill the reel with 200 yards of 10lb test P-line. The 5.7:1 ratio gives me enough speed when I need it but also works extremely well at a slower presentation.
On my casting rod I use the Shimano Calcutta reel which retrieves line at 23 inches per crank-has 3 bearings-a 5.0:1 gear ratio and weighs 11.1 ounces. I fill this reel with 200 yards of 12 pound test P-Line. This reel combined with my APX rod gives me a very powerful combination with medium to larger baits. I guess it's like a guy that will only buy a Ford or a Chevy, you just like what you like and stay with it.
Locations And Techniques
I have heard it said that you can use a spinnerbait just about everywhere and I believe that to be true. You can fish this bait shallow, mid range or deep water. You can fish it in open water or around heavy timber, grass, rock and other obstacles. You can burn it, slow roll it, crawl it and just use an in-between retrieve. The safety pin style spinnerbait is truly a versatile lure.
Next we will explore where and how I fish the spinnerbait. I'm sure there are other techniques and locations that might work even better for you on your area lakes. To find those it just takes time on the water and patience. Hopefully this will give you a starting place.
1) Lay Down Timber: One of my favorite places to fish a spinner bait is in and around fallen timber that has several limbs remaining. Some of the limps will be visible while much of it may not. My home water here in middle Tennessee is Old Hickory Lake. This lake has an abundance of fallen timber in all depths of water. Some of this timber will remain stationary all the time. Some of it will move with the rise and fall of the lake level. Some will be in the backs of coves and pockets. Some are wedged in and around docks and piers.
Some have come to rest right at or near the main river channel with a lot of current while others are isolated on expansive flats that have little current. But no matter where the timber is located all of it under the right conditions is prospective cover for largemouth bass. I would have to say that "Isolated" timber located near or on a channel ledge has historically been the best producer of bass for me. These areas normally will have deep water close by, current, bait washing in and shade on some area of the timber. The more limbs on the fallen tree the more shaded areas that will be present. I always make repeated casts to the shaded portion of the timber trying to stay as parallel as possible. Bass like shaded areas and truthfully they don't have to be large areas. Work the timber completely, pick it apart section by section. Let your spinner bait helicopter (free-fall) down in and around intersections of limbs where it is attached to the trunk. Hold on you might just have a fight on your hands.
2) Visible Logs Without Branches and Stumps: I approach visible straight logs (one's without branches) by fishing the shaded side of first. If part of the log is resting on bank I try to cast as closely to the bank as possible and bring the spinnerbait slowly down the entire length of the log. Then I work the other side of the log. If the log is running out into deep water I position my boat where I can cast my spinnerbait well past the end of the log and retrieve it very slowly letting the bait bump the log as I go by. On visible stumps I make my cast on the shaded side beyond the stump. By casting past the stump you can work the side and back of the stump at the same time. Plus it isn't as likely that you will spook a bass that might be there. Some stumps have very little root system attached, while others might have an extensive system. Here's a tip beginning bass fishermen. Always wear a good pair of polarized sun glasses. They will help you greatly in visually determining what you are fishing. Years ago I fished a lake that had the "Text Book" example of stumps situated directly on a creek channel bank. Many of the stumps were 4 to 5 feet across and all had extensive roots still attached. The base of the stumps was located in 3 feet of water with some of their roots actually hanging over the channel drop into 15 feet of water. I spent many exciting hours working this stump row over and over again. The water was just clear enough that you could see the bass come out of the roots and smash the spinner bait as it bumped and banged along. Early, late, and on cloudy days the bass would be located up in the shallow water but at other times with clearer brighter sky's they would be staged on roots right at the break. Areas like these will produce fish over and over again through out the year.
3) Shallow Water Grass: Another favorite area of mine to fish a spinnerbait is in standing weeds like the ones in the picture to the left. Some of these weed lines are in very shallow water-some will extend out into 4 feet of water or more. Some will be located on flats very near channel drops. As you can see in the attached picture there is a sizeable opening between the grass and the bank. Early and late in the day as well as cloudy days this can be your key area to focus on. I make long casts and work the spinner bait back to me always having visual contact with the bait. There are some areas like this that will have patches of standing grass within the opening. These are key areas as well. As the sun comes up I concentrate on the outside "deeper" edges of the grass weaving the spinnerbait through as much of the vegetation as possible. I have also noticed that on windy days when it is blowing directly into the weeds the bass seem to be staged more to the out side edges of the weed line. When this is the situation I always start there no matter the time of day or what amount of cloud cover I have. Lure speed varies you may have to adjust several times before you find what the bass want.
