June 12, 2016
By Steve Quinn
One key to success in fishing is selecting the proper presentation style. Many panfish anglers, especially those targeting bluegills and crappies, traditionally favor a finesse approach using floats. At times, though, using flash and vibration draws fish from cover and excites them to strike. If you fish slowly with a small livebait or tiny lure, fish tend to peck at it. But run a bigger, bolder bait by them, and wham — they eat it.
Witness Blakemore's success with Roadrunner. Though not always the best approach, spinners allow you to efficiently cover water and find fish. In many situations, they provoke more strikes than quieter approaches. At other times, a few strikes may reveal a concentration of fish that can then be worked with a slower tactic.
Lure options range from downsized bass-style spinnerbaits — effective for active crappies and white bass and can decidedly up the average size of your catch — to a small attractor blade clipped to a hook or strung on a leader, adding a bit of flash to a livebait offering. Understanding this range of action lets you match your presentation to the attitude of the fish.
A Look at Lures
Chin Spinners: This category goes by several names — underspin, horsehead jig, bladehead, and jig-spinner. One brand illustrates the concept, though — Roadrunner. Bert D. Hall designed the original in 1958, and this bait's among one of the deadliest panfish lures ever contrived.
With the hook pointing up, chin spinners fish over vegetation and brush cleanly, so they excel for horizontal presentations across cover-laden flats. Crappies move toward the banks in spring and gather in protected bays with cover and baitfish. Chin spinners are a great tool to locate groups of fish that may be scattered across expansive cover, or to pick off individual fish spread over a large area.
Most chin spinners, including the original Roadrunner, use a small Indiana blade, a good compromise between flash and vibration. Some anglers favor a willowleaf blade for fishing deeper spots, since reduced water resistance makes it easier to fish at greater depths. Blakemore's Pro Series Heads and Reality Shad have willowleaf blades.
The Roadrunner has evolved from the original chenille body and marabou tail to twister-tail models (Curly Tail Road Runner); the Turbo Tail, with a solid body and serrated tube-style tail for extra action and vibration; the Bubble Belly, with a Bass Assassin Tiny Shad; and Crappie Thunder, with a thick, ribbed body and flared tail for a slow fall and lots of action at slow retrieve speeds. According to T.J. Stallings of TTI/Blakemore, much of the Roadrunner's expansion is inspired by anglers. "We get input about new colors and styles from crappie experts," he says.
Considering that Stallings reports annual sales of Roadrunners surpassing 2 million lures and that there are many other chin spinners on the market, this popular lure is surpassed as a panfish favorite only by the simple tube. Other popular options include Charlie Brewer's Slider Company's Charlie Bee, with a minute willowleaf blade below a 1/16-ounce ballhead and a little ribbed boot-tail body, a favorite for bluegills.
Al Patterson of ReelBait Company designed the Flasher as a multispecies lure. It's proven deadly on white bass, perch, and big crappies, as well as walleyes. This one features a hefty head that helps keep the lure deep and running straight for working points or along riprap banks. A tiny willowleaf blade completes the package. ReelBait's metallic colors have been popular, but classic crappie colors like chartreuse, pink, and blue are also available. Flashers come with no body, so add your own plastic or try a small minnow.
Northland Tackle offers the Fire-Ball Spin Jig (1/8- to 3/8-ounce) and Thumper Jig (1/16- to 3/8-ounce) with a small spinner below the jighead. Rig with a minnow or softbait. Thumper Crappie King (1/32- and 1/16-ounce) comes rigged with a DoubleCurl Screwtail grub for max action and flash.
Overhead Spinners: They're also called spinnerbaits, jig-spinners, elbow spinners (since the removable spinner arm is L-shaped), or simply beetle spins, after the best-known lure of this type. Pure Fishing now makes the Beetle Spin under its Johnson brand, with classic beetle body, available from 1/32- to 1/4-ounce in 19 colors. Betts Tackle has a good line of Betts Spins, with body styles including the Pogy Shad, Curl (curlytail), Grunt (beetle body with rubber legs), and hand-poured Exxtra Bait models, in sizes from 1/50- to 1/4-ounce.
Northland's Mimic Minnow Spin and Mimic Minnow Fry Spin are detailed minnow bodies with a boot-tail design (Mimic Minnow) or a CurlyFin swimming tail (Swim Shiner). The 1/16- and 1/8-ounce sizes are ideal for crappie, perch, white bass, and big bluegills. JB Lures' Tadpole Spins (1/16- and 1/8-ounce) are long-time favorites, too. Slider offers the 1/8-ounce Spin Jig, with a 2-inch boot-tail body, in 21 colors.
Models with a detachable arm are versatile and also create helicoptering action on the drop, as the hinged arm folds upward to allow a straight fall. Mister Twister offers packs of spinner arms of several sizes, allowing anglers to craft their own jig-spinners.
