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By Bryan Honnerlaw

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‘Tips and Techniques for the Professional and Weekend Angler’

Article by Bryan Honnerlaw Okeechobee Outfitters


This month we are going to talk about the spinnerbait.   This bait is very versatile, and can work in many situations.  Not only will we talk about how to fish it, we will talk about the small adjustments you can make that can greatly increase your catch ratios.

The spinnerbait is a bait that I have tied on every day I fish.  It is a proven, time tested fish catcher.  There are two major styles of spinnerbaits, the close pin style bait and the inline.  The close pin style is the most common these days for bass fishing.  They are very weedless, and imitate a fish chasing baitfish.  The inline is often times over looked for bass.  It is a wonderful bait for any body of water, from the smallest streams to large lakes.  An added bonus with the inline bait is that it has a smaller profile and regularly catches an assortment of fish, from trout, bluegill, and crappie, to pike, bass, and salmon.  The only drawback to it is that it is not as weedless as the first style.  With the inline model, you basically just cast and wind, varying the speed.  I would like to talk more about the close-pin style bait, because it is more complex and has more room for adjustments. 

There are two major blade styles used on spinnerbaits.  The colorado style, which is round,  and the willowleaf, which is shaped like, well you guessed it, a willow leaf.  There are also many other blade styles available now that are crossbreeds between the colorado and willowleaf blades.  The most popular of these include the teardrop shaped Indiana, and the diamond shaped turtleback. The tandem spinnerbait is one colorado, and one willowleaf  blade on the same bait.  There are also numerous ways these blades can be configured together, such as two colorado’s, two willowleaf’s, one colorado and one turtleback, etc.  

So how in the world do we know which one to use?  This is dictated by the conditions on any particular day.  A Colorado blade puts on the most vibration or ‘thump,’ and is best suited for stained to muddy water.  The vibration helps fish locate the bait.  Also note, one blade puts off more vibration than two, because when using two blades, the blades somewhat offset each others vibrations.  The larger the Colorado blade the more vibration it puts off and the slower you can move it. 

A willowleaf blade puts off little vibration and a lot of flash.  Therefore, it is best suited for clear to slightly stained water.  The added flash of this bait disguises it, making it look more realistic to picky clear water bass.  Too much ‘thump’ can also be negative because clear water fish can be very finicky.  The most popular set-up is a double willowleaf in clear water, because it puts off the most flash and the least vibration. 

A good mix between the two is the Indiana style blade.  The turtleback blade puts off as much, if not more, vibration than the Colorado.

As far as blade color goes, I keep it real simple.  Gold for cloudy conditions, silver for sunny skies.  I will also use painted blades for very dark overcast days.  White or chartreuse blades work very well in the fall and on gloomy days or in stained water.  In cloudy conditions chartreuse looks like a white pearl to fish and shows up well.  I have seen many times when colored blades have out-produced gold or silver.

Fishing a tournament one time on Kerr Reservoir in North Carolina, the conditions were less than favorable.  It was spring and the water temperature was in the low 50’s.  It poured every day of practice and the tournament. The air temperature hovered around 48 degrees.  My partner and I took turns pre-fishing while the other one warmed our hands in our pants. I had on a tandem spinnerbait with a white willowleaf and chartreuse Colorado blade and was barely reeling through the willow trees.  The water was stained.  We caught numerous fish over three pounds in practice and in the tournament when no one else was catching any on a spinnerbait.  We caught a few on a gold blade but nothing worked like those colored blades. 

As far as skirt color goes, I like white and chartreuse or straight chartreuse under cloudy conditions or in muddy water, and white/silver or clear/silver skirt in clear water or sunny conditions.  This is just a rule of thumb.  There are skirts with a million different color combinations, and they can be very good.  Just experiment and branch off of this rule of thumb and you will do well.   Black is also a very good color in stained to muddy water, such as on the Ohio River, and during the night because it puts off a silhouette against the dark sky. 

When choosing blade size, I like to stick with small blades in clear water and during cold-water temperatures, and larger blades in muddy water and as the year progresses into the fall.  If you were fishing a fishery with an abundance of large fish, I would try a larger blade also.  An all around good size is a 4 or 4 1/2 in the willowleaf style, and a 5 in colorado.  Experiment until you find one that works.

When fishing a spinnerbait, there are many different ways to work them.  The weight of your spinnerbait depends upon the depth and clarity of the water.  I will use as heavy as a 1-ounce bait if fishing deep ledges in the 10-12 foot range. In muddy water I will use a ¼ -3/8 oz. bait to slow down the presentation.  In clear water, a heavier bait such as ½-3/4 oz. with willowleaf blades will allow you to retrieve your bait fast which can draw more reaction bites.  In clear water you want a lot of flash and you generally want to use a fast retrieve so that fish cannot get a good look at your bait.  If they have time to examine it, they will not bite.  The speed of your retrieve also depends on the mood of the fish.  When fishing in frontal conditions when the fish are inactive, you may have to crawl or slow roll your bait to trigger a bite.  On the other hand, you may have to go Kevin Van Dam on those fish and reel it quickly to cause a reaction strike.  Experiment, experiment, experiment.  Every fourth or fifth cast I will try a different retrieve until I find what the fish want.   Try a stop and go retrieve where you pause your bait, try yo-yoing your bait where you rip or hop it off the bottom, or try jerking your bait erratically while reeling it in.  Each day is different in what the fish want. 

Some small things that most people don’t know can put you on top of the game by making minor adjustments.  In clear water, pull out about half the strands on your bait, thus giving it a smaller and more realistic profile.  In muddy water, try adding another skirt, so your bait has more bulk to it, putting off more vibration.  Add a curly tail grub in muddy water if you want a little more vibration, or a straight tailed trailer in clear water if you want a larger profile, but sleek bait. The smaller the blades you put on a spinnerbait, the less lift it will have.  Sometimes in clear water I will take the larger blades off a willowleaf spinnerbait and exchange them with one or two small #4 or 41/2 blades, making it go deeper or being able to run it faster, especially if fishing for smallmouths.  A faster moving bait often triggers strikes from smallmouths.  If you want a willowleaf blade to have a little more vibration but not as much as a Colorado blade, and to slow the presentation, flatten the blade out.  On the other hand, to speed up the retrieve and create less vibration, especially in clear water, add cupping to the blade.  A trailer hitch works great for this. In cold water, try a colorado/willowleaf combination, and make the bait bulge the surface very slowly.  When using a trailer on your bait, use super glue to hold it up on the hook without having to constantly fix it.  In clear water, trim the skirt to ½ inch of the hook, in stained water trim it to about 11/2 inches of the hook.  If you want a smaller profile bait but want it to run faster, add 60/40 solder wire to the hook shank.  Wrap it tightly on the hook.  Rubber core sinkers also work. 

Try these techniques next time you are on the water and make the adjustments that will give you an edge over other angler.  A spinnerbait is very versatile so don’t be afraid to experiment until you find what the fish want. 




Bryan Honnerlaw runs Okeechobee Outfitters, a professional guide service on Lake Okeechobee, Florida. He is in Florida December-mid May. He does instructional fishing in Ohio May-October, and tours on the BFL and Everstart tournament trails.  For those of you interested in learning in depth bass techniques and get hands on experience, Okeechobee Outfitters offers a four-day bass fishing school, twice a year, on Lake Okeechobee.  One session is in April, and one is in December.  The school includes six guides in fully rigged tournament bass boats, classroom and on-the-water time, lodging, and a tournament where you make the decisions on day four.  For more information on this school or on guided or instructional trips in Florida, or Ohio, call Okeechobee Outfitters at (937) 728-1344, or email at 




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