Take a look in any tackle catalog and you will quickly see there are not a lot of lures designed specifically for white bass and hybrid stripers.
Many of the lures I rely on day-in and day-out I either make myself or modify from commercially available versions.
Barring flooding, I believe June and July are the two most difficult months of fishing for whites and hybrids all year. Downrigging in the summer is always productive in and of itself, but some folks do not care for trolling. Downrigging allows me to effectively cover water while watching my sonar like a hawk for signs of congregated whites and hybrid, either suspended or on bottom, which I may then stop and fish for.
Until 2018, I struggled with an effective lure to tempt tightly grouped whites and hybrids on the occasions I could find them during the warm months. It was frustrating to look and look for fish, only to find them and then not be able to get them to bite well.
In 2019, I had a breakthrough. On a whim, I decided to handmake my own tailspinners. I knew tailspinners were effective, but the commercially available versions all had significant drawbacks. My design addressed and improved on these flaws, and the baits worked. However, they were prone to tangling just enough to be annoying, and due to their compact size and heavy weight, a lot of my rookie clients lost fish right at the boat as they left fish dangling over the water instead of swinging them over the side of the boat.
I never marketed my tailspinners, as I just was not confident that the average angler could make them work to their full potential.
If nothing else, I learned that the spinning action of the tailspinner attracted fish. I continued experimenting in 2018 and 2019 with in-line spinners. Again, I knew from previous experience that in-line spinners had their drawbacks, and I developed my own versions to combat those problems, chief of which was a slow sink rate. Using tungsten, I worked around the sink rate issue.
About the time I got the spinners where I wanted them, fall weather came in during 2019 and I was back onto a hot slab bite with my Hazy Eye Slabs equipped with stinger hooks. The spinners were relegated to the back shelf.
As the end of May rolled around in 2020, and the live shad bite for hybrid had about run its course, I once again began experimenting with my spinners. At this same time, a friend and fellow Belton Lake multi-species angler, Bill Pasko, shared with me about his successes with spinners. He was using a large Mepps Aglia spinner with great success.
One day, as we compared notes at the Westcliff boat ramp on Belton Lake, he showed me a modified version of the model of Mepps Aglia he was using, complete with a barbless hook for quick, clean releases. It reminded me of my positive past experiences with the company, and the long-standing reputation they had built in the industry.
That day I got on the phone with both Laurie Powell and Darryl Laurent of Mepps and described my desire to obtain small, but heavy, in-line spinners from them for the purpose of targeting white bass and hybrid striped bass.
After some trial and error, and some willingness to be flexible on Mepps’ behalf, they worked with me to produce the white bass/hybrid-specific model of in-line spinner now found only on my FishCenTex.com website (go to the products page), and named the Maindelle’s All-Purpose Lure (MAL, for short).
I have now fished with multiple iterations and versions of this lure and now feel the version I am offering is the best combination of all of the colors and components out there. Unlike my reservations with my tailspinners, I have no reservations about putting this in the hands of the average angler, and knowing his or her results will improve, and especially so in the difficult summer months from late May into late September.
The following are the three scenarios in which the MAL shines:
1. Smoking — This simply consists of dropping your lure to the bottom and quickly retrieving it back toward the surface. Although you can smoke “blind,” I never do, nor would I recommend it. Instead, save the smoking until you see fish holding beneath your boat, either on bottom (best) or suspended. I like to find fish by downrigging, and then capitalize on what I have found by Spot-Locking atop the fish I’ve just located, and then working them over with a smoking tactic until they quit.
I use the smoking tactic in combination with either well-tuned 2D sonar or Garmin LiveScope. I want to see the fish, my MAL, and the fishes’ response to what I do. I always use this tactic with my boat in a steady hover atop the fish I am fishing for, using Spot-Lock.
No matter where the fish are, I want to make sure my smoking retrieve gives them a minimum of 6-8 feet of “chase distance” upward toward the surface from the depth they are holding in the water column. For example, if I see fish holding at 24 feet over a 30-foot bottom, I will drop the MAL to the bottom and reel up to around the 16- to 18-foot mark so the fish not only see the bait, but also have a chance to start after it, overtake it and eat it.
