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September 21, 2007

A New Spin on Reds

Fresh water spinnerbaits have found a new home in the salt, where they're proving deadly on even the most sophisticated redfish.


Shakespeare's Mark Davis boats another nice shallow-water redfish on a spinnerbait retrieved steadily, just below the surface.Photo by Dave Morel.

It had been a great morning of hunting the Mississippi marshes with Joe Parsons, head guide of the Beau Rivage, a posh floating lodge situated within easy striking distance of prime water-fowling country. But by mid-morning the ducks had stopped flying, so Joe announced that it was time for fishing.

"Weather has been cool, which makes for good duck hunting; however, our redfish have been a little lethargic in this cold water," Joe warned as he maneuvered the 16-foot jonboat into a backwater slough surrounded by spartina grass. "Lately, though, we've been clobbering them on spinnerbaits. In fact, spinners have been outfishing spoons, jigs and-if you can believe it-even live bait. Redfish love 'em, and now I do, too!"

"All I've got are spoons, jigs and plugs," I replied as I rummaged through my tackle bag. "I've got enough spinnerbaits at home to cover a garage wall, but all of them are in my fresh water tackle boxes."

"No problem. Just take this and snap it on a jighead." Joe handed me a "safety pin"-style spinner, the type I often use for panfish and trout.

"I've never used an add-on spinnerbait this big," I replied, clipping the wire arm to a grub jig. "Whenever I need a big spinnerbait I just use one designed for fresh water bass."

"I used to do the same thing, but those bass-style spinnerbaits don't fit well in my tackle boxes because they're kind of bulky and awkward," Joe replied. "And a big redfish can bend the wire arms of most fresh water spinnerbaits into a tangle of useless metal in no time. By carrying these inexpensive add-ons I can turn any jig into an instant spinnerbait. It's a lot cheaper than buying commercially made lures, and I can quickly change blade sizes, styles and colors.

bait
Spinnerbaits can be armed almost any way you want: with willow-leaf or Colorado blades with or without prismatic tape; fished with lifelike soft-plastic baits or skirted jigheads. As long as they're big and rugged, they'll catch redfish again and again. Photo by Bob O'Shaughnessy

"The spinner arms also fit easily in my tackle box. I stow them in a clear-plastic baggie to keep them from corroding. Redfish can't bend them easily because the wire is free to twist and turn during the fight. A bass-style spinnerbait is permanently attached to the jighead, so the wire often bends when landing a tough redfish. Then it's difficult to get the wire back to its original shape to make the blade work correctly."

Joe poled the boat into the quiet back bay while I fired a tentative cast toward a grassy point. I engaged the reel and-wham!-a five-pound redfish nailed the spinner. A few minutes later I hooked another red, then Joe caught one, too. By the time we had released five or six I was convinced that the add-on spinner was something special. But the thing that really sold me on the device was the fact that my 18-year-old son, Eric, was fishing spoons without so much as a strike. He tried gold, silver and chartreuse models, both weedless and standard, but nothing worked. It was only after he tied on a spinnerbait that he started catching reds.

Better Than Spoons?

Don't get me wrong: gold, weedless spoons still catch plenty of redfish. However, many reds have learned that spoons spell trouble, having been duped by them in the past. In many areas, notably along Florida's Gulf Coast, the days when redfish were considered village idiots are long gone. However, these "sophisticated" fish have rarely seen a spinnerbait, so they tend to be less wary of them.

Anglers rarely lose anything by making the switch from spoons to spinnerbaits. These lures are at least as snag-resistant as weedless spoons. They swim through turtle grass and over oyster shells, and can be bumped around pilings and rock jetties with ease. They cast easily, too. If you need more weight for especially long presentations, simply add a spinner arm to a heavier jig.

One important advantage of spinnerbaits over spoons is that when working deeper water, such as the drop-offs along channels and jetties, the spinnerbait fishes more like a jig than a spoon. They're great for probing deep edges, nooks and crannies where bait likes to hide and redfish hunt. A spinnerbait is superior to a jig, however, because it has a revolving blade that glitters and flashes, attracting redfish from long range. And don't forget that a spinnerbait is much more snag-proof than a standard jig.

