by Russ Brotherton
Blade baits have been in angler's tackle boxes almost as long as jigs and rigs. In 1959, the James Heddon Lure company introduced the Sonar, and at the time of introduction it was billed as "A new way to catch fish" and did it ever do what it claimed. In 1970, the Cordell Gay Blade was introduced and with a wider, broader head design it offered a wider wobble. In the beginning, Blade baits were of the flat blade design with a weighted head usually made of lead. A couple of treble hooks were attached to the underside of the blade and there was a hole in the top to which the line was attached. This design held true with virtually no changes for 3 decades.
Scott Stecher of Reef Runner Tackle Company had the idea to change the shape of the blade from a flat design to one which had a slight cup to enhance the action of the bait. This new design is called a "Cicada". Cicada is a word meaning a locust like bug and it does look a lot like a grasshopper with its wings open. Scott first introduced this new wonder back in 1990 during the Sportshow at the Palace in Detroit, Michigan. Scott claimed that with the new blade design it offered a slower fall as well as more wobble and flash through out the action. The Cicada is offered in a great range of sizes from 1/16th ounce for pan fish all the way up to the 3/4 ounce size for larger predators such as walleye, lake trout and bass.
Ever since this renewed interest in blade baits there have been a number of new innovations. In 1993 Heddon added rattles in the eyes of the Sonar to take advantage of the sense of hearing in fish as well as the vibrations emitted by the lure picked up through the lateral line of the fish. The Blue Fox Wiglstik is a weighted plastic bait with a hole drilled through it from the top and all you do is run your line through the hole and tie a treble hook directly to the end of the line, hence the bait actually slides freely on your line. The Silver Buddy blade bait is made with a zinc alloy to give it a slower decent and its own unique wobble. Reef Runner Tackle has also introduced another first in the blade bait market, the Stand Up Cicada, a blade that stands on the bottom instead of laying flat on its side when at rest on the bottom of your favorite lake. It also incorporates the use of rattles and is designed to be used with bait.
In 1992 I ventured into the U.S. to look for blade baits because there were none to be found in Canada. I found that the Cicada, Sonar and Gay Blade were all readily available at most sporting goods stores in Great Falls, Montana. At that time I purchased my first "Cicada" blade baits. Ever since my introduction to the blade bait family my collection has grown to include Sonars, Gay Blades, Cicadas of both types and the new plastic Wiglstik.
On my first outing with my newly found treasure I fished for walleye at Pine Lake in Alberta. I started by vertically jigging the blade with a fast upward swing of the rod and followed the bait down with a controlled fall and followed that with a short pause at the end of the fall. On the upward rip the vibrations the bait put out were unbelievable. You can really feel blades work and when you don't they are generally fouled with weeds or caught on the line. On that memorable day I caught both walleye and perch all on the same lure (a 1/4 ounce silver/ chartreuse Cicada) in 20 feet of water when nothing else I tried would even get a reaction. Needless to say I was hooked. Since that day I have successfully caught walleye, sauger, perch, pike, bass, (both small and large mouth) whitefish, tullibee, brown, lake, rainbow and brook trout all on blade baits.
The equipment needed to fish blade baits is fairly standard, starting with a good jigging rod such as a 5.5 to 6 footer, a standard open face spinning reel, line like Stren's Magna Thin or Super Tough in either six or eight pound test and always attach your blade to your line with a cross lock snap (no snap swivels as the action will be impaired). Be aware that blade baits will cut your monofilament line if tied directly.
There are as many ways to fish a blade bait as there are ways to fish a jig. As a matter of fact, the ways to fish a blade are left completely to your own imagination. Firstly you can jig vertically in an up and down fashion with a quick upward rip and a controlled slow fall. The strikes can come at any time with this technique. Most of the time the strike will come on the fall or as soon as it darts away on the next upward swing.
Blade baits are also designed to be slow trolled and some even have more than one line attachment hole to give the bait a different action. The hole closest to the head will give you the widest most enticing wobble when worked slowly. The one highest up on the blade will produce a tighter wobble presentation. Back trolling along deeper weed edges with blade baits has produced many good walleye in Chin Reservoir in southern Alberta. I move slowly along a deep weed edge keeping my line at as close to vertical as possible with the blade just contacting the bottom of the lake at the end of the fall using a very aggressive lift and fall jigging motion. Most of the time you do not even feel evidence of the strike until you rip your blade up off the bottom of the lake and the hook set is almost automatic.
Tossing your favorite blade on heavy line into cabbage type weeds and rip jigging it through the cover will also produce both walleye and pike. With this approach you require a very stout 6' to 6'6" rod and a heavy test line like Stren's Super Tough in 12 to 17 pound test. Toss the blade into the weeds and do as the term rip jigging suggests, tear your offering through the weeds. You can also use the same retrieve as you would with a jig in such heavy cover. Dropping or flipping your bait into openings in the weeds where the cover is not so dense and let it fall seductively to the bottom keeping in constant control of your lure at all times as the strike could come at any time. This technique is at times what it takes to get weed-relating fish to strike.
Casting blades in rivers or from shore is easy, as they cast like bullets and produce their fair share of fish for the bank bound fisherman. Around Canmore, Alberta many fishermen have been using blades for brown trout in the Bow River. They cast them out and retrieving them as you would a standard spoon or spinner. In your larger, warmer rivers like the South Saskatchewan, many anglers use the same retrieve for both walleye and sauger.
When you find fish relating to a piece of structure and can not get them to move with regular rig or jig presentations, give blades a try as sometimes the action of this lure is exactly what they are looking for. A lot of times the reaction bite caused by a bait moving frantically in front of their face is what it takes to put those negative fish into the boat. A reaction bite is when a fish is given but a split second to decide weather or not this flash and wobble is to be eaten. Fish do not think, they react out of instinct.
Size of the blade bait is generally dictated by the fish. I have caught very small perch in the four ounce class while fishing walleye with a 1/2 ounce Cicada. As well I have engaged Rocky Mountain whitefish while fishing lake trout with the same 1/2 ounce blade and in both instances they were hooked in the mouth. In the spring of 1993, I caught a 10 pound walleye using a 1/8 ounce blade while fishing for some whitefish and tullibee we had marked schooled together on our graph at Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan.
In some instances you will find that fish are hooked either on the outside of the mouth or into the flesh. This can happen when what feels like a strike is detected and the hook is set when the fish has actually missed his target. To decrease the event of foul hooked fish, a small piece of bait such as a minnow head attached to the lower hook will give some scent and something for the fish to target.
So far all I have explained are open water techniques, but do not let your blades sit at home during the hard water times we have to learned to endure. Blade baits are equally effective when fished through the ice. If perch and whitefish are your main quarry in winter go with the 1/16 ounce version of the Cicada baited with a couple of maggots, with two or four pound test. You will be pleasantly surprised. Here in Alberta we are blessed with being able to fish 3 lines through the ice. I have heard many stories from people fishing perch at both Buck and Pigeon Lakes that found fishing one line and a tiny blade was all they could handle with non stop action on certain days.
During the cold water period for larger species such as lake trout, a vertically jigged Sonar or Cicada can be dynamite with or without bait added. As for walleye you will want to slow your presentation and add a minnow head or piece of meat to entice them into inhaling your offering.
So the next time you are at your favorite tackle store, check out the blade baits and maybe pick one up, or better yet, ask your buddies if they have used them. I am sure that with a little experimentation you will become proficient at blade fishing and you can tell your friends about your new secret weapon or maybe you will just keep it to yourself.