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Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Spybait technique is an overlooked, but productive, option for March fishing


By Lee McClellan
Special to KyForward

New bass fishing techniques or presentations are cast into the marketplace seemingly every year and become the newest rage, pushing established techniques into the prop wash of the next new thing.

The spybaiting presentation is one of those new techniques that made a splash a few years ago and faded a bit with time, but this hasn’t impacted its unique ability to catch bass suspended in the water column when the water is still cold.

“When bass are suspended, a spybait gives a great chance to catch them,” said Chad Miles, host of the Kentucky Afield television show and an early adopter of the spybait technique. “At this time of year, after the sunlight gets on the water, fish will move out and suspend and get really hard to catch. They may be 10-15 feet deep but suspended over 30 feet of water. That is a great time to throw the spybait.”

A smallmouth bass fell for this spybait on Dale Hollow Lake during the cold months a few years ago. Spybaiting is a subtle and deadly technique for late winter and early spring black bass, especially smallmouths. (Photo from Kentucky Afield)

The spybait is an import from Japan and designed with exquisite detail and subtle movement to fool the highly pressured largemouth bass in that country. The term spybait means “silent capture” in Japan.

The lure resembles a diminutive version of the old Devil’s Horse topwater lure with a propeller on each end. Most spybaits are just over three inches long and feature finely tuned propellers and incredibly detailed life-like paint schemes. They weigh from 3/16- to 9/16 ounce and are designed to slowly sink and wobble down to a desired depth.

The subtle nature of the spybait makes it a deadly lure for late winter through spring. In reservoirs, shad and alewives in those lakes that have them are going through a difficult period of the year as the year grinds into March. The coldest water temperatures of the year send these baitfish species into thermal stress.

Some twitch and fight for life in water this cold, sending a signal to predator fish, such as smallmouth bass, to make these struggling, easier to capture baitfish their next meal. The spybait makes a perfect lure for late winter smallmouth bass in Kentucky’s world-class smallmouth reservoirs, such as Lake Cumberland, Laurel River Lake and Dale Hollow Lake.

The lure also works in the smaller highland lakes east of I-75 that hold good populations of smallmouth or spotted bass. Check the annual Fishing Forecast to find some of these waters to fish.
Miles uses the electronics on his boat to find schools of baitfish when fishing in winter. He then usually fishes near these schools, regardless of lure used, in the cold months.

Note the depth of the baitfish schools and cast the spybait near them. Allow the lure to sink to that depth by counting it down and then slowly retrieve it. Watch your line intently while it sinks as bass often strike a spybait on the fall. The internal weighting of a spybait gives it a nearly imperceptible shimmy on the retrieve, thus imitating a shad.

“The spybait will stay at that depth on the retrieve,” Miles said. “Hold on tight to your rod. When a fish hits, they smack it.”

Stop reeling occasionally and let the spybait slowly sink and wobble. This mimics a thermally stressed threadfin shad fighting to survive winter and often triggers strikes from smallmouth or spotted bass.

Anglers without sophisticated sonar units can prospect for smallmouth or spotted bass in these lakes by casting the spybait in the middle main lake cuts or small coves and let it sink for a count of 10. Retrieve the lure slowly and pause to let the bait sink a bit. If there is no action from bass, let the lure sink to a count of 15, then retrieve again and count it down to 20 on the next cast. Move to another cut or small cove after the third cast.


Lee_McClellanAuthor Lee McClellan is associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Lee and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter at @kyafield

Winter black bass often suspend in the middle of these cuts and coves, waiting for schools of baitfish to pass by. The cuts and small coves nearest the submerged river channel make the best places to try. The same technique works when casting to main lake points or fishing above channel drops.

The mid-depth reservoirs, such as Green River Lake, Nolin River Lake, Barren River Lake and Rough River Lake, are good places to throw a spybait in early spring. Largemouth bass are still lethargic from winter’s cold in early-to mid-March and will not chase lures.

They stage in deeper water before moving into the shallows as the water warms. A spybait moving slowly nearby will draw strikes from lazy largemouth bass while they stage at this time of year. Anglers fishing Green River or Barren River lakes may pick up a chunky smallmouth bass as well.

Medium-light power spinning rods from 6 feet, 8 inches long to 7 feet long designed for the drop shot technique make excellent rods for spybaiting. Japanese anglers often use 4-pound fluorocarbon line for throwing spybaits, but anglers here can get away with 6- to 8-pound test fluorocarbon line.

The large outdoor retailers and bass fishing tackle websites carry spybaits. Some models cost less than $10, but most go for between $12 and $15. Make sure to fish these lures in the middle of the water column. If they contact any woody cover or snag on a craggy bottom, even a lure retriever may not save you from losing one.

Colors that imitate shad makes a good choice for spybaits for Kentucky fishing. Hues of silver, blue, with wisps of chartreuse work well. Many spybaits have shad in the name of some of their lure color choices, making find the right one easy.

“It is effective,” Miles said. “If you can catch them on a suspending jerkbait, you can catch them on a spybait and it doesn’t wear you out.”

Tie on a spybait from now until mid-spring and use an underutilized, but deadly, technique for bass during a tough, but rewarding, time of year.

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The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, click here.


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