Redfish Crushing Spinnerbaits

Coastal redfish will absolutely crush a blade.

John N. Felsher | March 11, 2019

Running just below the surface, the lure bulged the water, making a wake. Occasionally, the rounded metal blade broke the surface, causing a sputtering disruption similar to the flicking of nervous baitfish. Highlighted by sunlight glinting off the golden metal, the fluttering blade resembled a rear swimmer leg on a blue crab.

About 10 feet away, a spot-tailed marsh marauder prowling the weedy shoreline for fish, shrimp or crabs to devour felt the thumping vibrations. Soon, another v-shaped wake, this one much larger, rushed toward the lure. As the beast inhaled potential prey, the surface erupted as if an anvil fell into the water. Finding steel instead of a meal, the enraged redfish dashed for deeper water, ripping braided line from the screeching reel. 

“If a redfish is anywhere close to feeding, it will kill a spinnerbait,” proclaimed Bobby Abruscato, a professional redfish angler. “In fact, I’ve caught more tournament redfish on spinnerbaits than any other method. With the blades spinning, I believe redfish think a spinnerbait is a crab. Redfish eat anything, but they love crabs more than anything else. The blade shaking back and forth resembles that little swimmer fin on a crab.”

Among the most versatile lures on the market, spinnerbaits catch fish from top to bottom. They can also go where many other bait types cannot. With vibrating blades giving off flash, spinnerbaits sometimes provoke vicious strikes even from non-aggressive redfish that might refuse other offerings. 

“The flash from the blades can produce some great reaction bites,” Abruscato confirmed. “Spinnerbaits are very functional. People can fish them any number of ways. People can reel it fast across the surface like a topwater bait, slow-roll it along the bottom or even fish it around grass.”

Blades also come in many shapes and sizes. Nearly round Colorado blades displace the most water. They give off significant vibrations and mimic the swimmer legs on crabs. However, Colorado blades snag in weeds more easily than long, slender willowleaf blades. Not entirely weedless, willowleaf blades won’t cut through solid grass mats but can slip through patchy vegetation. An Indiana blade combines aspects of both.

Redfish will cream a conventional safety-pin spinnerbaits often used for largemouth bass.

“I usually use a single gold Colorado blade for redfish because I fish in a lot of dirty water,” recommended Charlie Thomason, a professional angler. “When I’m fishing in dirty water, I like something that gives out a lot of vibrations or has a little bit of thump to it, but redfish also hit willowleaf spinnerbaits.”

Spinnerbait bodies also come in three main configurations. Typically used for bass fishing, a “safety-pin” spinner employs a bent wire arm that suspends one or more blades over a usually skirted head. Bass anglers fishing coastal waters frequently catch redfish on these baits. In tidal estuaries, one cast could produce a largemouth bass and the next a redfish.

“Fishing for redfish is a lot like fishing for bass,” said Stephen Browning, a professional bass angler, who has also fished redfish tournaments. “A redfish will hit anything that a bass will hit and vice versa. I’ve caught redfish on spinnerbaits and many other bass lures.”

The leading wires on safety-pin spinnerbaits help deflect objects like sticks or oyster shells, but cannot go through matted grass. For fishing dense cover, many anglers turn to in-line spinnerbaits. Long and slim, an in-line spinnerbait consists of a straight wire extending from the head with a blade rotating around the wire. Anglers can tip the hook with different trailers and even insert hook points into the plastic for even more weedless running.

“When I’m fishing in really thick cover where I know I’ll have to pull the lure through grass, I prefer an in-line spinnerbait,” Abruscato said. “Sometimes, I can fish over the grass tops with it. I’ll use a Gulp! trailer and set the hook to make it weedless. With that bait, I can fish some really nasty stuff that redfish like.”

Most saltwater anglers throw “beetle” type spinnerbaits, also called “harness” or “jig head” spinners. These baits resemble safety-pin spinners, but usually consist of a wire harness temporarily attached to a jig head. On the jig head, anglers can hook trailers in different sizes, shape or colors. Many anglers prefer plastic shrimp or minnow imitations.

