For the big smallmouth, it's been just another "day at the office."
She's spent most of the daylight hours finning lazily beneath the root wad at the edge of the pool where the creek makes a sharp bend. It's been a good feeding day. She's caught a crawfish and several small minnows. The only eventful happening was when a vessel floated by, with sticks dipping steadily and stirring the water. As it approached, she retreated back into the roots and watched until it was gone.
Soon darkness will come again. She will pass the nighttime hours in the same spot, lulled by the calmness of the eddy and the black shroud over the water and rocks and wood.
Suddenly the bass hears a splash, and she goes on alert. Then she senses a strange vibration in the water. It's coming from upstream. She turns toward it, gills flaring in excitement.
And there it is, swimming downcurrent. It's the size of a minnow, but it's flashing silver and tracking a straight line. Perhaps it's food or maybe an enemy. She feels a sudden urge to attack. When the intruder is 2 feet away, she flashes into the current and engulfs it, then turns back toward her lair.
But there's pressure pulling her in the other direction! The bass shakes her head to rid herself of the object, but to no avail. She attempts to swim back under the root wad, but she cannot. She jumps out of the water and twists violently, but the pressure is unrelenting.
Finally, exhausted, she submits and is led toward a shallow gravel bar.
"Boy, that's a nice one," an angler calls out to his partner. "What'll she weigh?"
"Close to 4 pounds," is the second man's response. "She put up a good fight!" The fisherman admires the bass only a few seconds, and then he unhooks his spinner, slides her back in the water and releases her. Sensing freedom, the smallmouth runs with the current and disappears back under her stump.
The lure that proved irresistible to this bass was an in-line spinner — a mainstay with America's stream anglers. For decades, these hum-and-flash lures have been steady producers, not only of smallmouth, but also of other bass species, and indeed, a broad range of other fish predators. If a fish's diet includes minnows, it will eat spinners.
And not just in streams. Though designed for use in current, these lures will produce anywhere — lakes, reservoirs, ponds, sloughs. They are deadly in open water. They also can be rigged with single hooks and weedless trailers to bore through heavy cover.
Perhaps the only problem with in-line spinners is their image: They have inherited the reputation of being a lure for beginners. Many bass anglers' tackleboxes are void of them. They're rarely used in tournaments. Maybe this is because they are so simple to use: Cast them out and reel them back in.
Still, these lures are consistent producers of bass, and who's to argue with success? Savvy anglers recognize these lures for what they are — fish catchers of the first degree — and they stock and use them routinely.
In-line spinners: an overview
The in-line spinner is one of the simplest fishing lures ever invented. A long slender, usually metal body is fitted around a wire shaft that has an eye on one end and a hook (single or treble) on the other. A spinner blade (French, willowleaf, Colorado and Indiana are predominant styles) is attached to the shaft either directly or on a U-shaped clevis at the head of the body. The hook(s) may be bare or dressed with animal hair, synthetic material or a plastic trailer like a curled-tail grub. Beads and swivels add to some spinners' adornment and utility. These lures come in a broad assortment of sizes and colors.
In-line spinners are sinking lures. The retrieve may be started as soon as a spinner hits the water, or the lure can be counted down to a desired depth before the retrieve is begun. As the spinner is pulled through the water, the blade rotates around the body, producing both flash and vibration to draw the fish's attention.
The normal presentation with in-line spinners is a steady, slow to medium speed retrieve. A spinner may also be burned or slow-rolled to match specific conditions and mood of the fish.
Typically, little spinners are used to catch smaller fish (trout, panfish) and giant spinners are used on bigger fish (muskies, lake trout). The best spinners for bass fall in the mid-size range: 1/8 to 1/2 ounce.
Again, in-line spinners are lures for serious bass fishermen. Here's how five such anglers use spinners in a variety of settings. The thread that binds them together is their enthusiasm for these spin and flash lures, owing to their success with them. Bassmaster readers who follow their advice are likely to become reunited with a lure they fished as youngsters — a lure that still produces for savvy anglers willing to tie one on.
The history of standing in line
Bernie Schultz: Paralleling bluffs, deep banks with in-line spinners
Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., is a full-time pro angler who uses in-line spinners to score on big spotted bass and smallmouth in the prespawn period.
He explains, "Before they start bedding, female spots and smallmouth will feed along bluffs, steep banks, pea gravel points, etc. They won't likely be up next to the waterline. Instead, they'll hang around 3 to 8 feet deep, depending on how clear the water is."
Schultz continues, "One of the best ways to catch these fish is to move your boat in close and parallel cast along the bank or point with an in-line spinner. Let the bait sink to the right depth zone using the count-down method, then just reel it back with a steady, medium slow retrieve that follows the contour of the bank or point. Or, if I'm fishing a bluff, I'll keep the spinner close to the face, and I'll experiment with different retrieve depths."
Schultz says if fish are present, they'll find the bait. "Bass that are suspending will move up or down to eat. They're drawn by the spinner's flash and vibration, and they'll come a long way for it."
Schultz fishes a variety of in-line spinner brands: Blue Fox, Hildebrandt, Roostertail. His standard colors with this pattern are white or chartreuse body and silver or gold blade.
