Good Vibrations

When bass gang up on schools of shad in autumn, a vibrating blade bait can be the most productive piece of tackle in your box.

Reef Runner Cicada, Heddon Sonar, Blitz Lures Blitz Blade, Cordell Gay Blade, Worden's Showdown.Cliff Gardiner & John Keller

When bass gang up on schools of shad and other silvery baitfish in autumn, a vibrating blade bait can be the most productive piece of tackle in your box. These flashy metal lures resemble baitfish and swim with a hard, wobbling vibration that fires up a fish's competitive instincts. Though they've long been a mainstay for walleye, white bass, and striper fishermen, a lot of black bass anglers have never tried one.

That's a mistake, because blade baits are among the most efficient bass lures around. They sink fast and let you quickly cover lots of water. And they're well suited for fishing deep structure with pinpoint accuracy.

All blade baits have a heavy metal head or belly section molded to a thin, metal body stamped in a baitfish profile. You tie your line to a snap that connects to a hole in the top of the blade. Some versions have two or three holes, and the action will change depending on the hole to which you attach the snap. The closer it is to the head, the greater the wobble in the lure's vibration.

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON What size you use depends on the depth of the bass you're targeting. I generally fish a 1/4-ounce blade down to about 10 feet, a 1/2-ouncer from 10 to 25 feet, and a 5/8- or 3/4-ouncer from 25 to 40 feet. Ten-pound-test monofilament line with a 61/2-foot medium to medium-heavy spinning outfit is good. When I'm fishing deeper than 25 feet, I'll downsize to 6- or 8-pound-test to let the lure sink more quickly.

Blades come in a variety of colors. A straight silver lure works 90 percent of the time. Occasionally I'll fare better on a silver blade with a blue or black back, or a white blade dressed with reflective foil tape. Besides that, my next choice is gold, which I use mainly for smallmouth bass.

FISHING A BLADE I use a lift-and-drop retrieve, or a variation of it, almost exclusively. The blade vibrates on the way up, which excites bass. Then it flutters feebly back down, giving the fish an easy target. Most strikes come on the fall.

Here are three common autumn setups, and the ways to fish a blade bait in each:

(1) When bass are clustered 20 feet deep or deeper on a point, dropoff, or some other structure, position your boat over the fish and drop one of these lures straight down to the bottom. Then hold your rod tip a foot over the water, take up the slack line, and rhythmically lift and lower the tip.

(2) When bass chase baitfish over a ledge, point, hump, or flat, cast out a vibrating blade 100 feet or more and hop it back over the bottom. Depth doesn't really matter here; I've caught bass in water ranging from 6 to 25 feet deep with this tactic. But because the lures tend to hang up in cover, I only fish this way over clean bottoms.

(3) When you see a bass, or several of them, busting baitfish on the surface, or if your depthfinder is showing both suspended high above the bottom, cast out and count down to the fish you're marking, figuring that your bait will drop roughly 1 foot per second. Then retrieve with a pumping motion that prevents it from dropping below the fish's depth.

With all three methods, it's important to remember that the stronger your motion, the harder the bait's vibration. When bass are active, a quick, rod-throbbing lift of 2 to 3 feet triggers strikes. Inactive bass respond better to a soft, 1-foot raise that barely makes the blade kick. Vary the action until you figure out which mood the fish are in.