Technique: Catching more bass on forgotten inline spinners
Every angler has used these deadly little baits at one time or another. It's just that they tend to fall out of favor for newer, more complex baits. Deep inside of your tackle box there is bound to be at least one or two of these gems. Maybe you won't admit it to anyone else, but chances are that an inline saved the day for you at least once. The inline spinner is a truly versatile bait that can cover all depths efficiently. It can be fished at various speeds and mimics a baitfish better than most other lures. It features flash and vibration, can accommodate scent, and even rattles.
The Bait: Dissection of the inline
Inlines have developed into more efficient lures in recent years. They have evolved from the simple blade rotating on a wire shaft by means of a clevis to modern balsa-bodied, glass beaded, rattling, super flashy, bass-catching machines. The older French style spinners have taken the back seat to newer minnow spins. These feature minnow shaped bodies (a la' Rapala), reflective foil finishes, and 3D eyes. These additions make an already great lure even better. My absolute favorite inline is Wordens (Yakima) Roostertail. This spinner features an artificial hackle tail, light wire treble, and etched scale pattern blade (some models). I have fond memories of my early bass days that I spent exploring the shallow creeks off of the Hudson for smallmouth bass. Man, did I catch a ton of them on those old Roostertails! I'm not going to tell you that this is a big fish bait because it isn't. Occasionally, you may tussle with a hawg, but you are more apt to catch numbers of fish. This is a great numbers bait and when used with UL tackle it is deadly. Besides the Roostertail, I recommend the following baits: Mepps Aglia, Blue Fox Minnow Spin, and Cabela's Real Image Minnow. I like lighter spinners and opt for 1/16oz to 1/8oz models most of the time. Inlines come in a ton of colors, but I stick to a few proven hues: Solid Brown (craw), Gray Minnow (baitfish), and Chartreuse or Bumble Bee for times when smallmouth are into fluorescent colors. The natural colors of the minnow style spinners are all impressive as well.
Since I employ these baits mainly on small streams and creeks, I usually fish with light tackle. Those of you who know me, know I favor high modulus graphite rods for most of my fishing. Here is the exception where I shy away from my standard IM8 or IM10X rods. Instead, I favor a simple IM6 rod with a softer tip. The soft tip will actually help you hook more fish as it tends to deaden the initial shock from a strike and allows the fish to hook itself. A 5' to 6' light-action spinning rod will fill the bill here. Shimano's Sensilite 1-piece series is a good choice as is Quantum's Micro or Bass Pro Shops Micro lites. Lately, I've found that I am very fond of raised high profile match guides on my rods to help with casting and accuracy.
I use only two different models of light reels. The first is Diawa's Spin Matic Z. For about $49.99 you can have 5 ounces of ultra light power and silky smoothness. Aluminum spool, 5bb's, front drag, and quick 5 to 1 ratio are standard. The only thing this one lacks is instant anti-reverse which wouldn't make sense here with smaller lines. The other reel is the Pinnacle Deadbolt DNF25 and DLF25. At about $52.00 and $99.99 respectively, they have ALL of the features a light tackle angler could want including 5bb's or 8bb's and instant anti-reverse. When fishing light spinners, I don't tighten my drag down (as I normally do). This assures me that if I do hook "Gus", a run into fast moving water will not break my line. I stick with the normal drag setting.
My choice of line is simple…6lb Silver Thread. I have used 10lb Fireline, but I find that it doesn't like rocks and has poor abrasion tolerance. It holds up well in pea gravel, but I don't recommend it around larger rocks.
When and Where:
I will sling an inline in any small stream situation where the water temperature is 75 degrees or higher. Some of the best action can occur in bathtub-like water. I've had my share of 100 bass days in water that was 85 degrees or warmer. Calm, clear water is the optimum time to throw this bait, although you can have success in a host of different conditions. My approach to river fishing may be a bit different than what most river guru's are used to. I am a largemouth angler by nature and very early on I learned to give bass a different look at my baits by presenting them at multiple angles. I believe that current dwelling bass prefer to hide behind current breaks in order to ambush prey, however, I often employ a different philosophy than the "let my bait carry along in the current" approach. I will fish with the current, but given the small size of the spinners we are dealing with, you would have to rip them along just to keep the blade moving. It is possible to let the bait tumble in the current and wash past the break, but you lose control of the bait if the blades aren't turning. My approach is to go against the current. Although this is unnatural, as food doesn't wash upstream, it can be deadly. I simply make long distance casts to a specific target and ever so slowly drag the bait up to that target. Once I'm on top of the spot, I can hold the bait steady, almost hover it in place. I do not position myself right on top of a spot because this would be a sure way to spook fish. I prefer to be as stealthy as possible. You may have to add small shot to the shaft to keep it from porpoising. This is a good imitation of a minnow holding still in current. It is also very effective as stream bass will often clobber it just as you move the bait adjacent to the break. Again, I'm not ripping the bait back against the current, I'm methodically probing spots I feel bass will be hiding. Kind of like jig fishing.
