As some of you know, I am an Army brat.
My dad was drafted during the Vietnam War and, after leaving his civilian employment working for the railroad, became a U.S. Army Signal Corps officer who went on to retire after over 20 years of service.
Along the way, I spent my fourth grade year as a student at Mae Stevens Elementary School in Copperas Cove. On occasion, our family would head out to Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area and fish from the bank. One time we rented a boat at BLORA and fished in the Cowhouse Creek arm of Belton Lake.
That was my first occasion, as a 9-year-old boy in 1978, to experiment with a tailspinner. I read about fishing the Little George tailspinner made by Mann’s Bait Company in a book which I bought with lawnmowing money. The book was published by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society.
Tom Mann wrote several chapters in the book and detailed an incredible, tournament-winning catch he and his partner made while using tailspinners on Lake Eufala, near Fort Benning, Georgia. I spent a little more law-mowing money on some Little Georges.
As I fished more and more with artificial lures, I began to realize the tailspinners I bought had some shortfalls as compared with other lure styles. The spinner did not always spin freely, nor would the spinner start spinning without giving it a good initial yank. The line would wrap around the spinner shaft pretty regularly, and the hooks just never seemed to be well-proportioned. Nevertheless, I used them and caught fish — mainly white bass and hybrid stripers — with them, mainly while fishing Georgia’s West Point Reservoir on the Chattahoochee River just outside LaGrange, Georgia, during my senior year of high school.
Since last October’s flooding, we have been plagued with lengthy bouts of turbid, murky water as silt has washed into our reservoirs from the flooding and discolored the normally clear waters recently made even clearer by the filtering effect of zebra mussels.
There have been a number of occasions where, using sonar, I have found heavily congregated white bass holding just off bottom in a feeding posture, but then enjoyed somewhat diminished results while fishing for them with a slab/stinger hook combination as compared to the results I was accustomed to seeing in clearer water.
I theorized that because our fish in these typically clear reservoirs are accustomed to sight-feeding, that the murkiness of the water cuts down a bit on their ability to feed by sight, thus causing them to rely more upon their vibration-sensing lateral line system for finding their food.
Although slabs certainly put off some vibration, that pales in comparison to the turbulence generated by even a small tailspinner.
Hence, I went to work to develop some experimental tailspinners intended both to overcome the shortfalls I have seen in commercially available versions, and to improve my results especially when dealing with fish in off-colored water.
To start this project, I bought a Do-It lead mold — the Ultra Minnow Jig mold, #SHR-4-M. Then, following some advice I found on the video library on the Jann’s Netcraft website, I modified this mold with a Dremel tool to allow the tailspinner harness wire to rest in the jighead cavity.
I began by pouring both 1-ounce and 1.5-ounce versions. This may seem heavy for white bass, but because these lures have a round, bullet-like cross-section, they are still compact and smaller than most shad I see white bass regurgitating this time of year.
I stuck with my favorite lure body color for white bass — bright white — and I added the black eye dot you see as a signature feature on the Hazy Eye line of products I produce and sell on my website. I affixed both chrome and white spinner blades of the same size for this first experiment.
I am currently experimenting with several hook options. The first version uses a 2X strong Mustad 3565-DS Durasteel treble hook in size #4 with the eye snipped at the base using a pair of diagonal cutting pliers so as to allow the hook to be slipped over the tailspinner’s line tie eye without the use of a split ring.
The second version uses the same hook, unsnipped, suspended from the line tie using a small, #1 split ring.
The third version uses a pair of my Hazy Eye Stinger hooks cinched to the line tie — a method which I observed is heavily relied upon for freshwater gamefish in Australia while visiting there in February.
Last Thursday and Friday’s rains brought Belton Lake up over 6 feet in a matter of four days and made both the Leon River and Cowhouse Creek tributaries off-colored, thus giving me a perfect opportunity for testing out my experimental lures.
On Monday evening I guided Phil Arnold and Johnny Jacobs, both of the West Virginia National Guard, on a multispecies fishing trip on Belton Lake. We fished from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with the first 2½ hours dedicated to white bass fishing with artificials, and the remaining time dedicated to live shad fishing for hybrid striped bass.
During our first 2½ hours, we landed exactly 120 fish, 100% of which were taken on the several versions of the tailspinner I described above from out of 25-26 feet of water.
I made several observations which will lead to further improvements — both in the form of physical adjustments to the lure and in the form of hooking, fighting, and landing tactics. By the looks of the weather forecast, we will have some high waters for some time to come, so, I should have ample opportunity to continue this experiment.
As with slabs, I chose to fish these tailspinners vertically on Monday’s trip. We Spot Locked on top of active fish with my Minn Kota Ulterra trolling motor, let the tailspinners fall to bottom, then executed a steady upward retrieve at a moderate cadence. As I watched the fish on sonar, I allowed their position in the water column to dictate the height of our retrieve, making sure we brought the lures higher than the shallowest fish showing on the screen.
Next, on Wednesday, while fishing with Steve Stewart and his friends, Jimmy Helm and Jerry Weathers, I encountered less active fish in shallower water — about 15-17 feet deep. Generally speaking, the shallower white bass go, the more they tend to spread horizontally; conversely, the deeper they go, the more they tend to group up.
With many fish spread thinly along the bottom between us and the shoreline, I had my clients cast horizontally. Again, we enjoyed much success — 47 fish in under an hour — fishing this way with the tailspinners. The tactic involved casting out and allowing the lure to sink to bottom, then retrieving it seven handle turns at a time at a more brisk pace than that used for the vertical work.
Thus far, I am very pleased with the results of this experiment, and I do feel that in this scenario with dirty water, active fish and large natural forage size, the tailspinner does outperform the slab. I am looking forward to tweaking the bait and the method.
I realize few anglers are going to tool-up to produce custom baits for themselves for such a niche application, so do not hesitate to simply pick up a few of the tailspinners available at retail outlets for your own use. These will certainly suffice in that they will produce greater vibration than a slab while still having a shad-imitating, compact body style which is the essence of this approach.