If you've ever spent much time on Lake Texoma, the sprawling 89,000-acre impoundment along the Texas-Oklahoma border, you understand how frustrating it can be trying to catch the finicky bass living around the lake's dozens of docks and crowded boat stalls. Cast after cast will go untouched, even though you know without a doubt that fish are present.
When fishing flooded timber, Evers will work a spinnerbait like a jig, jerking it sporadically to elicit bites.
That frustration is exactly what led CITGO Bassmaster Tour pro Edwin Evers to start fishing his spinnerbaits like jerkbaits.
Evers, who cut his fishing teeth on Texoma, admits the unusual retrieve — he jerks and winds a tandem willowleaf a foot or so under the surface as fast as he can — was born of desperation, but then, different or unusual spinnerbait retrieves are really the norm among most pros. In fact, many consider a "normal" cast-and-wind retrieve with a spinnerbait to be a wasted cast most of the time.
"It's always better to make a spinnerbait 'dance'," says Evers, "particularly between early spring and the onset of winter. You've got to do something different, and I think it may be because during this time the water is warming, bass are seeing more spinnerbaits, and if they're around shallow cover they may be more wary.
"I also believe spinnerbaits can be visual-attraction lures, and when you do something different during your retrieve, you not only change the water vibration pattern, you generate extra interest because the fish sees something different. You can jerk it, roll it, stop it, kill it - spinnnerbaits allow you to change your retrieve without really affecting your rhythm at all."
This type of thinking led the 29-year-old pro to victory in last season's Alabama CITGO Bassmaster Tour event on Lake Eufaula, where he fished a spinnerbait through shallow flooded vegetation to bring in more than 70 pounds of fish. Instead of simply casting and winding the 3/8-ounce tandem willowleaf up near the surface, Evers slow rolled his spinnerbait just above the bottom around the stalks and roots of the greenery. Rarely did his lure get deeper than 2 1/2 feet.
"Even when you're slow rolling, as I was in that situation, there are things you can do with a spinnerbait to make it attract more attention," he says. "Normally, a slow rolling presentation is good when you're fishing over submerged vegetation and you try to keep the lure just over the top of the grass.
"When I'm slow rolling a spinnerbait, I hold my rod at about a 45 degree angle, then as I'm making a slow retrieve, I jerk the rod upward periodically to make the spinnerbait speed up for just a second, then slow down to normal again."
This is somewhat similar to the retrieve anglers often employ while fishing a lipless crankbait through scattered vegetation. Eventually the lure gets snagged, and when it does, you rip it free, which is exactly when many strikes occur. Evers doesn't pretend to understand why strikes come at this particular instant, but he saw it happen enough that he quickly adopted the presentation to his spinnerbaits.
These periodic jerks aren't the same as those he uses on the Texoma boat docks. There, he's really jerking the lure, just like a regular jerkbait, except that he does as much of it with his reel as with his rod. He's reeling fast anyway (with a 6.3:1 reel) so he just slows down for a split second, then speeds up again. Instead of darting from side to side like a true jerkbait, his spinnerbait jumps up then falls, jumps again, and falls - all the while sending out vibrations, changing the water movement and even flashing. When you add in the jerky rod movement, even Evers doesn't know where the lure is going to go.
"I don't know what this does to the fish," says Evers, "but it definitely works. I can go right behind other anglers who are fishing spinnerbaits on the same docks, and catch bass like they've never seen a spinnerbait before. When you have a few experiences like that, you become a real believer in making different retrieves."
A slight variation of jerking a spinnerbait like this is killing it, in which the retrieve is stopped completely so the spinnerbait starts falling. This is how another Oklahoma pro, Ken Cook, won the 1991 Bassmaster Classic on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, and how Evers usually fishes laydowns.
"The very first cast I make with a spinnerbait to a log, stump, or laydown is to make a normal retrieve, just bringing my spinnerbait down along the cover," he explains. "It's always nice if you can catch a fish without having to do anything special, but that rarely happens, except maybe when bass are actively feeding.
"If I don't get a strike on that first cast, I'll kill the bait when I get to the strike zone, which may be a fork in the branches or maybe out at the end of the tree. I'll just stop reeling and let the lure fall a few inches, then start reeling back again.
"How deep you let the spinnerbait drop depends on the water depth and where you eventually find the fish. I almost never fish a spinnerbait in water deeper than 5 feet, and I don't let it hit the bottom, either, but I'll let it drop to different depths until I know what the bass want."
