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A Spinnerbait Primer
By Paul Crawford

All of us have seen many articles and TV shows on spinnerbaits. Although these tips and techniques work great in theory, when we go to our home lake, it never seems to be that simple. For most folks, it ends up as something to try for about 20 minutes, then when the fish won't cooperate, it's back to a worm or crankbait until the next show. Even the best weekend fishermen seem to relegate spinnerbaits to a few weeks spring and fall when the fish are aggressive and shallow. But a quick review of national level tournaments show a surprising number are won with spinnerbaits all year around. Just what piece of this puzzle are we missing?

We've all heard the high praises for spinnerbaits. Most people have seen the pro's say that the spinnerbait is the single most versatile bait they use and they can put it any cover with no problem. We see spinnerbaits by the thousand on the store shelves in a bewondering combination of colors and blades, and no doubt just about any well stocked tackle box contains a couple of dozen or so that looked just great on that little shrink wrapped card. But knowing just how to make that little chunk of metal and plastic work it's magic is an art form lost on all but the blessed few, who coincidentally were the same few who won 3 out of the last 5 club tournaments with the blasted things.


Any lure's job is to catch fish. A fisherman's job is slightly harder, to find and catch fish. A spinnerbait can help you find fish, but really comes to shine in catching fish. No lure will attract fish from all over the lake to the one little spot you're sitting. That's why we call it fishing, not catching. Picking that high percentage spot that is likely to hold fish is your part of the bargain. Once the spot is picked, then your spinnerbait can take care of the catching part, if you'll just tell it how. Each combination of blade, size, style, color, etc., is best at one particular type of spot. The whole trick is to match the bait with the spot you're fishing.

spinnerbaits are at their very best when you are fishing a particular depth. Any depth between 1 and 20 feet is fine, just as long as it is a given depth within a few feet. Once you know the target depth, you can adjust the bait run almost exactly at that depth with very little additional effort on your part. spinnerbaits can be fished to cover a vertical portion of the water column, but it will require more work on your part, and I can think of several baits that would probably do a better job. But when fish are hold close to a particular depth, very little other than a spinnerbait will allow you to present the bait, exactly like you want it presented, in an easy, effective manner.

There are several other things about your particular fishing spot, and the fish the spot is holding, that you need to decide before choosing a spinnerbait. The color of the water, the temperature, the type of cover, and the mood of the fish are all factors in selecting a particular bait. This is obviously not an exact science, so close is likely good enough. But the closer you can tailor a particular bait to a particular situation, the better your chances for a full livewell at the end of the day.

Nothing that swims, at least in my lake, even remotely resembles a spinnerbait. So the question immediately arises, just why do spinnerbaits seem to be a natural prey for big bass? Not only do bass bite spinners, but they bite will all of the subtlety of a run-away truck. Now a Buzz bait seems natural enough. I firmly believe the bass thinks a Buzz bait is a tiny bass boat, and he's going to get it before it gets him. But a spinnerbait? What if the bass thinks it's not an it, but thinks it's a them? Underwater, a spinnerbait is not a bad imitation of a small school of minnows or shad. If you will think of a spinner as not a bait, but a small collection of baits, then you'll be well on your way to figuring out just what combination of spinnerbait to throw in any given situation.

Let's break down our spinnerbait to it's component parts, and see if we can construct the perfect bait for the exact conditions we want to fish today.


The body of the spinner is the easiest to chose. The primary concern is depth and speed of the retrieve, and the weight of the body will dictate the selection. The rest if fairly universal if we don't delve into the finer points of specialty baits.

For the hooks, select a strong wide gap hook. Bass that attack a school of bait are likely to be big enough to handle the job, so your hook should be as well. I've never met a hook I thought was sharp enough right out of the package. Keep the point honed needle sharp and check it often to insure it stays that way. After all, this is the business end of the lure. As far as color it doesn't make that big of difference. Most spinnerbait hooks are nickel plated. This allows a bit more silver flash to shine through the skirt during the retrieve. For ultra clear water, a bronzed hook will give a more subdued look, but not really enough to make a difference for 99% of the situations.