4) Bluffs: I may be wrong, but I believe that many beginning bass fishermen look at bluffs (main channel and creek channel) and think they will have to throw a jig or worm to have a chance of catching bass. Or maybe the thought of the deep water associated with the bluff keeps them from fishing it all together. But you know there are times, under the right circumstances, that much shallower running lures can be big producers in these areas. One of first mistakes that many fishermen make is staying too far off the bluff wall with their boats. I have found to fish these areas correctly, no matter what the water color is, you have to fish parallel so close that you can reach out and touch the bluff with your hands. By doing this you keep your bait in the strike zone all the way. When the water color is clear you can burn the spinner bait back to you just under the surface. Many times that I have had suspended fish come up from deep water on these bluffs to bust a spinner bait. When the water color is dingier I work the ledges of these bluffs by slow rolling the spinnerbait trying to stay in contact with the rock and wood as much as possible. I also always look for changes in the bluff wall such as indentations and rock slides. Indentions are recessed areas in the face of the wall that will give you two defined corners for bass to ambush from as well as the recessed area that many times will hold timber or a series of stair step ledges. Rock slides, on the other hand are almost always a signal that the water around the side will be shallower. These areas hold bait fish and crayfish continually. When you get to the end of the bluff you will come to a "Point" much like the one in the upper right hand corner of the picture above. We will discuss this next.
5) Points: Think about this for just a minute. Some lake are shallow, some are deep. Some are clear, and some are dingy to muddy. Some have vegetation, and others don't. Some have an abundance of wood, while other are void of wood. This could go on and on so let's get to the bottom line. One feature that at least 90% of all lakes will have in common is that they have "Points" located in various areas of the lake. Some lakes because of size or shape may have more or less, but most will have some.
Using a spinnerbait on points can be some of the most rewarding trips that you might ever have. Points offer bass a change in depth. And it's that change that leads from shallow to deeper water that helps hold bass on them year around in many lakes. I like points that extend out into the lake and then take a sudden drop. This type of point seems to hold more and larger fish over all. I try to position my boat deep water but close enough to reach the shallow portion of the point with a long cast. I cast the spinnerbait across the point and drag it back to me making as much contact with the point as possible with out getting hung up. I make repeated casts going a little deeper and a little deeper to ensure that I have worked to area completely. I then move my boat where I can work both sides and the center portion of the point. Points like this can be good all year around-spring -summer-fall and winter.
6) Boat Docks: What 3 key features do docks offer bass? (1) Shade (2) Cover (3) Bait Fish. If you fish older lakes that have docks on them you will find they vary in size-construction and in depth of water. My favorite type of dock is one that is low to the water has openings either between the wood or floatation has submerged cover around them and is close to deep water. Lower built docks offer bass more shade and the openings give bass a variety of areas to hide in. And the submerged cover (most likely there for crappie) attracts bait fish which attracts the bass. I like to work my spinner bait parallel slowly against outside edges of the dock-letting it drop and then pick back up the speed. I also work inside the covered area of the dock as much as possible. Many times if bass are suspended under the dock the helicopter action of the spinner bait blades will provoke a reaction strike. If the dock has house boats, pontoon boats or jet ski platforms attached to it I treat them as part of the dock and fish them accordingly. Just a word of advice. I have found that some docks never produce fish for me-so when I'm fishing a line of docks I only fish those that have produced regularly in the past. No need in beating dead water.....keep moving!
7) Rip Rap Areas: I really like fishing rip rap areas. And although most of these areas may look the same it couldn't be further from the truth. I like to look for areas of the rip rap that is different from everything else around it. Such as small points that extend out even slightly. Logs that have wedged themselves in close to the bank. Weed growth that extends a foot or more out from the rocks. It's this type of areas that seem to hold the most fish. I like to work these areas parallel keeping my boat as close as possible to the rocks. I make long casts, and start out by keeping visual contact with the spinner bait all the way back to the boat. If the bass aren't holding that close to the rocks I move out a little deeper, but still fish parallel, slowing my spinner bait down, checking out various depth levels. Rip rap areas hold bait fish, crawfish and other goodies for a hungry bass to dine on. If the section of rip rap you are fishing has a culvert or bridge on it, be sure to work all four corners that have been created by the bridge. You will also need to determine if there is current coming through the culvert or bridge. If current is present the four corners of rip rap under the bridge can be even more productive.
Conclusion I hope that some of what you have read above will help you on your next trip to the lake. Spinnerbaits may very well be one of the most versatile baits that you will ever have in you tackle box. A lure for all depths, seasons and weather conditions. Be careful in the spinnerbaits you buy-use the correct rod and reel combo for fishing spinner baits-and be thorough when and where you use them. If you will do these things you will increase your changes greatly of having good productive spinner bait days on the water. Rick McFerrin www.tennesseebassguides.com