Spinners for Panfish
June 04, 2013
Variations of this lure have been crafted by so many tackle manufacturers and graced the tackle boxes of so many anglers that it has acquired numerous names. Call it a spinner jig, horse-head jig, or underspin jig. Many refer to it generically as a Road Runner, the first lure in this class to be developed. Besides Blakemore's Road Runner, today's options also include the Blue Fox Panfish Spinner Jig, Bass Pro Shops Stump Jumper, Northland Thumper Jig, Daimon Lures Pro Series Flutter Shad, ReelBait Flasher Jig, and Blade Runner SpinTrix. As the 21st Century unfolds, more manifestations and names will be created, catching panfish galore. Even when conditions are demanding, spinner jigs usually allure enough fish to make an outing worthwhile.
The Road Runner was created in 1958 by Bert Hall of Forsyth, Missouri. He was motivated to create this horse-head style lure after battling scores of line snarls when he used a typical jig-spinner rig with a vertical presentation. He devised another way to attach a spinner to a jig and simultaneously fashioned a lure that inveigled fish in the waters of the Ozark Region.
Besides being an avid and astute angler, Hall was a budding entrepreneur, as well as the proprietor of Midwest Auto Store in Forsyth. He also had one of the best tackle shops in the region, as well as a wholesale tackle distributorship in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri.
Hall purchased the Blakemore Lure Company in 1969 and made it the corporate home of the Road Runner. By the late 1980s, 40 percent of Blakemore's production was aimed at the bass-fishing market, the rest for crappie anglers. When Blakemore finally received a configuration trademark for the Road Runner in 1990, it directed its entire focus on the needs of crappie fishermen.
In 2004, the Hall family sold Blakemore to TTI Companies. TTI continues to manufacture versions of the Road Runner, including Aaron Martens' Rollin' Runner.
When Aaron Martens placed second at the 2004 Bassmaster Classic, using what he called his "horsy-head jig" along the bridge piers at Lake Wylie, North Carolina, a new spotlight was placed on the abilities of the Road Runner to catch fish in demanding situations. Afterwards, Martens also confessed he'd successfully used it for years at challenging southern California lakes such as Castaic, Casitas, and Pyramid. Since Martens' revelations about its effectiveness, Road-Runner-type lures have enjoyed a renaissance, and several new renditions have appeared to help anglers deal with demanding circumstances.
Swimmers Save the Day
Creating a topnotch television show is demanding, and as the host of In-Fisherman Television, Doug Stange has one of the toughest jobs in the angling world. Knowledgeable anglers and observers who have witnessed him ply his trade readily acknowledge his days afloat are much tougher than the rigors that confront anglers who fish various tournament trails.
Creating a TV show is difficult for a number of reasons. One is that Stange is dedicated to using the lures manufactured by the show's sponsors, and even though these lures are fruitful, there are spells when it's difficult to entice enough big fish with them to create a show. Another reason is that boat control and positioning is often dictated by the best camera angle rather than the best fishing angle.
Here's a typical example of some of the piscatorial woes that confront Stange: On April 20, 21, and 22, 2009, he fished Coffey County Lake, Kansas, with plans of creating two segments for the television show. He wanted to focus on how to catch big crappies on crankbaits, in addition to capturing white bass footage. The problem was that he arrived just as the white bass spawn was ending, as was the crappie's traditional prespawn feeding frenzy. For two weeks before Stange's arrival, many anglers were catching 100 to 160 crappies and white bass during 5- to 6-hour outings. The thousands of crappies these anglers caught ranged in size from 11 to 15 inches, the white bass were 14- to 17-inchers. Even though an angler can harvest only two 14-inch crappies a day at Coffey, the crappies had been so heavily harassed for days on end that the crankbait scenario didn't unfold. And most of the white bass were in post-spawn limbo. What's more, he had to battle incessant winds at a reservoir that he wasn't familiar with.
For three days, Stange fished from an hour after sunrise to an hour before sunset, ultimately shooting enough crappie footage, focusing on how to catch prespawn crappies in 58°F to 60°F water along many miles of riprap shorelines with a 1/16-ounce Blue Fox Panfish Spinner Jig. He also tangled with numerous white bass, wipers, and smallmouth bass while casting the Spinner Jig to the shoreline and slowly retrieving it a few inches above the riprap.