The wire end is much ado about nothing. Manufactures advertise differences in their wire, but the fish don't seem to notice. For the purist, a thinner wire will allow more wobble, and hence vibration, from the blades at a given retrieve. Then again, changing blade size or style will make an even bigger difference, so wire size becomes fine tuning at best. You'd like the wire to position the trailing blade over the hook. Shorter arm spinners are used for vertical presentations and special situations, but the standard configuration works the best in just about every other case. The wire should be stout but not brittle. The bends should be gentle and kept to a minimum. I prefer the style with a single bend for the line tie, since I don't have to worry about the line wrapping around a looped eye on a windy day. On the other hand, if a spinnerbait breaks, it's most likely going to do so right at the line tie bend. It's rather frustrating to catch a 4 lb bass and bring ! back nothing but the wire and a blade.

For the lead head, it's easy. Heavy equals deep and/or fast. Light equals shallow and/or slow. How fast or deep is determined by blade style, size, plastic trailer use, and a number of other things, but the weight of the head is the place to start. A fully equipped tackle box will have a few heads in every size from 1/4 oz to 1-1/2 oz. For general purpose under 15 feet, 3/8 oz to 3/4 oz will normally do the job.

When choosing a head size, think back to your bait school and evaluate the water your covering. In cold or very warm water, the bait would be sluggish and moving slow. Selecting a lighter head would be appropriate. In that perfect mid-seventies water, bait would be moving around fairly quick and alert for danger, so go for a bit heavier head. If there is a weed bed topping out at 10 feet, your bait school would most likely be cruising just over the top of it, your spinnerbait should too. If there are buck brush bushes in 5 feet, the bait will hold close to the middle of brush in dark water, 3-5 feet, or right up near the top in clearer water, 1-2 feet. Read the water your fishing and select the head size for where the bait should hold, the bass will be in the best position to take advantage of bait at that depth.


The skirt provides the body and bulk of the bait. Of all of the materials available, the new silicon rubber skirts give you the best chance to imitate your bait fish school. Silicon also allows to the flair the bait easily to imitate a spooked school, providing a trigger for an attack.

Choose the colors best suited to your water. A translucent or silvery skirt gives you that subtle look in clear water. A bolder yellow or green works in stained or dark water. In really dirty water, a black or red skirt shows through the dinge. You can mix and match colors to work in that in between water, or pull through different clarity of water such as at the mouth of your favorite creek.

If you are having trouble selecting a color, let the color of the bass be a guide. If the bass are a very light color with little green on their sides, then a white or silver skirt should match the hatch pretty well. If the bass are dark down their sides, almost a true black bass, your dark colors with perhaps a few bright strands should work well.

Trim the skirt to an even length just behind the hook. This will keep the hook hidden, give a bulky look, and keep from interfering with any action of a plastic trailer.


Blades are what make spinnerbaits go. They have the most effect on the presentation of the bait and come in a bewildering array of styles, colors, and sizes. But since we have the model of a school of bait in mind, we can greatly simplify the selection of the correct blade combination. We really only have four things to worry about; number, style, size, and finish.

The most obvious difference in spinnerbaits is the number of blades, either a single blade, or a tandem. The cover and presentation dictate the choice in short order. If you are planning to throw your spinner into and through weeds or thick brush, the front blade of the tandem will foul and kill the action of the bait. Therefore, anytime you are going through cover instead of around it, choose a single blade. Now this isn't to say you can't throw a tandem very close to cover. Running a spinner just over the top of a weed bed is very different than right through the middle of it. You can't foul a blade by running over a 1 inch limb on a tree. But for the heaviest cover, a single blade will make the day much more enjoyable. Past the cover issue, we're back to presentation. Any blade gives the bait lift and drag, but must run at certain speed to provide proper lift. If you want a slow presentation, the Single blade will work better at the crawling pace. Since the Single blade provides less lift at speed, it is also preferred for deep presentation. For a faster pace, the tandum baits will give you that extra lift for a shallow flashy presentation. In spring and fall, when that bass are on the banks, a tandum bait at a fairly quick pace works well. Summer and Winter, a deep single blade will normally perform better. There is that special case of really ripping a bait shallow. Since the single blade has less lift and drag, it is the best model for high speed retrieves.

The next issue is style of blade. Blades come in three basic shapes; round or Colorado, slender or Willow Leaf, and a compromise of the two or an Indiana blade. The Colorado blades give the most lift and drag, so is suited to slow or shallow presentations. The Willow Leaf moves easily through the water, so gives you the fastest and deepest option. The Willow Leaf, because of it's slender shape, also goes through cover the best so is well suited for probing inside weed beds. The Colorado, with it's round shape, moves a lot of water and gives out the most vibration. If you are in low visibility water and think the fish need some help in locating the bait, a Colorado is the ticket. Since most things in life are a compromise, and you find yourself in need of one, select an Indiana and fine tune with one of the other styles later if needed.

