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Spinnerbait Science

Keen spinnerbait exponent DAVID HODGE offers some useful tips on getting the most out of these relatively cheap and versatile lures.  

I WAS tensed and ready. Rhythmic thumps pulsed through the braid as the lure fluttered down close to an awesome snag. As with every cast to a likely looking spot, I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, this piece of water would deliver that fish of a lifetime. I engaged the reel and remembered some old – and bad – advice “leave the reel in free spool as the lure sinks”. Doing that goes hand in hand with damaged reels and lost fish.

I momentarily disengaged the spool and lifted the rod to release about 1.5m of line, then instantly re-engaged the reel; from experience I knew this was the only time a baitcaster should be out of gear between the touch down of the lure and the end of the retrieve.

A couple of seconds later the line flicked and came tight as a big fish surged for cover only to be stopped by smooth drag and a gingerly applied thumb.

Long periods fishing the New England area of northern NSW had seen this sequence played out for me on a regular basis, and provided much opportunity for experimentation and development of techniques and lures. This piece is about understanding the specifics of using spinnerbaits and adapting the right one to your fishing situation. Head weights, wire arm lengths, hooks, blades, swivels, skirts, stinger hooks and soft plastic trailers are all factors that can make a big difference to a spinnerbait’s effectiveness and versatility.  There are also Australian-made spinnerbaits available for any circumstances, species or scenario you are ever likely to come across.


Spinnerbait subtleties

Most well-read anglers know that Murray cod and bass love spinnerbaits, but still have trouble, particularly when using these lures for cod, in understanding all the intricacies involved in using these lures. Most times on small rivers, dams, lakes and creeks you can catch cod on a faithful 3/8oz double Colorado or one of the relatively new Codman series spinnerbaits, but it pays not to limit yourself to just one configuration. Once an angler accumulates a range of head weights, blade sizes and finishes, an understanding of their individual characteristics makes appropriate lure choice simple.

Depth and speed are two of the biggest considerations when using a spinnerbait. Choosing the right spinnerbait for particular conditions isn’t as hard as many might believe. Establishing where the fish are holding and presenting a lure at that depth is always a priority for me. Most freshwater anglers understand the effects of bright sunlight in relation to where a fish will be throughout the day, but choosing a lure that targets that range can be difficult.

Dark shadows are a real drawcard when the sun is high in the sky, and at times of reduced light, such as sun up and sunset, a fish’s confidence to move around more freely is boosted.  

Early morning and late afternoon are recognised peak bite times, and most freshwater fish tend to be closer towards the surface when the light is less intense. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, fish tend to head deeper.

If we were to deliver a heavy headed, small bladed spinnerbait when the fish were up near the surface we are going to miss out. The opposite is true with light spinnerbaits and deep fish – give it to them where they are. While fish will sometimes travel a significant distance to hit a lure, they rarely climb too far up through the water column. This is common for Murray cod, golden perch and also bass.


Retrieves & angles

When it comes to spinnerbait retrieve speeds, slower is generally better. If you find yourself winding fairly quickly to keep the lure off the bottom, a change is in order. An option is the same weight head used with upsized blades that “grab” more water and provide a slower sink rate and retrieve.

Fish that live in snags are usually hesitant in moving too far from home, so your lure needs to travel as slowly and as close as possible to the structure to warrant an attack.    

Rod angle has a lot to do with the depth at which a lure will “hold”. With a little practice lures can be easily manoeuvred through snags and timber by raising and lowering the rod tip to allow the lure to flutter into every little crevice and gap – watch your hookup rate skyrocket once you refine this technique.

Many people refuse to throw their lures amongst the trees because of the risk of snags or loss to a fish once hooked. Better to worry about getting the fish on to start with – getting them out is all part of the fun.

Whenever I fish with a newcomer to spinnerbaiting they often begin the retrieve as soon as the lure hits the water, as with diving minnows. Unlike minnows that need water pressure via the retrieve (and bib) to get them down, spinnerbaits don’t. The longer you wait after the cast, the deeper the lure will sink, giving you better chances of a strike – on the way down, as well as up. At the beginning of this piece, I gave a brief example of hooking up “on the drop”, a regular event when using spinnerbaits. Basic in its principle, increasing the number of strikes on the drop requires a couple of prerequisites to get the best action. Casting towards a snag that could be home to fish sitting high in the water column should preferably see the lure land gently, particularly in shallow water. A lure slammed down hard can result in even a massive fish bolting if surprised.

