Confessions of a Spinnerbait Addict

The lure from hell I can't stop using.

Field & Stream Online Editors

White-capped chops piled across the lake as the trolling motor threshed and churned to hold position. The upwind angle was bad, but the brushy point beckoned with promise, a fine intercept area for bass to ambush baitfish carried on the currents. I cocked the casting rod and let drive with a powerful sidearm delivery. The tandem-bladed spinnerbait sailed, then stalled, against a gust, flapping like a chartreuse parakeet.

The reel continued to free-spool furiously, and my thumb disappeared in a busy cloud of monofilament. The mutinous lure slapped to the surface 10 yards short of the intended brushpile.

I swore, pulling and tugging at the loops of line. Like most honest levelwinders, I've had plenty of practice "milking the reel" on windblown days, and a crafty pluck unseated the snarl. The stripped coils wound smoothly between my thumb and forefinger back onto the spool.

The spinnerbait had settled to the sandy, sloping bottom. A flick of the rod tip and a steady crank started the twin willowleaf blades wobbling and pulsing. The lure climbed near the surface, then rolled over a shallow limb. A meaty boil swirled from the shadows. The fluttering image disappeared in a quick flash of green and gold. A 4-pound largemouth wallowed into the air.

That incident, which occurred last spring, is a classic illustration of our love-hate relationship with the tandem-bladed, safety-pin spinnerbait-the most popular format for this lure. The safety-pin spinnerbait with a single, smaller blade can be effective, especially in deep water where a faster sink rate often is desirable, but twin blades dominate in the brushy shallows that draw most spinnerbait fire.

Here is a closer look at both sides of this reel-tangling, fish-catching contradiction. First and foremost, let me state unequivocally that a spinnerbait "waking" just under the surface and allowed to slow-roll over shallow limbs and stickups is an absolute stomper when aggressive bass are lurking like muggers along tangled edges. Unfortunately, a bass doing its absolute best to get caught can miss the hook. The safety-pin spinnerbait, more so than most bass lures, induces blown strikes. The single, upturned hook is guarded by the top arm of wire and blades, which encourages a fish to bounce off amid a frustrating flash and boil. And who knows how many trailing bass strike not at the skirted hook but at the flashing, tempting blades running just above?

On the upside, the garish disco of sight and sound is a superior attractor in the murky and/or brush-choked water that can frustrate conventional lures. The flash of the vibrating blades and the flutter of the pulsing skirt and/or trailer can be a compelling combination for a predator wired to lunge from shadows at a brief chance.

The snagless V design allows the angler to repeatedly put the spinnerbait back inside the brush and weeds without fouling. The aggressive caster working on automatic fire can saturate a shoreline-a much more efficient pace for locating random fish than dawdling along over a plastic bottom-bumper.

On the downside, the twin-bladed safety-pin spinnerbait is a contraption. It looks ridiculous hanging from the rod, with stiff wires and dangling blades and trailing skirts. It does not resemble any living creature, and the fact that it triggers reckless and repeated maulings makes you lose faith in the supposed intelligence of the black bass.

Though it can cover water and draw aggressive strikes, delivering the payload to the desired target can be a problem. A smart bomb it ain't; no bass lure is more difficult to cast with control. The characteristics of the dangling and trailing components can fluster the most determined thumb and defeat the antibacklash mechanisms of the best reels.

The spinnerbait does deliver acceptable performance downwind-big time. With the wind, a reasonably proficient baitcaster shoulde able to chunk a flapping, quacking mallard duck. No, the real test comes into or across the breeze.

The desperate levelwinder can increase the spool tension, but doing so progressively throttles performance. A reel that refuses to overrun is a hollow victory for the plugger who cannot wham the payload more than 20 or 30 feet off the rod tip.

