Horizontal fall. Wobbles down like a hard-body Senko. Swims horizontally, bitsy blades turning at each end. Comes in on "little cat feet," like a Sandburg poem. Or a spy.
As in "spybait." The guru of spybaiting in North America is David Swendseid, U.S. manager for DUO Realis International. "Touring pros call and ask how this deal works," Swendseid says. "I tell them the learning curve is steep."
Yet Storm Lures, Megabass, Jackall, Lucky Craft, and other companies have followed that curve with deep investments. The spybait phenomenon for bass is something like the center-pin deal for steelhead and salmon: Rather rare but well done.
Bassmaster Elite tournament pro Brandon Palaniuk: "I agree. Steep learning curve. Simple lure and technique in the sense that you merely cast and reel it in. The tough part is learning how to fish it effectively at different levels of the water column. Learning how slowly you have to fish that lure is the biggest hurdle. There's an optimal speed that gives the body the right rock-and-roll. Learning to count it down and retrieve it while keeping it in the bite zone at the right speed is tricky."
Swendseid was on the ground floor when DUO began importing spybaits several years ago. The spotty but sometimes spectacular success of the bait and Swendseid's persistent promotion brought it to the attention of people always in need of an edge. Big-name pros began calling for pointers, Palaniuk included. "He says he concentrated on the technique for 30 days before he called me back and exclaimed, 'Dude, I'm going to win a tournament on this bait,'" Swendseid reports. "Well, he hasn't yet, but he has cashed a lot of checks where spybaits caught some of his best fish. And several FLW pros have won tournaments with spybaits."
"The deeper you go, the slower you have to retrieve it," Palaniuk says. "Learning the speed required to keep it at the level you've counted it down to is important." Spybait application seems steeped in ninja-like mysticism. Thus the steep curve. Most anglers don't get it right away, and that's normal, even for pros. "Guys who get it often are versatile drop-shot fishermen," Swendseid says. "If you know how to fish drop-shot rigs a lot of different ways with light line, you understand right away. The other group is the big swimbait guys. They get it. For most anglers, the barrier is that slow retrieve—as slow as you can reel without killing the action. The pace actually makes you mad it's so slow. It can be frustrating, which is why it takes so long to perfect. It can take a year, even for pros.
"Spybaits should be presented in the least detectable way possible," Swendseid says. "It's a technique of 'quiet capture,' best accomplished with long fluorocarbon leaders of 6-pound or lighter. To cover a piece of structure, we're trying to bring the lure in as subtley as possible. Light line provides longer casts and the right sink rate. The tiny blades give off a unique attraction. Thicker lines can work at night or in water with less visibility. But you don't want to overpower the lure and lose the rolling wobble that triggers strikes on a steady retrieve."Tackle Choices
Swendseid spools 12- to 20-pound braid, then tacks on a 30- to 35-foot leader of 5- to 6-pound fluorocarbon with back-to-back uni knots in a "7 x 9" wrap count. "Wrap seven times on the fluoro side of the knot and make nine wraps on the braid side," he instructs. "I like many wraps with braid. It's slick and can slip through shallow wraps. The fluorocarbon gives a weighted, front keel on the lure, actually directing it. Fluorocarbon is 40 percent heavier than mono, providing more weight to pull the lure forward in linear fashion. Braid and monofilament can't create the same presentation. I also use straight 5-pound fluorocarbon on a shallow spool. The advantage of that with a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) shallow-—spool reel (not available in the U.S.) is fishing without fighting the springyness of fluorocarbon. Using a long leader on braid—called top shottingis for those who can't obtain those reels."
