Sting Blade: Bigger, Better Walleye Bladebaits
July 23, 2012
Bobby Jacobsen of Moses Lake, Washington, lives an hour's dog trot from some of the most hallowed walleye water in the Pacific Northwest. This isn't just any walleye water. This is Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir, the Columbia River, Banks Lake, Rufus Woods Lake, and Roosevelt Reservoir. Legends all, where 10-pound fish are so commonplace they're expected. Waters where you'll find Bobby Jacobsen just about every day.
When we recognized his brown Lund boat out on Potholes last October, Jacobsen was snapjigging bladebaits near the mouth of Lind Coulee. He'd caught several respectable 'eyes, including a 7-pounder.
For the uninitiated, "snapjigging" is a method whereby you violently snap the tip of your rod up a few inches, fast "waggling" that bladebait up from the bottom. "Let it free fall on a slack line back to the bottom," Jacobsen instructed. "Make sure it hits the bottom on every drop."
I did as I was told. My partner and I caught a few. But nothing like the 7-pounder finning with contentment in Jacobsen's livewell. Maybe it was me and my inherent limitations as a walleye angler (always a possibility). But then again, maybe it was the differences between our walleye bladebaits.
I sided with the bladebait differentiation theory and commenced to peppering Jacobsen with questions not only about his bladebaiting methods, but also about the bladebait itself. I'd always figured a bladebait is a bladebait is a bladebait. The only real differences in the packaged blades I bought seemed to be weight, and a smattering of different colors. All bladebaits, my early thinking went, had the same shape, hooks, snaps, holes, and actions.
But I was more wrong than a blocked punt in your own end zone. The differences in a store-bought, ready-to-go bladebait, and a bladebait you create or customize down in your basement, is akin to the differences between a store-bought cake and a cake your sweetie labored all afternoon to make for you while you were out fishing.
STRAIGHT FROM THE PACKAGE
There's not a thing wrong with any of the commercial bladebaits you buy off the peg at your local tackle retailer. Well designed bladebaits include Heddon's Sonar, Luhr-Jensen's Ripple Tail, Bass Pro Shop's XPS Laser Blade, Wazp's Zounder, Cordell's Gay Blade, the Silver Buddy, Zap Lures' Minnow Style Blade Bait, Pope's Blade Baits, Reef Runner's Cicada and Bitzer Creek's Zip Lure. All are awesome walleye-getters.
But consistently successful fishing lives in the details, and expert walleye practitioners like Jacobsen know that a little extra something can and will make all the difference. If walleyes love bladebaits, so goes the theory, they'll love customized bladebaits, made just for them, even more.
A good example? Crappie fry tend to congregate around the I-90 bridge pilings at Moses Lake in fall. They all look like fishy little Dalmatians with all those little black spots so characteristic of crappies. The walleyes congregate, too, feasting on the crappie pups.
"I figured it out one year," says Jacobsen. "I took a chrome blade and made little dark spots on it with a magic marker. Looked just like a crappie." And to the walleyes, it looked just like a crappie, too. Jacobsen and his marked-up blades slayed 'em.
And that's just the beginning. Bladers have raised customizing their baits to a science. Coloring in eyes, using colored tape, marking up a brass blade with vertical black stripes to look like a perch, interchanging different kinds of hooks and snaps, pouring their own lead to make adjustments to weight, and even adding sparkle from nail polishes are all part of the high-level detail meant to maximize the duping ability of these lures.
BASE COLORS AND FINISHES
Bladebaits originally came in one color--silver. And they came in one finish--flat. That was it. But not anymore. Manufactured blades now come in gold, copper, and brass base colors, many with clear coating to prevent tarnishing. Finishes can be flat, hammered, or rippled. And painted finishes have been added, such as firetiger, red, pink, chartreuse, and combinations such as blue-chrome.
The fastest and most versatile way to customize blade finish is to start with a base silver blade and add prism tape. Larry McClintock with Critter Gitter Custom Walleye Tackle in Portland, Oregon, (503/257-0553, www.playnposm.com) makes tapes specifically for this purpose, and numerous Columbia River trophy walleye anglers swear by them. The color combinations are almost infinite: small silver black scale, clear red scale, clear silver scale, clear purple scale, dark green scale, and so forth. Critter Gitter also makes tapes that approximate juvenile fry, such as white black tiger and clear black tiger. ZAP Lures (419/475-2621) has tape available in gold, silver, red, and chartreuse prism for most standard-size blades.
MAKE YOUR OWN
If you go through a lot of bladebaits in a season, or if you want to experiment, contact blade manufacturers and buy just the blades (you can add weight, hooks, and snaps yourself). Critter Gitter's brass blades, for example, sell for only $1.50 each in quantity.