When fish are sitting high or a missed strike is registered close to the surface changing to a spinnerbait with upsized blades will slow the sink rate and allow fish more time to react when an opportunity presents itself. A slow rhythmic pulsation and flutter towards the bottom will often get a much better response. I’ve had many trips where most of the fish caught have been taken in this exact manner. Spinnerbaits such as Bassman’s double Colarado models (two round blades) are designed for this approach.

Soft plastic trailers

Some spinnerbaits now incorporate soft plastic trailers. The Codman Bassman features an appropriately sized soft plastic with an extra hook linked onto the existing hook of the spinnerbait in a ganged hook type setup. The eye of the stinger hook is inserted through the rear of the soft plastic and stopped around about 25mm to 30mm inside the nose. The spinnerbait hook then enters the very point of the nose and is carefully maneuvered to pass through the eye of the stinger, effectively linking or ganging them. A piece of hard plastic is then slid over the spinnerbait hook and down onto the top of the trailer head to hold it all in place – see photos opposite.

The addition of a fat-bodied plastic slows the sink rate even more, and silhouetted from underneath provides a more “natural” looking offering. The addition of the extra hook increases the hookup ratio out of sight. I’ve heard a few fishos say a stinger hook isn’t necessary, but there isn’t a species I’ve fished for with spinnerbaits that aren’t hooked better with a stinger. The snag rate may be a fraction higher, but you’re compensated for any inconvenience by hooking more fish.

If you’re adding soft plastics to your spinnerbaits note that some soft plastics can affect the collar which holds the skirt onto the spinnerbait head. You’ll know which plastics to avoid after six months or so when the collar takes on a gooey feel and texture. When it’s all said and done, however, the addition of a trailer is too important for attracting big fish for you to worry about skimping on a $2 skirt replacement.

Blade colours

Blade colour can increase a day’s fishing action in varying conditions. Almost all of my spinnerbaits sport two blades, apart from those I use for bass, golden and silver perch. I like a double Colarado, usually with brass blades. The difference between the Colorado blades and the willow leaf shaped blades is the depth at which they work. The bigger profiled Colorado blades grab much more water and rise in the water column quicker than a willow, when speed is added to the retrieve. For this reason willows are better suited to deeper retrieves and more natural presentations than the “wake ’em up and make ’em cranky” approach of bigger blades. It’s my belief that for dirty water, brass has a more appealing harmonic or vibration, and the reflective properties of a chromed blade offer no benefit. On the other hand, when waters are clear and the sun’s rays reach deep enough to reflect off the spinning chrome, the flash does seem to draw attention from further away. We’ve seen many fish charge 4-5m to intercept a flashing spinnerbait in clear water.

Rod Mackenzie’s suggested and proven combination of brass and chrome on the new Codman series has proven itself a happy medium for almost any water quality. Rod has now taken many cod over the 100lb mark on this combo. He’s also one of the best cod fisherman around; many a fishing writer has used Rod’s innovative techniques without giving credit to where they originated from.    

Skirt material & other options

As with other spinnerbait componentry, skirt material has levels of quality. Some of the inferior materials tangle during the cast and end up knotted. Silicone, rubber, latex, and many other materials have been tried and tested over the years and the silicone based material, even though a little more expensive, has proven to be the best all round material.

Realistic colours and the option to mix them up allows every angler to use their favourites. Another variable is the number of strands of skirt material that pulse best without “grabbing” too much water. For larger spinnerbaits, 40 strands seems to be about the best number. For bass type spinnerbaits as little as 20 can provide a great, translucent appearance. Many retailers now stock spare skirts, but just make sure the silicone based ones are the ones you get to replace any damaged skirts.

A couple of lesser known species that love spinnerbaits are the saratoga and sooty grunter. I’ve caught plenty in the wild up in the Top End but have just recently been heading up to Lake Borumba just north of Brisbane where the ’togas have been providing a ball. A ¼ oz Bassman in avocado green or purple and brown skirts are great for saratoga. A 3-4” paddle tail grub makes a good trailer here, and a stinger needs to be a strong one. Bony mouths and aerial fight tactics are the big considerations when targeting ’togas. With a blunt or inferior hook, you might soon find it frustrating when these majestic fish regularly get away due to dodgy terminals. Sooties, too, are suckers for the same spinnerbaits, with white and chartreuse tips well accepted.

Just like faithful hard-bodied lures, spinnerbaits do work. They’re also inexpensive in comparison to many of the latest lures available today. Give ’em a go, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results. 


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