Wednesday, August 23, 2006


When I was young and fishing creeks in rural Iowa I looked at spinner baits with an incredulous eye, wondering what on earth something so odd-looking could possibly hold for fishing potential. Most crankbaits, for instance, actually look like a fish and rubber worms were a fair approximation of my bait of choice. I could understand the appeal of artificial baits even if I had no use for them in my pursuit of creek chub and bullheads.

After fishing my second Mission Bay tournament and hearing that Matt Moyer had used spinner baits to propel himself to the winner circle I figured enough was enough. Time to put my childhood misgivings aside and give this clanky, strung out lure a shot at my tackle box.

Imagine my surprise when I realized I had 3 in my freshwater tacklebox. I'd never fished a spinner bait and the only reason I could think of for their presence was due to some yard sale "lot" purchases a couple years ago. I took this as a starting point and resolved to fish them until I either figured it out or snapped them off in the eel grass.

Going into this I didn't have a real gameplan or a fixed idea of how these mechanical marvels even worked so I did what I do whenever something stumps me - look it up on the web. I found a few articles, all relating to freshwater bass fishing, that detailed some tricks for fishing heavy structure (logs and docks) with a spinner bait. We've got docks in Mission Bay but not a whole lot of sunken logs, at least none that I've found. But structure does exist and that's the meat of their advice. Tossing this in or under pilings works really well but my favorite way to fish spinnerbaits is in tall, gnarly, hook-nabbing, swimbait swallowing, never-let-your-crankbait-go eelgrass. Find the big grass beds, usually along shorelines in 6 feet or more of water and you'll find spotted bay bass with killer instincts. They stack up in the grass like lions, waiting to jump on unsuspecting wire baits that buzz their turf.

Also try throwing these lengthwise across the sterns of docked boats or up between the boats towards the docks. Be careful if you're doing this as spinnerbaits seem to have a strong affinity for wrapping themselves around the railings or sail mains of multi-million dollar sailboats. Fish along bridge pilings, mooring cans, construction barges anchored in place, next to the bait receivers, etc. Heavy structure that might prove too dense or challenging for crankbaits or plastics offer the perfect opportunities for tossing a spinner bait.

This is where the real beauty of this bait becomes evident - it's nearly weedless. Cranking a spinner through eelgrass is a piece of cake and it pays off better than the lotto. BIG spotties lurk in the roughest, darkest parts of town. These are the bruisers, the bullies, the contenders. I like these weedbeds any time of day if I've got heavier line (10# Stren Magnaflex) and a good crankin stick. I use a Shimano Chronarch 100 on a Shimano Clarus 7' Medium Heavy rod and it whoops ass when the bull spot comes a calling.

And when they come calling it's not like when the neighbor's wife stops by with an apple pie, it's more like when the neighbor finds out his wife has been bringing you apple pie and HE comes to visit. No doorbell, no knocking he just blows the freakin door off the hinges and starts thrashing. It's kind of like that. The steady thumping of the blades and a good retrieve can put you in a calm, almost meditative state where you're cranking slowly, feeling the tendrils of the eelgrass pulling gently aside as your bait passes through and then, just when you're reaching that fishing zen, the spotted bay bass will lunge out of hiding, tackle the bait and put up the kind of fight that makes Hemingway weep.

Spotties have a tendancy to "crocodile roll" when they grab their dinner. The spinning frenzy throws their prey into a confused state making them easy kills. You'll see this behavior over and over when you fish big spotties, they'll thrash and roll, twisting your line around their body. This is another reason for heavier line, those gill plates are like razors and the thought of sending a bass back to the water with something as gangly as a spinnerbait stuck in his craw is sad and inhumane. So use a net, take good pictures and send him on his way.

Buyers guide:

A good spinnerbait has a few requirements.

Weight - I like heavier spinnerbaits, 1/2 or 3/4 oz.
Blades - Tandem Willow or a small Colorado and #5 Willow
Color - Chartreuse and White is my main pick but at different times have had great luck with just white or firetiger pattern.
Swivels - it pays to spend a bit more and get good baits with quality swivels - the bait won't work if the blades don't spin.
Trailers - Sometimes a rootbeer or red grub just threaded on the hook will do, get fancy with Reapers and trailer hooks, too. (red)
Wire - Titanium baits will last longer and not get out of tune very easily but cost almost double.

Cabela's Livin Eye baits are an excellent choice for 1/2 oz or the beefier Stanley Wedge weighing in at 3/4 oz from Bass Pro Shops. I have to thank Matt Moyer for turning me onto this particular bait. The size is almost laughable at first but it's a powerhouse underwater.

The heartbreak of this wonderful lure is the pricetag. A good titanium wired bait will probably run you between $6 and $10 each. Make sure you're using a good 8 or 10 lb test that you trust and retie your knots often. A recent fishing trip turned comedically expensive as I managed to lose 3 spinnerbaits in a single morning. Two were lost due to bad line (avoid Munich line like the plague) and 1 to a chunky fish who wrapped me in heavy cover. Two of those were brand new, first time out and $7 each. Ouch!.

There's so much more to fishing these but I won't spoil all the fun of discovery for you. If you haven't fished spinner baits definitely add them to your arsenal. Combining these with other techniques (grubs, swimbaits, crankbaits, drop shot) you'll extend your abilities to fish in ever-changing conditions and maybe even win a tournament (I'm trying!).

How I fish spinnerbaits can be summarized quite easily into this:

  1. Find water.
  2. Throw spinnerbait very far from kayak.
  3. Wait for lure to sink to bottom.
  4. Immediately set the hook and crank hard two cranksto start the blades moving.
  5. Retrieve at varying speeds until you find one that works, pausing or twitching the retrieve occasionally.
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat.


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