One of the most effective live bait rigs of all time are spinners.
Also known as “crawler harnesses”, spinners are brutally simple but possess the utmost flexibility in terms of customization. Therefore, they are extremely adaptable to a variety of conditions found throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes regions.
Whether drifted in river currents behind bottom bouncers or trolled with inline weights paired with Off Shore Tackle planer boards, spinners have proven themselves time and time again to walleye anglers.
The purpose of this article is to provide readers with an overview for tying their own spinner rigs.
In their most basic form, spinners consist of
(1) Leader Material
(3) Beads or Spacers
(4) The Spinner Blade
As an option, anglers will often complete their spinners with a barrel swivel on the non-terminal end of the rig to reduce potential line twist.
Just pair a complete rig with a juicy nightcrawler and you’re ready to fish.
Spinners are incredibly effective at trolling because presentation depths can be modified on the fly through fine-tuning trolling speed and utilizing boat turning patterns. In multiple rods spreads these maneuvers manipulate lure presentation speed and depths for each side of the boat.
When waters are cooler and hover around 48 degrees in early spring, spinners can be trolled at a snail’s pace- under 1 mile per hour.
Conversely, when water temperatures peak above 70 degrees during the summer months they can be utilized well above 1.5 miles per hour. Keep in mind these temperature and speed range suggestions are only general guidelines.
To gain a broader perspective on spinner fishing I reached out to Ed Stachowski, a professional tournament angler who has fished every National Walleye Tour (NWT) event since its inception.
“The window for spinner fishing is much larger than previously accepted,” he said. “Spinners possess a combination of vibration, visual flash, and scent which flat out triggers strikes. These factors make them a go-to trolling technique in all types of water for Great Lakes anglers.”
Ed Stachowski with a spinner caught walleye from the St. Mary’s river system
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Leader material preferences vary between anglers across different regions. I primarily fish Lake St. Clair- ‘the 6th Great Lake’.
On this body of water, there are thick weed beds and an abundance of Muskellunge which can tear apart weaker leader material. For my style of fishing, an abrasion-resistant fluorocarbon leader works best; I prefer 10 to 20lb Seaguar AbrazX line.
The selection of the line pound test is dependent on water clarity.
I recommend 15lb line as an all-purpose use leader. When fishing over those dense weed beds I will run a 20lb test.
In gin clear water I transition to 10lb test for added stealth when needed.
Leader lengths are typically between 1’ to 6’.
With that said, Great Lakes trollers prefer leaders on the longer side of the spectrum when fishing in ultra-clear water.
Hook selection is critical to ensure walleyes stay buttoned all the way to the landing net.
A basic spinner rig typically has two hooks.
I have surveyed a number of Great lakes tournament anglers and most prefer either number 1 or 2 size octopus hooks.
These hooks are most often snelled onto the leader 3-4” apart from one another.
When walleyes are lightly striking spinners, one tournament-proven trick is to change the back hook out to a size 6 treble hook.
This maximizes the likelihood that finicky fish will be hooked simply because there are more hook points to drive home.
Since walleyes have hard, brittle mouths remember to take your time when reeling them in and rely on your reel’s drag system. Walleyes will often make a final run once they see the boat- this is where fish are often lost.
The purpose of beads on spinners is to space the spinner blade away from the tip of the lead hook and add color to the rig body.
I have found that a majority of the Great Lakes anglers I know prefer to use 6mm beads.
Typically 6 to 8 beads are used to space the blade away from the front hook. One of the most practical ways to build up your inventory of beads at a low cost is to visit a local craft store and select a variety of colored beads. The most common and effective bead colors for spinners are green, orange, red, chartreuse, pink, white, and black. Metallic beads tend to shine when the sun is out- no pun intended.
The topic of blade selection could be an entirely separate article in itself. For the sake of brevity, we will keep it simple here and steer you towards the best overall blade choices. The gold standard for spinner blades is number 5 and 6 Colorado blades.
These blades are relatively larger than what is typically used on inland bodies of water and create a solid ‘thump’ and visual flash as they move through the water.
This is not to say that smaller blades don’t have their time and place; size 4 and below Colorado blades can be trolled faster allowing anglers to cover more water.
As summer progresses and water temperatures near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, anglers can find success trolling size 5 tandem willow blade spinner rigs or single Indiana blade rigs at or well above 1.5 miles an hour.
With these blade choices in mind, I prefer to affix them to the rig by using a quick change style clevis which allows me to change out blades rapidly.
Regarding blade color choices- the tournament anglers I stay in touch with enjoy success with simple color blades.
Plain brass, copper, nickel, and gold hammered Colorado blades are staples in their trolling programs. Also, consider solid colored painted blades that match the bead color suggestions mentioned earlier.
Michigan-based tournament angler Jeff VanTorre with Saginaw Bay gold.
This fish fell to a hand tied spinner featuring a nickel blade and chartreuse beads.
SPINNER STORAGE SOLUTIONS
Completed rigs can be easily stored by placing hooks on pre-cut sections of pool noodles or slotted foam pipe insulation.
The pipe insulation method is preferred because they can be bought in a smaller diameter (1” to 2” works well) and cut into sections that easily fit into transparent tackle storage boxes.
As your season progresses some of your rigs will succumb to wear and tear. The first thing that comes off of a damaged spinner is the blade- this component can be reused immediately with quick-change clevises or simply stored away.
Instead of discarding worn rigs into the trash, I recommending saving them in a dedicated gallon zip bag on your boat.
At the end of the open water season take the contents out and harvest serviceable components- beads, clevises, hooks, and barrel swivels can all be reused next year!
- written by Rob Barnes (Walleye World Podcast)
About the author: Rob Barnes is an avid angler who enjoys fishing walleye tournaments in his home state of Michigan and across the country.
He is the producer and host of the Walleye World Podcast which has a national audience.
Listen to Walleye World Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play (or Here)
This show specializes in discussing all things walleye fishing and features discussions with professional anglers, local talent, and industry leaders. He also serves on the board of directors for the Lake St. Clair Walleye Association. When Rob isn't fishing he's spending time with his wife Kyla and their young son Everett.