I often fish the spinner cross-current. Making my way down stream, I cast to my targets from the side and let the current pull the bait through the current chute and into an eddy. The slack water is where you can expect the strike. As far as retrieve speed, I normally tend to work the spinner as slow as possible. When bass want a faster look, they will let you know it. Undercut banks are a favorite spots to work with an inline. I normally get the bait as close as possible and work it through the length of the cut if possible. I follow the spinner up with a jig or fly 'n rind bait to work the cover more thoroughly.
"They have evolved from the simple blade rotating on a wire shaft by means of a clevis to modern balsa-bodied, glass beaded, rattling, super flashy, bass-catching machines."
In the heat of the Summer, the biggest smallies often move to the backs of the deepest pools. Here they enjoy cooler water and the funnel which draws bait to them. They can often be coaxed with a slow, deep running spinner. My favorite streams have several deeper pools where I know bigger fish lie. While the inline isn't my first choice for fishing deep water, it can be effective here. I place a small piece of splitshot about 18 inches above the bait to get it down. A slow steady "Carolina Rig" type retrieve is the method of choice. The current beneath the surface is usually much slower then on the surface so you don't really need to worry about the bait not spinning properly. This is a tactic I learned years ago when fishing for trout. During my first experiment with it, I landed a 7lb Brown trout, a large pike, and two smallmouths over 4lbs from the same pool. I have since had success doing it on several streams. This works best with an unweighted spinner body like the old Northland Mylar series. The body features two wings, sort of like a metal buzzbait blade with two opposite turned flanges to make the blade spin with little effort. The light weight allows a slow retrieve and prevents the bait from hanging up. You can replace the trebles with a single hook for more solid hook ups.
Ice Out Largemouths:
When I was a kid, I would scramble down to the local pond at first sign of soft water. Often it would only be 50 or 60 feet long but I was there to cast my new baits to see how they performed (Hey, Cabin Fever…Right????). One day I had put a small spinner on and cast the length of the open water. I was startled at what I thought was a strike, but I missed the fish. A repeat cast was slammed by a 20" largemouth. I followed this bass up with enough others to realize that this was no accidental occurrence. This bait has a huge following around my area during ice-out. It is the only time I expect to catch larger bass with consistency on a spinner.
When I'm not fishing with a buddy, I love to just float a small river near my house for largemouth bass. Although it isn't rocky by nature, it is full of cover and has tons of fish holding spots. A Roostertail is always rigged on one of my rods. These spunky river bass cream it, too! My main technique is to slowly crank the spinner just outside of visible cover and along undercut banks to pick off active bass. If I work the outskirts to my satisfaction, I go inside with a jig 'n pig or soft jerkbait. The action can be fast and furious. Always carry pliers just in case you hook a fish deep. Bass hit the bait hard and sometimes take the bait all the way in.
Modifications to help catch more bass:
As with most of the baits I buy, I find that I must tinker with my Roostertail before I fish it. I have several neat little mods to try that can help put more fish on your thumb. If there is one problem that all spinners have in common, it is line twist. You can ignore it only to have it haunt you later or you can add a small swivel above the bait to prevent it. I tie one on about 12 inches up the line. I don't use snap swivels as I feel they are too bulky and may affect the bait's action. Next, I always add a bucktail to the treble. This is important on minnow type spinners as they usually don't have one. I think it increases the bait's appeal to bass and hides the hook. If you want to change the pitch of the blade, you can drill several small holes in the blade. I have found this to be effective and notice that tiny little bubbles come off the blade if you do it correctly. This may or may not be a factor in success. If you fish areas with aquatic weeds, you may want to consider using a single hook with a soft plastic grub to keep it weedless. I sometimes put a piece of surgical tubing over the hook shank and add either a glass rattle or Alka Seltzer. These will attract bass at times. One of my favorite tricks is to take the treble off and replace it with a medium sized fly such as a Black Matuka or Wooly Bugger. I have absolutely slammed smallmouths with this. I carry a selection of clear nail polishes that are filled with glitter to add to bodies and blades as I feel necessary.
The versatility of the inline bait is amazing. Any way you slice it, it is a fish producer. Anglers don't need to have pro angler skill to be successful with it. It appeals to many different species and has withstood the test of time that many lures fail. It is such a basic lure that it is often overlooked . You may not want to admit it, but you most likely have a few lying around…..don't you?