Hookin' up with free swingers

When most tournament anglers develop a secret bait that catches the devil out of bass, they try to keep a good thing to themselves. Oklahoma Bassmaster veteran O.T. Fears has the opposite problem; he's designed a spinnerbait that blisters bass, but he has yet to find a company willing to make and market it.

Fears, a four time Classic qualifier, was frustrated by bass that would strike and miss conventional spinnerbaits when he burned these lures just beneath the surface. He was even more upset about the bass that jumped and shucked the hook. These were especially common problems when he ripped spinnerbaits over rocky bottoms and grassbeds for smallmouth bass on big waters such as Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Lake Champlain.

"It took a lot of trial and error, but I finally came up with a spinnerbait that hooks and lands more bass," Fears says.

What separates Fears' spinnerbait from the rest of the pack is a free swinging #2 treble hook that replaces the standard, fixed, single hook. The tail-wagging treble nabs bass that might miss a single hook. And, once the treble takes hold, a heavy-duty ball bearing swivel prevents a bass from gaining leverage when it jumps and cavorts. The hook flops about, rotates on the swivel, and won't let go.

"You don't have to set the hook," Fears says. "When a bass grabs that treble, he's yours."

The unnamed spinnerbait also features a streamlined 5/8-ounce head that slices through the water, a silicone skirt, and a low profile wire frame. Its single willowleaf blade allows for longer casts and less resistance with fast retrieves, both of which are beneficial for open water bass. The single blade causes less torque than tandem blades, which helps the spinnerbait run true at high speeds. Fears believes a single blade puts out plenty of flash in clear water. He usually trims the silicone skirt so it is even with the end of the treble hook.

"I throw a spinnerbait as far as I can when I'm fishing for smallmouth bass in clear water," Fears says. "Most of my strikes come at the end of long casts. If I don't get bit on the first 10 or 12 turns of the reel, I'm not going to get bit. It could be that the boat spooks them."

Fears reaches out to distant bass with a Quarrow 5x, 7-foot popping rod and 20-pound low stretch Trilene Sensation.

The buzz about swingers

The benefits of a free swinging hook haven't escaped Vision Lures. This company claims that their new buzzbait, the Honeybuzz, accounted for more than $100,000 in tournament winnings in the first six months after its introduction.

The most innovative feature of the Honeybuzz is its free swinging, single hook. Because the hook must ride upright to avoid snagging, no swivel is employed. The hook kicks up when it bumps cover, and a bass is less likely to leverage the hook out than with a ridged hook.

The advantages don't end there. The hook has a weight hidden beneath the skirt in addition to the weight on the buzzbait's wire form. Vision Lures claims the double-weight system delivers better balance, which brings about fewer snags in heavy cover. The weight on the hook also gives the skirt a freer, livelier action, and the hook drops down at an angle that is easier for bass to see and latch on to.

Dave Trantham, lure designer for Vision Lures, says the Honeybuzz is, "the most tricked-out buzzbait imaginable. It's got a brass head that sounds off louder than lead when the blade hits it; a special guard in front of the blade that wards off grass; and a crawler design that lets the Honeybuzz move over the surface at much slower speeds. And, this buzzbait tracks true."

A pre-rusted steel (not aluminum) rivet holds the blade in place and ensures that the blade squeaks and squeals right out of the package. The Honeybuzz is available in 1/8- through 3/4-ounce sizes.

Encouraged by the positive responses to the Honeybuzz, Vision Lures has recently introduced the J.D. Spin overhead spinnerbait, and the J.D. Jr. Spin, an in-line spinnerbait. Both lures have the double-weight system and the free swinging hook found on the Honeybuzz.

The oldest swinger

The free swinging concept is nothing new. Hildebrandt's tail-wagging, in-line Snagless Sally spinner has been pulling bass from thick aquatic vegetation and other dense bass cover since 1960. The original design, still in production, has a brass body on the main shaft, a vinyl skirt that hides the tin weight molded to the hook, and a two prong wire guard. The new Silicone Sally features a silicone skirt that dances behind a painted head with 3D eyes. Placing the skirt behind the head on the Silicone Sally allows it to be replaced more easily than the skirt on the original Snagless Sally.

Being flexible

Hildebrandt's free swinging Titanium Flex-Tek gets my vote as the most unique spinnerbait around. The bismuth head, the skirt, and the hook (which has a two pronged wire guard) attach to one end of a stranded, flexible length of 100-pound-test titanium wire. The blades spin on the other end of the wire. You tie your line to a metal ring fixed to the middle of the wire.

When you retrieve the Flex-Tek, the titanium wire bends back from the middle in a parabolic arch and runs like a conventional spinnerbait. The difference is that it has more action, especially when you pause and twitch the bait. Mark Hildebrandt claims the flexible wire, combined with the hook guards, make the Flex-Tek even more snag resistant than regular spinnerbaits.

"This is the most weedless lure there is," Hildebrandt says. "And you don't miss fish with those weedguards. This is a lure for experienced fishermen who know how to get the most out of a spinnerbait. You can adjust the location of the tie-on loop on the wire to change the bait's action."

Staying in-line

Hildebrandt also applied free swing technology to its in-line Gold Wing buzzbait, which is similar in design to Bass Pro Shops' popular Uncle Buck's Buzzer. Both lures sport a subtle buzzer blade, a dual-prong wire hook guard, and a weighted, free swinging hook. The Gold Wing's skirt is vinyl; while Uncle Buck's is bucktail. Both these lures glide freely over vegetation that would choke an overhead-style buzzbait.

A killer combo

The Mepps Combo Killer is another free swinging mainstay. It combines the proven in-line Mepps Black Fury spinner with a Mister Twister Keeper Hook and Mister Twister Curly Tail Grubs. The largest size is the best one for bass. It has a #4 spinner blade and weighs 1/3 ounce. When the grub is rigged on the hook, this spinner snakes through grass and wood without a hitch.

The cable connection

Leverage spinnerbaits and buzzbaits from McGuinness feature a hook that runs straight and true during the retrieve, but flexes to eliminate leverage when a fish battles for freedom. This is accomplished by securely fixing the hook to a short length of strong, braided, stainless steel cable. These baits perform like regular spinnerbaits and buzzbaits - until a bass is hooked.

Because the flexible hook extends well back from the head of the bait, there's no need for a trailer hook. Both the spinnerbait and buzzbait have a "no roll" head design to keep them running true.