“I almost exclusively use Gulp! trailers on my spinnerbaits,” Abruscato said. “With a Gulp! trailer, the bait has a visual stimulation, an audible stimulation from the vibrations the blade makes and scent stimulation from the Gulp! I use a harness spinner on a 3/8-oz. jig head with a No. 4 Hildebrand Colorado blade. To that, I’ll add a 4-inch Gulp! Swimming Mullet trailer. Sometimes I use white, and sometimes I use chartreuse.”

Since the components on a harness spinner separate, anglers can easily switch blades, arm sizes, jig heads or trailers to adapt to changing conditions. For instance, if anglers spot redfish attacking a particular size or colored baitfish, they can easily slip on another trailer or swap out other components and resume casting in seconds.

Trevor Duet shows off a redfish he caught on an in-line spinnerbait. Long and slim, an in-line spinnerbait consists of a straight wire extending from the head with a blade rotating around the wire. Anglers can tip the hook with different trailers and even insert hook points into the plastic for weedless running.

Heads also come in varied head shapes. Round heads sink faster and bounce off objects better than elongated “minnow head” baits, which may lodge in crevices between shells or rocks. Some minnow head jigs almost look like natural baitfish and slip more easily through thick vegetation. Some jig heads look like shrimp and work best with shrimp trailers.

While spinnerbaits catch fish at any depth, they work particularly well around shallow cover. Almost like bass fishing, slowly move along weedy shorelines or drift across grassy flats casting and looking for fish. Toss baits into pockets or other likely hiding spots. Also run spinnerbaits parallel to grasslines, drop-offs jetties or other cover. In clear water, use smaller, more lifelike baits with reduced profiles and natural colors.

“Water depth determines how I work a spinnerbait,” Abruscato said. “Redfish pretty much do the same thing all year long. I don’t really change my retrieval very much. If I’m blind casting along a marshy shoreline, I work it parallel to the bank. When I’m in 2 to 3 feet of water, I stay in touch with the bottom. I never stop moving the lure, but I don’t just steadily reel it. I raise the rod tip as I’m reeling in the lure so it pulls up off the bottom. Then, I let it flutter down a bit, just enough to contact the bottom with a rolling type motion.”

In grassy areas, buzz spinnerbaits across the surface or wake them just beneath it to create a bulge in the water. Run baits just over the tips of submerged grass. Pause occasionally to let the bait sink down into the grass. Redfish often strike as a bait falls.

“Fairly regularly, I’ll buzz spinnerbaits across the surface,” Abruscato said. “I reel it just fast enough so the blade whips the water surface. It’s not quite like a true buzzbait, but the spinnerbait makes a wake or ripple on the surface. I fish spinnerbaits like that in the morning over or around grass mats. That produces some awesome reaction strikes.”

In matted weeds, anglers could throw actual buzzbaits, really just specialized spinnerbaits. Although buzzbaits sink, they act more like topwater lures. Large propeller-shaped blades on wide wire arms lift lures to the surface. Reel steadily to keep the bait sputtering on the surface. The faster one reels, the more the blade churns the surface and the more noise it makes. This annoying action frequently incites murderous reaction blow-ups from irritated redfish.

Sometimes, redfish hunker down in thick cover and don’t want to be disturbed. Not actively feeding, redfish in this mood won’t chase any bait. Therefore, infuriate it into striking out of unbridled annoyance! Repeatedly run a buzzbait past the fish as close as possible. Eventually, it loses its temper or leaves. If it loses its temper, brace for serious action! 

Spinnerbaits, such as this harness spinnerbait, provide flash and vibration, making tempting targets for redfish. Also called a beetle or jig-head spinnerbaits, these baits resemble safety-pin spinners but usually consist of a wire harness temporarily attached to a jig head. Since the components separate, anglers can easily switch blades, arm sizes, jig heads or trailers to adapt to changing conditions.

Spinnerbaits work particularly well for sight casting in shallow water. Since they can cover so much territory in all ranges of the water column, they make excellent search baits. Anglers quietly move through good redfish hunting grounds looking for activity through their polarized sunglasses. In clear water, anglers commonly spot individual fish. In murky water, look for disruptions, like wakes caused by fish, jumping baitfish, shrimp popping the surface, splashing or other indicators. In extremely shallow water, anglers often see redfish rooting in the mud for crabs, shrimp or mussels with their backs or tails protruding from the surface.