Small, fixed-arm spinnerbaits come through cover well and are a good pick for big spring crappie. Talon Lures offers the Sac-A-Lait Plus, sized for crappie. Captain Bert Deener, Guide, fishery biologist, and lure designer at Bert's Jigs & Things, offers a selection of panfish-sized spinnerbaits built with top-quality components. Satilla Spins and Perch Pounders have hand-tied skirts, ball-bearing swivels, and Gamakatsu hooks, in 1/16- to 3/16-ounce and 14 colors. Strike King's Micro-King and Mini-King match a single Colorado blade with the 1/8-ounce bait.
Jig-Spinner Variations: There are other ways to combine a spinner and jig. Northland's Whistler Jig has been a walleye staple for over two decades. The propeller blade behind the head turns with the slightest pull, and it whirls in a blur when retrieved steadily through any part of the water column. The blade also helps slow the Whistler's fall, making it a good choice for working weedlines, bluff banks, or standing timber. The Whistler Screwtail is prerigged with a 1½-inch twistertail but is also available with no dressing, so tubes, swimbait bodies, or livebait can be used.
Slider's Whirly Bee (#2 hook) and Pro Whirly Bee (#1 Daiichi hook) combines a flat Slider head with a beetle body and an Indiana spinner that hangs off the hook bend with a ball-bearing swivel. For fishing through thick brush or vegetation, the Crappie Slider with Indiana spinner has a Texas-rigged boot-tail grub.
Lure designer Lloyd Osgod developed a series of Jig & Spoon baits, with bodies of chenille or soft plastic, and a small Indiana blade trailing off the hook. It sinks fast for its weight (1/16- to 3/8-ounce), combining depth control and a subtle flickering action on the lift-drop or steady retrieve.
Spinners in Action
Crappie Approaches: Spinners come into their own during the Prespawn Period, when crappies move to the edges of weedy or brushy flats and into protected bays, where they find warmer water and baitfish. If the water is below about 50°F, a float-and-jig or minnow may be needed to tempt bites from lethargic or spooky fish. But when water temperatures rise and weather remains stable, spinners become a top choice, particularly in murky water or where cover is thick. Consider jig-spinners a top pick for active crappies.
The overhead arm of elbow spinners makes them a top choice when crappies hover in vegetation. Woodcover is a universal crappie attractor in spring, and the arm also helps deflect brush and limbs.
Chin spinners (also head spinners like Northland's Whistler Jig and tail spinners like the Whirly Bee) are versatile and can be cast, trolled, or fished vertically. Both in the heat of summer and in cold conditions, crappies often hold on bottom, either within cover or hovering just above featureless areas that hold small bottom-dwelling organisms.
With the line-tie directly overhead, chin spinners can be fished with slight jigging motions as the boat drifts, or fished vertically while the angler watches fish respond to the lure on sonar, similar to ice fishing. With its subtle undulation, marabou dressing is often the best choice in winter, while active tails of soft plastics are ideal in summer.
In late summer and early fall, groups of crappies often feed near the surface in natural lakes and vegetated impoundments, pushing baitfish toward weededges. Casting or longline-trolling little spinners is deadly. The blades keep the bait high in the water column and the flash excites feeding fish.
White Bass Action: With flash and vibration, jig-spinners excel in current, making them a great choice during the spring white bass run into tributaries or main-lake banks, which offer super-fast fishing when timed right for location and weather.
As our most piscivorous panfish, white bass focus on flash. A spinning blade also helps keep a jig high in the water column, where white bass tend to feed during spring. They also feed near the surface in summer and early fall, usually in larger numbers and with greater fervor than crappies. Whities slash and cut, stirring the surface like the miniature stripers they are. It's hard to beat a jig-spinner as long as fish stay on top.
Blades for Bluegills: Sunfish are perhaps the most curious freshwater fish, investigating every nearby object with a myopic stare. And that stare is usually accompanied by a tentative nibble. For active sunfish in shallow water, mini jig-spinners and small in-line spinners are fun to fish and effective. They typically select for larger bluegills, pumpkinseeds, shellcrackers, and redbreasts. Expect the best spinner bite from late spring through early fall, when shallow patterns prevail.
Blades are particularly effective in farm ponds that are fertilized to maintain a healthy phytoplankton bloom. Visibility is reduced in the greenish water, so the flash and thump of a spinner make it a great choice. While most anglers target shellcrackers with livebait, jumbos can't resist a Beetle Spin.
Spinning for Perch: Traditional perch rigs are effective for drifting expansive flats of the Great Lakes and large natural lakes, often enhanced with spinner blades set above baits. In small lakes, perch feed along the edge of deeper weedlines all year, and heavier jig-spinners work in spots shallower than 10 feet or so. Note that the spinner's ability to buoy a presentation also makes it harder to fish deep unless a hefty head is selected, such as a ReelBait Flasher.
While spinners aren't always the most effective approach, they're hard to beat for ease of use and have a high fun factor when the bite gets going. With the variety available now, spinners should occupy plenty of space in your panfish box this year.