Another dodge is to use a thinner line and a lighter rod. Such finesse might improve casting performance, but proper spinnerbait fishing for bragging-size bass amid thick cover requires heavier tackle. Once a hoary old sow clamps down, you "dance with who you brung," and the hoedown may not last long with a wet-noodle rig.

You can improve upwind ballistics by going to a heavier payload (say, 5/8 ounce rather than 3/8 ounce), and/or reducing the size of the blades and the bulk of the skirt. Streamlining a heavier spinnerbait increases casting authority but deviates from the original, preferred combination of slow-sinking weight and bulk. You are, in effect, serving up an offering with different fishing characteristics.

Of course, you can make a reasonable argument that a bad lure in the right spot is better than a good lure in the wrong spot-but too much tweaking can result in a spinnerbait poorly suited for the available water. As a last resort, and with complete disregard to style points, you can use a spinning rod.

The positive side to its froufrou characteristics is that the spinnerbait with large blades and full skirt lands with a seductive plunk rather than a startling crash amid the tight quarters where the concept and design are most effective. The bulk and buoyancy encourage a slow and tantalizing sink rate-and the slower the fall, the better the action.

The sink rate can be stalled even more (say, over flooded grass) by adding a buoyant trailer such as a soft-plastic tail or a strip of pork rind. Such a resistant payload can be a beast to punch into the wind, but if it lands anywhere near the kill zone, you have a grand chance of drawing a strike.

The tandem safety-pin spinnerbait has two sides as well as two blades, and rare is the angler who has not bad-mouthed the contrary aspects of this contraption. But rarer still is the experienced bass buster who does not have at least several within easy reach. This is because no lure is better at finding fish and drawing strikes amid the tangled shallows where bass so often wait.

Skirts and Blades
Nylon spinnerbait skirts are available in an array of colors. Browns, reds, and yellows imitate crawfish and frogs; whites, greens, and blues approximate baitfish. More or less. Plenty of latitude for impressionistic crossover exists, and an aggressive bass boiling from a brushpile probably doesn't care.

As a general rule, darker colors are a good call under low-light conditions; lighter skirts are popular under high-visibility circumstances. Again, none of this is cut in hydrilla-just a starting point amid a confounding kaleidoscope. Whatever skirt color gets the nod, a bit of sparkle in the strands seems to improve the confidence factor. One final observation on spinnerbait skirts: When in doubt, tie on chartreuse.

Metal spinnerbait blades are available in three popular shapes-willowleaf, Indiana, and Colorado-and at least eight sizes, from zero to No. 8 (the larger the number, the bigger the blade). Blade selection has a big influence on sink rate and vibration.

The willowleaf blade is elongated, with a lazy, rolling flutter, a fine choice for running through stickups and logjams. The streamlined profile encourages a fast sink rate, an advantage along dropoff edges. All things being equal, the trim willowleaf is the easiest to cast-well, sometimes.

At the opposite extreme, the wide, rounded Colorado blade imparts fast, tight vibration with a slow sink rate, effective in murky or downright muddy shallows. The Indiana blade splits the difference. Regardless of shape, smaller blade sizes with less resistance will sink faster for covering deeper water.

Tandem-bladed spinnerbaits usually employ two blades of the same shape, but mixing is a legitimate option; for example, a trailing willowleaf blade can be mated with a smaller Colorado up front. This combo imparts a rolling wobble with a counterpoint of tight flutter.

Blades are available in a variety of colors with hammered or polished finishes. Under most circumstances, gold is the coin of the realm.-J.D.

Love to Hate the Spinnerbait?
The first bass on morning one of a two-day bass fishing tournament fell prey to a tandem-bladed spinnerbait. The lure glanced off the boulder next to a fallen tree and stopped momentarily as I applied pressure. The fish swam upcurrent with a mind of its own.

"It's a pike! Too big for a bass," shouted my partner. I relaxed. Pike don't excite in a bass-cash deal. They're just a time-wasting nuisance.

