Waking Spinnerbaits through Fall – with Mark Menendez

Bucks Falcon Mercury

by Dan O’Sullivan

Mark Menendez Casting his Spinnerbait to a Point

Mark Menendez Casting his Spinnerbait to a Point – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Like many anglers, Elite Series pro Mark Menendez lives by the motto, “any day on the water is a good day,” or “a bad day fishing beats a good day at work.”  In other words, Menendez goes fishing any chance he gets, and that can mean that sometimes he does not get to go under optimal conditions.

One of those times that can be a difficult time period is the fall to winter transition.  At this point, lakes have turned over, and baitfish and bass have scattered throughout the water column, and presenting lures to them can be done on a horizontal or vertical plane.

At this point of the year, bass become more of a forage based predator than an ambush predator, and anglers can basically have their pick of how they want to proceed.  For Menendez, his tournament choice may vary from his “just going fishing” choices.

But, if he gets his druthers, he would rather not have it that way.  “One of the most exciting bites that an angler can get on this time of the year is with a spinnerbait waked near the surface,” he said.  “It’s a great way to put bigger than average bass in the livewell; but, if it works out, it can put huge numbers in the boat as well.”

His approach relies on appealing to bass that are chasing shad early in the fall, then with a lure that represents a larger profile as the water cools further.  His favorite lure for this time of the year is a pair of spinnerbaits.  Each of them relies around a water temperature range.

Cool to Colder
Menendez separates the early fall into two distinct times, when the water temperature hits 60-degrees and falls to about 55; and then when it falls again, all the way down to 50 degrees.  He said that this time of the year leaves bass susceptible to fast moving lures overhead.  His first choice is a high speed spinnerbait in the early fall, then a larger bladed bait, retrieved slightly slower in colder water.

“When the fall just starts to turn, it is a high speed game,” said Menendez.  “I use a 1/2-ounce Strike King Burner spinnerbait with Razr Blades.  The thinner, smaller blades allow me to burn the spinnerbait over the top of fish and make them react.”

Mark Menendez Showing off his Modified Blades

Mark Menendez Showing off his Modified Blades – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

As the water temperature dips 55 degrees and below, he still likes to use the overhead approach.  However, because bass are becoming more lethargic with the cooler water, Menendez slows down and appeals to them with a larger profiled bait.  He said he turns to a 3/4-ounce Hack Attack spinnerbait, but he modifies it by changing the larger blade to a size 7 aftermarket willowleaf blade.  This allows him to slow down the retrieve, but still keep the bait up in the water column.

His choices also help him appeal to bass that are chasing specific baitfish.  “The smaller, fast blades on the Burner are used when I’m trying to mimic threadfin shad that are active early in the fall,” he said. “As the water gets cooler, I am looking for the larger bass that stay up in the water column feeding on the larger gizzard shad that remain shallow.”

Areas to Target
Menendez said that he stays on the main lake and targets the primary points that lead into bays off of the main body.  “I look for rocky points that have deep water nearby,” he said. “Bass will get on those points and face into the wind and current waiting for schools of shad to come by so they can ambush them.”

His belief is that the bass sit behind obstructions from wind and current awaiting targets, and that he presents the lures in a fashion that gives them little time to make a decision.

Approach and Retrieve
Menendez said that he likes to allow his boat to drift with the wind.  Largely because he feels that he can hide boat noise from bass that way, but also because he can present the lure to the bass in the most effective way.  “I like to bring the lures over the top of them and from behind them over the shoulder to make them react,” he said.  “I want to keep the lure higher in the water column because they tend to want to move upwards to catch prey this time of the year.”

Menendez said that he likes strong winds, and doesn’t mind having some larger rollers crashing against the bank.  “Because we are working quickly with the wind, having some fairly large waves crashing into the points,” he said.  “Having three to four foot rollers can actually help the bite because it can stir everything up and make bass a little more aggressive.”

In the early fall, Menendez said that he works the bait really quickly, then slows it down in late fall.  “I use every bit of speed to attract strikes early in the fall,” he said.  “But, slowing down as the fall progresses I slow down.” He does that by adjusting his gear.

Blades and Blade Gear

Strike King Blades and Blade Gear – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Blade Gear
Menendez uses rods, reels and line that allow him to fully execute on the aggressive strikes.  “They will absolutely crush these baits as they scoot by overhead,” he said.  “I need my equipment to be able to handle those kinds of strikes.”  The key is to build some shock absorption into the gear.

He uses a 7’6″ medium-heavy Team Lew’s composite crankbait rod with the new palming handle.  He matches that with a 7.1:1 retrieve speed Lew’s BB-1 Pro reel spooled with 20-pound-test Seaguar Senshi monofilament line.  “There is stretch in the line and enough give in the rod that it helps to slow down my response time,” he said.  “I use the BB1-Pro because it allows me to put a lot of line on the spool to make long casts and not reduce the speed of the reel.” When he wants to slow down for his late fall retrieve, he uses the same reel, but uses the slower 6.4:1 retrieve speed.

Aside from using a larger blade on the late fall spinnerbait, Menendez makes liberal use of trailer hooks.  He said he will sometimes use two trailer hooks on his spinnerbait to be able to get a hook in fish that are only swiping at the lure.  He said in open water, he sometimes even ties a treble hook onto two or three inches of braided line and hangs it off of the main hook for the same reason.

He also said that he likes to play with skirt and blade colors.  “I will try painted blades with clear sparkle skirts, and solid skirts with metal blades,” he said.  “Sometimes those little tweaks can make a big difference in a day.”