Like a ninja warrior, the technique of spybaiting has silently infiltrated the ranks of Bassmaster pros. As with previous lure innovations, anglers would prefer to garner some high finishes before their secret techniques become widely understood. Thus the veil of secrecy and rumor that has surrounded spybaits. Moreover, even the most accomplished pros admit that getting the most from these lures demands a steep learning curve.
I first heard about spybaiting in 2013 from David Swendseid of Oregon, an avid angler who has worked at Duo Realis as a manager of research and development, as well as with the marketing department. He’d been aware of the technique from his Japanese contacts and began testing Japanese models in Western waters, trying to find the ideal action, size and weight for these unique lures. “I wanted Duo to develop one that would work great for American bass fishing, which varies a lot from Japanese techniques,” Swendseid says. “Over there, the trend began when companies started putting propellers on all sorts of lures. Japanese designers are very creative and imaginative. Some looked like eggs with an eggbeater built in. But they also put props on jerkbaits, which ultimately led to spybaits. We built our line of spinbaits to catch bass in American waters. Along the way, I introduced lots of pros to this technique. Professional anglers are eager to learn about any technique that promises to put more bass in their boat in some situation. Then they run with it, so word slowly spread.”
As Swendseid suggests, anglers found dramatic but sporadic success spybaiting. When it worked, it was dangerous, but bass sometimes ignored them. Among the early practitioners was 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk. “Spybaits are ideal when bass are feeding up, chasing baitfish,” he says. “If they’re bottom-oriented, looking for crawfish or gobies, forget it. I’ve had success [with] largemouth, but they’re particularly effective for smallmouth on the big, clear lakes of the North: Oneida, Champlain, Cayuga, Erie and the St. Lawrence River, for example.” He used them to finish high in August tournaments on New York’s Cayuga and Champlain. “At Cayuga, I found largemouth and smallmouth feeding on baitfish offshore, but they wouldn’t hit jerkbaits or soft plastics. They’d follow my drop-shot rig down but not bite. I finally tried a spybait, and it was on! A year or two later, I found smallmouth chasing yellow perch off grasslines at Champlain. I worked the green gill Storm Spinbait parallel to the edge. It looks just like a perch and they couldn’t resist it.
“Look for areas where bass feed from ambush spots, such as deep, rocky points, bluff banks and humps. Deep grasslines can be good, too. Bass will swim up more than 10 feet to hit spybaits, so the clearer the water, the better. I rely on my Humminbird MEGA 360 Imaging to fish spots holding fish. I used the Duo baits, then helped develop Storm’s Arashi Spinbait.
“You often see fish come up and follow spybaits. It can be tough to get them to bite, especially near the boat. Long casts help you get the lure out and away, where bass are more likely to strike, especially if you cast past a key structure and retrieve it toward it. It’s important to know the drop speed of your lure so you can accurately count it down to depth. Then the retrieve is real slow. That’s one of the hardest things to teach yourself.”
Few lures are so dependent for success on proper selection of tackle as spybaits. I know anglers who have tried them but not caught fish and put them down. Swendseid emphasizes correct choice of rod, reel and line, and is a stickler for the thin fluorocarbon. “I’ve introduced many guys to spybaits and showed them how important light line is,” he says. “The learning curve is shortened if you start with the right gear. I rely on 4- to 6-pound Seaguar Tatsu on a shallow-spool reel. With less than 100 yards of line in the spool, fluorocarbon handles much easier.” His favorite is a Japanese reel not available in the U.S., but he says thin braid and a 30- to 35-foot fluorocarbon leader works well on a standard spinning reel. He favors a 7 1/2-foot Daiwa Steez rod rated medium-light power.
Palaniuk shares his preferences, going with 6-pound Tatsu on an Alpha Angler 7-foot, 2-inch Spybait rod he helped design. “It’s rated medium,” he says, “but fishes more like a medium-light with parabolic action. Bass often are barely hooked on spybaits; they rarely inhale them. A softer rod helps keep them hooked as you play them very delicately.”