If I'm not on a ladder somewhere around my house this summer, I'm on the water looking for bronze bass. (Yeah, I'm mostly gray, but that splotch of white near my neck is paint.) Highs have been right around 85°F for weeks, which is hot with a capital H for us pale folks in Minnesota. So I climb ladders in the morning hours and head for the water by early afternoon, as the sun finds the shadowy enclaves where I've been working.
This year, the water's up. Way up. My condolences to those suffering drought conditions across much of the country. Wish we could ship some of this rain your way. Lots of it. The Mississippi River has been high all summer — higher than I've ever seen it since moving here almost a quarter century ago.
The river is where I like to target smallies with smallmouth spinnerbaits but it's been unfishable. Maybe I needed a blade fix. Maybe that's why I pulled one out a few days back and fused it to the line on my new Fenwick Elite Tech Smallmouth Series stick (ESMS74M-F). Which is a beauty for spinnerbaits. The added length (7'4") steers lures around dense cabbage stands, logs, stumps, and other obstructions you want to cast to without getting hung up on. The blank has the right power and speed for snapping hooks home past the "objections of resistance" made by skirts, shafts, and blades.
Do smallmouths in lakes around here eat spinnerbaits better in reeds, cabbage, and vertical wood than around rocky points, gravel bars, and reefs? Or am I just programmed to fish them harder and longer in those situations? Probably a little of both. I feel as if they can actually see a spinnerbait from too far away when the only cover consists of a rocky bottom. I see lots of follows in those situations. In vertical cover, they can't see it, but they know it's coming. They can hear, sense, and feel the blades turning, but where is it? What is it? Could it be creating a heightened sense of awareness? Tapping into predatory instincts? Forcing excitement to bubble up into action?
Sounds counterintuitive, I know. Blades are meant to throw flash out in all directions. Flash attracts fish from a distance. And spinnerbaits work around rocks, too. But ask yourself this: Why is everybody using painted blades these days? In clear water, especially, those blades painted white, chartreuse, pink, or black are designed to tone flash levels down considerably. In stained water on windy days, I still want copper or gold blades (too few companies make spinnerbaits with copper blades, which tend to produce better in stained water for me). On cloudy, windy days, I may use chrome or gold blades — even in very clear water. And in cloudy water, I still opt for silver plate blades, which throw flash farther underwater than any other finish. But most of the time I find myself using painted blades.
I began painting blades more than 30 years ago. I wanted to know if I could catch steelhead in clear water on bright, sunny days. The flash of a metallic blade was too much in those conditions. So I painted the blades black and caught more fish. Obviously, with no appreciable flash at all, the bait still worked, meaning spinners produce other fish-attracting and triggering qualities, like thump, noise, vibration, and profile. Living in Michigan at the time, I was surrounded by very clear lakes that were chock full of largemouth bass, and I love fishing weedlines with spinnerbaits. I began hunting for baits with painted blades but, in most cases, I had to paint them myself. Results were amazing — especially on bright days in clear water.
But if my partner in the boat ties on a spinnerbait to cover a reef or boulder field, I tie on a tube, grub, hair jig, or drop-shot rig. Generally I hook better numbers but I'm rarely surprised to see blades pull the biggest fish off the spot — especially when my partner is savvy enough to throw the bait shallow, rip it past the nearest drop, and pause it for a second. In essence, that produces the same situation you have in weeds and wood: They can hear it hit the water, they can sense it coming — but they can't see it until it's almost on top of them. Smallmouths on rocky points, reefs, and rocky shorelines often sit on the shaded lip of a minor drop from 3 feet down to 5 or 6, tucked in where they can't see the shallow top of the structure. Presenting a spinnerbait at the correct angle and speed creates a dramatic entrance, like the sudden appearance of a magician in a puff of smoke at center stage.
Is your spinnerbait mesmerizing fish with flashing blades? Or is it actually spooking them? Depends. On the clarity of the water, cloud cover, time of day, and the amount of pressure fish have been seeing. But, when a painted blade becomes more effective than a blade with a metallic finish, something besides flash is turning the trick. Spinnerbaits have other triggering qualities besides flash.
Obviously, the fish I'm holding here wanted both flash and thump. The bait of choice was a Terminator with a single Oklahoma blade — which is wide and "thumpy," like a Colorado blade. (For my money, single-Oklahoma or Colorado blades on 1/4- to 3/8-ounce units make the best spinnerbaits for smallmouths in most situations.) Maybe she ate it because she wasn't pressured and didn't care about the bright sun. Finding unpressured fish on highly pressured waters will be the next topic...(if I can finish this paint job between thunderstorms, that is).