If you buy your blades in bulk, you'll need to add melted lead for weight. A good source for a melter and mold supplies is Jann's Netcraft (www.jannsnetcraft.com). While manufactured blades have the typical 1/4-, 1/2-, and 3/8-ounce weights, molding your own will allow you to customize the weight for the depths you prefer to fish. For example, springtime 'eyes can often be as shallow as four feet in stained water, where a lighter 1/8-ounce weight is more appropriate. Conversely, winter fish in 50 feet of water or in heavy current may need as much as an ounce of weight to stay in contact with the bottom.
To create a lighter 1/8-ounce bladebait, either grind down the lead on a 1/4-ounce lure with a power grinder; pour only half the normal amount of molten lead in a 1/4-ounce mold; or mix lighter metal filings in with your lead to lighten the mixture.
Bladebaits vibrate, no doubt about it, but you can add noise to that vibration by adding rattle eyes. In fact, Heddon has done this as an option with their Sonars, and so has Luhr-Jensen with their Ratt'ln Ripple Tails. Excalibur makes Rattle Eyes for plastics that can be adapted for bladebaits, but better yet head to your local sewing craft shop. There you'll find tons of doll stick-on eyes with little black plastic balls inside the eye dome that will work just fine.
It's believed that Heddon's Sonar was the first bladebait to hit the mass market, circa 1959. It featured a flat blade, chunk of lead, holes, and hooks. In 1990, however, the shape of the blade itself came into focus, and the Reef Runner Tackle Company, makers of the Cicada, somewhat "cupped" the blade so it would fall slower on the drop and waggle more on the pickup. Luhr-Jensen's Ripple Tails have this same curvature feature.
You can make your own shape by slightly adjusting your blades, using a pair of pliers, the same way you adjust a trolling spoon. The more "cupped" or concave the blade, the more you'll affect the action and ensuing vibration qualities, as well as the speed of the descent-ascent.
Reef Runner's Cicada also represents an innovative shape change, in that this blade is designed to stand up on the bottom as opposed to falling over flat as most blades do on a slack line. You can customize your blades to do this by adding and flattening the lead weight at the forward part of the bait.
THE OL' MAGIC MARKER, PAINT, AND NAIL POLISH TRICK
Another of Bobby Jacobsen's innovations is to paint eyes on his bladebaits, using red paint for red eyes. Using a household marker like a black Sharpie, you can color in vertical stripes (for perch) or black dots (for crappies). The Scented Double Markers from the Spike-It Bait Company (available through Bass Pro Shops) offer coloring pens in Chartreuse-Red and Chartreuse-Orange with the added value of scent enhancement (garlic and gamefish). You can also dip your blades in Pro-Tec Powder Paint, the same kind of stuff you dip jigheads in.
Lastly, if your household is like mine (wife and two teenage daughters), there's lots of nail polish in the house. Glitter nail polish can be awesome for adding reflective color that looks like tiny scales.
Most bladebaits come equipped with two sets of treble hooks. A recent trend, however, is to replace these with two sets of dual hooks--the hooks facing the center of the blade removed. You can buy premade dual hooks or simply use a pair of wire cutters to snap off the third hook on each treble. Other variations include removing the forward treble altogether. Some anglers also use a single Siwash style hook on the rear--and nothing else.
Experiment with adding scent to a blade via a pinch of nightcrawler, Berkley Nibble, or a minnow head. This can be done without hindering the action by adding the bait to the center-pointed hook of the forward treble. Also smear the blade with a gel scent like Smelly Jelly (anise scent being one of the best). Some ice jiggers are known to add a spike (maggot) or two to the front
Most blades come with some sort of snap for attaching your line or leader, inserting it into one of the hole positions along the top of the blade, resulting in a different attitude and vibration characteristic. One school of thought, however, is that snap swivels hinder action and slow response between you and the blade, particularly when a fish strikes. If your blades have a snap swivel, simply remove the upper barrel and keep the snap. Northwest walleye anglers typically use a chrome Duo-Snap, also known as a fast-lock snap.
An innovation that might just catch on is adding a small O-ring rather than a snap. It's less obtrusive, has less effect on action, and still protects the mono leader.
The upshot is, there are many modifications possible with bladebaits. Be creative and add your own ideas and creations to the bladebait debate. n
*Dusty Routh, an outdoor writer, newspaper columnist and book author hopelessly addicted to walleye fishing, is a resident of Issaquah, Washington.
WHAT COLOR WORKS BEST
Dennis Bryant of the ZAP Lure Company, makers of Minnow and Shad Style Blade Baits,
was asked the age-old question: what bladebait colors work best for walleyes? He provided this handy guide:
Gold--stained or muddied water, low-light conditions, and trolling.
Silver--bright-light days, shallow or clear water, or longline trolling.
Red--deep-water jigging, heavily overcast skies, rain.
Chartreuse--post-front conditions and less than 2 feet of water visibility.
An interesting side note is that ZAP's blades are made from a lead-bismuth alloy that turns gray with age. Bryant's experience has been so successful with older, grayer blades that he now "ages" his blades a year before putting them on the market.