Spinnerbaits catch fish best at this time of year when fished fast.
These are, visually speaking, the exception.
Walk down the aisles at the local tackle shop and the crankbaits, well, those look like something a fish would eat. Today’s amazingly realistic topwater frogs do, too. The same is true of all soft plastic minnows, crayfish and even creature baits.
They look more like braces for muskies with crooked teeth than anything else.
Pull one through the water, though, and bass sometimes can’t help but swallow them.
“It’s really a reactionary thing,” said Dave Lefebre, an Erie County bass fishing professional with more than $1 million in career earnings. “You want them to come speeding in, sometimes from as much as 20 feet away, and just smash it.
“It’s the best bass bite you can ever imagine getting, by far. They rip the rod right out of your hands.”
About as weedless as a lure can be, spinnerbaits are typically fished along or through grass, wood and rocks.
There’s a lot of variation after that, though.
Early in the year, right after ice-out, it’s best to fish them slow, just bumping them along the bottom, said Rich Lau of Dormont, creator of the Death Shimmer spinnerbait.
Things are different from now through fall. Lau sometimes retrieves his just below the surface. At other times, he counts the lure down until it gets to where bass are suspending, then retrieves it at that depth.
Always, though, the retrieve is fast.
“Burning it, that’s what people call it,” Lau said. “Fish see it flying by and they have to have it before it’s gone.”
Lefebre calls it fishing “fast fast.”
“I’m talking as fast as you can reel it. It actually hurts your body after a day of fishing like that,” he said.
Smallmouths in particular like a spinnerbait that’s really moving, especially after the water warms in early June, said Bill Lortz, a tournament fisherman and owner of NY North Country Bassin’ guide service.
One exception to “burning” a summer spinnerbait is when fishing it like a jig with a trailer, said Kirk Knable of Mt. Union. Owner of Kick Bass Baits spinnerbaits, he’ll produce 400 for sale in a busy week.
He often fishes the Juniata — a Yough-sized river — for smallmouths after dark. Then, he adds a 4-inch flipping tube filled with scent and plugged with a cottonball or ear plug. He drops them so that they “helicopter” on the fall.
Bass often hit them as they’re sinking, he said.
“That little bit of scent seems to help. When they bite it, that scent squishes out and that makes them hang on to it,” Knable said.
“That’s awesome fishing when it’s like that. When they hit it, buddy, you know you’ve got something.”
As for color, Lefebre tries to match his spinnerbaits to the available forage. If perch predominate, for example, that might mean green and gold, with hint of orange, and gold blades. Lortz always fishes one of three colors for the same reason: white, chartreuse, and a white/chartreuse mix.
“If you get one that’s white with a little blue shimmer that works pretty well around bluegill beds, especially for your bigger fish,” added Mike Moran, a tournament angler from Ruffs Dale.
The best blade configuration depends on the situation. Lau fishes single-blade lures early, then switches to tandems in summer.
Lortz likes willow blades, especially in clear water. In stained water, Lefebre goes to Colorado or even turtle blades because they offer “more thump,” meaning vibration.
Spinnerbaits up to 1 ounce are fairly typical, but Knable prefers one in the three-eighths of an ounce class.
“It’s a good all-around lure. That’s probably the No. 1 size, the go-to weight,” he said.
Whatever their particulars, spinnerbaits can serve two functions, Moran said. When fish are aggressive, the lures can take them all day, he said.
They’re also a great search bait, though. He often uses them to explore a piece of water, then, after getting a bite or two, switches to jigs or soft plastics.
As effective as they are now, they may be even better in fall, he said. When fish start to feed up in anticipation of winter, from September through November, the spinnerbait bite is prime, he said. He then goes to a chartreuse one with Colorado blades for river smallmouths.
“They just seem to get mad at it. They tear it up pretty good,” Moran said. “They’ll break some spinnerbaits on you in a day’s time.”
He fishes his spinnerbaits on fluorocarbon line. Lefebre uses monofilament, Knable braid, especially when jigging. All use at least 15-pound test, and sometimes 17 or 20. And all catch fish, indicating the lure is the key.
“A spinnerbait is a very versatile bait. That’s why it’s getting fished more and more each year,” Knable said.
Lefebre caught his first nice bass on a spinnerbait as a child, then switched to fishing mostly jigs as a professional. He returned to them after seeing a competitor win a tournament on the Potomac River.
“It’s a big-fish kind of bait. It’s got a bigger profile overall in the water. It’s got a more rounded profile, almost like a bluegill or a crappie,” Lefebre said.
“It’s become a player for me.”
This story originally appeared at triblive.com/sports/outdoors.
Fishing the buzzbait
And what of the spinnerbait’s cousin, the buzzbait?
They look similar, but with a blade that’s all about creating a chop on the surface.
Chris Jones is a Oklahoma-based pro angler on the Fishing League Worldwide circuit. He fishes buzzbaits not because they necessarily catch a lot of fish in a day. They typically don’t, he said.
But they do catch large ones, given that they represent a large, injured baitfish, he said.
“Generally speaking, if you get five on a buzzbait, they’re going to be big ‘uns,” Jones said.
He throws them whenever fish are in shallow water around structure, be that visible weeds, submerged grass, rocks or timber. Black buzzbaits seem to work best when it’s overcast, white ones with a translucent skirt when it’s clear, chartreuse ones in muddy water.
He’ll throw lures as small as one-eighth of an ounce, but prefers bigger ones, up to half an ounce, especially on choppy days.
Choice of line doesn’t seem to matter, he said, so long as it’s heavy, 20- to 30-pound test, to wrest fat fish out of cover.
And big fish are the rule, he said.
“I catch a lot of 3- to 5-pound bass on a buzzbait,” Jones said.