Chris Beeksma: Fishing in-line spinners over wood strewn depressions
Chris Beeksma runs the Get Bit Guide Service (www.getbitguideservice.com) out of Iron River, Wis. His specialty is leading clients to big smallmouth bass on Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay. Four-pounders are commonplace, and smallies over 7 pounds are possible.
Beeksma takes many of these fish by pulling No. 3 Mepps Aglia Streamers (white hair, silver blade) over sunken logs on the bottom of the bay. "These logs are left from the old logging days," Beeksma explains. "Over the years the wind and waves have pushed them into shallow depressions in the flats in 3 to 6 feet of water, so you have these big log jumbles, and the bass gang up in them.
"The best way to catch these fish is to cast beyond a log pile, let the bait sink 2 or 3 feet, then retrieve it just above the tops of the logs. Now this isn't a fast chasing deal. You want a slow, steady retrieve, maybe bumping your spinner into the wood every once in awhile. You'll be reeling it along, and bang! A big smallie will rush out and whack it."
When fishing over these logs, Beeksma uses a spinner with a single hook to avoid frequent hang-ups.
He adds that another good time to use in-line spinners is in summer when smallmouth are schooling on the surface. "A white Mepps is a perfect imitator of a smelt or a lake shiner. When you see surface feeding activity, you just cast right in the middle of it, start reeling fast and hold on!"
Jeff Boyer: Fishing in-line spinners across submerged vegetation mats
Jeff Boyer of Auburn, Wash., is a pro staff member for Worden's Lures, maker of the Roostertail. An avid tournament angler, Jeff has qualified for three Bassmaster Classics through the BASS Federation system.
He says, "I frequently fish a Roostertail for bass, and one of my favorite ways to do so is to work it over submerged vegetation beds — especially milfoil — in the summer. When bass are holding in the weeds and feeding on small baitfish, you can't do much better than running a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Roostertail just over the top of this cover."
Boyer believes one reason the lure works in this situation is that "it's different from spinnerbaits and buzzbaits and lipless crankbaits. That's what most other anglers fish over submerged vegetation, and I think maybe the bass get used to seeing them. But suddenly here comes a little spinner that's probably the size of the baitfish they're feeding on, and it's different looking and subtle. It's baitfish all the way, so they bite it. This presentation really works."
Boyer fishes Roostertails in three primary colors: for largemouth, white body/hackle with silver blade; for smallmouth, brown body with green/
yellow hackle and gold blade in northern lakes that have yellow perch, and brown body/hackle and gold blade in other lakes.
"If there's one main secret with this presentation, it's keeping the bait barely above the weed tops," Boyer stresses. "Reel it just fast enough to keep it riding above the cover but not too far above. Every now and then you need to 'tick' the vegetation to know you're close to it."
Boyer also works in-line spinners parallel to the outside edges of tule patches, and he casts into pockets and lanes in any emergent vegetation.
Eric Naig: Casting muskie bucktails for big northern bass
Eric Naig is Field Services Manager for Pure Fishing/Berkley, and he's also an avid, expert angler. He says each year some of the biggest bass taken from northern lakes are boated by muskie fishermen casting bucktails. These are megasized in-line spinners that weigh several ounces.
"Cabbage is a prevalent aquatic weed in many northern waters. This is a tall plant but not too thick," Naig says. "Muskies love to hold where cabbage is growing up from hard rock or rubble bottoms, and so do big smallmouth and largemouth bass."
He says the way to fish these cabbage patches with bucktails is to troll the boat along the outside edges and cast down the open lanes in the vegetation. "Then you just steer the lure around and through the cabbage, and hold on. This is a really productive pattern for all three species of fish."
Naig recommends adding a 4-inch Gulp Minnow Grub on the back of the spinner for extra attraction to the fish.
Also, he tailors his hook configuration according to the thickness of the vegetation. "In places where it's really thick, I'll replace the treble hook with a single hook, and I'll hang a trailer hook off the front hook in tandem fashion. This will allow the bait to come through the weeds easier."
Woo Daves: Working in-line spinners in tidal waters
Woo Daves of Burrowsville, Va., has fished full time on the BASS national tourney circuit since 1973. (He won the Bassmaster Classic in 2000.) He knows the importance of tailoring fishing tactics to specific waters, and this is why he frequently casts in-line spinners in tidal waters.
"I've learned over the years that tidal water bass like little baits," Daves explains. "These waters typically have a lot of small baitfish, and the size of an in-line spinner matches what the bass are used to eating. In-line spinners are more compact than safety-pin spinnerbaits, and they just seem to get more bites in this situation."
Daves uses 1/8-ounce and 1/4-ounce spinners. He fishes the former on spinning tackle in slackwater situations and the latter on light baitcasting tackle when the tide is running. His favorite bait is a Mepps Aglia with a "hot firetiger" blade.
"I cast into eddies next to moving water, especially around objects like pilings or fallen trees. If I can, I cast quartering upcurrent and let the current sort of wash my spinner around the cover. I retrieve it just fast enough to keep the blades spinning. I seldom fish it fast or against the current."
Daves adds, "I've caught some really big bass with this bait and technique, to the surprise of a lot of other fishermen. The biggest mistake most people make with an in-line spinner is not fishing it. They think it's a perch bait, but I'm telling you, it'll catch some big ol' largemouth."