My partner slid the net into the murky water and plucked out a 5-pound 7-ounce largemouth. With the eventual tournament lunker in the live well, I loved that spinnerbait.

I was ready for the next bite. As the spinnerbait rode over the submerged log, a 3-pounder engulfed the bait. I let the fish turn to ensure a solid hookset and swept with all my might.

The result? A fish in the air heading north, and a spinnerbait-also in the air-sailing south. Now I hated that spinnerbait.

The tournament, which occurred 15 years ago, was the beginning of my love-hate relationship with this popular lure. As a fish-finding tool, the spinnerbait is superior to most lures. It can be fished from the surface to the bottom with a variety of retrieves. Rip it along, slow-roll it, or jig it. Expect to get bit. But as a fish-hooking tool, it leaves something to be desired. Expect fish and spinnerbait to part company before you want them to.

Smart tournament anglers often use the spinnerbait in practice to locate fish, but when money is on the line, they turn to higher-landing-percentage baits in actual competition. With a jig-and-pig, for example, you'll land a much higher percentage of bites, and I much prefer fewer bites from quality fish that I can boat to the gut-wrenching sight of the one that got away.

If you insist on using what some anglers refer to as idiot baits (for their simplicity of use), heed one small bit of advice: Sharpen the hook! There's no such thing as a spinnerbait hook that's too sharp.

Love it or hate it, the spinnerbait is a necessary evil for many anglers. For my money I'll continue to hate the spinnerbait even though there are always one or two tied on rods strapped to the deck of my boat.-Scottie Keller

**Stinger Hooks

Tandem-bladed spinnerbaits usually employ two blades of the same shape, but mixing is a legitimate option; for example, a trailing willowleaf blade can be mated with a smaller Colorado up front. This combo imparts a rolling wobble with a counterpoint of tight flutter.

Blades are available in a variety of colors with hammered or polished finishes. Under most circumstances, gold is the coin of the realm.-J.D.

Love to Hate the Spinnerbait?
The first bass on morning one of a two-day bass fishing tournament fell prey to a tandem-bladed spinnerbait. The lure glanced off the boulder next to a fallen tree and stopped momentarily as I applied pressure. The fish swam upcurrent with a mind of its own.

"It's a pike! Too big for a bass," shouted my partner. I relaxed. Pike don't excite in a bass-cash deal. They're just a time-wasting nuisance.

My partner slid the net into the murky water and plucked out a 5-pound 7-ounce largemouth. With the eventual tournament lunker in the live well, I loved that spinnerbait.

I was ready for the next bite. As the spinnerbait rode over the submerged log, a 3-pounder engulfed the bait. I let the fish turn to ensure a solid hookset and swept with all my might.

The result? A fish in the air heading north, and a spinnerbait-also in the air-sailing south. Now I hated that spinnerbait.

The tournament, which occurred 15 years ago, was the beginning of my love-hate relationship with this popular lure. As a fish-finding tool, the spinnerbait is superior to most lures. It can be fished from the surface to the bottom with a variety of retrieves. Rip it along, slow-roll it, or jig it. Expect to get bit. But as a fish-hooking tool, it leaves something to be desired. Expect fish and spinnerbait to part company before you want them to.

Smart tournament anglers often use the spinnerbait in practice to locate fish, but when money is on the line, they turn to higher-landing-percentage baits in actual competition. With a jig-and-pig, for example, you'll land a much higher percentage of bites, and I much prefer fewer bites from quality fish that I can boat to the gut-wrenching sight of the one that got away.

If you insist on using what some anglers refer to as idiot baits (for their simplicity of use), heed one small bit of advice: Sharpen the hook! There's no such thing as a spinnerbait hook that's too sharp.

Love it or hate it, the spinnerbait is a necessary evil for many anglers. For my money I'll continue to hate the spinnerbait even though there are always one or two tied on rods strapped to the deck of my boat.-Scottie Keller

**Stinger Hooks<