By Vic Attardo
Hangers on. That’s all these last crimson and amber leaves along the edge of Raystown Lake were.
The cold temperatures had not snapped them off, neither had the treadmill breezes or the gusty winds. Those last leaves gave me a whimsical idea.
For no other reason than to pay homage to the scant threads of autumn, I searched through a tray of spinnerbaits and selected a lure as colorful as the declining season.
The piece I selected had bold chartreuse blades, skirt and head, with a brightness more akin to the midday sun than the surrounding barest trees.
Thirty minutes later, I had collected an estimated 10 pounds of bass with just three fish. In two hours, I had close to 20 pounds with seven fall-fat fish, both smallmouths and largemouths.
That’s close to a 3-pound per bass average. This was astounding. And all had hit a trio of outrageously colored spinnerbaits with oversized Colorado or Willowleaf blades.
(Raystown Lake is listed by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission as one of the best reservoirs, 500 acres and larger, for both largemouth and smallmouth bass of 15 inches and better.)
By this time in November, the waters of Raystown had cleared considerably. The putrid algae green which infects so many Pennsylvania waters in summer had dissipated. So, too, had the water temperature. It was bouncing between a low 51F in the early morning to 55F on this sunny afternoon.
I could have employed a jig with a soft plastic in the ragged shallows or a bladebait across the deep flats and channels – two great techniques for this time slot – but I found myself looking at shoreline points, and spotting moving fish on the sonar.
I decided to investigate. The sonar marks could have been trout or stripers, but the way they spread out on specific sunken structures pushed me to thinking they were bass.
The first bit of cover I worked was a substantial sunken tree down on a point. The tree cried out for a ¾-ounce weight to reach its 12-foot depth and a willowleaf blade to drag through its branches. It’s where I found my first three bass.
There is nothing unusual about a spinnerbait with a colorful skirt. I guess about 80 percent of my spinnerbaits have chartreuse skirts, or a combination of chartreuse and white, or chartreuse and red, or another shade of green or blue.
But only a thin minority of the spinnerbaits I own have chartreuse blades, or fluorescent red blades (though I have great success with all-black spinnerbaits).
Most of the blades, no matter the shape, are silver, copper and some have one blade of each. The same with head colors: The majority are all-white with a splash of color here and there for accent.
Spinnerbaits with blades of hot fluorescent colors, such as lime green, chartreuse, hot red or orange, are just not the norm.
I’ve listened to the Dixie pros telling me that spinnerbaits should primarily imitate shad. That’s all well and good for Dixie. But here in Pennsylvania, bass, both largemouths and smallmouths, consume a lot of panfish – bluegills and yellow perch.
For that reason, the Southern emphasis on white spinnerbaits doesn’t always cut it for me. That’s why I carry this handful of spinnerbaits with chartreuse blades and heads, or red or orange blades.
Also Dixie pros say they use white in clear water and typically avoid more colorful skirts in the same conditions.
Again, bass fishing in Dixie is not bass fishing in Pennsylvania. I believe we have longer periods of clear water and from October through December (and certainly through the ice season) is one long stretch of mostly clear water.
These are a couple of reasons why I employ spinnerbaits with outrageously bright spinnerbait blades and tails. Though apparently it’s like a new revelation to me each time, in mid-to-late fall, I use them and they are successful.
Following that fine Raystown day using chartreuse blades and then a chartreuse and red blade with matching skirts and heads, I went back through my cross-referenced logs (25 years’ worth) and found a host of similar Pennsylvania occurrences on places like Pinchot, Wallenpaupack, Nockamixon, Pymatuning, Muddy Run, Conowingo and, just outside Pennsylvania, on the Susquehanna Flats.
My notes show an equally silly thought process. “Oh look at the last hanging leaves. You’re going to miss the fall, why not try one of these bright blade spinnerbaits and see what happens?
Clear water, bright sun, so what? Bam, a couple of nice bass! If Groundhog Day occurred in November and not February, I could understand my lack of cognitive memory, but heck.
Typically I’ve used the bright-bladed spinnerbaits from mid- to late-fall when young-of-the-year bluegills and perch are at their largest. Surely individual gills and perch are not the 4-inch size of a hefty spinnerbait.
But I’ve long believed that spinnerbaits do not imitate just one baitfish moving through the water but several fish grouped together. See how bass react to umbrella rigs for confirmation.
For the record, these bright-colored blades have worked for me in both clear water and water recently tinted from rainfall.
Overall, their use is certainly not typical, but I certainly don’t question their effectiveness.