Aaron Martens has been a Bassmaster Classic runner-up three times since 2002, a testimony to his enormous fishing talent. If he ever wins the Big One, don’t expect him to fist pump or strain his vocal cords with falsetto victory screams.
Martens will humbly accept the ponderous trophy amid a cheering crowd and flashing cameras, and say something like, “Gee, this is great.”
Maybe Californians actually are more laid back than the rest of us.
Although Martens now lives in Leeds, Alabama, he grew up fishing in the Golden State. His skills encompass the full range of bass tactics, but he lists finesse fishing as his main strength. That stems from his California experience of fishing clear, crowded, highly pressured lakes for lure-shy bass. The light stuff has helped him amass well over $1 million in winnings and attract a strong cast of sponsors.
Martens’ extensive finesse arsenal includes drop-shot rigs and shaky-head worms, both of which have caught on with bass fishermen everywhere. However, the finesse bait he used to clinch second place during the 2004 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Wylie, North Carolina, has been slow to gain a following. The lure was a homemade 1/4-ounce horsehead spinner Martens has been fishing for 20 years. It was dressed with a Super Fluke Jr.
Down For The Count
Martens caught all his fish during the Wylie Classic on a horsehead spinner. And the fish were spotted bass suspended eight to 30 feet deep next to bridge pilings anchored in water as deep as 60 feet.
“At Wylie, I was counting the bait down to the bass and then swimming it next to the pilings at that level,” Martens says. “I was culling my five-fish limits from dozens of bass every day.”
After the Wylie Classic, Martens teamed up with Blakemore Lures, the company that makes the Road Runner horsehead spinner loved by crappie fishermen. Together they designed the Rollin’ Runner, a bass-size horsehead lure that features a willow-leaf blade.
The size of the blade is crucial to achieve the right balance, claims Martens. If the blade is too big, it makes the tail tilt up. The ideal blade size lets the bait run level and shakes the tail of the plastic body like a swimming minnow.
Since the horsehead is intended to mimic baitfish, Martens opts for colors like albino shad and citrus shad. He dresses the hook with a Zoom Fluke or a Fin-S Fish from Lunker City. The result is an incredibly realistic baitfish imitation that fools tightlipped bass in clear water.
A 6-foot, 10-inch, Megabass Elese baitcasting rod gets the call when Martens fishes horseheads. This medium-light power stick is rated for 2- to 12-pound line.
He matches the rod with Sunline fluorocarbon. Fluoro, of course, sinks, has little stretch and almost disappears in the water. All of these attributes benefit horsehead spinner fishing. Martens steps up to 12-pound test when retrieving the lure around cover and goes as light as 8-pound for suspended bass in open water.
“It’s a trial-and-error deal to find the retrieve speed that runs the bait at the same depth as suspended bass,” he says. “But, once you figure it out, you’ll really load up on them.”
In addition to bridge pilings, Martens uses the countdown method to swim the Rollin’ Runner over submerged brush piles, under docks and anywhere else he encounters suspended bass.
As well as Martens does fishing horsehead spinners for suspended bass, he more often drags these baits over structure. He has done this on many bass waters, including Kentucky Lake where schooling bass relate to shell beds on river ledges.
“Normally, it’s a slow retrieve that gets them to bite, just barely crawling it over the bottom,” he says. “That gets those finicky fish that are hard to catch on anything else.”
The biggest mistake you can make with this presentation is dragging the bait too fast. Even in 20 feet of water, you can drag a 1/4-ounce horsehead too quickly, he claims.
If the bottom drag isn’t working, Martens rips the horsehead spinner as high as five feet off the bottom and lets it flutter back down. He calls this stroking, and claims it picks off bass suspended just above bottom.
He has duped bass on horsehead spinners in skinny water, but says they’re most effective when fished five feet or deeper. Martens has caught bass as deep as 50 feet with them in California. East of the Rockies, he has dredged up bass from depths of 35 to 40 feet at clear lakes like Table Rock and Lake Martin, which have strong populations of spotted bass.
“Spots and smallmouth bass seem to eat this bait better than largemouths, but I catch plenty of largemouths with it, too,” he says. “I do better with chartreuse shades when I’m after smallmouths.”
Martens’ generic name for any jig with a bottom spinner, including the horsehead, is “belly spinner.” But there are several baits in this category that have been designed for bass, including the Sworming Hornet. The head of this lure has a realistic minnow shape, and it comes in 12 colors that imitate a variety of baitfish, from Arkansas Shi-ner to Smokin Shad.
Rick Steckelberg, president of Sworming Hornet Lures, went through several prototypes before he got the balance right.
