A thorough investigation of any largemouth bass angler's tackle box is sure to reveal a broad selection of spinnerbaits. These crazy safety pin shaped lures are among the deadliest largemouth bass lures of all time. They come in a variety of shapes, weights, sizes, and colors, plus they sport a wide range of skirt styles and blade configurations. They can be fished fast or slow as well as run high or low. They will catch fish in the shallowest thickest cover to the deepest drop-offs. Simply put, spinnerbaits are ultra versatile.
With all these accolades you'd think the smallmouth angler would be just as high on this lure, but in general they are not. For some odd reason, the vast majority of bronzeback chasers (smallmouth anglers) do not rely much on the safety pin style spinnerbait at all. Why? This is only my opinion and observation, by I surmise that a large percentage of smallmouth bass anglers have a finesse mentality. Perhaps a lot of smallmouth bass anglers are actually walleye anglers primarily who chase smallies on occasion. This would explain the adherence to a finesse approach.
Another theory suggests that because a smallmouth bass does indeed, have a smaller mouth than the largemouth, it can't effectively attack and inhale bigger profile lures like a safety pin spinnerbait. I have heard this argument, as well, and can tell you it is completely utterly false. If anything, the smallmouth bass is even more aggressive than a largemouth. In fact, lunker class smallies are regularly caught by musky anglers on super large lures. My experiences suggest that more smallies hit musky lures their counterparts. I would even argue that this bass (the smallmouth bass) is the most aggressive of all the bass species.
It could be further stated that the term "smallmouth" is where all this misunderstood lack of aggression starts. The basic premise that these fish simply can't attack larger prey due to their mouth size is perhaps where all of this misinformation starts. If this fish was called anything but a smallmouth, it may never have gotten this misunderstood reputation for not hitting large lures and aggressive presentations. Well, I am here to tell you that fast paced, hard hitting, aggressive presentations work great on smallmouths more often than not. And, spinnerbaits are at the very top of that list. Whenever the smallmouth bass is shallow, it is likely to hit a spinnerbait. They are absolute smallmouth killers!
Now that we've established that smallmouths will readily smash a spinnerbait, let's take a closer look at specific situations where this lure works best and some other details.
The prespawn period is my favorite time to cast spinnerbaits for smallies. Of course, this is also a great time to take largemouths on the same lure. This is also when smallmouths are most apt to be shallow. When both species exist in the same body of water, it is not uncommon to catch a mixed bag while peppering casts along a potentially good area. However, prespawn largemouth terrain differs a bit from preferred early spring smallies haunts. Typically, largemouths are more apt to seek out dark bottom marshy spots with inundated shorelines of cat tail, cane, grass and weeds. The bottom substrate is more likely to be a sand dominated base, too. Prespawn smallmouth habitat usually contains rock, gravel, boulders and sunken wood.
Both species seem to like wood and sand, and largemouths do adhere to large rocks and boulders with some regularity, but few smallies will hang around marshy spots and muck bottoms. A sandy bottom with a carpet-like grass called "elodea" can be a magnet for both largemouth and smallmouth. In fact, it is not uncommon to see both species fanning out spawning beds on sand flats that contain elodea. Add an occasional sunken log or a boulder to this terrain and you have the makings of a superb prespawn smallmouth bass terrain - perfectly suited for spinnerbait fishing.
Shallow sandy flats with elodea, by the way, are also magnets for crawfish and minnow schools in the spring. If they are positioned on the north end of a lake, baked by early season sun light, it is almost a sure bet that they will hold crawfish, minnows and big bronzebacks. The very best elodea flats also have some gravel and rock on the shoreline that extends into the water a few feet. The transition between these shoreline gravel/rock areas and the inside edge of the grass flat is where the majority of bass are likely to be in the prespawn.
When there's a good chop (wave action), and the weather is on a warming trend, don't be surprised to find smallies just off the bank cruising over the rocks in search of minnows and crawdads. Any kind of subtle point or protrusion of rocks or gravel is likely to be a hotspot for several fish. The best casts with a spinnerbait here is actually right up on the bank. Using baitcasting gear, I like to pitch the spinnerbait with a side arm underhand roll cast, in this instance. It keeps the trajectory of the lure very low - just off the water's surface - so you can see it traveling towards the bank. A gradual breaking of your thumb on the reel's spool combined with a subtle uplift on the rod at the last minute softly plops the lure on the dry bank quietly. Because the lure contains an upriding single hook, it will rarely get snagged; especially if you maintain a tight line. Strikes will often occur as soon as the lure rights itself and the blades begin to spin.
Position your boat close to the bank so you can fish ahead and somewhat parallel. This is not always possible due to rocks and other shallow obstacles that are likely to collide with your trolling motor. That's why you will always be casting at some kind of an angle. The important thing is to keep fishing ahead of the boat, but testing both the shallowest rocks near the bank as well as the surrounding cover. Hypothetically, I look and cast to three potential targets: 1) tight inward casts to the bank over the rocks and gravel, 2) a parallel cast along the transitional edge between the rock/gravel and inside edge of the sand grass, and 3) an occasional deeper cast over the grass flat, itself.
If any one of these test casts proves to be more productive, I simply send more casts over this type of terrain. Always be on the lookout for something different as you move along any area with your spinnerbait. Utilizing polarized sunglasses, watch for an isolated sunken log, a fallen tree, a large boulder, or a clump of weeds. Also, keep a watchful eye for dark spots on the grassy flat. These might be logs, patches of weeds, small holes or dips, and might even be early spawning beds. More often than not, these dark spots on flats hold the most fish. This is particularly true after a cold front passes through.
Test the speed of your spinnerbait against the response of the fish you encounter, as well. Bronzebacks are quite different than largemouths in this regard. For some odd reason, smallmouths really like it when the spinnerbait is burning just under the surface - even when they are hunkered tight in cover far below it. Yes, there are also those occasions when you need to "slow roll" the spinnerbait close to cover in order to trigger the strike. However, experience has taught me to test 'em high first. Smallies will roar up and smash a high riding spinnerbait, while simply following it if it is rolled slowly by them. The clearer the water, the more they are apt to trigger on a high riding burned spinnerbait. As you can imagine, the strikes are incredible. They literally pulverize a spinnerbait when you work it like this.
Finally, I must mention a word about color when talking about spinnerbaits and smallies. While shad and shiner colors along with nickel, brass and other metal blades seem to work wonders with largemouths, bronzebacks really prefer painted blades - even in gin clear waters. In fact, my #1 overall spinnerbait for smallies in clear water is a chartreuse spinnerbait with chartreuse blades. I am not saying they won't hit traditional largemouth patterns like shad, shiner and white combinations, but nothing catches 'em quite like chartreuse. Why this is, I am not sure. But I have fished behind guys many times who insisted on subtly slow-rolling a shiner pattern spinnerbait with tandem metal blades only to have me follow up behind them, burning a chartreuse single spin, and get smoked. As soon as they switch to the chartreuse and pick up the speed, the roll gets reversed.
Now you know the secret - spinnerbaits are the hot ticket for big smallies in the spring time. The next time you are out on the water with your buddy in the spring checking out a smallmouth spot, let him do all the finesse stuff. You tie on a chartreuse spinnerbait and machine gun cast it over all potential shallow water targets. Keep high burning it from one spot to another. I'm betting your buddy will be begging for one of those baits within the first hour!
Joe Bucher is the Editor Emeritus for Musky Hunter Magazine and one the most highly recognized multi-species fishing and hunting authorities in the outdoor business trade. Joe is the host of Fishing with Joe Bucher TV show which has been on the air for over 20 years. For more information on Joe please visit his website at www.joebucher.com