How To Use A Spinnerbait And Make Them Work
Tim Perkins is a man with a plan. He’s a veteran river bass tournament angler who likes to catch fish. And he especially likes to win kayak bass fishing tournaments. He does both of these by using a kind of lure that many anglers don’t use well enough. Even though most bass anglers are familiar with spinnerbaits and most have quite a few in their tackle box, many bass anglers don’t know how to use a spinnerbait nearly as much as they do other lures.
“I throw a spinnerbait twelve months out of the year,” Perkins says. “My passion, of course, is river fishing. My ultimate time to throw a spinnerbait is early fall. In the fall, water in my area turns a black hue from the leaves, but it’s still clear.
“Cool nights and warm days—I dreamed about this season since childhood. This is the time our river predators—bass—are at their best. They are probably the most aggressive during this time. Also, most fishermen have left the rivers to get in hunting mode.
“By far, my favorite time of the year is September through November. I’ve found the spinnerbait is the most versatile bait in my box. I use it as my search bait when I’m preparing for a tournament. I’d say that a spinnerbait is what I throw about 85 percent of the time during the tournament. I can match any forage the bass are eating, and I can fish any type cover with a spinnerbait.”
He laughs. “The main thing is, I’ve had a lot of success using this lure.”
A Spinnerbait is Just a Spinnerbait, Right?
The first thing we’ll notice if we visit any bait and tackle shop is that they all carry spinnerbaits, and they are offered in many sizes, colors, and designs.
It might be easy to assume that they are all basically the same lure. That would be a huge mistake. Also, it would be an even bigger mistake to assume that spinnerbaits are all worked the same way by the angler (you know, just chunk it out and wind it in). Knowing how to use a spinnerbait all starts with the selection of your spinnerbait.
First, anglers need to look at the actual blades that are installed on every spinnerbait. The long skinny blades are usually called willowleaf blades. There are also shorter, rounder blades; usually called Colorado blades.
“Anglers can pick the kind and size of blade to suit present conditions, no matter what these conditions are. One of the most important variables in any fishing situation has to be the temperature of the water.”
These blades have very different actions when they are pulled through the water. The blades provide the flash and vibration which are so crucial to our success in fishing for bass.
Basically, willowleaf blades flash more and vibrate less while Colorado blades flashless and vibrate more. No matter what kind of blade is used on a particular lure, the extreme movement, and a flash of the blades provide more attraction to hungry bass than they can resist.
Anglers can pick the kind and size of blade to suit present conditions, no matter what these conditions are. One of the most important variables in any fishing situation has to be the temperature of the water.
Tim Perkins says, “We have to remember that water temperature is probably one of the biggest factors that make the life cycle of a bass move. A bass is a cold-blooded animal, so their body temperature is water temperature, so to speak. Colder water temps mean more conservative movements and more lethargic feeding. Warmer water temps mean more active movements and aggressive feeding.”
After lots of on-the-water research, Perkins has determined that when the water is cold and the bass are not active, a spinnerbait blade that gives out maximum vibration works best. This means a bait with a Colorado blade or even two of them.
As the water warms and the bass grow more active, anglers can use spinnerbaits with crossover type blades (called Indiana blades). They are a kind of hybrid blade between the round Colorado and the long, skinny willow leaf.
As the water warms even more and the bass are very active, as they will be in late spring during and after spawning—and during early and mid-fall—anglers should look toward maximum flash from the spinnerbait blades. Try the willowleaf blade or two of them on a spinnerbait.
No law limits the number and kinds of blades installed on spinnerbaits. Some very effective spinnerbaits have more than one blade, and a combination of different kinds of blades can give a lure more flash while also providing lots of vibration. Spinnerbaits are almost infinitely adjustable to match current conditions.
The Right Way To Use Spinnerbait
Tons of bass have been caught by anglers using the simplest of retrieve techniques. It’s easy to pitch the spinnerbait out and then just crank it in, and sometimes this retrieves works fine.
However, anglers who assume that this is the only way to work a spinnerbait are missing the boat (and they’re missing a lot of bass, too). Serious bass anglers need to realize that depending on the temperature of the water, anglers can not only vary their spinnerbait presentation by the kind and size of blades, but also by the speed of the retrieve. The speed of retrieve makes a huge difference in how the spinnerbait works and acts. Learning how to use a spinnerbait and the different ways to work them is key to making those big catches.
