Although you have to be versatile to stay in the top ranks of tournament bass fishermen, Tennessee's Charlie Ingram could rightfully be considered a spinnerbait specialist. That’s because he’s been sold on the spinnerbait since he was a young man.
"A lot of people live by the spinnerbait alone," Ingram says. "The fact is that spinnerbaits will work 90 percent of the time in almost every imaginable condition or situation. If a person wants to learn how to fish for bass, it's the one lure he should master, because it can be fished so many different ways at so many different depths and so many times of the year. It's the most versatile bass bait of all."
One facet of the spinnerbait's allure that greatly appeals to Ingram, and should be of great interest to many weekend anglers, is that bass usually don't become immune to this type of lure in heavily pressured waters. Bass don't become conditioned to a spinnerbait, Ingram says, because they don't have an opportunity to closely examine it before striking it. And a large percentage of the strikes come from a reactionary instinct rather than the urge to feed.
The Right Gear For The Job
Because casting accuracy is so important for successful spinnerbaiting, at least one expert recommends using the same rod for all situations.
Successful spinnerbait fishing begins with well-balanced, specific-purpose tackle designed to accomplish its unique needs. Ingram's spinnerbait rod choice may be a little surprising. Most bass fishermen use one of two rod types: a 5 1/2-foot rod for making short pitch-casts to targets and a 7-foot version for making long casts across vegetation fields or stump flats. Ingram uses the same rod for both common situations: a 6-foot general-purpose casting model.
"One of the keys to becoming a good spinnerbait fisherman is casting accuracy," Ingram says. "The more you cast with the same rod, the more accurate you will become with it. That's why I use the same type of rod for all of my spinnerbait fishing."
The reel choice isn't as crucial as the rod for spinnerbaiting. But Ingram recommends using a reel with at least a 5-to-1 gear ratio, so that you have enough speed to get the bait up quickly and enough power to move fish from cover.
Ingram uses only the safety-pin style of spinnerbait made by Terminator, preferring those with the R-wire design (without a loop in the middle of the wire). That design creates fewer problems with the line tangling on the wire during the flight of the cast.
When selecting a spinnerbait, perhaps the most important consideration is the vibration factor—the amount of fish-attracting vibration it emits while being pulled through the water. To get more vibration out of a spinnerbait, Ingram flattens the factory blade out a little, reducing its cupping arc.
But more vibration isn't always better. "Early in the year, you don't want as much vibration as you do late in the year," Ingram says. "When the shad are smaller, you should use a blade with a little vibration, which is when I prefer a willow-leaf blade. Later in the year, the shad are bigger, so you want more vibration. So I use a big Colorado or Indiana blade. I know from fishing for smallmouths at night how crucial the right vibration is."
To reduce the confusion created by an endless variety of skirt and blade colors, Ingram uses simple criteria: water clarity. In gin-clear water, he uses a copper blade and white skirt. In clear water, a nickel blade and chartreuse skirt works best. For off-colored water, Ingram prefers a gold blade and chartreuse skirt. In muddy water, the best color combinations are a gold blade and a chartreuse-and-orange skirt.
Consider The Conditions
The ideal conditions for spinnerbait fishing are overcast skies with wind. "Or any day with wind," he adds. "To me, a calm day is a worm or jig day. But a windy day moves the fish a little shallower, makes them more aggressive and they're a little easier to catch. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too much wind for spinnerbait fishing."
There is a limit to the depth he will fish a spinnerbait, though. For Ingram, the bottom line is 15 feet.
Applying Charlie Ingram's knowledge of how, when and where to use spinnerbaits can lead to year-round success.
Two aspects of his spinnerbait skills separate Ingram from many other fishermen, he believes. First of all, he is not afraid to fish the bait in some bad places, jungle-like cover that the average angler might avoid. Secondly, Ingram has the ability to consistently make picture-perfect casts that enter the water without much sound or disturbance. To accomplish that, Ingram uses short pitches, sending the spinnerbait along the water at a low trajectory so that it hits the water with less force and less commotion.
Since Ingram has developed his spinnerbait system through years of trial and error on natural lakes and reservoirs throughout the country, the average angler can take advantage of his knowledge by following his seasonal approach to spinnerbait fishing:
Spring—Throughout the many faces of spring, Ingram uses the same spinnerbait—a 3/8-ounce white-skirted bait with a small gold Colorado on front and a No. 4 1/2 nickel willow-leaf blade on the rear. But he changes the speed of the retrieve as the water warms up. In early spring, Ingram uses the slow-rolling technique, but his retrieve gradually speeds up as the water gets warmer throughout the season.
Summer—Ingram’s summer spinnerbait selection is a 3/8-ounce bait with a No. 2 Colorado nickel blade on the front and a No. 4 gold willow-leaf on the rear. The skirt color is white-and-chartreuse. "I look for fish in the summer in vegetation or up the river where there's flowing water," Ingram explains. "I especially like grass. The fish are going to be relating to the edge of the vegetation, so it is important to parallel that edge."
Fall—"I go to a bigger blade in the fall because the baitfish are bigger, and I look for some off-colored water," Ingram says. "I primarily concentrate on wood like stumps, laydown logs and treetops." Ingram uses a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with a No. 3 nickel Colorado on the front and No. 6 gold Indiana on the rear. The skirt color depends on the water clarity. "I like the heavy thump that the big Indiana blade gives off," he adds. "That extra vibration better imitates the vibration of the bigger shad during that time of year."
Early Winter—The colder temperatures of early winter force Ingram to make a drastic change in his spinnerbait selection. He uses a 1/2- to 1-ounce spinnerbait body (depending on the depth being fished) and a single blade. His usual choice is a No. 8 Indiana blade (usually gold in color), which has a slow fall and can be fished methodically.
Ingram puts his spinnerbait rods away when the water temperature drops below 50 degrees. There are better tools for catching bass in cold water—but it is one of the rare situations when the spinnerbait takes a backseat to any lure.