Blade Baits, Feel the Buzz
By: Mark Romanack
Here in the Great Lakes the blade bait is one of the most overlooked smallmouth lures. In cool and cold water conditions, this obscure lure does an amazing job of imitating crayfish, one of the favorite forages of the smallmouth bass.
Of all the hundreds of different types of artificial fishing lures on the market, the blade bait may well be the most misunderstood. The truth is most anglers couldn’t pick a blade bait out of a line up if they had to. Ironically, these unique hard baits have been on tackle dealers shelves for decades and are deadly effective on a wide variety of species. So the question becomes, what makes the blade bait a lure every angler should have in his or her tackle box.
THE MAKING OF A BLADE BAIT
Blade baits are created by stamping a piece of thin metal into the rough shape or profile of a baitfish. A lead weight is then molded in place on the bottom of the bait, usually near the front of the lure.
Holes are punched out for a front and a back hook placement. The hooks are often a double style hook, but more commonly a treble hook is used on blade baits.
On the top of the blade bait more holes are punched to serve as the line tie attachment point. Most baits will feature two or three different holes that accepts a small round snap which in turn the line is tied to for casting and jigging applications.
The body of some blade baits feature a concave surface, but others are perfectly flat. While blade baits vary in size, shape and design, they are all built to create a distinctive vibration in the water.
Most blade baits feature such a distinct and rapid wobble that a noticeable vibration is created when the bait is worked. Moving the bait even slightly telegraphs this vibration through the line right into the rod. The vibration is so distinct, it is often referred to as a “buzz” in the line.
It’s this distinctive vibration or buzz that lures in fish and often delivers explosive strikes when other lures fail. The fact that blade baits generate strikes when other lures don’t may well be the most important niche these lures offer anglers.
THE TOP BLADE BAITS
For what many might consider an obscure lure, the market is flooded with dozens of different brands of blade baits. A few of the more iconic brands include the Reef Runner Cicada, Heddon Sonar and Cotton Cordell Gay Blade that have been on the market for decades. Some Johnny come lately brands that have gotten popular quickly include Steelshad, Rapala Rap V and the Captain Jay’s Blade Bait.
Jake Romanack caught this Lake Huron Lake Trout jigging with a Steelshad blade bait in deep water. The 3/4 ounce Steelshad has become one of the author’s favorite lures for summer lake trout jigging.
WHEN BLADE BAITS EXCEL
Blade baits are at their best in cool or cold water fishing conditions found in the early spring, fall, late fall and winter months. Strikes are often so explosive, it almost seems like fish hit a blade bait out of anger or frustration.
Blade baits are ideally suited to jigging applications, especially when the water is deep enough these baits can be fished directly under the boat. Blade baits sink fast so they are handy for fishing in deep water and also in fast current situations.
The smaller sizes of blade baits are best fished on spinning rods/reels, but the larger sizes can also be fished using baitcasting gear. Selecting a 10 to 15 pound test super braid as a main line and adding a shock leader of fluorocarbon line is the ideal set up for jigging blade baits. The fluorocarbon leader should be a heavier pound test than the main line. The reason is that blade baits have the nasty habit of catching on the line. Using a thicker and stiffer leader material dramatically reduces the problem of the bait’s hooks fouling on the leader.
Blade baits are commonly fished aggressively, snapping the bait to life and then allowing the bait to fall back to bottom on slack line. This jigging style causes the bait to dart and vibrate very aggressively and is generally a good jigging technique for attracting fish.
Often a more subtle jigging style is required to trigger strikes. In this case, the blade bait is lifted from the bottom just fast enough to insight some vibration into the bait. Instead of dropping the rod tip and allowing the bait to sink back to bottom on slack line, the rod is used to slowly lower the bait back to bottom, giving nearby fish more time to react to the bait. Catching the bait just before it hits bottom and dead sticking the lure for a few seconds is often deadly effective.
Smaller sizes (1/2 ounce and less) blade baits are best fished on a spinning rod/reel equipped with a 10-15 pound test super braid. The author strongly recommends adding a 15 pound test shock leader of fluorocarbon when using blade baits. The stiffer shock leader helps to prevent the blade bait from regularly fouling on the main line.
Blade baits can also be casted with great results. Casting creates a horizontal presentation that on some days produces much better than a vertical jigging presentation.
When casting a blade bait, make a long cast and let the lure sink all the way to bottom without closing the reel bail. Reel up the slack line until the weight of the bait can be felt in the rod tip and then pull or scoot the blade bait along the bottom. This unique presentation closely replicates a crayfish scurrying along the bottom.
On occasion a slow and steady retrieve will produce good results with a blade bait, but more commonly these lures work best when kept in contact with the bottom.
When casting, it’s especially important to use a shock leader that is thicker in diameter than the main line. The act of casting causes a blade bait to regularly foul on the line when the bait is sinking. To minimize this issue, using a shock leader that has some stiffness to it will keep the blade bait fishing clean most of the time.
In the spring of the year during the spawn, blade baits are amazingly effective on walleye. A blade bait will catch fish even in dirty water when other lures simply don’t produce. Lake Erie’s western basin is dotted with dozens of spawning reefs that literally load up with walleye in March, April and May.
One of the most consistently effective ways of catching these fish involves drifting with the wind and fishing a blade bait right over the side of the boat at about a 45 degree angle from the boat to the bait. Because the water is often murky, the fish don’t seem to spook away from the boat even when fishing in eight to 12 feet of water.
In this situation it’s the male walleye that are aggressively snapping at blade baits as they drift past. Only occasionally are larger female fish caught while jigging blade baits in the spring.
When the conditions are right, it’s common to see female walleye rolling on the surface as they prepare to broadcast their eggs on the gravel and rock outcroppings below. When this situation occurs, dozens of male walleye will be on hand to do their part fertilizing the eggs.
When using blade baits the author likes to grease them up with Pro Cure Super Gel to enhance their fish catching powers. This goes double when jigging for walleye in murky or dirty water conditions.
Blade baits are especially useful for jigging up lake trout in the summer months when they set up on deep water structure. The best spots are routinely sunken islands or shoals that top out in 80 to 120 feet of water that are surrounded by much deeper water.
Lake trout feed heavily on round goby that live on this type of bottom structure. A darting and scooting blade bait does an excellent job of looking like a goby trying to forage among the rocks.
In the late fall when lake trout are spawning on rock reefs or rip rap, casting a blade bait can be lights out. In this situation the boat is positioned in deep water and the blade bait is casted up into shallows where the fish are actively spawning.
Smallmouth bass and blade baits are a match made in heaven. A blade bait fishes best when it’s in contact with the bottom and smallmouth spend the majority of their time on hard bottom structures.
Few lures do a better job of imitating a crayfish than a blade bait. Vertical jigging deeper water is one of the most effective ways of catching smallmouth late in the year and during the winter months on bodies of water that don’t freeze.
If the water is too shallow to vertical jig, casting a blade bait and scooting it along the bottom slowly to imitate a crayfish trying to avoid being eaten drives smallmouth bass crazy.
Blade baits are for sure not the kind of hard bait that anglers naturally gravitate towards. It takes a little experience to discover that jigging and casting, blade baits catch fish with more common lures don’t. It’s really that simple and why every serious angler should have a good assortment of blade baits in common sizes and colors at their disposal.