The cadence is quick — a bit more than one reel handle revolution per second. Avoid a hard hookset, especially when using braided line.
When the fish disappear from sonar, it is time to look for more fish. I suggest not sitting in one spot hoping the fish will come back. Once the fish go more than 3-4 minutes off of sonar, move!
2. Sight-casting — Some may wonder, “Is catching fish feeding on topwater really such a challenge that whatever I usually use would not do just fine?” I would suggest this lure works as good or better than other shad-imitators for this application. As a guide, I found myself bringing a number of sets of rods for each summertime trip — rods for downrigging, rods for vertical jigging, rods for sight-casting, rods for horizontal bladebait work, etc. Now, having one lure I can use horizontally and vertically, and from top to bottom, I can take one set of rods for all of the above, plus two of my super-whippy downrigger rods, and have the entire trip covered.
To sight cast with the MAL, I try to drift with the wind into the fish (not run them down with the trolling motor). The weight of the MAL is such that with a well-filled spinning reel, you can cast a country mile. You have probably noted how, when fish are on the surface, they keep a buffer between your boat and themselves. The distance this lure casts more than overcomes that distance.
I try to cast beyond all of the topwater commotion and bring the lure back through it at a fast, steady cadence. Resist jigging, juking, jiving or jerking. A plain-Jane retrieve helps the fish’s pea-sized brain calculate a simple angle of pursuit so it can be successful in overtaking the lure.
As soon as the lure hits the water, close your bail by hand (do not use the reel’s handle to accomplish this). This will get the lure coming back to you before it sinks too far, and as a bonus, will cut down on wind knots for those who use braid. Retrieve at a fast, steady cadence. Turn slightly more than one handle rotation per second. Keep your rod tip low to the water — no more than 10 inches off the surface. This will keep the MAL from skipping out of the water on a fast retrieve, and will keep it submerged until it is right near the boat, giving you a shot at a fish right up until you remove the lure from the water to load up for another cast.
3. Lift-dropping — This involves retrieving the MAL back to the boat horizontally after making a long cast and then allowing the lure to sink to the bottom. The lift-dropping action resembles a saw-tooth pattern. This tactic can be used from a Spot-Lock position or while casting downwind while drifting. Do not cast upwind while drifting.
After casting, leave the spinning reel’s bail open so the lure sinks quickly and straight down. Once the lure settles on the bottom, close the bail by hand (this will prevent problematic loops from forming in braided line). Next, turn the handle to take up any slack and, once the line is taut, reel 6-8 cranks, thus bringing the bait off the bottom at an angle, headed back toward the boat.
Once those 6-8 handle cranks are done, manually open the bail again, allowing the lure to return to the bottom. Repeat the cranking and bail opening process until the lure is nearly vertical beneath the boat.
As you bring the lure back to the boat the final time, reel at a moderate cadence. A lot of reluctant fish which follow your bait back to the boat will strike at this point in time.
This tactic works best for me when fish are horizontally spread over a shallow, flat area, up to about 17 feet deep. Beyond that depth, even a long cast fails to cover much horizontal distance along the bottom and the efficacy of the tactic drops off.
As for tackle, it is not necessary that you duplicate this exactly, but, you want a spinning rod with some whip to it, and a 2000- or 2500-series or smaller spinning reel. Always use a swivel. I like the fluorocarbon Invisaswivel, but a good old metal swivel is just fine.
My gear: My favorite pairing for this incredibly effective bait is to use Sufix 832 Advanced Superline (a braid) in 20-pound test, attached to a clear, 35-pound test Aquateko Invisaswivel, which is then attached to a 24-inch fluorocarbon leader in 25-pound test. A swivel is necessary to eliminate line twist, and the Invisaswivel is easier on your rod’s tip than metallic swivels.
I use a Berkley Inshore BSINS701ML 7-foot, one-piece spinning rod with a Pflueger President PRESP25 spinning reel (5.2:1 gear ratio).
Although the MAL excels for summertime fishing, I am anxious to see how far into the fall it remains effective, so, I will be monitoring water temperature and my successes and failures and will keep you posted.