Get 'Em on Tape

Recently, I've been adding prismatic tape to my spinner blades, which I feel makes the lure more attractive to fish. A strip of gold or chartreuse tape placed on one side of a blade gives it extra flash when pulled through the water.

Various grub bodies enhance the lure, too. Scent-impregnated plastic tails are good, adding a bit of flavor to the flash. Lately, I've been using Cabela's new Livin' Eye Minnow Jigs, which are among the most lifelike soft-plastics on the market. Attach a spinner blade enhanced with a strip of flashy prismatic tape and I doubt there's a better redfish lure available.

In addition to redfish, I've caught seatrout, snook, flounder, bluefish, jacks, striped bass and even jumped a tarpon on spinnerbaits. I'm not convinced the lures are magic for these other species, but for redfish-especially big, sophisticated redfish-they're hard to beat.

Add-On Spinners

Spinnerbaits are available in tackle stores throughout the country, as well as through mail-order houses. However, you can easily create your own by buying some add-on "safety-pin" spinners and attaching them to your favorite jigs. Hildebrant, Cabela's and Bass Pro all sell add-on spinners. Be sure to buy big-blade models (size 4, 5, 6 or even larger) in both willow-leaf and Colorado shapes.

If you want to get fancy, try adding some strips of prismatic tape to your blades or the safety-pin arms. This can work wonders at drawing fish from long distances. The tape is inexpensive, and is available through mail-order catalogs. I've found that red, chartreuse, silver and gold are good colors for reds.

- Bob McNally

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Mark Davis's Spinnerbait Tips

As an executive with Shakespeare Fishing Tackle, Mark Davis fishes more than most men. He spends a lot of his time on the coast, since Shakespeare is located in Columbia, South Carolina. Mark has a lot of fresh water bass experience, too, so when he started targeting redfish inshore, he used spinnerbaits. He has enjoyed outstanding results for over a decade, although he says that spinnerbaits are almost completely overlooked in salt water. The following are a few of Davis's tips for fishing spinnerbaits for reds.

Mark catches 90 percent of his reds on spinnerbaits via a technique he calls "waking" or "bubbling." With his rod tip held high, he makes a moderate, steady retrieve, which causes the lure to wobble just below the surface. It's a shallow technique, and works best in water less than eight feet deep.

Reds often follow a spinnerbait, striking at it and missing repeatedly. Davis says it's imperative to maintain the retrieve speed when this happens. Stop the retrieve and the fish is likely to turn away.

While all spinnerbaits can produce redfish, Mark prefers extra-large models with twin blades for waking. Gold, white and chartreuse spinnerbaits weighing 1/2 to 3/4 ounce and rigged with gold or silver willow-leaf blades are excellent. Mark believes that these oversize spinnerbaits produce bigger reds.

Davis says the new McGuinness Leverage spinnerbait, (706) 227-2248, is the best he's used for redfish because the hook is fitted to the leadhead with a heavy-duty, flexible cable. This allows the hook to twist without damaging the lure. Big redfish can be hooked, fought and landed without destroying the spinnerbait's wire arms. Fewer short strikes are experienced with this lure, too, because the cable positions the hook farther back.

Mark has caught reds to 30 pounds on spinnerbaits, and has found them effective from North Carolina to Texas. In South Carolina, Mark's inshore charter captain friends Champ Smith and J.R. Waites are big believers in using spinnerbaits for reds. They rarely leave the dock without a wide selection of these lures on board.

Davis prefers gel-spun braided line for fishing spinnerbaits because of its sensitivity and lack of stretch, which results in positive hook-sets. Mark does not use a mono leader with braided line when he's waking the lure, since most of the line is kept above the surface.

Davis doesn't concern himself with the color of his spinner blades. Rather, he believes skirt color is more important, especially when the water is clear. In this case, he likes a clear-black or silver skirt made of lively rubber. In dark water he prefers lures with double gold spinners.

Spinnerbaits can be enhanced by adding "sweeteners" such as porkrind, soft-plastics, whole mud minnows, belly strips or a piece of squid. Such adornments aid in tempting reluctant redfish, especially in deep or cool water, or very large fish in heavily fished areas.

- Bob McNally