Two Old Standbys that Still Catch Fish

Using spinnerbaits and weedless spoons for fishing success

The equipment available to fishermen is constantly changing and advancing. We all dream about the biggest, baddest boat, or the newest, most sophisticated electronics. Every year, it seems, fishermen are presented with the “hottest new fishing lure to ever come along.” While advanced new fishing lures do catch fish, sometimes the hype and excitement cause us to forget about the “old stand-bys” that caught fish in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Two of my go-to lures for bass fishing are two that have been around for ages, but aren’t getting a lot of publicity anymore. These two lures are the tandem blade spinnerbait and the weedless spoon.

I haven’t seen either of these bass-killers featured on a fishing television show in years, and I recently read an article in a magazine that declared the growing popularity of swimbaits and chatterbaits is making my two favorite bass lures obsolete! Au contraire—the news of the demise of the spinnerbait and weedless spoon is exaggerated, to say the least. I would estimate that nearly half of my largemouth bass each season, including a lot of four- to five-pounders, are caught on these two “old stand-bys.”

These two baits saved the day on a recent guide trip on a large, metro area lake. The bass I had found schooled the day before on some deep weed points were gone or inactive when my clients and I tried feeding them jigs and soft plastics. With cloudy conditions this day, we moved up onto a mid-depth, weedy flat adjacent to one of the points, and started slow-rolling spinnerbaits and wobbling spoons through the tops of the cabbage weeds. By the end of the trip, we had caught a nice bunch of largemouth and a couple big pike. Lesson learned.

Spinnerbaits catch bass, period. I catch largemouth, smallmouth, pike, walleyes and muskies on them all season long. In fact, by the time July rolls around, I use the 1/2-ounce tandem blade bass spinnerbait to target muskies. The smaller bait seems to produce more strikes and less follows in the mid and late summer period, which I have documented extensively the past several seasons. I can’t count how many summertime weedline walleyes I have caught on a white spinnerbait over the years, and pike gobble them up any time of the year. I use spinnerbaits to target bass, and some bonus fish of other species, on the inside weed edges in spring and early summer.

Bass are completing bedding on the firmer bottom near shore this time of year, and quickly move to the inside edge of newly developing weeds where the bottom gets softer out from shore. Sunfish are moving from the weeds towards the firmer bottom near shore to start their bedding, and the bass stick around to feed on them. In addition, pike, walleyes and muskies like to cruise this inside weed edge to pick off sunfish and perch using the weeds for cover and to hunt smaller minnows. A spinnerbait is the perfect bait for this situation as you can cast it a long distance, and can vary its retrieve speed.

This allows you to cover a lot of water looking for fish, and varying the retrieve speed allows you to burn the bait shallow through and over weeds, or slow roll it along a deeper weed edge. As the water warms, the bass move further into the weeds and eventually to the outside, deeper weed edge. I follow them and still am armed with my spinnerbaits. It can be surprising how far up a bass will move to hit a bait, especially in the warm water months of summer. A spinnerbait pulled through the tops of weeds in deeper water is irresistible to bass hiding in the weeds near the bottom, and they fly up to hammer it. This is when I also have a rod rigged with a weedless spoon, like the Johnson Silver Minnow. I often tip a spoon with a spinnerbait skirt for added bulk, action and color contrast.

You can allow either of these baits to sink to the depth you want to retrieve over the weeds or along the deep weed edge, and then move them along at just the right speed to stay at the depth you want, as both baits work well at a variety of speeds. The ability to cast them a long distance and vary your retrieve speed and depth make spinnerbaits and spoons the ideal bait for searching for and catching bass and pike that are spread out on weedy flats. You can cover water, locating individual fish and small groups of them that can be very spread out on flats, especially in the spring and early summer. As late summer and fall arrive, bass and other predatory fish often move back towards the shallows, especially current areas and early and late in the day. While many target these fish with crankbaits, and crankbaits certainly do work well in this situation, spinnerbaits and spoons allow you to fish open areas as well as in and around weeds with fewer hangups.

I like to use a baitcasting rod and reel for fishing spinnerbaits and spoons, but spinning gear will work as well. Go with a medium power, moderate-fast action rod for slow rolling a bait along edges, and a medium-heavy power, fast-action rod for burning the bait through and over cover. I spool the reel with 14- to 20-pound-test braid, depending on how heavy the cover is that I am fishing. The same rod, reel and line will work for spinnerbaits and weedless spoons. Fish inhale spinnerbaits and spoons and usually set the hook themselves—be careful not to set the hook too aggressively, especially with braided line, or you will miss some fish as you pull it out of their mouth before they get hooked. When you feel the strike, just sweep the rod forward softly to load it up and start fighting the fish.

When it comes to colors and sizes of spinnerbaits and spoons, you don’t have to get carried away, even though there are lots of options available. For targeting bass, and really any other gamefish, a 1/2-ounce white tandem blade spinnerbait with a small Colorado blade and a larger willow leaf blade is by far my favorite. I have some baits with silver mixed with white, chartreuse mixed with white, as well as some firetiger patterns with chartreuse, green and orange mixed together. I tend to use the white and silver colors in clearer water or on brighter days, and the brighter colors like chartreuse and orange in darker water or on cloudy days.

Chartreuse seems to attract a few more pike and muskies than white, while walleyes love the plain white spinnerbaits the best. Most of the spinnerbaits in my box are 1/2-ounce, but I do keep some 3/8-ounce baits for slow, shallow presentations. I also have some 3/4-ounce spinnerbaits with a single willow leaf blade for deep presentations. The heavier bait with the single slender blade that produces less water resistance and less lift is easier to keep at greater depths to fish deep weed edges.

For weedless spoons, I keep it very simple. I have two sizes; 1/4-ounce and 1/2-ounce, and two colors; silver and gold, in my tackle box. The smaller, lighter baits work better in and over shallow, heavy cover, while the larger, heavier baits work better for long casts on weedy flats. I use silver on sunny days, and gold on cloudy days.

While there are lots of brand names out there, you can’t go wrong with Terminator spinnerbaits and the Johnson Silver Minnow. The titanium wire on the Terminators, while more expensive, also makes this particular spinnerbait much more durable. Even a large pike or muskie can’t destroy these baits—the titanium wire always returns to its original shape keeping the bait perfectly tuned and running straight. Johnson weedless spoons run great and are reasonably priced—probably why they have been around for a long time

Don’t throw away or sell your spinnerbaits and weedless spoons in response to the exaggerated reports of their demise as fishing-catching baits. Instead, stock up on them and learn where and when to use them to catch bass and many other species of fish as well. Buzzing these baits over weedy flats, snaking them through pencil reeds, or slow rolling them along a deep weed edge are active, fun, and easy ways to fish, and are very productive. Give these baits a try again this season if you had put them away to fish only jigs and soft plastics. I think you will be pleased with the results.

Troy Smutka is a central Minnesota fishing guide (greatdayonthewater.com) and a walleye tournament angler. He is also a member of the Lund Boats, Mercury Outboards and Johnson Outdoors Pro Teams.