DALLAS — Two weeks ago, when the weather was pretty much ideal for shallow-water bass, I tied on an $8 spinner bait, turned the trolling motor on and started covering water. The fish responded even better than I expected.
Spinner baits were once my favorite bass lure, but these days I usually select a slow-moving plastic worm or lizard. Those require less effort than a spinner bait, which must be constantly retrieved.
Two weeks ago, I remembered how much fun a spinner bait can be. The fish slammed that high-dollar lure so hard that they managed to bend the stainless steel wire shaft, causing the lure to spin erratically on retrieve. That made me a little mad until I considered how many fish I’d already caught. Then I clipped the banged-up lure off my line, tied on another one just like it and got the same result.
At one point, I’d pulled into a spot that always seems to produce fish and was plumbing the depths with a plastic lizard when I noticed schools of bass fry, fish that were hatched just weeks ago.
In schools numbering in the hundreds, the tiny fish were moving cautiously through dense cover right next to the bank. As I watched, a school of fry ventured too far from cover and immediately paid the price when a three-pounder crashed through their midst.
I laid down the lizard, picked up the spinner bait and caught five bass in 10 casts. The shimmering fry and their nervous skittering resembled the flash of the spinner bait blades, and I suspect the vibrations were similar as well.
My first spinner bait certainly didn’t cost $8. It was an H&H. When I started buying them about 1962, $8 would buy 32 H&Hs, unless you caught them on sale. I usually bought them one at a time.
H&H Lure Co. is still in business in Baton Rouge, La., and still makes spinner baits. Why shouldn’t they? According to the company website, more than 200 million of these lures have been sold. They look a lot like the originals except they come in more colors, more sizes, and there’s even a twin spin model. The cheapest price I could find was $1.39, which when you factor in inflation is less than the quarter apiece I paid 50 years ago.
The problem with an H&H was that it had two hooks that the angler was required to attach. In a hurry when the fish were biting, I’d sometimes put the hooks on upside down. I even forgot the hooks one day. Assembled properly, those dual hooks caught fish like crazy, but they also caught any bush they came in contact with.
Sam Rayburn was new and full of brush. I was fishing from the bank and had no way to retrieve a snagged lure. I would have caught a lot more fish had I not been afraid to cast near the visible cover.
Spinner baits have been dubbed an “idiot lure” because they will catch fish for a novice who doesn’t know much more than casting and retrieving. They proved that in the 1960s when I became a self-taught angler by relying on the flash and vibration to tempt fish.
HOW TO FISH WITH A SPINNER BAIT
Here are some tips to improve your spinner bait fishing beyond the idiot realm:
Use a lure with tandem blades for fishing in the shallows. Single spinner lures are generally used for slower retrieves in deeper water.
Elongated, willow leaf blades work best around grassy cover because they don’t hang up as readily. A more oval Colorado or Indiana blade creates more vibration.
The pulse of a good spinner bait can be felt through the rod. If the spinner becomes misaligned, it’s not effective. If you can’t feel the pulse, jerk on the lure to try to get it functioning again. Otherwise, you’ve wasted a cast.
Spinner baits come in a variety of weights, from a tiny eighth-ounce model to a huge three-quarter-ounce model. Midsized lures like the three-eighths and half-ounce are practical for most anglers.
Vary your rate of retrieve. Fish that are following a lure often bite when the lure slows down or speeds up.
If you’re getting bites without catching the fish, add a trailer hook for better hookups. Remember that the trailer hook makes the lure less weedless.
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