Spinnerbait Tricks for Muskies

By Joe Bucher
Strong wave action washed across the expansive weed point as I launched a perfect cast that sent my single spin well beyond the emergent weed clump into a small pocket of open water. Simultaneously, I engaged my reel to match the splash entry of the lure, which made the black/orange combo dart forward immediately with a bulge. Within two reel cranks, the spinnerbait was colliding with broad leaf cabbage, and I slowed up my retrieve a bit so the lure could work its way thru the cover without the blade breaking water.


The heavy throbbing vibration of the #8 Colorado blade now had an interrupted rhythm as the blade careened from one weed stalk to another. Visually, I could see the entire process as I watched the lure make its way thru the thick weed clump with my polarized sunglasses. As soon as I saw the bait clear the edge of the cabbage clump, I slowed way up on my retrieve while dropping downward on my rod tip at the same time. The perfectly balanced single spin immediately when into a helicopter descent with the blade spinning as it plummeted. As soon as the lure completely disappeared from view, a crisp perceptible rap transmitted along my line and rod followed by a swirl on the water’s surface. Instinctively, I reared back setting the hook hard on a good sized fish. 

The deeply bent rod and slight drag slip told me all I needed to know. The single hook had buried solidly. A few minutes later, I slipped the net under a feisty 45 incher that turned out to be the only musky I made contact with the rest of the day. It also provided me with yet another great television segment.

I can’t tell you how many times a scenario very similar to this true one just described has taken place over the past 15 years. Single hook musky-sized spinnerbaits have been one of all time producers of muskies in weed cover; and they have been particularly good whenever cold fronts pass thru. In fact, I have so much confidence in single hook spinnerbaits during cold fronts that I’ve come to rely on them as my main presentation. This is particularly true on any Canadian musky trip where larger muskies really work shallow weed cover throughout the summer and into much of the fall period.

While the bulk of the musky angling world thinks “treble hook” whenever choosing a lure, I honestly believe there are key times when the single hook spinnerbait totally outperforms the latter due to the conditions and the weedy, trashy terrain that many muskies inhabit during lesser situations. Appropriately, I thought I’d take a little time to discuss a few of my favorite spinnerbait tactics that have proven themselves time and time again. In the process, I might perhaps convert a few more readers to give this underrated lure a try.

One of the very best ways to fish spinnerbaits for musky over rock reefs and shallow weeds during warm windy weather is something I’ve come to call a “burn & bulge” retrieve. Essentially, it involves casting the lure out a long distance, engaging the reel quickly, holding rod tip at a higher angle, 10 to 11 o’clock, and simply cranking the reel fast and steady. Generate enough speed with your reel to draw the spinnerbait up near the surface. Of course, the faster you retrieve these baits combined with a high rod angle, the shallower they will run. Crank ‘em fast enough and they will even break water. Utilizing a heavier, thicker gauge line enhances this process even more. Heavier lines naturally make your lures run shallower.

This method is particularly deadly in the late summer/early fall period when weed growth tends to be at its peak, and muskies are known to venture shallower than normal. The “burn & bulge” also appears to work best when it is very warm, but windy. The combination of warm air with wind shoots water temps upward, but also highly oxygenates the shallows. It also roils the water. It also brings baitfish to the surface. All of these factors provide a perfect scenario for this presentation.

Both single spins and tandems can work well for this technique. It is not always a matter of one being better than the other due to time of year. More so, the fish just might prefer one over the other on any given day. The only way to know which is better on any given day is to try them both. Personally, I have found that single spins with large Colorado style blades seem to outperform tandems in darkly stained waters, but this is not always the case. Tandems with willow shaped blades have been way more effective in clearer lakes; particularly those with the addition of grassy plants. The willow blades also travel thru grass better than the rounder versions.


This technique refers to the noise a certain style of spinnerbait makes when the blade actually breaks the surface, but continues to spin in a deep rhythmic GURGLING sound. Not many spinnerbaits can actually perform this process easily. In fact, most of the time, the blade will simply stop spinning the moment the lure breaks the surface. Wire arm length and blade choice are critical here.

Short armed spinnerbaits with an additional bend on the upper arm are ideal for GURGLING. Combine this specifically with a Colorado blade in the 7 to 9 size range and you are set up for some serious topwater noise that is sure to wake up muskies in thick cover. That, in a nutshell, is what you are trying to accomplish here. The object is to purposely break the surface with your spinnerbait by over cranking it. This turns a normal subsurface lure into a topwater version. The unique sound produced by various large round blades has a gurgle to it, and it can be highly attractive to muskies. Particularly in dead flat hot weather dog day conditions of late summer/early fall.