The size of the blade controls both speed and flash of the bait. A smaller size of a given blade will move less water and may be retrieved faster or deeper. The profile of the bait obviously changes as does the amount of flash and vibration. In general, in clear water, small is good. In dark water, large is good. This goes back to the theory that we really don't want the bass to see the bait too well from a distance but we still want him to find it. For a given head size and blade style, the size of the blade will be fairly obvious for any target retrieve you have in mind. All of this works up to a point. You really can't go too big with a given blade without causing the bait to turn over on it's side, or even start doing loops in the water. The bait needs to come through the water in a stable upright position and reasonable blade size will insure this happens at the desired depth and speed. Can you go too small with a blade? When you get to the point where the blade will not lift the bait on the retrieve, you've got a swimming jig, not a spinnerbait. Possibly good, but not what this article is about.

The finish of the blade is governed by water clarity. The three main colors are nickel or silver, gold, or copper. Painted blades can be used in special situations, such as black water or in a rain storm, but the metal finish will get you by in just about all cases. Each color may also be had in a smooth or hammered finish. For a given size and style of blade, all you are playing with is the flash the bait will give out during retrieve. For clear water a nickel blade gives the most flash. In dark water, a gold or copper will give more flash. Much like the skirt color, brightest may not be best. In some cases the brightest flash may be too much and a more subdued color work better. This is particularly true in very clear water. The hammered finish as verses the smooth finish is another factor to use. The smooth finish will give out a large bright flash in a limited number of directions. A hammered or diamond cut finish will break up the single flash into many smaller flashes in more directions. Another way to look at this is a smooth finish looks like a fish, the hammered finish looks like several small fish. If the fish are spooky, and hammered finish is less threatening. If the bass are feeding on 5" shad, the smooth finish will match the hatch. In clear water, the hammered finish will broadcast in all directions. In stained water you may need the beacon light of the smooth finish to pierce the gloom. And, of course, available light should be considered. A clear calm day will give you much more flash off of the blade than with wind swept waves or a slight overcast.

The final message on blades is to be careful to not send out conflicting signals. A small hammered finish colorado being clipped through the water on a 1/2 oz head if hard for a fish to figure out. The small hammered blade says small minnows but the flying thumps of the colorado speeding through the water says there may be a 5 lb pike behind them. Not a good message if you are a 2 lb bass.


The last piece of our spinnerbait puzzle is the trailer. Other than a very deep and fast retrieve, a trailer is just as important a piece as the blade. The trailer does two things for us. First it adds some action to the rear of the bait and a bit of bulk to the appearance. Second, and much more important, it allows the final and easiest adjustment for our speed and depth.

For increased action, twin tail or curl tail grubs are surprising lively even at slow retrieve speeds. A curl tail off a plastic worm can place the action slightly behind the bait's body. Straight tails offer a very subtle addition. Both matching and contrasting colors may be used, but for 80% of the time, white or bone colors work best. For night fishing, a black body/fire tail worm is a great addition to a black spinner. The most important thing the trailer will do is increase the buoyancy of the bait. The larger the trailer body, the higher it will run. The more action from the tail, the more drag and again the higher it will run. Since the rest of the pieces of the bait can be somewhat tiresome to replace often, the trailer lets us easily adjust the presentation of the bait and use the same body, skirt, and blades. A bait that runs a foot above our target weed bed can be retrieved at the same speed but just tickle the tops of the weeds simply by removing 1/4" or so of the trailer's body. If we are fishing a slope, we can trim the body slightly as we move towards deeper water and keep the same action and speed as was successful on the top of the slope. A fast bait can be quickly slowed down by replacing a curl tail with a twin tail trailer. This quick and easy method of modifying the presentation is the key to effectively fishing a spinner over a variety of depths with different actio! ns as you search for fish. If you make a major adjustment in depth, then changing the blade may be in order. But for a quick adjustment for a wind change, or just to try running a bit shallower or deeper, the trailer is the way to go.


Fishing with spinnerbaits is more or less the definition of "BuBu" fishing. Heavy tackle is the rule of the day. It's not so much a question of presenting the bait, but what happens after the strike. Spinnerbaits are relatively big and heavy when compared to say a tube jig or plastic worm. There is really not much advantage to light tackle. Since the bait is moving and we don't want the fish to look too closely at bait, line size shouldn't matter much either. So, we have the luxury of matching the tackle to the battle, not the presentation. If you have one of those short broom handle rods, now would be a good time to find it. Line should be at least 14 lb, and move to 20-25 lb around heavy cover. The new braided lines work well since the additional abrasion resistance is a real plus in heavy cover.