“Spinnerbait retrieve rates should vary from coldest water to warmest water,” Perkins advises. “For instance, when the water is very chilly, anglers should try the ‘slow roll’ technique. This works like this: cast out and let the bait sink to the bottom. Then, pop the rod to move the bait and get the blade turning. Retrieve just fast enough to keep the blade turning. Watch the rod tip. As long as the tip is moving and bouncing a little, the blade is still turning.”
As the water warms, anglers can try the Yo-Yo technique. Perkins says, “The Yo-Yo provides a little more movement to the spinnerbait. It’s like a slow roll, but you lift the rod with moderate up-and-down movements. Usually, a 12:00 to 2:00 short up-and-down rod movement will do. Watch the line as the spinner drops. Most strikes happen as the lure falls.
As the water temperatures climb up and the bass begin to feed more actively, a basic steady retrieve can be effective. The angler should throw the spinnerbait past the target area and crank it back slowly. As the water warms, even more, the rate of retrieve can be increased.
Finally, as bass are on the spawning beds or they are very actively feeding, the “wake and kill” retrieve can be very effective. This high-speed retrieve actually creates a surface disturbance and there is a detectable wake that follows the lure. There’s no doubt when a bass hits a spinnerbait being worked in this way. The surface strikes can be heart-stopping.
Of course, it’s not always this simple. Some days, the bass don’t want a simple “this or that” retrieve from a spinnerbait. On those days, they want a special action from their lure.
”I won a kayak bass fishing tournament on Lake Logan Martin the day after Thanksgiving one year,” Perkins says. “The water was very clear. I won by casting past my target—usually cedar trees and stumps in the water—and then burning the spinnerbait back to the target at high speed. When the spinnerbait reached the tree or stump, I’d stop it and let it flutter down. That’s when they’d hit it. It took a combination of high speed and slow-roll to get these bass to hit.”
Where and When Spinnerbaits Work
One of the best things about fishing with spinnerbaits is that they work in almost any situation—small ponds, big lakes, rivers, backwaters. Spinnerbait bass fishing will work any place they live. And they will often work in tough conditions when other kinds of lures are totally ineffective. Once you know how to use a spinnerbait, the options to use them are limitless.
Even when the water gets high and muddy, bass still have to eat, and they are able to locate spinnerbaits in stained water better than just about any other kind of lure.
“I learned at the Riverbassin National Championship in Virginia that I could still catch river bass when the water was very high,” Perkins says. “The river we were fishing was flooding the day of the tournament, and there was only an inch or two of visibility in the water. I used a big half-ounce spinnerbait, and I hit every eddy and backwater that I floated past. I’ve never caught so many smallmouth bass like that. I used a steady retrieve, the only retrieve I could use in that fast water.”
“Even if the bass can’t see the flash of the spinnerbait in the cloudy water, they can still detect the thump and bump of a big blade and locate the lure and strike it.”
Even if the bass can’t see the flash of the spinnerbait in the cloudy water, they can still detect the thump and bump of a big blade and locate the lure and strike it.
Also, anglers who assume that spinnerbaits are daytime lures only are missing half of the fish they might be catching.
Perkins adds, “When I’m fishing at night and it’s a full moon I fish along banks. I use a spinnerbait with lots of flash and light colors. If it’s a dark night I use darker colors, which give a better profile of the lure against the night sky—black, purple, and blue in the spinnerbait skirts are good. I like to fish slower at night; a Colorado blade gives a good vibration to help the bass find the lure.”
As a bit of good advice, Tim Perkins tells bass anglers, no matter where they are fishing, to look for a special kind of structure in the water when fishing spinnerbaits. “Logs are probably my favorite target,” he says. “I have a little saying: ‘Big log, big hog.’ Generally, the larger the target, the larger the bass. I caught a bass that weighed over nine pounds from a river in Alabama in 2011. As I threw over the log, the fish rolled on it but missed. When I pulled the bait over the log, she creamed it. I actually saw her right beside my kayak waiting for the bait to fall off the log.”
Best Spinnerbait Options
There are dozens if not hundreds of different size, color, and blade choice spinnerbaits out there, and most will catch fish from time to time. Just like most things, though, some baits work better than others when spinnerbait fishing.
When asked what spinnerbait he uses, Perkins is quick to answer, “Without a doubt, the Premier League 3/8 oz River Series Spinnerbait is the bait I throw 85% of the time. My favorite color combination is chartreuse and pearl. In 2011, I traveled the Riverbassin Tournament Trail. I was in seven states, drove nearly 10,000 miles and caught and photo-released 1,200 bass.
“I fished 42 different rivers, and I had success in every river I fished with that bait. This Premier League spinnerbait proved itself by allowing me to win the Riverbassin National Title in 2011.”
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