In 1893, John J. Hildebrandt flattened and reshaped a coin before drilling an offset hole through it. He then slipped his wife’s hairpin through the hole, fashioned an eye so he could tie line to it and attached a hook. When retrieved, the shiny coin wobbled erratically around the pin, giving off fish-attracting flash.
When Hildebrandt started catching fish with this homemade concoction, little did he know he was creating an angling sensation. In 1899 he founded the Hildebrandt Lure Company and the rest as they say is history. Two decades later, the William J. Jamison Company developed the Shannon Twin Spinner, which featured two blades attached to a wire weed guard. By the early 1950s, this type of lure evolved into the common safety pin spinnerbait so popular among bass anglers today. Instead of a spinner revolving around a straight shaft, a safety pin spinnerbait features a bent wire arm that suspends one or more blades over a jighead. While it doesn’t really look like anything a bass would naturally eat, the whirling blades reflect light and produce flash that closely resembles forage fish.
Finessing a spinnerbait works particularly well around logjams, fallen trees, lily pads, weed beds, dock pilings and similar areas with visible cover.
Safety pin spinnerbaits generally come with one of three blade types. Nearly round or teardrop shaped, Colorado blades displace the most water and produce considerable vibration, making them great choices for low light fishing, probing depths or fishing stained waters. Willow leaf blades are oblong and resemble skinny tree leaves. They produce excellent flash and tend to run faster, rise quicker and cut through vegetation better than Colorado blades—excellent characteristics for anglers fishing weedy Florida waters. Longer than a Colorado, but not quite as long as a willow leaf, an Indiana blade offers a compromise of the two. Frequently, a lure might employ a main blade of one type and a smaller, secondary blade of another type to maximize action. Most blades come in either gold or silver, but are available in every color imaginable. Some blades, particularly willow leaf blades, even look like tiny baitfish.
Varied jighead shapes also work to the highest degree in different situations. Round heads sink faster and bounce off objects better than other head shapes. A pointed minnow head looks natural and slashes through thick vegetation, but may lodge in crevices between logs or riprap. Some minnow head baits mimic natural baitfish patterns and are an outstanding choice when schooling bass are chasing shad in open water.
No matter what configuration or style you choose, spinnerbaits rank among the most versatile offerings on the market. They can entice all bass species from top to bottom. Most anglers simply reel them steadily, but others choose to slow roll them along the bottom, buzz them across the surface or wake them just beneath the surface. Whether running spinnerbaits deep or shallow, it can pay big dividends to add a bit more erratic movement. Few things in nature run in a straight line. When fleeing predators, baitfish dart, weave and hide. Instead of expending precious energy chasing healthy prey, bass typically look for easier targets.
“Often, just shaking the rod tip at the critical point will entice a strike,” explained Jimmy Houston, a professional angler and host of the long-running Jimmy Houston Outdoors television series. “Most good spinnerbait fishermen shake their rod tips when the lures pass through where they most anticipate strikes, instead of just simply swimming baits through the zone. A couple extra shakes in the rod tip changes depth and sound of the bait running through the water and may make it look like a baitfish bumped into something and stunned itself.”
Most people use safety pin spinnerbaits to run through shallow water and thick cover such as weed beds or fallen trees where the wire arm helps deflect branches and other objects. However, anglers can successfully tempt fish in the depths by slow rolling baits along bottom contours or over the top of deep cover such as submerged grass. In deeper water and during low light conditions, anglers typically prefer to use black spinnerbaits since black ironically creates a more visible silhouette. Even in deep water anglers should vary retrieves to make baits stand out and create more commotion.
“The key to slow rolling is keeping the bait coming over the top of some type of cover,” recommended Kevin VanDam, a four-time Bassmaster Classic champion. “Slow rolling in deep water is the same technique as bumping cover in shallow water, only slower. When I bump something, I speed the bait up a little and then let it flutter. For slow rolling, I like a single Colorado or willow leaf blade. A willow leaf blade goes a lot deeper because it has less water displacement, but it doesn’t have as much thump to it.”
In deep water, many anglers yo-yo or helicopter baits, although they can also employ this method to some extent in the shallows. Occasionally pause the retrieve to let a bait sink several feet, then pop it back up like a yo-yo. As the bait falls, blades spin and flash, almost like helicopter rotors. Quite often, bass strike as the spinnerbait falls because it mimics dying forage.
Anglers can also work spinnerbaits off the bottom. After the lure hits bottom raise it up a bit with the rod tip just like you would work a Texas-rigged worm, then let it flutter back to the bottom. Keep repeating this technique as you work it slowly along a specific bottom contour.
Spinnerbaits create considerable commotion, but sometimes bass want a more subtle approach. This is particularly true in crystalline waters common throughout Florida. Most people think of using small, subtle soft plastic temptations when finesse fishing, but anglers can also finesse a flashy spinnerbait along thick cover where lunkers often lurk.
To finesse spinnerbaits, anglers should make short, accurate casts with a sidearm maneuver. Watch the bait until it nears the preferred impact point or passes directly over it. Then gently stop the bait in mid-air just above the surface. Instead of smashing into the water, the bait will plop down with the slightest disturbance. Surprised by this sudden invasion of territory, a bass strikes out of anger, not necessarily hunger.
“If you cast a spinnerbait behind cover, bass feel the vibration and know it is coming,” VanDam explained. “It gives them time to think about whether or not they should hit it. My goal is to get the reaction strike before they know what’s happening. When I want a reaction bite I fish fast and erratic. In very clear water I move baits really fast so bass don’t get a good look at them. With a spinnerbait in clear water I often jerk it, stop it, speed it up and let it fall to attract fish not in an active mood to bite.”
Finessing a spinnerbait works particularly well around logjams, fallen trees, lily pads, weed beds, dock pilings and similar areas with visible cover to target. Rivers and lakes rich in woody cover, such as those found all over Florida, offer anglers superb opportunities for finessing trophy largemouth bass.
“When fish aren’t feeding aggressively we usually have to cast numerous times to one spot that looks like it should hold a bass,” VanDam advised. “Bang the bait off every limb and stump. Hit it from different angles until you finally tick one off enough to bite. Sometimes it takes multiple casts before a fish commits.”
For finesse fishing, downsize a spinnerbait and use a realistic color that resembles a shad, shiner, baby bass or bluegill. Hot colors include white, silver, chartreuse/blue or chartreuse/white, sometimes with a splash of orange on it. When finesse fishing clear conditions anglers will also benefit from a quality fluorocarbon line that virtually disappears in the water.
Today, few bass anglers venture to their favorite honey holes without an array of spinnerbaits in a multitude of different sizes, configurations and colors. Even after more than a century, seasoned pros and novices alike throw these proven lures because they continue to entice bass from top to bottom.
The slender profile of willow leaf blades helps resist snags around thick cover.
Producing tremendous vibration, Colorado blades are ideal for deep, murky water.
Proven under a variety of conditions, Indiana blades are designed for moderate retrieves.