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Time to Burn

Literally thousands of spinnerbait blade, size and color combinations are assembled into whirling wonders to be used in a variety of conditions to effectively cover depths from 6 inches to 16 feet or deeper. Winter, spring, summer and fall, clear water, stained water, sunny days or cloudy days, the right spinnerbait in the right hands can be deadly. 

Fishing shallow and fast or slow and deep can put you at either end of the spinnerbait spectrum. Master these and the “in-betweens” will broaden your spinnerbait attack.  FLW Tour Ranger/Evinrude pro, Pete Gluszek goes shallow and fast when clear water warms to 60 and up.  He also likes stabilized 70s and up. But, Gluszek’s dominant pattern for burning is “cold to warmer water” times of year. For summer it’s over grass. For early fall patterns, when shad are migrating and the bait is shallow, it’s in the backs of creeks.  But water depth can be all over the place as he also targets points and schooling fish. He says a key is to fish the first quarter of the water column when the water is clear.  Fishing over or near cover or edge drops are a bonus, but not necessary, as fish are moving and willing to chase a bait when Gluszek identifies the “right” time to burn!

Where to burn is wide open, but when to fish spinnerbaits at “warp factor ten” is more defined.  “Wind and spinnerbaits are a magic combination…you can be effective without the wind but once you develop a chop on clear water, lower light penetration increases the strike zone.” Wind creates many fishing benefits. First, less light penetration doesn’t give fish a very good look at speeding spinnerbaits. Fish are more likely to be moving around.  Wind oxygenates water while blowing plankton and zooplankton to the windward side of a bank or bluff, activating the food chain. Fish in these areas are not only more active, but more likely to move to a bait and strike without much discretion!  Bottom line…fish won’t be holding as tight to cover and will be more likely to chase baits.  Chop also allows Gluszek to use bigger profile baits with bigger blades.  While clouds make for a better spinnerbait situation, Gluszek doesn’t hesitate to wind a spinnerbait under sunny skies as long as he has some chop on the water. “But flat water with sun and clear water…no!  Fish will be too tight to cover.  Calm clear water with low light either early in the morning or late is a good situation.”

Not all spinnerbaits handle speed. “It is almost always a dual willow. Typically primary or back blade is a big one with a little one up front…but I throw smaller blades the same size to move the bait faster without rolling or blowing out of the water.”  Gluszek modifies spinnerbaits, adding more weight to enable him to increase the speed of smaller spinnerbaits to keep them from “rolling”.  Pulling the rubber from a rubber core weight, he places the weight on the hook shaft close to the skirt, crimping in place with pliers.  “It is a great trick when you don’t have the wind you are looking for and need more speed with a smaller profile in clear water. Typically, he modifies ¼ ounce bait for the tough conditions. With more chop, he opts for bigger baits with bigger blades and the added weight to burn with a bigger profile.

While on-the-water modifications get the job done, Gluszek says companies build baits specifically for burning. One is War Eagle.  Their “Screaming Eagle” is a ¼ ounce frame with a ½ ounce body. This smaller-profile compact bait, with bullet head and extra weight on the hook shaft, flies through the water, perfect for clear water burning!  Company owner Keith Brashers says the head allows water to rush through the skirt creating more action. In addition, skirts are hand tied with wire and do not slip!  Toss in a very thin wire for vibration, quality blades and swivels, a MUSTAD hook, and you have a made-in-the-USA customized lure.  This bulked up bait can also be slow rolled to go deeper.  Gluszek has settled on War Eagle. “They have an excellent clear water spinnerbait with translucent skirt combos…their weighting system with respect to their blades and their arms are dead on.” He adds that no matter the bait, it’s important to check the hook point especially after you catch fish or around rocks. Use a stone…toward the point on three sides.  “Stick the thumbnail. If it sticks, it’s OK. If it scratches, I keep going.”