Stange is a swimbait pioneer. Across the years, he has wielded a swimbait affixed to a jig for a variety of species in the Northwoods and elsewhere across North America, catching an incredible number of big fish. In Stange's eyes, the Blue Fox Panfish Spinner Jig combines the virtues of a swimbait and a spinner jig, and he says it's the finest combo on the market.
He finds that the flash created by spinner blade and holographic foil on its head and body, and the vibration of its turbo-tail allure crappies, yellow perch, white bass, bluegills and hybrid bluegill. Stange notes that many panfish anglers wouldn't consider it an appropriate lure for bluegill, but he's caught a number of mega bluegill at several Texas waterways. Editor Steve Quinn has enjoyed similar catches in Alabama, even taking redear sunfish, which often are lure shy.
"Unlike some spinner jigs, this one also keeps right on swimming and flashing, not just on a straight swim, but also if you let it fall," Stange says. "So you can fish it on a straight retrieve or use a lift-fall retrieve, or some combination thereof."
Its only fault, Stange says, is that a few of them are difficult to tune. At times, the soft-plastic body interferes with the spinner blade's swivel, necessitating a touch of surgery to its belly and throat. Or occasionally, the body isn't precisely installed, so the jig, body, and tail don't swim and vibrate properly. When that occurs, reinstall the body in its proper position. Because the body is oddly shaped, Stange says it can be trying to get it to slide perfectly into place on the jig.
At Coffey, Stange fished the Panfish Spinner Jig on a spinning outfit spooled with 6-pound-test Berkley FireLine to which he tied on a 4-foot 6-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. In stained water, he omits the leader and attaches the lure directly to FireLine.
Clyde Holscher, a multispecies guide from Topeka, Kansas, hasn't been bitten by the swimbait-spinner jig trend. Instead, he's an old-fashioned Road Runner aficionado.
From late March until Mother's Day, he and his clients traditionally pursue white bass and crappie along riprap and rocky shorelines at four eastern Kansas reservoirs, where they attempt to garner at least 100 bites an outing. During some springs, they also venture to the riverine sections of two of these reservoirs.
During the Prespawn and Spawn periods, Holscher fishes the classic 1/16-ounce Road Runner with a chenille-and-marabou body, wielding it on a medium-action spinning outfit and 6-pound-test mono. His two favorite colors are black and a crayfish hue, which replicate the invertebrates that crappies and white bass primarily consume in these waterways. When the water is stained, he colors the Road Runner's silver blade with an orange permanent marker, creating a golden tint.
When white bass and crappies invade the shorelines, most of Holscher's casts land within a yard of the water's edge. Then he commences a slow and steady retrieve, allowing the Road Runner to follow the contour of the bottom, traveling about six inches above the rocks and gravel. During the entire retrieve, he abides by the Road Runner mantra: "You can't fish it wrong if you fish it slowly." It's easy to retrieve it too quickly, however, which causes it to run askew.
Once he locates a concentration of crappies or white bass, Holscher experiments with his retrieve by adding a slight pause. He does this to entice reluctant fish to engulf his Road Runner.
In summer, when the white bass pursue small gizzard shad on the surface, Holscher has two spinning rods at the ready. One is rigged with an 1/8-ounce Road Runner and another with a 1/4-ouncer. One has a solid gray tint and the other a chartreuse head, white body, and white tail. He casts into the school of surfacing white bass and retrieves a foot under the surface. He says the 1/8- and 1/4-ouncers don't run afoul, as the 1/16-ouncer does when retrieved rapidly.
Beginning around Labor Day, he spends many late summer and autumn days chasing white bass on wind-blown shorelines and points, as well as on some shallow gravel- and mudflats. He uses a 1/16-ounce Road Runner with the same presentation styles that he employs in spring. His color combinations of choice are red-white-white, red-green-chartreuse, red-chartreuse-chartreuse, and chartreuse-black-chartreuse.
Though Holscher has been a diehard chenille and marabou fan for decades, he says that he has tiptoed into Stange's camp. During the spring of 2010, he began testing Road Runner's Natural Science Series affixed to a variety of small swimbaits, and it scored some impressive results. Spinners for Panfish
Ned Kehde is an In-Fisherman Field Editor and multispecies angler from Lawrence, Kansas.