The reason for this ball bat of a rig goes back to the type of attack we are trying to provoke. A small school of bait fish is subject to an ambush type of attack, not a leisurely nibble. If a bass is hidden in the shadows and sees this small school moving pass, we would like to trick the bass into immediate action. By reducing the visibility of the bait, we force the bass to quickly react and decide whether an all out attack is better than going hungry. This sudden onrush from a hidden lair is the reason spinnerbaits a famous for bone-jarring bites from major league size fish. You will very rarely have trouble detecting a bite on a spinnerbait.

This might be a good point to mention why there is no reference to trailer hooks. I don't believe a properly presented spinnerbait needs a trailer hook. Trailer hooks are suppose to be used for short strikes. The bass should either blast the bait or ignore it. I firmly believe short strikes are directly related to the fact fish don't have brakes. Short strikes generally come from two sources. The first case is the one of an ambitious dink trying to break up the school before attacking an individual member. Since I'm not fishing for dinks, I don't worry about these strikes. The second case is the bass is trying to tell me something is wrong with my bait. For some reason, the bass was in the middle of an attack, detected something wrong with the bait, and tried to abort the attack. Now, if a fish had brakes, I doubt I would have ever known it was down there. But the attacking fish could only make that last second turn to abort the attack, so all I felt was a thump,! not a bite. I've always had much better success making that little adjustment to the bait than adding a hook and trying to snag a retreating bass. Most of the time, go to a more subdued bait, by changing fr om a solid to a hammered blade, or a bit more translucent skirt. In the few cases where you then stop getting bites, back up and add a bit of excitement to the bait. Downsizing the blade or reducing the trailer will give a faster retrieve and give the bass less time to look at what it's attacking. Once the adjustment is made, you can settle down to catching fish, not snagging ones trying to get away.

FISHING THE Spinnerbait

There are really two way to fish a spinnerbait, depending on what you are trying to do. If you are exploring an area and want to find out if it is holding fish, a spinnerbait is about as good as it gets for covering water. If you know fish are in the area and need to fish it methodically, a properly constructed and presented spinnerbait will trigger all but the most negative fish. The difference is you need two different spinners for the different jobs.

For exploring an area, you'll have many needs and want a compromise to cover all situations. Oddly enough, this will drive you to a single answer I call my Bird Dog lure. You will want to cover a lot of water and you may want to go through some heavy cover. Both of these conditions drive you to a single Willow Leaf blade. You want to cover water and a variety of depths, so a medium heavy head will be needed. I prefer about a 1/2 oz head on my Bird Dog. Since you'll have a fairly good distance between casts, the skirt needs to show up fairly well but not so aggressive as to deter bites. For anything above 2 feet of visibility, a white skirt with a few chartreuse strands will work well. In low visibility, add more chartreuse and if cover allows, maybe an Indiana blade instead of the Willow Leaf. Grab a hand full of white straight tail trailers and you're ready to go. As you work the area, use a fast steady retrieve with an occasional flair with your rod tip. Keep the bait close to cover if possible and don't be scared to throw the bait into the ugliest cover you can find. When you get a couple of bites in an area, you've located the fish and it's time to change over to a spinner better suited to the particular conditions you've found.

For working an area, evaluate the conditions and build or select the combination that is your best guess for the given area. Work the area slowly and methodically, exploring every nook and angle to give the hidden bass a good look. As you retrieve the bait, try to visualize what a school of bait would look like. In most conditions, the school would move a few cautious feet, scatter slightly to prevent an attack, then move a few more feet in the same general direction. You can imitate this natural movement with a combination of rod tip movements. A slight flick upwards while pausing the retrieve will cause the bait to flair upwards and the blades to flutter momentarily. Moving the rod to the other side of your body will cause a slight change in direction of the bait after the flair. Keep your rod tip up for direction control if the depth will allow it. For deep structure, a small jerk forward while your rod points down will provide a slight flair for the bait. Try to make the bait look nervous and wary. After all, if something 100 times your size was about to make you it's next meal, you'd be pretty wary yourself.

Spinnerbaits really aren't magic, just the results are. Keep in mind what you're trying to do and make any adjustments to the bait you feel are needed. Those eye popping hits make all of the worry and work worth it. Just don't blame me if you get your arm broke by that next bucket mouth bass that thought he saw an easy meal.

Paul Crawford

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