October 16, 2015
Nine pages into the Jann's Netcraft Catalog and the spinner blade styles and colors keep coming. Over 200 items and some versions with 40-plus colors boggle the imagination. Their website contains even more spinner styles including a large selection of Tommy Harris Blades not even mentioned in the catalog. Due to their flash and vibration, walleyes fall for every one of them. But with so many choices, anglers need a plan to negotiate the options.
Over a decade ago, Jeff Seyka was painting salmon spoons for a company called Fishlander when an idea hit him. Many of his spoon patterns and colors would carry over to a big Colorado blade for walleyes. The business question was whether or not anglers would pay $1 or more per blade.
That first year, Seyka spent 243 days on the water testing spinner blade designs, patterns, and colors. The Seyka perch pattern still carries his name and most of the blade patterns have their roots from this breakthrough year. Recently, Seyka teamed up with Jon Tennessen to form JT Custom Tackle to produce thousands of custom blades, beads, weights, ice spoons, and crankbaits for many major manufacturers and online retailers. Their team will custom paint upwards of 120,000 items this year alone.
Unknown to some, the classic Seyka Perch pattern originally had an orange accent. Jeff had snagged something on his rig one day and the item flopped on the surface behind his planer board. All he could see was a bright red streak that convinced him he'd hooked a towel or similar trash. Once landed, the red turned to orange as the jumbo perch relaxed after coming up from 70 feet of water. Further research indicated that perch regularly turn red when stressed, so Jeff started painting a red edge on his blades and went on to win a national championship and many other tournaments on that blade design.
Every blade in the JT Custom Tackle lineup has a similar story based on "looking at stuff in the water." Goby is a goby replica but Gold Muffin is a big goby replica. Find a 7-inch or larger goby and note the slight color change from root beer to gold. Although the Seyka perch is the classic design, the Happy Hooker blade is the deep-water version. Neon colors replace the standard green, yellow, and red to bring the same flash and pattern but in a blade with additional fluorescence and contrast for low light at greater depths. Unknown to most anglers, each of the 30 patterns has a history and a corresponding natural counterpart.
Big Water, Big Blades
Lake Erie has always been the epicenter for spinner development, and tournaments on this lake always spur the growth of custom colors. National Walleye Tour (NWT) 2013 Angler of the Year Robert Blosser used his expertise in spinner presentations to steal the title from equally talented spinner specialist Korey Sprengel. Piles of Plano tackle trays store Blosser's collection of 3,000-plus spinner blades for every outing on the Great Lakes. For someone with such a large collection, he admits to a simple start to each session. "I start with hammered silver, gold, and copper blades until a specific shine pattern emerges," he says. "This shine drives the color I use on the back of every spinner the rest of the week." In a tournament, he has a simple goal that keeps him on track. "Finding a successful color that no one else has in their box can make or break a tournament. With 20 boats trolling through the same school of walleyes, any difference can be an advantage."
To find that special color. Blosser spends ten 10-hour days pulling spinners and constantly changing blades, depths, and speeds. To stay organized, he puts groups of similar blades on safety pins and tosses everything into tackle trays. One box for silver, one for copper, and one for gold narrows his search. He uses plastic quick-change clevises during practice but switches to metal clevises for tournament days, citing better spin at slow speeds, when stalled, and to reduce the loss of blades from fish and netting.
The goal for a tournament differs from a normal day of fishing. Blosser describes it as, "searching not for the hot bite, but for the hottest bite," and this attitude also drives him to often run the largest blade sizes and occasionally even two #8 willowleaf blades to produce the most vibration and attraction possible. Ninety-nine percent of his rigs have six 6-mm beads and surprisingly, even with all of this research, he feels like bead color is not a distinguishing factor in the process. To round out the details, he always uses 17-pound-test fluorocarbon and finishes off each rig with a precision SPRO ball-bearing swivel to reduce line twist.
At noon on the second day of an NWT tournament on Lake Erie fellow NWT pro Brian Brosdahl and his co-angler watched in horror as the last blade of a specific color dropped into the water while netting a fish. This color had proven itself over the course of the week and, either due to the perfection in coloring or the anglers' confidence, the pair endured the rest of the afternoon without a bite.
