IN THE early days of lure casting for bass, a dominant lure emerged. Of simple design, it was capable of putting bass in the boat faster than any other lure. Maybe the fish got smarter or situations changed, but as time passed the bass lost their aggression towards these lures. Even so, tailspinners still exhibit the same fish-catching abilities and, given the right conditions, these lures are a powerful weapon in any bass fisherman's arsenal.
I recently had a lot of success catching bass at Somerset Dam at a time when many other anglers were doing it tough. They were able to find plenty of schooled bass but found it hard to get them to take both soft plastics and flies. In most situations when bass are hard to catch, a carefully presented soft plastic or Clouser-style fly is too much for them to resist. On this occasion, I noted that the number of fish being caught by trolling lures far exceeded the number being caught using my preferred approach – casting soft plastics.
In previous months, 3” Slider Grubs rigged on 1/2oz jigheads had been scoring plenty of fish. This had changed and, although the bigger fish seemed to be coming on soft-bodied lures, trolled deep divers were receiving more attention.
There were two reasons for this. First, the trolled lures were covering more water and therefore going past more fish. Second, and more important, they were being hit due to a reaction strike. This was proven several times when I sped the boat up during the trolling run and the lure was hit hard by another fish.
I believe that bass eat lures for two reasons. They're a bit like me really! I eat my veges when I'm hungry and when I drive past a KFC, a natural impulse has me pulling over – hungry or not – to order a large Zinger Burger Combo.
Some lures are designed to look and be presented to fish in a manner that makes them look like naturally occurring food. To fool fish, anglers use a finesse approach, fishing slowly and using light fluorocarbon lines and catch scents to make their offering as appealing as possible to the fish. The two most popular finesse-style presentations are flies fished on sinking lines, and soft plastics.
Lures used to get reaction strikes are grouped into the ‘reaction baits’ category. These lures have plenty of flash, splash or vibration to gain attention. Spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, crankbaits and tailspinners are all grouped into this category. Similar to the effect KFC has on me, reaction baits are designed to trigger an instinctive response from the fish. When a lure is drawn past a fish, at speed and within its strike zone, the fish doesn't have time to think about eating. The strike is a natural reaction and after the hooks are set, it's too late for the fish to change its mind!
So which approach – finesse or reaction – works best? Well, it depends entirely on the mood of fish, its environment and its daily routine. Soft plastics are usually so successful that some anglers are starting to forget about reaction baits, which is a big mistake.
Your standard tailspinner is quite simple in design. It’s a jig that consists of a weighted, baitfish-shaped body and a spinning Colorado blade positioned at the tail end. A tow point on top and a single treble below complete the pattern.
The baitfish-shaped body comes in various colours and also (in my favourite) chrome finishes. The spinning Colorado blade slows the fall rate and creates vibration and flash, making the lure's presence both visible and felt through the fishes' lateral line. Flash, vibration and the speed at which the lure can be worked to cover a wide area make tailspinners an awesome reaction bait.
The following are some effective ways to retrieve tailspinners.
Vertical jigging is the easiest way to get the lure in front of fish. When the bass are cooperating, this is the fastest way to put them into the boat. After you’ve located a school directly below the boat, simply lower the lure through the school and then jig it up and down.
Lift the rod in a sharp movement, extending your arm and rod well into the air before letting the lure flutter back down through the school. As the lure falls, stay in touch with it by following it with the rod tip, keeping the line almost tight. When you get the attention of a fish, the hit will almost definitely come on the drop. As lures fall through the water they trigger more strikes as predatory fish look to the surface to silhouette their prey or to catch falling, sick or wounded baitfish.
When the bass are playing the game, it doesn't take long to get a strike. Most times the fish are more timid and can actually be seen on a good quality sounder moving closer to the bottom as the lure disturbs them. If you don't get a response in the first couple of minutes, the fish tend to lose interest and it's time to try a different approach.
You may think casting and jigging would be much the same as vertical jigging, but it can be more rewarding. Unlike vertical jigging, the tailspinner approaches the fish fast and won't be seen until it falls in front of their eyes.
You need to cast the tailspinner over schooled or scattered bass and allow it to sink until it’s around the depth at which fish are holding. When the fish are near the bottom this is easy, because you can let the lure finish sinking before retrieving. If the fish are suspended, things become more difficult.
Counting a lure down to suspended fish and keeping it in that zone takes time and practice. To work out the sink rate of your lure on the line you’re using, read the sounder to establish the bottom depth and let the lure fall unrestricted until it reaches the bottom, and count it all the way down. With a bit of maths, you can work out how far per second the lure sinks.
With the lure at the desired depth, I use a rapid rod movement, extending my arm and rod into the air. As I lower the rod, I wind up about half the slack and allow the lure to fall until the line draws tighter. I repeat this until the lure is almost at the boat. Again, the bass will take the lure as it’s falling.
Combining casting and jigging with wind drifting is an even more successful way to catch bass. Depending on the strength of the wind, the lure can be kept in the right zone with very little winding or sometimes none at all. Wind drifting is one of the best ways to cover more water and works extra well on scattered fish.
‘Wind and drop’ is a name that I made up for a new technique that I discovered very recently. When using this method, keep the tailspinner in the right zone by casting and retrieving or wind drifting. In the situations where I have caught fish using this technique, the fish have been holding within three metres of the bottom.
With the lure on the bottom, begin a steady retrieve. Take between six to a dozen winds, depending on how far the fish are holding off the bottom. Disengage your reel and allow the tailspinner to fall back to the bottom before repeating.
This technique is best done with a baitcasting outfit. Freespooling the reel allows the lure to fall back to the bottom, and the reel can be engaged in a split second if a fish takes the lure on the drop. Bass will also hit the lure as it is being lifted through the water column during the retrieve. Hits can vary from slight taps to rod-jarring thumps.
There are several tailspinner brands on the market. Prickly Pete's and the Stanley range work well, but my favourites are the Brett Thomson's Tournament Tailspinners. They may lack the finer details of similar lures, but they seem to have the ideal weight-to-blade ratio for the best action. Fine detail makes lures look good on tackle store shelves, but the fish won't be inspecting them before deciding to eat them in the case of a reaction strike.
You’ll notice that there are plenty of colours to choose from. They all work, but it pays to have a good selection in the colour department in case one works better than another on the day.
Strikes can come as solid whacks or head-shaking rattles. Sometimes the lure stops sinking and you feel nothing until you set the hook. I like to change the hooks on my tailspinners to give more solid hookups. Mustad triple grips in a no.rt45 are a good choice. If you want to go one step further in hook quality, try using Owner's chemically sharpened trebles. You’ll be impressed.
A medium action spin or baitcast rod of six and a half to seven feet long, matched with a balanced reel, is all you need. I prefer baitcasting outfits because they suit the retrieves better. My baitcasting reels have a faster retrieve ratio than my spin reels, and the freespool button certainly comes in handy.
I use 6-10kg fused or braided lines to help me feel what's happening on the other end. Through these lines and a quality graphite rod, you can detect the bottom, bites and even feel if the lure's hooks become fouled on the line.
Never be afraid to experiment, and to try new techniques and refine old ones even more. We’ll never fully understand the habits of fish (What makes them bite? What makes them shut down? Why do certain lures and techniques produce good results while others fail?). All we can do is keep trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together!
1) Les Kowitz with a tailspinner-caught bass at Somerset Dam.Reads: 1901