While unwilling to say “always” when referring to any fishing style, Gluszek is firm when it comes to “always” using trailer hooks.   “I’ve won thousands of dollars on a trailer hook!”   He’s not concerned about fouling it in cover because he’s not trying to contact cover. Sometimes when fish swipe at it they can miss. Rigging the free-swinging trailer hook upside down, he lands many fish he would otherwise miss, suggesting many fish hit baits from underneath. As far as adding a trailer body, Gluszek is reluctant, opting instead for giving the fish a very small target to home in on. He even opts for more translucent skirts …pearl with blue fleck…so fish really can’t get a good look and are only able to react.  Minimizing the target, he trims skirts tight to about the bend of the primary hook. The smaller profile creates a smaller target. For Gluszek, the clearer the water, the smaller the skirt. Fishing in clear water, blade colors are simple: double nickel or one nickel and one gold. Colored blades come into play for small mouth:  chartreuse, white, reds, and oranges.

Rod position for spinner-burning is critical. “I point at the spinnerbait with just a bit of an angle to put a bend in the rod…strikes are vicious and unpredictable and you want to be able to have as much room to pressure that fish as possible.”  At the start of his retrieve, his rod is in the up position to keep the bait running shallower at a long distance from the boat. As the bait gets closer to the boat, he gradually lowers the rod to control the depth keeping it from jumping out of the water. 

Gluszek’s hooksets are a reaction to the fish…depending on where the fish bites.  Casts are long in clear water to keep the boat away from the fish. Strikes can occur at the end of a long cast, putting anglers at an instant disadvantage especially with the rod in a higher position. “I try not to put the rod at 12 o’clock, or he will have me handcuffed.”  First and foremost, the hookset starts with the cast itself.  “At the end of the cast it’s important to thumb the spool then point the rod at the lure at the time it hits the water, when you start cranking you immediately have tension on your spinnerbait.” Setting the hook at the end of a cast, Gluszek says, is critical as the fish is usually coming toward you! Expecting strikes at the end of a long cast, he uses a faster reel, lower stretch line, and a longer rod…sometimes going to a 7’6”. These tips might not surprise an astute angler, but Gluszek's advanced preparation goes several steps further, in fact to the back of the boat! 

Keeping his boat deck clear he uses his Ranger deck space to run to keep pressure on a fish that is now in control. Removing the pro pole butt seat creates more room as he heads towards the motor!  These steps put an extra 20 feet of pressure on the fish.

Cranking as fast as he can, once he “feels” the fish he employs short “punches” snatching his rod butt closer to his body moving it about 6-12 inches to get a good hook penetration. The real hookset might come several seconds into the fight. He might do this 2-3 times, developing a feel for this over many tournament years. The key is to not give the fish any slack, very difficult at the end of a long cast. Burning in clear water, Gluszek is usually targeting a specific strike zone. Casting over or near cover or along drops and edges, he can usually predict where strikes may come. Knowing this, he will work his bait through that zone and once out of the area a fast retrieve enables him to make another cast. On flats strikes can occur anywhere, prompting Gluszek to fish all the way to the boat. He surmises a fish thinks the prey is going under the boat and will ambush it more violently, then turns away. Since his rod is lower, keeping the bait down as it gets closer, he employs a hookset more common to jigs!  A snap set drives the hook home and turns the fish. Experience, quickness and speed take over. Gluszek finds this the most exciting because often he sees the entire sequence and everything happens much closer and faster. Gluszek doesn’t lose many spinnerbait fish, a fact he attributes to time on the water, experiencing the different situations that can occur. “It’s a feel that you get and it’s different on every fish. Unless you’re prepared, it could be a recipe for disaster.” 

Gluszek prefers 17-20 pound test mono or a copolymer line with less stretch than mono with some shock absorption. He’s tried braid, but feels it can pull the bait away, bend or rip a hook out of a fish. “Burning a spinnerbait is a tough situation where you can pull the bait away from a charging bass…your line, rod and reel must match.”  He uses a Rogue (MB 705-C) medium heavy action 7-foot graphite rod with an 80/20 bend relying on his line for “give” in his system. Shimano’s 6.2:1 Curado is fast enough.

Gluszek’s clear choice is speed to cover clear water and to fill the livewell.  This physically demanding presentation will wear out anglers and fish, well worth it under the right conditions. 

Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide and BoatUS “Ask the Expert” ( To book a trip or purchase gift certificates:

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