SPINNERBAITS THE #1 YEAR ROUND TACTIC FOR BIG PIKE AND MUSKIES

By Steve Wickens

 One of the questions that I am often asked by clients, and at shows, is "What pike or muskie bait is the overall most effective bait for all seasons?" There is no hesitation in my answer; it is without any doubt, the spinnerbait.

Why is the spinnerbait so effective? There are a number of reasons. The twin blades produce an immense amount of flash, which is a necessary visual stimulus. Those same blades produce a level of vibration in the water that most other baits, even many with rattles inside, simply cannot duplicate. The general rule of thumb for blades is that wider blades, such as Colorado, provide lift. Narrower blades, such as a willowleaf provide depth. Larger blades generate a slower spin, more drag in the water, and a louder "thump", while smaller blades spin much faster, with much less drag, and have a much higher vibrational pitch. What works best? It depends on so many different things, but I try to go middle of the road for the most part, with many colour variations, although admitting a specific preference to bright fluorescent red, orange, and chartreuse blades. The number of different weights and blade configurations allows you to fish a spinnerbait in so many different ways. But the real key piece of the puzzle is the hooking effectiveness of spinnerbait. Let's face it, when a big muskie or pike chomps down on that skirt, what are they really getting? Nothing of substance; just a mouthful of hooks! What about hooks? Singles or trebles on that spinnerbait? I prefer singles. The reason for this is threefold. They hook better, they are much less subject to fouling in weeds or onto themselves, and they are much faster, easier and safer to remove from the fish later.

For early season fish, it is hard to top a spinnerbait that is cast and worked slowly around pockets of emerging cabbage, around inside turns and points in thicker weeds such as milfoil or coontail, or around transition areas where rock, gravel, or sand meet a weed covered soft bottom. Traditionally, these areas hold fish and some surprisingly big fish, in the early weeks of the season. Mud flats laced with clumps of vegetation and pencil reeds may hold fish, if the area is in a shallow mud lined bay that faces south or southwest, as these areas tend to warm faster and attract fish recuperating from the rigors of spawning. For active fish, you can try a simple pitch 'n crank technique. Toss the bait out and retrieve at a fairly constant but moderate speed. If you find the fish are following but won't hit, then you have a couple of very productive ways to stimulate them into hitting. The most exciting is putting the spinnerbait on top. As you cast the bait out, you hold your rod tip up at roughly a 10 o'clock position, and begin your retrieve before the bait hits the water, winding just fast enough to keep the blades breaking the surface with a clanking and gurgling sound. A longer rod makes this a whole lot easier than with a shorter pool stick version. You will get hits that will make your heart leap into your throat! The other option is more of a finesse tactic that works year round. It involves working the spinnerbait with a rise and fall action, over the weeds and into pockets or around structures. The fall need only be a couple of feet to trigger a hit, but you must be alert, because many strikes will come on the drop. A sharp snapping hookset will punch those razor sharp hooks in quickly, and you're in business.

After the initial weeks of the season, right through until season close, I break out the heavy artillery. I'm talking BIG custom spinnerbaits that dwarf most commercially made models by as much as 50%! Many of these baits have overall weights from 3 to 5 ounces, and their tales are massive. Unless you're a serious weightlifter, you won't want to cast these. They're designed to be trolled, and at a variety of speeds from 2 to 9 miles per hour. Do they work? You look at the photo and tell me. During the final days of the season in mid-November 2001, I spent a couple of days on Pigeon Lake under somewhat unseasonably mild conditions. The end result was a pair of trophy class Kawartha muskies at 46 and 46 inches respectively on back-to-back days to end the season; both on spinnerbaits, and both released.

There are three ways you can troll a spinnerbait. The first is a flat-line presentation, where the bait runs such that the blade never breaks the surface. Of course, the faster the boat speed, the further back the bait should be placed. Traditionally, I have found that this is the preferred presentation for the larger fish. But sometimes a period of record heat such as we experienced this past summer, can shut the fishing down. As an alternate tactic, try bringing the baits in a little closer and allowing the blades to break the surface. You can experiment so that only occasionally the blade breaks out, or it can be a virtual surface presentation. Use this presentation along shallow weedlines and over shallow flats and be ready, because that noise will cause havoc down below. It is only a matter of time before your drag will be screaming. The third and final way requires the use of a downrigger, to put one of these big spinnerbaits down deep. This presentation is best suited for the late summer and into the early fall, but can produce some mighty big fish if you have the patience to stick with it. Track down schools of suspended baitfish, and run that bait around them, and even through them.

I want to touch on drag for just a second. Because spinnerbaits have no body for a fish to get their teeth into, sharp hooks virtually guarantee a good hookset, especially when trolling. Keep your drag loose. A drag setting in the 9 to 13 pound range is more than ample with reasonable equipment to handle big fish. Once you go tighter on the drag, you risk tearing the mouth, which could result in the bait working loose and falling out a little before you'd like it to. Anyone who has experienced this will tell you that it is not a good thing; you will kick yourself for weeks afterwards when you make such a careless mistake.

Let me briefly touch on colour. As I said earlier, I prefer that my spinnerbaits have bright blades. But as far as tails go, normally on darker days, I go with darker colours, and bright colours on bright days because of the underwater silhouette factor. (For fish looking up, the sky has an inverted colouration to what we see with our eyes.) On dark days, I will generally start with black, brown, and perch. On bright days, I'll go with with white, yellow, orange, chartreuse, and even hot pink. (Both of the Pigeon Lake muskies I referred to earlier came on hot pink, so stop laughing!) The exception to this rule is on very dark stained water, where the brighter colours may see action, regardless of weather conditions. In a lake where visibility may be a foot or less, giving the fish something that virtually glows in the dark may be the difference between one fish and no fish. The easier it is for them to find it, the easier it will be for them to hit it!

This is only scratching the surface as far as what spinnerbaits can do for you if you give them a serious try. Over the 2000 and 2001 seasons, spinnerbaits accounted for over 120 muskies in my boat, with over 70 of these in excess of 40 inches. If you are serious about catching big pike and muskies, this is one bait that MUST become part of your arsenal on a regular basis!

Good fishing!

 

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