Long before the arrival of precision tuned suspending lures, anglers were catching awakening springtime bass on modified spoonbill-style hardbaits. On steep-sided highland-type impoundments in particular, the shrewd use of these lures continues to con both largemouths and smallies.
From soon after ice out until the water reaches the low 50 degree mark successful tournament angler Deron Eck uses the “spoonbill pattern” to lure both largemouth and smallmouth bass from the craggy nooks of chilly reservoirs.
“Baits like the Rebel Spoonbill and Smithwick Spoonbill Super Rogue, ones that you can get down a bit in the water column, work best until the water reaches the 50 degree mark,” noted Eck. “Once the water gets into the 50s it’s time to switch to a shallower running bait like a Rebel Fastrac.”
Like Eck, tournament veteran Chuck Aurandt relies on diving baits with spoonbill-shaped lips to put early season bass in the tournament sack, in many cases a Rapala Shad Rap. Aurandt says that on reservoirs that feature smaller baitfish like alewife, dropping down to a smaller bait like a number 7 Shad Rap (2.75 inches) often pays dividends.
The power of the spoonbill pattern is the ability to put an easy-to-eat bait in areas bass migrate to when deeper reservoirs first come to life. That zone, says Eck, is often rocky banks that drop into deep water.
“In highland reservoirs bluff banks are one of the first places bass move to when they come out of wintering areas,” explained Eck. “They rise up out of the creek channel and get in close to these steep banks. The key areas are places where the channel swings in tight to shore. Things to look for along these banks are little natural rock outcroppings just under the surface of the water. Another is a ‘slide,’ where shale has slid down the bank over the years to create a sub-surface rocky bump.”
Eck keeps his boat close to the bank when working a bluff wall. At times he can reach out and touch the cliff from the boat’s bow.
“It doesn’t give your partner a lot to throw to, put that’s where you have to be,” said Eck. “Your casts should be parallel to the bank.”
Lures like the Rebel Spoonbill (wider action) and Smithwick Spoonbill Super Rogue (tighter action)are floater/divers that must be altered a bit to suspend. Eck’s experimented with several weighting options and has settled on wrapping the front hook with lead wire.
“The bait should hang at a 45 degree angle, nose down,” noted Eck. He fishes these baits on relatively limber rods, ones that produce a softer action on the retrieve as compared to the sharper twitch often employed with jerkbait-style lures.
“I use a jigging type of retrieve,” said Eck. “After the lure splashes down I make four or five cranks to get it deep. They I begin a 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock retrieve, pulling the bait forward on the upswing. I wind up the slack and make a long pause, sometimes nearly a minute. Most all of the hits will happen during the pause. The line will just start moving off to the side as the bass swims off with the lure.”
Eck catches both smallmouth and largemouth bass on this bluff-bank pattern, often mixed right in together in reservoirs that feature both species. Smelt are often a primary food fish along these banks, one that the slender Rebel and Smithwick lures imitate.
While Aurandt also catches bass off of sharp rocky banks, he finds the spoonbill tactic productive at times back in larger bays and coves, particularly when the local weather patterns heats up such protected areas.
“I like fish the points out off of larger bays, as well as secondary points found back in the bays themselves,” he said. “I also like to target banks that drop off at about a 45 degree angle.”
Like Eck, Aurandt prefers the subtle look of the spoonbill-style bait when the water is in the 38 to 52 degree range. Though suspending baits like Lucky Craft’s Staysee make up part of his early season arsenal, often he finds time-tested baits like the Rapala Shad Rap to be most effective.
“Following a period of warmer weather, as the bays and coves are heating up, I often find bass that have turned on in these protected areas,” said Aurandt. “Often the baitfish they are feeding on are relatively small.”
Aurandt uses an internal tube jig weight to add ballast to the front hook of a smaller Shad Rap. He clips the eye of the weight to the front split ring.
“This way you can trim the weight to get just the right look,” he added.
The right look for Aurandt is nose-down with an ever-so-slow rise. Rather than using a jigging retrieve, he holds the rod to the side, employing a sweeping motion. As spring progresses, and the water temperature gets closer to 50 degrees, he often fares better by using a jerk-jerk-jerk-pause cadence.