“I wanted the bait to run level so the blade would spin parallel to the plastic body,” Steckelberg says. “That way, any fish that bites at the blade gets the hook, too.”
Steckelberg recommends dressing the Sworming Hornet with Zoom’s Tiny Fluke, Super Fluke Jr., or Super Fluke. The key is to match the size and color of whatever baitfish the bass are feeding on. However, curlytail grubs and many other baits also coax bites.
The Sworming Hornet comes in four sizes; Steckelberg fishes the 3/16-ounce size from the surface down to five feet deep, the 1/4 ouncer five to 10 feet, the 3/8 ouncer 10 to 15 feet deep and the 1/2 ouncer for anything deeper than 15. He prefers 10- to 12-pound fluorocarbon in most situations, but will go to 15-pound when retrieving over brush.
He also designed the Slingblade Flutter, a belly spinner that has a screw-lock on the hook’s eye for weedless rigging. Its unpainted head and spinner lie beneath the plastic bait. This lure adds flash to a wide variety of plastic lures, such as swimbaits, toads, Senko-type baits, and big worms and tubes.
Top To Bottom
Georgia bass pro and guide Tom Mann Jr., designed the Ditch Blade and Su-Spin Blade for Buckeye Lures. Both come in 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-ounce sizes and have fish-shaped heads embellished with big, realistic eyes. Mann fishes the 3/8 ouncer 75 percent of the time and usually dresses it with a 31/2-inch, Gary Yamamoto Saltwater Swimbait.
The Su-Spin features two flashy, under-slung willow-leaf blades that make suspended bass charge up from deep water. Mann retrieves it with a slow, steady crank over schooling, postspawn bass.
“The bass might be suspended 25 feet deep, but I can draw them up to a Su-Spin by running it five feet under the surface,” he says. “It looks like three little baitfish coming through the water.”
The Ditch Blade has a smaller head than the Su-Spin. Molded to a drop wire under the head is what looks like a bullet weight that has been flattened on the bottom. A single willow-leaf spinner trails it.
“I designed the Ditch Blade for fishing in fall and winter,” Mann says. “The bass are stuck on the bottom then and they’re not active.”
He retrieves the Ditch Blade slowly, 15 to 40 feet down. He tags bottom with the bait almost as if it were a Texas-rigged worm, imparting a gentle lift and fall. However, he doesn’t set the hook with either of his pet baits the moment he feels a tap, as he would with a worm.
Mann points out that bass often nip at the tail of the swimbait one or more times before they engulf the whole lure. You must avoid sweeping the bait away from fish when you feel these taps and wait until you feel solid weight before leaning back on the rod.
Because a stiff stick tends to take belly spinners away from bass, Mann prefers a medium-action 6-foot, 10-inch, All Star rod, which he matches with 10-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.
Bass pro Jason Quinn, of York, South Carolina, has been fishing another spinner jig variation, the Gambler Meano, for two years, and it has come through for him on a variety of waters.
He fishes it when he encounters schooling, suspended bass, or as a cleanup bait on ledges and offshore structure.
The Meano has two identical minnow-shaped heads with oversize 3D eyes. One head is on the hook; the other is molded to a drop wire, and the spinner trails the bottom head. When it’s dressed with Gambler’s 4-inch Flapp’n Shad, it looks like a mini pack of baitfish.
“The Meano picks off a bass or two that won’t hit a crankbait or a Carolina rig,” Quinn says. “I pump the Meano off the bottom in depths to 25 feet and let it fall.”
Quinn also fishes the Meano behind other anglers in a tournament. That happened during an event on Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle. Many riprap wing dams jut out from Dardanelle’s banks to divert the river’s current and prevent siltation in the navigation channel.
Because the dams are such obvious bass structures, they are pounded incessantly during major tournaments. That was certainly the case when Quinn fished Dardanelle.
However, most fishermen worked over the dams with crankbaits and shaky-head worms. Quinn, however, was able to snatch bass from the wing dams after his competitors had fished them and moved on. The approach is a part of a larger wing dam strategy.
“If the current is ripping, I cast perpendicular to the dam; if it’s slack, I fish parallel along the upstream side,” he says. “The bass lie up there on the rocks and feed, especially in the spring when shad are spawning on the rocks.”
He fishes the upstream side to the top, 90 percent of the time. Under flood conditions he might also find bass on the downstream face.
Regardless of the location on the wing dam, or the water conditions, Quinn fishes the Meano along the dams almost exclusively with a slow, steady retrieve to avoid snagging.
Become A Spin Doctor The success of Quinn and other top anglers highlights the important role these under-utilized baits can play in any bass stick’s arsenal. Spinner jigs are subtle, simple and versatile enough to fill the void left by other presentations—and catch big bass in the process.