When the sun scorches the slick surface, Toledo Bend’s bream move to deep water, where they bite anything an angler drops to them.
Years ago, Buck Perry taught bass anglers that there was an enormous population of fish that lived out in the middle of the lake. As professional anglers began unlocking the secrets of mining the depths they became the pioneers of deep-cranking, spooning and Carolina-rigging.
The one bass tactic that just never found its niche in deep water was the spinnerbait. This “crescent wrench” of bass fishing lures that was supposed to be the most versatile lure in the tackle box had limits after all.
However, several years ago, as B.A.S.S. Pro Homer Humphreys of Minden explains, Jack Hains and a few other pros started trying to figure out how to fish their favorite lures over deep structure.
“Back then, we would take a lead barrel weight, split it with a hacksaw then glue the two parts back together over the hook shank,” said Humphreys. “We would crawl that big dude over the deep channel ledges at Lake Guntersville and Lake Eufaula. Both of those lakes were two of the best deep structure lakes in the nation at the time. And when we began showing those deep fish a spinnerbait they just went crazy.”
Fast-forward several years, and the popularity of super heavy spinnerbaits is evident on the walls of the tackle shops. Almost every spinnerbait manufacturer is molding spinnerbaits upwards to 1 ounce, and there are even some manufacturers, such as Ledgebuster, that are concentrating solely on the heavy spinnerbait market. Their smallest spinnerbait starts at 3/4 ounce, and they make some that even top the 2-ounce mark.
The allure of these heavy spinnerbaits is that they get down deep fast and they stay down deep. They get so deep in fact that they are now intruding into the domain of the DD22 and the Mann’s 20+ crankbaits. And as Caney Lake guide Eddie Halbrook put it, “Those fish haven’t ever seen a spinnerbait.”
Although fishing heavy spinnerbaits sounds like it could turn you into the hottest angler on the block, fishing them requires some special skills. These aren’t chunk-and-wind lures, and they aren’t going to save the day every day. But when you can find the right conditions, there is nothing that will produce more or larger bass.
And just what are those special skills? Louisiana Sportsman posed that question to four of the state’s best deep-water anglers. These four guys have made their livings catching bass from the middle of the lake, and they are all proficient with the new breed of super-heavy spinnerbaits. They are all catching fish on them right now, and if you put their advice into practice you’ll soon be having tons of fun as well.
Wheatley has been guiding on Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn for several years, and he has logged several hundred hours of time fishing deep structure. He is perhaps best known for his prowess with a deep-diving crankbait, but he has been keeping the deep spinnerbait trick under his hat for a few years.
“Any time bass are relating to the edges of structure you can catch them on a heavy spinnerbait,” Wheatley said definitively. “It doesn’t matter if they are on the edge of a ridge, a slough, an oxbow lake, a creek or the main river channel. Basically any place you would consider a good crankbait hole or a good worm hole can be considered a good deep spinnerbait hole.”
Wheatley believes the deep spinnerbait is so good because it can be worked slowly over the top of the deep structure where he can keep it in a fish’s face.
“Deep fish don’t seem to want to chase a lure very far like a shallow fish,” he said. “A deep crankbait is going to pick off the active fish because it’s moving so fast. But the spinnerbait can be crawled across the bottom, all the while tempting the less-aggressive bass.”
The perfect deep spinnerbait hole, according to Wheatley, would be a combination of bottom structure mixed with some thick wood cover.
“I like to look for a break line that has some stumps on it,” he said. “Or maybe it has a tree laying down the break and the top extends over into the open water. There could even be a big rock down there. You’re just looking for anything that would act as an ambush spot for a bass because he’s looking for somewhere he can hide in the shade and look out for a meal in the open water.”
Wheatley believes it is important to fish the super-sized spinnerbaits on some beefed-up tackle.
“I’ve got a couple of special rods that I use for my deep crankbaits, but they work equally well with the spinnerbaits,” he said. “They have a tremendous amount of backbone near the handle, which you’re going to need just to handle the heavy lures. But they also have a flexible tip, so I can feel what the lure is doing because sometimes the only way you’ll know when you have a bite is when you feel the blades stop turning. Maintaining contact with your lure is the most important aspect of fishing these heavy spinners.”
Wheatley makes color selection, which could turn into a blurred quandary of choices, easy.
“I go with white or chartreuse/white and maybe white/silver if I’m trying to imitate a shad,” he said. “And I try chartreuse/red/green or the firetiger skirts if I’m trying to make my lure look like a bream. And, for some reason, gold blades have worked best for me during the early summer, while silver blades tend to produce better during the late summer.”
Halbrook used to rabbit hunt the land that became the bottom of Caney Lake. He intimately knows every hump, creek channel bend and ridge in the lake, and his knowledge of these structures gave him the inside track when he started learning how to fish big spinnerbaits.
“Back before you could buy the really heavy spinnerbaits, I used to make my own,” said Halbrook. “Man, those things were funny looking. I’d have a big old chunk of lead on there I’m guessing was about 1 1/2 ounces, and it had a blade so big you would have thought I had taken the hubcaps off my car.”
That monstrosity of a lure, however, started producing fish for Halbrook. But alas, once the deep-diving crankbait and the Carolina rig craze began, Halbrook pushed his prized homemade creations to the side in favor of the lures that were in vogue. He almost forgot about the deep lures until he started seeing the Ledgebuster spinnerbaits at the tackle shop.
