Clear-water spinnerbaits, Part 2

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Bernie Schultz

Bernie Schultz

Bernie Schultz is an eight-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, illustrator, writer and antique tackle collector. Follow his career on the Bassmaster Elite Series and get advice from this longtime pro here on Pro-spective.

Last time, we discussed Rick Clunn's concept for fishing spinnerbaits in ultra-clear water, and how he targeted bass holding on isolated bushes — bass that, in some instances, were aware of his presence.

When you think about how he was able to fool those fish in such calm, clear water by using an abstract lure like a spinnerbait, it's pretty amazing. In order to be successful, his presentation had to be spot on. And that it was, as Clunn went on to claim his second U.S. Open title using the technique.

After learning of Clunn's exploits, I spent months applying his strategies on my home waters in Florida, eventually building confidence in his approach. Like Clunn, I targeted isolated cover, such as cypress stumps, lily pads and patchy hydrilla. Anything that looked like it could hold a fish, I threw at it.

As time passed, I learned I could make the same approach work on larger targets, like fields of aquatic vegetation — both submerged and emergent. Other than the fish having more cover to hide in, everything else was essentially the same. By keeping the bait high in the water column at a brisk rate of speed, I could force those fish to reveal themselves.

Anatomy of a Clear-Water Spinnerbait

When Clunn first realized his clear-water technique, spinnerbaits were pretty basic in design. Most were made by jig makers, so they incorporated a typical jighead profile with an added wire frame to support the blades. Few, if any, had true lifelike attributes or the cosmetics to match live baitfish.

Seeing an opportunity, I got busy developing a head design that closely matched the forage fish bass feed on. I wanted a fish-head profile with eyes and pronounced gills and one that was slender, so that it would pass through grass more easily. Eventually I came up with a design I liked — one that could fool fish consistently.

Here are some prototypes of "The Blade" spinnerbait by Hildebrandt that show their pronounced gills and reflective Mylar eyes. Details can make all the difference.Bernie SchultzHere are some prototypes of "The Blade" spinnerbait by Hildebrandt that show their pronounced gills and reflective Mylar eyes. Details can make all the difference.

One day, by happenstance, a factory rep saw what I was working on and asked if he could show one of my prototypes to the people at Hildebrandt. After some deliberation, I agreed. Soon after, the company wanted to market my design. Knowing Hildebrandt's reputation for quality, I eagerly accepted.

That's when they put me in touch with their skirt supplier, Bubba Robinson at Rat Trap Bait Company. Together, we formed the first "graded" silicone skirts (from dark to light). I based the color selection primarily on the forage fish bass chase most — shad, shiners, alewives and bluegill.

While this was going on, an initiative to ban lead had gone public. In response, Mark Hildebrandt began experimenting with alternative metals. We tried several, but nothing could compete with tin. Tin, compared to lead, is lighter, yet stronger, and it transmits vibration better. Although more costly and difficult to work with, we knew it was the answer.

With all of these things coming together, it was merely a matter of configuring the various blade combinations. And that I kept simple. Either tandem-willowleaf or Colorado/willowleaf, in combinations of gold and/or silver.

Once complete, my spinnerbait design finally entered production and was named "The Blade." To this day, "The Blade" continues to outperform other spinnerbaits in ultra-clear water, particularly when grass is involved.

Wind is Your Friend

One element that always seems to improve the pattern is wind. Anytime it blows, my success rate jumps exponentially. Knowing this, I always try to concentrate on the windier banks or edges of grass beds. Not only is the spinnerbait bite better, there's usually a lot less competition.

Why is wind so important? It breaks up surface tension, which refracts light that can disorient baitfish — and it can create current, which in turn can position bass that are in the mood to feed. Factoring this, I always try to make the wind work to my advantage. Instead of fighting it with the trolling motor, I use a downwind approach, relying more on a driftsock or my Power-Poles to maintain stealth through a controlled drift.

Another plus with wind is that it can give grass a grain, creating casting lanes in thicker areas — places that would otherwise be inaccessible, even for a spinnerbait. By targeting these small alleyways, I can put a moving lure where others usually won't try. And that's almost always a good thing!

As with isolated targets, keep the rate of retrieve brisk and above the fish. If current is present, chances are the bass will be facing into it. And that's when Clunn's element of surprise kicks in.

In a field of grass, the spinnerbait is obscured throughout much of the retrieve. Once it comes into the fish's visual range, then appears as if it's trying to escape, that's when strikes occur.

Obviously, in shallow grass beds you can see key targets — but what about deeper, submerged grass? Always try to keep the spinnerbait tracking above the fish. When they're in the mood to feed — like on blustery, low-sky days — they'll often position themselves higher in the water column. Track the lure well above them, slowing the retrieve speed only until you connect with the first fish. That first fish should give you the correct rate of retrieve for others to follow.

If you feel the fish are less active and holding deeper within the cover, try making contact with the top of the grass. Intermittent contact can force bass to react.

Hopefully this information will help you next time you're on the water. Remember to keep an open mind. That, and having the right spinnerbait, will bring positive results. Just ask Rick Clunn!

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