Swendseid uses 4- to 6-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon. "I usually tie directly," he says. "You get a freer wobble on the fall with a clip, but the metal-on-metal can redirect the lure. I sometimes use tiny snaps, but I mostly tie directly. In Japan they say that even 6-pound test is pushing the limit because thicker line pulls the lure down by its weight, and its greater diameter causes too much drag. The rod is extremely important, too. You can get started with a 6½-foot drop-shot rod," he says, "but the optimum one for spybaits is the 7½-foot Daiwa Steez, quite long with a medium-light power and fast action. You can transmit more of the rod's power into the cast. It's great for making casts way beyond the target area. It gives you a better, more accurate trajectory, too. The Daiwa Cronos is a fine, less spendy alternative."
Rod, reel, and line preparation also are important. "Some anglers don't set the drag until they're fighting a fish," Swendseid says. "With the tiny hooks on these lures, you want them imbedded quickly, then tension keeps the fish on. Keeping a bend in the rod is important, so you need one with the right taper. In warm water, bass often overrun the lure and knock slack in the line. To prepare, I hook the lure to a fence, back off 40 feet, and bend the rod until it's doubled over. Then set the drag so it releases slowly at that point. On the water, reel quickly on the strike to remove slack before sweeping the rod into an arc to set the hook."
Palaniuk prefers to fish the new Storm Arashi Spinbait on 6-foot 10-inch to 7-foot medium-light spinning rods. "They allow you to feel what the lure's doing," he says. "I use 6-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. Its thin diameter allows that lure to achieve its full rocking action. Heavier line slows it down. It looks much more natural on light line. I use straight fluoro because it's smooth going through the guides and its reduced stretch means I can feel what's happening with the bait better."
Weighting With Patience
"Always trying to cast as far as possible," Palaniuk says. "If I know where bass are holding, I want the lure to approach that spot about mid-retrieve." The DUO Realis Spinbait 80 drops at about 8 inches per second, according to Swendseid. "But it depends on conditions," he says. "If it's windy, waves catch line and slow the fall rate. A spybait falls horizontally with a shaking wobble. Bass often hit it on the drop. The original Spinbait 80 weighs 9.5 grams (about 3/8-ounce). I recommend it down to 12 feet. You can fish it deeper, but it takes a lot of savvy and patience. The new Spinbait G-Fix is the same size (just over 3 inches), but weighs 10.5 grams, so it casts farther. The 80 falls horizontally but slightly tail-down. The G-Fix falls slightly head-down, helping it dive deeper without losing that shimmy. I use it down to 20 feet or so."
The technique is simple. "Cast, count as the lure sinks to the depths bass are in or just above, and begin reeling slowly," Swendseid says. "It's best to cast beyond the target area.
These lures cut through the air on a cast. Say the boat's in 25 feet and you're targeting a hump that rises to 15 feet, about the size of three cars. Cast well beyond it. Count it down to about 12 feet and begin a slow retrieve to bring it straight back. Rigged correctly, nothing should push it laterally from its course. You're not trying to attract fish. You're pulling it slowly through high-percentage holding spots, sneaking up on them and letting their predatory instincts take over."
Another voodoo aspect of spybaiting is retrieve speed, which is almost pre-determined by lure design. "Once you get it to the depth you believe bass are holding, reel it ultra-slowly, just fast enough that it rolls and shimmies as the blades turn," Palaniuk says. "Because the action is subtle, it doesn't attract bass from great distances. You need to fish it where bass are holding, in water clear enough for them to see it."
The Storm Arashi Spinbait has a 3-bladed prop on the nose and a 2-bladed prop on the tail. "The 3-2 blade design changes the action," he says. "It allows you to feel the lure better as it moves through the water. Each of the blades creates a different vortex. Bass follow it, tracking those vortices. Heavily pressured fish respond because it gives off a larger aura than the size of the lure would suggest. It's a mind trick.
"It feels like an easy meal for bass so it's hard to resist. The Arashi Spinbait has a horizontal fall and comes back to the boat more horizontally than DUO Realis Spinbait, which comes in slightly nose-up. Most of the time I want it moving horizontally and as close to the fish as possible, meaning I usually have fish location wired before selecting it. But I occasionally use it as a search bait. It works best when you see fish on a graph and you know where the key spot is."