“I grabbed up a bunch of them and started re-teaching myself how to work them,” he said.
One thing that Halbrook has learned about fishing the big lures is that they work best on the shady side of the structure.
“Let’s say I’m fishing a hump out in the middle of Caney early in the morning,” he said. “Since the sun is coming up in the east, I want to work my lure on the west side, and the opposite is true late in the evening. Since the sun is going down in the west, I work the east side of the hump.”
Halbrook has found that a single Colorado blade works best for him during low light conditions such as morning and evening.
“That blade puts out a lot more vibration so it’s easier for the fish to find it,” he said. “The only drawback to that big blade, though, is that it creates more lift and the spinnerbait wants to come off the bottom, so you’ve really got to slow it down a lot with the big Colorado blade.”
Since he is looking for a lot of flash during the middle of the day, Halbrook switches to willowleaf blades.
“They make it a lot easier to keep the lure on the bottom,” he said, “and they just create so much more flash than a Colorado. I’m guessing it looks like a little school of minnows.”
Although many deep spinnerbait fans prefer working the lure with a steady retrieve, Halbrook has figured out that the fish in Caney like it spiced up a little.
“One of my best retrieves is to let the spinnerbait go all the way to the bottom,” he said. “Then I hop it up off the bottom by popping my rod twice. Then I just let it fall back to the bottom, and that’s when they’re going to hit.”
When Wheatley was interviewed about fishing the deep spinnerbaits, the first thing out of his mouth was that Glenn Freeman should be contacted to get his advice. Freeman has been guiding on Toledo Bend for several years, and is a consistent tournament angler on the lake.
Freeman points out that one of his favorite times to fish the heavy-weight spinnerbaits is late in the evening during the summer.
“It can be just awesome right before dark,” he said. “Those fish will move up on a breakline to feed, and they’ll just about jerk the rod out of your hand. A lot of people here at Toledo Bend only use those big spinnerbaits at night, but if they would try them during the day they would be happy with the results.”
Freeman likes the same kind of structure spots as Wheatley, but he admits to favoring those without much cover.
“The fish are relating to the bottom change,” he said, “not the cover. The cover is just the icing on the cake. In fact, the clean structures allow me to keep my lure right on the bottom where it needs to be without any outside interference.”
The typical worm holes and crankbait holes that Freeman prefers don’t necessarily have any best time that they produce.
“You can guess at the best time to fish them but you really never know when the fish are going to move up and feed,” he said. “Therefore you need to up your chances at being at the right structure when they are there.”
Freeman points out that the only way to do that is to keep rotating through your best holes throughout the day.
“You need to try to fish them in a round-robin fashion,” he said. “It’s kind of like making a milk-run during a tournament. You fish a spot for about an hour and move on to the next one. Once you get through all your spots, you start over and do it all again. That way you increase your odds of being at the right spot at the right time.”
Freeman believes the allure of the spinnerbait isn’t that the fish haven’t seen one before but that they just haven’t seen one in that location before.
“They see spinnerbaits all spring in shallow water,” he said. “But when they move out to the ledges and breaklines, they don’t see them anymore. So you’re basically showing them a lure that they are familiar with in a place where they aren’t used to seeing it.”
The one piece of advice that Freeman was adamant about was that anglers trying to fish the heavy spinnerbaits need to have a lot of patience.
“You’re not going to just rip them every day,” he said. “And you’re not always going to catch the largest fish. You’ll catch whatever size fish are on that structure. If they’re all 2-pound fish then that’s what you’re going to catch. And if they’re all 8-pounders then that’s what you’re going to catch.”
Humphreys was one of the early proponents of fishing super-sized spinnerbaits, and he has gained a lot of experience dragging them over the ledges at Guntersville and Eufaula. He has since begun experimenting with them at Lake D’Arbonne. His explanation as to why they work so well is that they represent a school of shad instead of just one shad.
“Big fish want a big meal,” he said. “They don’t want to chase just one shad because if they miss it then they have expended a lot of energy without getting anything in return. On the other hand, if they slash into a small school of shad then their energy expenditure is going to be rewarded with a meal.”
Humphreys believes these lures are best at depths of 12 feet or more.
“I’ve caught them all the way down to 18 feet on a 1-ounce model,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something you want to throw over a ledge that’s only 5 feet deep.”
While the other three anglers like specific blade combinations it’s just an after-thought for Humphreys.
“I don’t think those deep fish care what kind of blades you’ve got on it,” he said. “In fact, we used to go to smaller blades just to help us keep the lure near the bottom. You could reel it a little faster with the smaller blades and still keep it in the strike zone.”
Humphreys believes you could take a 1-ounce chartreuse/white spinnerbait with a silver/gold blade combination to any state in the country and catch fish on it.
When gunning for really big bass, Humphreys likes to add a giant trailer to the lure.
“We used to thread a big old 10-inch worm on a trailer hook before we slipped it over the spinnerbait hook,” he said. “That creates a bulky bait that the really big boys just can’t ignore. Granted, you probably won’t catch a lot of fish with that combination, but the ones you do catch are going to be giants.”
One thing that Humphreys has found that many deep spinnerbait fans may not know about is that the big lure actually attracts baitfish.
“Over at Guntersville what will happen is that those little 2-inch river minnows will actually follow your lure in the water,” he said. “They will nip at the blades as they’re turning, and that makes those blades flutter a little. And when you’ve got that combination of a big spinnerbait, live minnows following it and fluttering blades — son, you better hold on.”
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