“A spinnerbait is a phenomenal bait for sight casting at redfish,” Abruscato said. “When I’m sight casting at a redfish, I watch the fish to see if it’s stationary or moving. If it’s moving, I want to see where it’s going and throw a bait ahead of it. After casting a spinnerbait, an angler can steer it to make it go in any direction. After the bait hits the water, start reeling immediately to tighten the line and retrieve it in front of the fish. Use the rod tip to make it go in any direction. Anglers can move a spinnerbait to keep up with fish better than just about any other bait type.”

After locating a fish, don’t drop a bait on its head. A sudden close slash could spook even the meanest marsh marauder, particularly in clear, shallow water. For a cruising fish, toss the bait well ahead of it but close enough for the fish to find it. If possible, throw the bait beyond the fish and bring it toward the predator. Since spinnerbaits give off good flash and vibrations, a redfish can detect it from a good distance. 

In clear water, run baits faster to avoid giving fish too good a look at the artificial lure. In dingy water, use large gold blades that produce significant flash and thumping vibrations. Retrieve baits more slowly in dark water so fish can find them more easily. Also in muddy water, some anglers sweeten spinnerbaits with a piece of shrimp when not using scent-enhanced trailers.

Seeing a large redfish swimming toward a bait, many anglers instinctively slow the retrieve so the fish can catch up to it. Slowing a bait down could actually cause a redfish to lose interest. That’s not what a baitfish or other prey species does while fleeing for its life from a hungry redfish hot on its tail. It kicks in the turbo drive or starts swimming erratically to make itself a more difficult target. Speed up the retrieve. If a highly aggressive redfish wants something bad enough, it will grab it. Seeing prey fleeing could incite such intense anger in a predator that it attacks even more ferociously.

Professional redfish angler Bobby Abruscato said he’s caught more tournament redfish on spinnerbaits than any other method. With the blades spinning, he said redfish likely like it’s a crab.

Since the blades on a spinnerbait inherently causes it to rise in the water when retrieved, most people consider them shallow-water baits, but they can also work effectively in relatively deep water. In deeper water or when fish don’t act aggressively, barely turn the blades to slow-roll the lures just above the bottom. Run baits parallel to drop-offs, jetties, reef edges or other deeper structure. Occasionally let the blades plink against the shells, rocks or other objects. That sound reverberates through the water column. Also, intermittently hit the bottom to make a mud trail. Redfish sometimes follow mud trails since crabs disturb the mud when scurrying along the bottom.

Anglers fishing in deeper water could also use “helicopter” or “yo-yo” retrievals. Periodically pause so the bait sinks a little. As the bait sinks, blades continue rotating and fluttering almost like helicopter rotors. After the bait hits bottom, lift it up a few feet and let it drop again. Even lethargic fish might attack what seems like a dying crab or baitfish.

“When fishing deep banks, one of the best presentations is to throw a spinnerbait right against the bank and let it sink straight down,” said Anthony Randazzo, a redfish pro. “After it hits bottom, yo-yo it up and down out toward deeper water. At times, I’ve actually used jig head spinners against rock structures in 15 feet of water. We attach a bigger jig head to make it sink faster.”

At any depth, always try to add a little zing to a retrieve. Most people simply reel spinnerbaits steadily. That works, but few things in nature run in a straight line. When fishing around jetties, bridge pilings, reefs, docks or other hard cover, occasionally bump the bait into the object and let it fall a bit before resuming the retrieve. When passing a likely spot, shake the rod tip or do something else to make the bait flair in an unusual way to attract attention. An occasional wrist flick or irregular turn of a reel handle could create a subtle erratic cadence that makes a bait stand out.

Since anglers usually fish spinnerbaits around entangling cover, they need equipment up to the task. Many anglers use braided line and medium to medium-heavy rods with enough backbone to fight powerful bull reds, but with fast tips that flex a little since braided line doesn’t stretch. Attach a 24- to 30-inch length of 20- to 30-lb. fluorocarbon leader to the main line. Use heavier leaders when fishing near extremely sharp or abrasive cover, such as oyster reefs or barnacle-encrusted pilings. 

With these techniques, anglers can fish from top to bottom all year long. Whether fishing the hottest or coldest day, shallow or deep, anglers throwing spinnerbaits could experience incredibly thrilling action.

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