By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Editor’s note: As part of our continuing Pro’s Corner series, this is part one of a three-part feature on how pro anglers utilize the tried and true spinnerbait to put fish in the boat. Today, Elite Series angler Mike Iaconelli details why the spinnerbait is always an integral part of his smallmouth game plans.
In many ways, Mike Iaconelli is an old-school angler. He’s known to keep a tackle box separate from his usual rotation of baits that includes trusted standby lures from his younger years.
There’s maybe no lure that’s more old school than a spinnerbait, one of Iaconelli’s top choices when targeting trophy smallmouth.
“Half of the big smallmouth I’ve caught in my life 4 ¾ pounds and bigger, I’ve caught on a spinnerbait,” Iaconelli said.
When he’s up North, say on the St. Lawrence River or elsewhere on the Great Lakes, where round gobies, crawfish and bluegill make up the forage base along with alewives, herring, smelt and yellow perch, choosing a lure for those scenarios is an easy process for Ike.
“There’s not a better bait to imitate a school of those than a spinnerbait,” he said.
What follows are some of Iaconelli’s proven spinnerbait tricks when chasing smallmouth:
Just by manipulating the retrieve of his spinnerbait, Iaconelli is confident he can tempt most smallmouths into striking.
“The ability to trigger a bite from a bigger smallmouth – it’s an amazing attribute of a spinnerbait,” he said, adding that smallmouth are visual feeders, even more so than spotted or largemouth bass.
Iaconelli employs three distinct retrieves when trying to trigger a bite.
> Burning a spinnerbait can be extremely productive in gin-clear water. The benefit of a swift retrieve is that not only does it spark intrigue, the flash of the blades, shimmy of the skirt, and true-tracking of the lure makes it look like a patch of baitfish. The strike can be explosive and violent.
> Bulging or waking the spinnerbait involves retrieving the bait so that the blades wake the surface and occasionally pop out of the water on the retrieve, triggering a strike.
“If you’ve ever seen a school of baitfish near the top of the water, especially alewife and smelt, the way that they school up near the top, they’ll actually throw a v-wake,” Iaconelli said.
> The third retrieve option is not one that Iaconelli has openly discussed. He’ll reel the spinnerbait back to the boat at a decent clip while working it like jerkbait, often imparting slashes into his cadence.
“In crystal clear water when they get in packs and they see that bait flying by, they can’t get a good look at it,” he said. “It looks like a school of baitfish going by, but it keeps changing direction every two or three cranks. They cannot take it.”
Iaconelli recalls days on Lake Champlain calling smallmouth up from the bottom in 18 feet of water to smash a spinnerbait. In dirtier water where he only has 5 feet of visibility, he’ll slow his retrieve.
After years of research and experience on the water, Iaconelli is confident he’s onto something with this three-pronged approach.
“When you use one of those three retrieves, more often than not you are going to get the bigger fish out of that pack or those big loners,” he said.
Most often, a double-willow Molix FS spinnerbait will get the nod, but he’ll sub in a Colorado-willow blade combo at times. Every spinnerbait has a VMC 1/0 to 3/0 free-swinging trailer hook.
Iaconelli matches the size of his blades to that of the forage that smallmouth are feeding on. His spinnerbaits might range in weight from half- to 1 ounce with 5/8 oz. serving as the ideal starting point. He’ll add smaller #3 or #4 blades if the forage is smaller or if he wants to achieve more lift, control or speed.
The Molix Water Slash spinnerbait works best under finesse situations and when the bait tends to be smaller. The Molix Venator excels when fish are biting and the wind is up. Both represent different profiles, each necessary for addressing the frequently changing mood of smallmouth bass.
Downsizing blades is an important component to the whole program. Sometimes experimenting with a smaller front blade and a larger rear blade or running two of the same size can work. If Iaconelli sees smallmouth feeding on larger forage, he’ll leave the larger blades on.
Iaconelli matches the hatch with skirt and blade colors, trying to best mimic what the smallmouth are eating. That said, fall is a great time to throw what he calls “shock colors.”
Colors like Purple Sinsay, which sports two white willow leaf blades and a natural skirt, or Ike’s Neon Charmer with chartreuse blades and a sexy shad-ish skirt and paint combo, have all the ingredients to trigger a smallmouth temper tantrum. Ike’s Mud Vein, a bait sporting an orange and copper blade with brown and orange skirt can be the ticket when fishing tannic-colored water.
Iaconelli prefers using 14- to 20-pound Berkley Sensation monofilament when he wants to keep the bait higher in the water column and uses Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon in 15- to 20-pound test at all other times.
He’ll spool both onto an Abu Garcia Revo MG Extreme casting reel with an 8.0:1 gear ratio. For shorter casts and when targeting objects, a 7-foot medium-action rod from his Abu Garcia Ike Series work best while the 7-foot, 4-inch medium-heavy action model excels when longer casts are needed.