When you walk outside and see frost has formed on your bass boat, it’s time to break out the the blades.
The Original “Silver Buddy” produced a new category of “blade baits” for bass anglers over 30 years ago. Since then, a number of blade baits have resided in fishermen’s wintertime tackle boxes. These small and simple blades produce a tight vibration and flash that perfectly resembles the desperate action of dying baitfish, and bass find this “meal” difficult to resist.
In cold water conditions, tighter wobbles often equal more strikes. The conservative movements of most species in the water column make more aggressive-action baits seem out of place sometimes to predatory fish. This can be easy to remember when you’re fishing and can barely muster the dexterity to tie on another lure. It’s also a unique time of the year when you can see what I like to call the “dance of death” by small baitfish. The larger a fish is, the easier it is for it to retain heat and survive in cold water. Baitfish can be so small that they often die if the water becomes too cold. Just as anglers shiver in the cold, baitfish can shiver in the cold water as well. Blade baits are the best lures for imitating that twitch-and-shiver action.
BASICS OF FISHING BLADE BAITS
Blade baits can be used to catch suspended fish and also fish hugging close to the bottom. It’s a technique that piggybacks with jigging spoons, another popular wintertime fishing bait. Contrary to a spoon though, you might be surprised at the amount of vibration a blade bait produces when pulled through the water. My preferred blade-fishing method is a hop-and-pause action. It works excellent on bluff walls or ledges, and can also be used on other offshore structure where bass are located. Experimentation with the hops and pauses is important. I like to start off with short, quick bursts, pausing a second or two in between. If that isn’t the cadence the fish want, I’ll explore a slower lift upward and longer pauses in between lifts. Bites will mostly occur when the bait is fallingl, but bass will also pick it up off the bottom. Don’t be afraid to experiment with extra long pauses on even colder days. Lifting the bait a few feet off the bottom is often better than big strokes upward of 5-6 feet in cold water.
The “stair-step” action is key to fishing blade baits along ledges and drop-offs.
If you find yourself on a lake that has bluff walls, these can particularly be good areas to fish blade baits in the winter. These wintertime bass structures will usually hold a variety of forage, and provide both deep and shallow water cover for fish to move up or down the water column and feed. There will usually be boulders or chunk rock scattered down the bluff that will hold bass. Try positioning your boat a long cast away from the bank and work the blade down the bluff wall. Use short lifts and allow the bait to fall straight down close to the rocks. Follow the bait downward with the rod tip to detect a bite during the fall. This “stair-step” method is great for covering a large depth range, and will allow you to eventually target a key depth where you find the bass are biting.
CHOOSING A BLADE BAIT
Blade baits come in various weights, but I almost always prefer a 1/2-ounce bait. I will sometimes go up to a 3/4-ounce in water deeper than 30 feet or when I’m dealing with very windy conditions. You’ll find the most popular colors on the shelf are a nickel-and-gold finish, but there are other painted colors to fit your specific fishery. I stick with gold in dim light conditions or more stained water, and switch to nickel in clearer water and brighter light conditions.
One of the author’s gold blade baits that he prefers to throw during overcast days.
As you might imagine, blade baits are very castable lures, but I prefer to throw them on spinning gear. Spinning gear allows you to drop the bait straight down in the water column faster by simply opening the bail of the reel. A spinning reel will give you a noticeable advantage when vertical jigging or ledge fishing. I use 8- to 10-pound fluorocarbon in clear water, but I prefer to use 10-pound braided line with around 6 feet of 10-pound fluorocarbon leader for added sensitivity if the water conditions are less clear. A 7-foot medium-action rod will work well with most sizes of blade baits.
Blade baits are often viewed as a winter smallmouth bait in the northern half of the country, but they’re actually excellent baits for both largemouth and smallmouth bass all over the United States. Whether fish are suspended or holding on cover, this bait is excellent when the bass are targeting baitfish during the cold months. These little flashes of vibration are capable of turning a difficult day on the water into a success. I find the best way to stay warm on the water when it’s frigid is to catch more fish! Make sure to keep some blade baits in your boat for the cold days ahead.