Brosdahl adds, "the stories about tournament fishing are true." One "magic" color will be seen on a successful boat, or noticed on the water and, real or mental, it affects your ability to be successful. That evening the nail polish comes out or you drive to a local shop to find a copy. Meetings occur in parking lots behind hotels where successful colorations are compared. A few events later and tackle boxes become engorged with the previously "hot" colors.
Colorado multispecies Guide Nathan Zelinsky fishes for walleyes in ultraclear reservoirs fed by mountain streams. His initial blade choices a decade ago hinged on the natural colors that commonly matched the shad population of the area such as white, clown, and chartreuse, with some light blue mixed in. In a few trips this initial idea was thrown out, as an orange blade with yellow dots (known locally as the "cheater") with yellow and orange beads caught just as many as the natural colors. Even with all eight (or more) planer board rigs set at the exact same depth, one color often outshines the rest on any particular day. If we can't predict the right colors, where do we start?
If tackle companies didn't produce custom colors, a marker and some fingernail paint would push the boundaries. Fellow NWT angler Scott Larson placed high in a tournament back in the day by taking a magic marker and putting black dots between the red, blue, and yellow dots on a wonderbread-colored crankbait. This lure lit up the trolling rods on an otherwise slow weekend. Custom colors on spinner blades and other lures aren't new but don't expect the alterations to last more than a weekend.
Commercial blade painters use proprietary chemical processes to remove lacquers and coatings from the metal blades, then apply automotive paints that cost up to $100 a pint and require extensive ventilation to apply safely. The rotating and flexing nature of the walleye blade puts a premium on the right process to avoid flaking. Unfortunately for the amateur, painting blades is not the walleye version of tying flies or pouring jigs.
Moving West from Erie
Smaller natural lakes call for spinners around and near weedbeds for walleyes and panfish. Brosdahl, who now guides instead of competing, uses blade color to match the hatch in different situations. He switches colors based on what inhabits his favorite weedbeds and over the years has dialed in some basic trends. During a mayfly hatch, peach, chartreuse, and green colors excel. Matching leeches, dark purple or black blades increase strikes. A perch hatch calls for stripes incorporating greens, oranges, reds, and blacks with gold highlights along with classic firetiger colorations. Spottail shiners can be matched with gold or green spinners. Away from the weeds, blue and silver blades match ciscoes, and purples work around alewives.
Brosdahl turns to bead colors and patterns to make his presentations stand out from those of other anglers on the lakes he fishes. With smaller #3 blades he uses four beads, and for #5 blades he uses seven. When the water clears and angling becomes tough, he's not afraid to downsize to a #4 hook, tiny #00 spinner threaded directly onto the line, and three microbeads to accurately present an offering that mimics tiny larvae.
At Devils Lake, North Dakota, South Dakota NWT Pro Scott Larson uses two main Berkley Flicker Rig colors throughout the year. With Devils Lake known for its perch, firetiger is a main color there and works most of the year. Midsummer, the hot color changes to Pink Shine, which coincides with the maturation of white bass fingerlings throughout the lake. If he uses anything else, the basic hammered gold and silver blades offered in the Berkley Walleye Rig come out. When traveling East for a tournament on the Great Lakes, Larson brings his collection of 500-plus custom colors, but in his western backyard the choices simplify.
Also at Devils Lake, Guide Jason Mitchell focuses on bead patterns and colors to add distinction to his offerings. He believes the blade attracts fish from afar while the bead designs trigger the final strike, so both are important. To start, he always includes one red bead. From that base, he alternates bead colors with one of his favorites being a black and white scheme. The whole package blurs with the blade alternating colors as it spins, creating a strobe-like effect with the underlying bead patterns to generate life-like blends of colors and flash.
Back to Reality
The blade market is moving forward as traditional manufacturers release new products to keep up with the multiple advances made by upstart Internet-only individuals and small companies. For non-painted blades, Hildebrandt Premium Blades are regarded as the shiniest options. Genuine 24k Gold, bright nickel, and lacquer-coated copper blades in sizes from #00 to #6 in Indiana and Colorado styles and #00 to #8 in willowleaf shapes offer a full selection for any situation.