If Evers knows the history of a particular log or laydown — if he's caught bass there previously — he'll stay there trying different presentations until he eventually catches the fish, which may take 20 casts. If he's never fished the target previously, however, he'll only give it four or five casts, retrieving or killing the spinnerbait differently each time.
The unusual thing is that when Evers is killing a spinnerbait he tries not to hit the cover itself. He doesn't want to bump limbs and branches on any of his horizontal retrieves, either.
"I don't think it's natural," he says, "even though I do it all the time with a crankbait. I've never actually seen a baitfish run into a limb, and besides, lots of times when you bump a limb the spinnerbait gets hung. The only reason we do it with a crankbait is to ricochet it off so it flares to one side, but that doesn't happen with a spinnerbait.
"I know everybody always says to 'hit the cover,' but I don't."
Another place where Evers usually kills a spinnerbait is along the outside edges of grasslines, as well as in any inside holes in the vegetation. He likes to bulge or wake a spinnerbait through shoreline vegetation, but if there are openings or holes in that grass, he'll stop reeling for a moment or two just to let the lure fall several inches before coming back up near the surface.
Bulging or waking a spinnerbait is one of Evers' favorite retrieves, especially in clear water, and he's been known to look for places on a lake, like bluffs and steeper walls, where he can try it when the water clarity is right. When he does find a good location, he makes long casts right beside the bluff and burns the spinnerbait back, less than a foot below the surface.
"What I use when I fish this way," he explains, "is a compact 1/4-ounce spinnerbait with size 3 1/2 and 4 willowleaf blades. I wrap the hook shank with SuspendStrips so the lure ends up weighing about a half ounce, but it's still small, so I can cast it a mile, retrieve fast, and still keep the lure below the surface."
When he wants to bulge a spinnerbait just below the surface but not kill it, such as around lily pads, Evers may resort to a much heavier 3/4-ounce black lure with a single size 6 or 7 Colorado blade. This is a favorite lure at Lake Fork, and the bait was shown to him by fellow Tour pro and Fork guide Kelly Jordon. Jordon and other guides have named the spinnerbait "Elvis."
For the most part, however, Evers prefers smaller blades — willowleafs mainly, because they pull easier — on his spinnerbaits, and he frequently downsizes the blades himself, although his choices depend on water and cover conditions.
"The first spinnerbait combination I normally pick up is a 1/2-ounce model with a size 3 Colorado ahead of a 4 1/2 willowleaf, which is a pretty standard out-of-the-box combination," he confides, "but if I don't get any strikes in a short time, I start tinkering. For many tournaments where I know the conditions ahead of time, I'll make my own spinnerbaits just for that event.
"Overall, I prefer a heavier spinnerbait, such as 1/2-ounce, but with smaller blades so I can fish the lure a little deeper than most of the other pros do. That's what the smaller blades let me do since they have less lift. If I'm fishing a lot of vegetation, I may use just one willowleaf, while in really cold water I may use two willowleaf blades the same size. When you use two blades the same size, the front blade turns slower and produces a different vibration.
"In really stained water I put on a red Colorado front blade. Again, I don't know why it produces results when a gold or silver blade doesn't, but I've seen just too many times when it works," he continues. "I don't know if this idea originated in Oklahoma or not, but I learned it from Ken Cook and O.T. Fears, two Oklahoma pros who've really done well with it."
If he's in relatively clear water, or if the water he's in clears after a day or so, Evers usually downsizes to a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait with smaller size 3 and 3 1/2 willowleafs. He did this last year during the Tour event at Santee Cooper when his water cleared on the third day, and caught a 7-pounder on his fourth cast.
Evers prefers fewer strands on his spinnerbait skirts because he believes a thinner skirt not only comes through the water faster, it also flares better when he kills it. He normally fishes spinnerbaits on 20-pound-test line (15-pound test if he's going deeper) and for everything he uses a 7-foot Bass Pro Shops medium or medium/heavy action rod with a limber tip. His spinnerbait of choice is also a BPS model, which features a quick-change blade system.
"Spinnerbaits have always been my favorite lures," the Oklahoma pro concludes, "and the more I use them, the more I realize how truly versatile they are. Maybe my early fishing experiences on Lake Texoma influenced my thinking, but I just have more confidence in a spinnerbait if I'm doing something different with it when I make my retrieve."