The first time I ever experienced success with this technique was totally by accident. I had cast the single spin over some very thick high cresting Eurasian Milfoil. Only a few inches of clean water existed between the tops of the weeds and the actual water surface. Some of the milfoil was also on the surface, as well. I could feel the spinnerbait fouling in the weed tops even though it was only a few inches below the surface, so I gunned the reel harder and lifted my rod tip higher in order to hurry the bait up and over the troublesome weeds. In the process, the big single spin blade popped out and began to gurgle its way back to the boat. Moments later a huge bulge appeared inside the thick milfoil about 15 feet to one side of the lure and it immediately closed the distance. About mid way thru the retrieve, the approaching bulge erupted into a gaping mouth of a big musky pouncing on my lure!

I lost that fish shortly after that strike when it burrowed downward into the thick weed mass. However, it did tip me off to a rarely used technique I’ve used successfully since that initial experience many times. By the way, the key to keeping fish hooked in this instance is a long rod, heavy weight super braid in at least 80 lb. test, and a tight drag. You’ve got to muscle those fish quickly out of the thick stuff before they can get their head down. If you successfully turn the fish, keep its head up, and keep it moving towards the boat, you’ll have a way better chance of landing them. Don’t let them turn and go down. If they do, your chances of keeping that fish hooked drop drastically.

GURGLING nearly always works best in hot, flat dog day weather, and when casting the lure over top heavy cover. I’m not saying it won’t take muskies occasionally over top clean rock reefs or some other forms of cover, but thick mats of green stuff combined with hot flat conditions seem to really make this tactic shine.


Crawling a spinnerbait through cover of any kind is by far the most productive and most versatile of all spinnerbait techniques. Both single spins and tandems can work equally well for this tactic, and only trial and error will tell you which lure they (the muskies) prefer. The whole premise here is to purposely work the spinnerbait thru every conceivable piece of cover as close and as tight as possible. The tactic works best when muskies are cover tight and reluctant to chase. It also excels when the cover is so thick that a treble hook style lure is not even an option.

Of course, we as musky hunters, run into such conditions quite often. Sometimes it’s related to a cold front passing, but it might also be due to nothing more than fishing pressure. Fishing pressure often pushes muskies up much tighter to cover where 9 out of 10 anglers will simply avoid tossing a lure into it that tight. This is where you can actually fish behind anglers and score with some consistency. In fact, it could be argued that fishing pressure actually plays into your hand in this instance.

Another condition that forces muskies up inside weedy cover with regularity is a drop off in wind velocity. Quite often this is associated with dog day summer heat, or an early fall Indian summer warm up. Light and variable winds are yet another similar condition that sometimes occurs after one cold front has passed thru and a warm front is about to begin. Both of these low wind, no wind, dead wave action situations push muskies up tighter to weed cover. Sometimes the fish bury low and deep in the weeds making them very tough to trigger. Other times, the fish move up into the weeds, but hover high in them. These are the most catchable fish.


Crawling, or what bass anglers often call “slow rolling”, a spinnerbait is very simple to perform. Simply cast the spinnerbait over top and beyond the intended cover. Instead of hurrying it thru the cover, make it a point now to run that spinnerbait into, over, and thru the weeds in a very slow, methodical, tempting way. You want the blade (s) on your spinnerbait to turn just enough to keep the bait moving forward, but it should be crawling, bumping, banging and knocking its way thru the various weedy obstructions. As soon as you see or feel the spinnerbait clear weeds and hit a clean pocket or hole inside the weeds, stop or at least slow way down in order to let the spinnerbait descend. Many of your best strikes will occur at this time. 

This is precisely how I caught that musky in the opening story of this article. When a musky hits a descending spinnerbait, the result is often a deeply hooked fish. They simply engulf the entire lower portion of the lure. The large single hook is often buried deeply. In fact, be careful when unhooking fish that hit in this matter since the hook may even be in the gill area.

So there you have it! Three superb ways to fish one of the all time great lures for nearly all species of gamefish – the single hook spinnerbait. I can assure you that all three of these tactics described can take muskies when conditions are right. These are fun lures to fish, and they are often under used by musky anglers.

Spinnerbaits can be particularly good during this time period when weed growth peaks and muskies move shallow before the water gets real cold.Don’t hesitate to try any one of these tactics on your next outing. At the very least, never leave the dock with out a few spinnerbaits in your box.

Hall of Fame angler Joe Bucher is the Editor Emeritus for Musky Hunter Magazine and one the most highly recognized multi-species fishing and hunting authorities in the outdoor business trade. Joe is the host of Fishing with Joe Bucher TV show which has been on the air for over 20 years. For more information on Joe please visit his website at JoeBucher.Com

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