Scorched fields lined the highway to the lake, as sounds of Sturgill Simpson bounced around my Tundraâ€™s cab, a unique sign of early spring on the Southern Plains, but also the perfect time of year to tie on a spinnerbait with a fluorescent red front â€˜kickerâ€™ blade for bass fishing.
â€œThe red/orange front blade was pretty much a secret around Oklahoma and Arkansas in the early 1990s when I started throwing it at Grand Lake,â€ said top regional spinnerbait assailant Ron Shaw of Moore, Oklahoma.
Shaw shared the secret with his mentor, Ken Cook, and soon the 1991 Bassmaster Classic Champion made it a major part of the offerings from his sponsor Hart Tackle Company.
â€œKen always said it was an all or nothing lure; either theyâ€™d hardly hit the red/orange kicker blade, or youâ€™d wear â€˜em out on it. I agree with him, but when the water temps are in the low 50s, I lean on it hard. Itâ€™s always a go-to bait for me in stained to dirty water in early spring,â€ said Shaw, a retired firefighter, who has qualified for numerous BFL Regional tournaments.
Why red blades work
Honestly, thereâ€™s no proven theory on why the uniquely colored front blade seems to get more bites from bass in the commonly stained waters of early spring.
Eight-time winner on the Bassmaster trails, Mike McClelland offered an expert opinion on the matter.
â€œI feel like in off colored water, the fluorescent red blade gives the fish a target to eat once they feel the vibration of the bait,â€ McClelland said.
Fisheries biologist, avid angler and B.A.S.S. Director of Conservation, Gene Gilliland supports McClellandâ€™s theory.
â€œThereâ€™s been a lot of talk over the years about bass eating red crawfish in the springtime, hence the reason they eat red-colored lures, but I donâ€™t buy that theory,â€ says Gilliland. â€œThe water is way too cold for an abundance of crawfish to be active. I think red works well in dingy water, simply because itâ€™s more visible than standard blade colors like nickel or gold.â€
Red is a national color in bass fishing?You might think this spinnerbait trick is only fashionable for anglers in a three or four-state region surrounding The Ozarks, but some professional anglers know better.
â€œItâ€™s definitely most popular in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, but Iâ€™ll promise you it works anytime you have stained to dirty water in the early part of spring,â€ McClelland said.
A hard-to-find, not-so-secret lure
No longer a secret, and popular among many pros, you would think this blade offering would be easier to buy at retail, but itâ€™s not.
Hart Tackle Company was originally Oklahoma-based, and by all accounts deserves credit for being the first to build a spinnerbait with the fluorescent red blade. Hart now calls Arkansas home, and their website still shows the red kicker blade to be available.
War Eagle, a popular brand among top pros, builds perhaps the most readily available bait with a fluorescent red blade, thanks largely to McClelland realizing its fish catching merits.
And nearly 25 years after Hart Tackle Company made limited numbers of the red kicker models, several 2016 Bassmaster Classic competitors used one on Grand Lake, including eventual winner Edwin Evers who leaned heavily on War Eagleâ€™s version.
Best blade combos with red
While many anglers agree on the goodness of the uniquely colored front blade, you might ask what rear blade best compliments it.
Truly, this is comes down to personal preference and confidence, but a gold Indiana is tough to beat.
However, as the prairie fire smoke lingered and the redbuds bloomed, my fishing buddy Beau caught just as many from the back deck of my boat with a gold willow behind his red kicker, as I did with the Indiana.
If the water is slightly cleaner but still cold, Iâ€™ll put a nickel Oklahoma blade once made by Terminator, behind my red kicker.
Go slow with reel speed
I learned this one the hard way. With the popularity of high-speed reels now being offered in the 7:1 to 9:1 range, itâ€™s easy to reach for one of those burners to speed your favorite spinnerbait along.
Donâ€™t do that. Take your time. Water temps are still in the 50s â€“ and I once got my butt kicked by a comrade on the back deck of my boat because he matched his spinnerbait to a much slower geared reel than me.
I love a Quantum Smoke with a 6.1:1 gear ratio for early spring spinnerbait fishing. It gives me plenty of winching power to get fish from the woody or weedy habitat where Iâ€™m typically fishing a spinnerbait â€“ and mostly, it forces me to move the lure a little slower in the cold dingy waters of early spring.
As sure as redbud trees bloom, and Sturgill Simpson pens lyrics far deeper than the waters where a spinnerbait shines best — when early springâ€™s waters are dingy and cool, there are very few lures that will outshine a spinnerbait featuring this uniquely colored kicker blade.