6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi
Like the Bordeaux region grows world-class wine grapes, the Arc of Slabs is famous for producing giant crappies. Grenada, Sardis, Enid, and Arkabutla — it's a tossup which of these reservoirs might be best for giant white crappies during March and April. Jigging in brush and spider-rigging are the best bets. Wading, too, at times. Contact: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999.
2 Lake Erie, Ohio
The best opportunities are between Port Clinton and Vermilion, says Ohio fishery biologist Travis Hartman. Many marinas and backwaters have excellent crappie fishing in the spring, peaking in late April to early May, and occasionally in the fall. Good open-water spots are East and West harbors and Sandusky Bay. Check connected rivers, too. Lots of fish to 12 inches, with 14-inchers not uncommon, Hartman says. Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters says Lake Erie is a surprisingly overlooked crappie fishery, considering the numbers of fish caught, up to 18 inches, as big as any in the state. Contact: Erie Outfitters, 440/949-8934; Ohio DNR, dnr.state.oh.us
4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee
Guide Billy Blakley says the crappie forecast for the 'œEarthquake Lake' is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11â„4 pounds and catches up to 23â„4 pounds. The lake contains both black and white crappies. From March through May, spider-rig and jig around underwater wood, and jig around exposed cypress stumps. The bite picks up again in the fall. Top-notch lodging and food at Blue Bank Resort. Contact: Guide Billy Blakley at Blue Bank Resort 877/258-3226, bluebankresort.com
7 Weiss Lake, Alabama
The crappie outlook is very good for 2013, reports Alabama district fisheries supervisor Dan Catchings. Samples indicate one, and possibly two, strong year-classes of crappies in 2010 and 2011. Expect good numbers of harvestable-size fish from the 2010 spawn this spring, with the 2011 year-class contributing to the fishing in mid- to late 2013. Fishing picks up in February as crappies move shallow. March through early May is best, with April being the peak. Contact: Guide Richard Green, 859/983-0673, or book through Little River Marina and Lodge (256/779-6461); Guide Mark Collins, markcollinsguideservice.com
8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee
Anglers look forward to the 'œCrappie Capital' living up to its name in 2013, says guide Steve McCadams. Expect numbers of quality fish with a shot at slabs over 2 pounds. While action during the spawn in late March into April is outstanding, don't overlook May and June, when stable lake levels and weather patterns find crappies concentrating around fish attractors at midrange depths, he says. Contact: Guide Steve McCadams, stevemccadams.com
9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina
Numbers of crappies from 1 to 13â„4 pounds with a chance for 2- to 3-pounders. Once the spider-rigging bite wanes in shallower creek channels by April, action turns to jigging deeper brushpiles. Contact: Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381.
3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma
This shallow reservoir boasts numbers of crappies in the 2- to 3-pound range, with 37-fish limits common. In spring, the action is shallow, doodlesocking flooded buckbrush in high water, or working rocky banks and brush cover in low water, says guide Todd Huckabee. Crappies move to deeper brush later in spring. Contact: Guide Todd Huckabee, toddhuckabee.net
; Guide Barry Morrow, barrymro.com
; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528.
5 Lake Fork, Texas
Numbers of slabs from 11â„4 to 21â„2 pounds tend to get overlooked in this lake famous for lunker bass. Mid-May through June is guide Terri Moon's favorite time for crappies, when the fish head to brushpiles and bridge abutments in 20 to 24 feet of water. Pitching Fork Tackle's Live Baby Shads on 1/16-ounce jigs is a top option. Ivan Martin and Rick Loomis also guide clients to Fork's crappies in November and December, when fish are on points and in deeper brush. Contact: Guide Terri Moon, 903/383-7773; Guide Ivan Martin, 918/260-7743; Guide Rick Loomis, rickloomis.com
; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle, lakeforkmarina.com
1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario
The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett, davebennettoutdoors.com
, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce, brucescanadianangling.com
10 St. Johns River, Florida
The stretch of the St. Johns River south of Lake George offers outstanding fishing. Crappies from 2 to 3 pounds are caught regularly, with average catches well over a pound. This was the scene of an In-Fisherman television episode that airs this spring. Weedflats hold fish that can't resist tubes fished under a float. Or troll channel edges using jigs or minnows. Contact: Lodging at Castaways on the River, 352/759-4522, castawaysontheriver.com
; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861, cflfishing.com