The new Megabass X-Plose has the largest props, so big that Kenichi Iida, Product Development Manager with Megabass, says the X-Plose may be most effective as a buzzbait.
"No other lure outfishes it on top," Iida says. "My findings show X-Plose wins against normal buzzbaits. When a bass misses, stop the retrieve and the lure falls with the horizontal wobble of a spybait, fluttering side-to-side. Some bass that miss it on top then hit on the drop, and some hit it as you begin to retrieve it slowly under water. It's very effective at picking up fish that miss, and the trebles offer much better hooking."
While the new Jackall iProp 75S weighs about the same as the Spinbait 80, the Lucky Craft Screw Pointer 80 is a tad heavier at just under 1/2 ounce. The Screw Pointer is available in four sizes, up to the Screw Pointer 110, which weighs 5/8 ounce. The idea is to cover water faster with higher retrieve forward speed. The slow-rolling action on a slow retrieve is billed by Lucky Craft as "effective in tough conditions" and "particularly effective in catching prespawn bass."Applications
Is spybaiting, as some pros have stated, a cold-water technique? Palaniuk says lake type has more to do with it than water temperature. "So its use in tournaments depends on the schedule. I may use it 35 to 40 percent of the time next year, based on tournament locations. Last year I fished it only 5 to 10 percent of the time because of the waters we were fishing. The best lake situation has at least 2 to 3 feet of visibility and the kind of baitfish that encourage bass to position offshore and suspend. Highland reservoirs, the Great Lakes, or clear natural lakes are more conducive to spybaiting."
Palaniuk has found situations for spybaits in competition. "I had a top-12 finish at Cayuga Lake in New York at an Elite Series Event," he says. "I tried everything traditional first—jigs, drop-shots, but smallmouths wouldn't commit. I threw an Arashi Spinbait, let it sink to their level, started a slow, steady retrieve and got a 4½-pounder on the first cast. That really clued me in. On Lake Champlain, I went behind guys and found smallmouths on isolated rockpiles that wanted something up over their heads, moving slowly and methodically. That's where spybaits shine. Most of the time it's just a straight retrieve, but I pause it from time-to-time to make sure I'm keeping it down there in the bite zone."
Greg Gutierrez won an FLW event at Lake Shasta fishing spybaits for spotted bass. "He used the DUO Spinbait 90 as a search presentation," Swendseid says. "DUO came out with the slightly heavier 90 because you can fish it on heavier tackle. Still, I recommend no more than 10-pound test with the 90. Gutierrez wanted to cast farther, well past the points, and he reeled it back ultra-slowly. He'd get a bite, then finesse the base of the point with a shaky-head.
"Last year, Scott Dobson won a FLW tournament at the Thousand Lakes area in New York by catching smallmouths during summer," he adds. "All his key big fish came by spybaiting with the Spinbait 90. And Cory Johnston won an FLW tournament on Oneida Lake in New York last year by spy-baiting for smallmouths."
Good Pyzer, In-Fisherman Field Editor, has a love-hate thing with spybaits on Lake of the Woods, Ontario. "I've fished spybaits a lot," he says. "I got onto them thanks to David Swendseid and California pro Aaron Martens when spybaits went viral in Japan and no one over here had heard of them. They work, but you have to use 5- and 6- pound line. Try doing that around here, and you feel a tick and reel up limp line. We can lose 7 or 8 jerkbaits a day to pike when fishing for smallmouths. But when you do that with spybaits you can run up a $200 tab. I rarely use them in toothy-critter water now, as hammer-handles cut you off all day long."
Anglers have a hurdle to overcome. "It's a little tricky," Swendseid admits. "Learning to use fluorocarbon as a weighting system, learning the proper retrieve speed—it takes time and patience. But, reluctant to eat or not, bass always pursue spybaits. It's an awesome technique once you get it down."
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Matt Straw, Brainerd, Minnesota, likes to learn about new and novel techniques and adds them to his arsenal.