Similar to Seyka, Tommy Harris developed his Pro Series blades many years ago and now offers the most complete line of custom-painted blades available. His Coolant Series offers chartreuse backs, while the Cougar series has painted backs in contrasting styles, the Great Lakes series has solid painted backs, and the Barb Wire series is based on copper blades. Each set has an array of designs along with his signature spiderweb overlay. The company is one of the few to offer Colorado, willowleaf, and hatchet styles in custom painted designs as well as full lines of blades with colored backs.
Showing that there's room for more innovation, the recently introduced Dutch Fork Ghost Blades have a high-impact polymer construction instead of metal. Most of the styles incorporate transparency, allowing the blade to interact with the bead designs in generating a unique color and vibration pattern. These blades spin slower than metal blades and they float.
Online and in their store, Jann's Netcraft offers the largest selection of custom blades and manufacturers. The store carries over 35 colors and styles of Pro-Eye Colorado spinner blades in the #5 size along with fewer options in other sizes, plus hatchet and willowleaf styles. They also offer multiple designs, sizes, and colors of Hildebrandt, FishSkinz, Donka, Silver Streak, Dutch Fork, and Tommy Harris brands, as well as generic blades in additional styles. As a store that promotes lure-building, they have no problem lining up the smallest and largest companies side-by-side.
The pre-tied snell world has grown as well this year. Hildebrandt painted and hammered their top-of-the-line blades to introduce the Hammer Time line of pre-tied snells. Pulling from their expertise in spinner design and incorporating details from Mark Romanack, they added UV coatings to the blades and used glo-beads in patterns of white or black with one bead in a contrasting color. These details combine the company's experience with the Rooster Tail, Hildebrandt Spinnerbaits, and Toman Salmon Spinners into a walleye-specific offering.
Berkley introduced new Flicker Rigs in 3 sizes and 12 holographic colors. They come with the option of Trilene XT or 100% Fluorocarbon line and have a red quick-change clevis. My favorite aspect of this system is that the colors exactly match Berkley Flicker Shad crankbaits. Once you find a color that works, you can switch tactics with confidence. Berkley continues to offer the Walleye Rig that uses traditional designs and colors.
Jason Mitchell has been working with Northland to release another new set of lures also incorporating UV coatings and his alternating bead pattern mentioned earlier. The Jason Mitchell-designed Pro-Walleye series has a unique metal clevis that snaps shut to lock in the blade but clicks open to make on-the-water blade changes easy.
Lindy continues to offer their lineup of pre-tied spinner rigs, including the Colorado Blade Crawler Harness (#3 to #6 blades) and Indiana Blade Spinner Rig (#3 and #4 blades). Both rigs offer a selection of holographic blade finishes to emulate various baitfish patterns. The Old Guide's Secret line includes a 3-Hook Harness (Colorado blade), Willow Rig (willowleaf blade), and Secret Drift Rig (Indiana blade), available with blades in finishes from smooth and hammered metals to contrasting two- and three-tone patterns.
Covering the Rest
The colors in the catalog seem random, but often are based on nature. If Devils Lake has mainly perch and white bass, two colors should work. Lake Erie has alewives, smelt, gobies, perch, shad, shiners, and leeches, plus varying levels of water depths and algae blooms to name just a few parts of a complex ecosystem where 30 blades may not cover all of the natural food sources. From there, a list of 30 patterns grows to over 4,000 when you factor in blade designs, sizes, back colors, and more.
Tournaments seemingly exist to draw out the difference in presentation details and to figure out what works. Establishing a pattern on a new lake requires flexibility. Tackle manufacturers relish the idea that a color design becomes "hot" and pushes anglers to enlarge their stash to stay on a pattern. This cycle works in both directions because when walleyes stop feeding, anglers push for new patterns to buy and use on their next trip.
Leave it to walleye anglers to take the simple spinner blade and make it as complicated as possible. Leave it to an innovative angler to develop what were to become classic colors and patterns. Leave it to the tournament guy to outwork everyone for the hottest bite. The future of the world's most tweakable walleye lure is now, so enjoy the new options, keep adjusting beads, try some new blades, and keep shopping for the next hot design.