Bass anglers in the southeastern U.S. just can’t help getting excited about the upcoming fishing season. Most tournament trails in our area crank up in February and March – and for good reason. This time of year is probably the absolute best time to catch truly giant bass. The days begin getting longer, and a little bit of greenery pops out with the first few warm days of late winter. As bass anglers, we all know what’s in store, and we just can’t wait to get the season started off with a bang.
This also means the fish are in a pre-spawn mode and are beginning to feed heavily to build body mass for the spawn. This presents a great opportunity to catch fish using power techniques, with spinnerbaits, jigs and crankbaits. With the advent of vibrating jigs, it seemed that the spinnerbait got pushed back in a corner to dry rot; however, the spinnerbait, similar to the jig, has stood the test of the time and still catches fish today.
It’s easy to pull out an old tried-and-true spinnerbait. Considering the function of each of the components, anglers could customize that favorite bait for any situation they might encounter. As the name implies, a spinnerbait uses a blade system to generate flash and vibration. The most critical component to the presentation with the bait is the blade system.
In a nutshell, larger, rounded blades – such as Colorado blades – create more drag on the retrieve, and longer, slim blades – such as Willow-leaf blades – work well for flashy, fast retrieves. There also are a number of two-blade combinations, including tandem (Colorado/Willow), double Willow or double Colorado. Since these are geared toward the pre-spawn period, let’s discuss which combinations to use depending on water and weather variables.
By early March, temperatures are on an upswing, and the metabolism of fish pick up as well. I like to use two different methods to get the slow retrieve necessary to keep the bait in the strike zone for the longest amount of time.
The first combination is a double Colorado. This combination has the maximum amount of drag and vibration. Using it, an angler can actually feel the blades thumping on the retrieve, which means the fish are able to sense it as well. By using a lighter-weight spinnerbait head and a 1/4-ounce wire, presentation could be slowed down even more.
As this is a time of year when big fish are likely to be roaming the shallows, using a super-sized Willow-leaf blade could create larger profile bait. With a relatively light-weight head and wire, such as a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce, and a tandem combination that incorporates a small Colorado blade on the front, paired with a big No. 5 or No. 6 Willow leaf blade on the back, an angler could produce a large profile bait that could still be fished slowly and methodically around cover.
On the flip side, as water temperatures warm quickly or during windy conditions, a faster retrieve might work best with spotted bass. For the fastest possible retrieve without the bait coming straight to the surface, use double Willow-leaf blades, a heavier head, a 1/2- to 1-ounce wire and a thinner silicone skirt. The goal is to reduce anything that might drag while maintaining a nice amount of flash and profile.
High-speed retrieves can work to bring active fish from long distances and maximize the amount of water able to be covered in a day. One of my favorites is the 1/2-ounce Primal Spin from Fish Head. It has an added blade on the underbelly that gives the bait some extra flash.
Another consideration with choosing the right blades for early-season spinnerbaits is blade color. The most popular blade colors are gold and nickel, but copper, painted white, painted chartreuse and even blades with laminated natural fish patterns work well. Due to passing weather systems at this time of year, it’s not uncommon for anglers to fish in stained to muddy water.
This stained water will warm more quickly than clear water, making it a magnet for fish occupying the shallows during a warming trend. I’ve had more success with gold blades or combinations of nickel and gold in these conditions. Another effective combination is painted white blades. Rather than a flash that emits from gold or nickel, the painted blades produce a pulse of color that can trigger strikes during the pre-spawn.
On the clear waters of Lake Martin, it’s important to consider weather conditions when choosing a blade combination and how it will affect presentation. During pre-frontal conditions, water temperatures are on the rise, and the fish become more active. Also, barometric pressure is stable or – even better – falling during pre-frontal conditions. This is a great time to catch fish on spinnerbaits, as they roam the warming water in the shallows looking for food and a place to spawn.
Tandem Colorado/Willow blade combinations usually offer the best of both worlds. The Colorado blade on the front creates some vibration while the Willow blade generates the flash and allows for fishing at a faster pace.
The absolute best time to catch fish on a spinnerbait is right before the front arrives. Cloudy skies, wind and some rain make for perfect spinnerbait weather.
The backside of a passing front offers very different conditions than the pre-front, and the mood of the fish could change, as well. This is one of the most difficult times for anglers to develop solid patterns because conditions change daily. It’s extremely important to recognize when to make adjustments and which ones to make to stay on the fish.
The post-front conditions usually involve a fair amount of wind that could help a spinnerbait pattern by breaking up the visual profile of the bait; however, rising barometric pressure and falling air and water temps could put the fish in a funk.
A spinnerbait is still a solid bait to catch fish in post-front conditions, but profile and presentation usually have to be adjusted for success. As with any other bait during cold-front conditions, it’s a good start to downsize the offering. With spinnerbaits, my first suggestion would be to go one step down in size. In other words, if you were catching fish on a 1/2-ounce tandem spinnerbait with a No. 3 Colorado and No. 5 Willow-leaf blade combination, go to a 3/8-ounce bait with a No. 2 Colorado and a No. 4 Willow. To downsize even more and to slow the retrieve, go to two small Colorado blades. This will provide a small profile spinnerbait to keep in the strike zone for a long time to trigger a bite from a lethargic post-spawn bass.
The next time you want to catch pre-spawn fish on a spinnerbait, consider the weather and water conditions first; and then, choose a blade combination to maximize presentation.
Greg Vinson is a full-time professional angler on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.