Spinnerets account for a huge proportion of all walleye caught in rivers, lakes and walleye belt reservoirs. Also known as a worm harness rig, this relatively simple tackle can be fished from the bottom to the surface, fast or slow, and offers a good mix of power and finesse. These lures generally slide freely on a leader, unlike common line trout spinners or angled bass spinnerbaits, but the principles are the same. When the going gets tough, a spinner rig is the perfect solution for connoisseurs.
Although you can buy pre-attached spinner rigs anywhere walleye fishing tackle is sold, it’s much cheaper and more engaging to build them yourself. Blades, clevises, bodies, leader hardware, and hooks are easy to buy in bulk online or at your local fishing tackle store. Tying down your own rigs is a great way to keep busy while watching TV or sitting on a long drive to the lake.
Walleye anglers typically use slow trolling rigs out of a boat, but drifting them with the wind or current also works great. You can also cast and retrieve these lures, but this presentation is often better suited to a simpler rig with less potential for entanglement. Either way, here are seven factors to consider the next time you set up a spinner rig for walleye.
The blades are the heart of a spinner rig – it’s the part that spins. These metal or plastic parts repel both flashes and vibrations. Although there are many types of blades, the four most popular and easiest to find are the Colorado, Indiana, Willow, and Propeller blades. The first three styles usually need to be attached to the leader with a rotating clip called a clevis, but not the propeller blades.
Colorado Blades: Round in shape and usually made of metal, the Colorado blade emits a lot of vibration and performs best at slower speeds. Deep-cut versions are also available, providing even more noise and helping to spin the blade even at extremely slow speeds. This extra vibration makes them perfect in bleached water. The wide shape, however, will cause more drag than other blades and will cause these to rise higher in the water column at higher speeds.
Indiana Blades: Narrower and longer than a Colorado, Indiana blades offer a good balance between flash and vibration. They provide more flash and less vibration compared to a Colorado blade, but can be dragged or retrieved faster. Indiana, Colorado, and Willow blades are usually metal with a metallic or fish-colored finish.
Willow Blades: The longest and narrowest of the blade options, Willows offer the most flash but minimal vibration. This means willows excel at faster speeds and in cleaner water.
Accessory Blades: Usually made from plastic or another lightweight material, these blades spin more easily than any other style. These blades thread in the middle with a flange on each side, so a clevis is not necessary. The advantage is that with very little weight, their effective speed range is about as slow or fast as you can go while catching fish. Because they’re so light, they won’t drag your gear down when dropping the back line or stopping. Although they can delay a decent amount of flash, they don’t offer as much vibration as other styles and are generally better suited to very clear waters.
One of the most underrated aspects of spinner fishing is selecting the right size blade, even within the same style category. The difference between a Colorado #3 and #6 blade, for example, is staggering. On smaller bodies of water or where fish and bait are smaller, look to use smaller sizes such as #2, #3 and maybe #4. On large bodies of water or Great Lakes, sizes #4, #5, and #6 are the norm. When in doubt, it’s usually best to go smaller, unless the water is discolored and you want the fish to find the presentation.
People have written entire books about choosing lure colors for walleyes. Purple, chartreuse, orange, and straight metal are some of the most popular options, but some people use every shade under the sun. However, you would do well to follow standard guidelines for color selection, such as using showy colors in tinted water and more natural hues in clear water. Experimentation is the key here.
Spinner rig bodies can be divided into sinking and floating categories. Sinking beads and tubes help you stay close to the bridge, while floating pills help you stay above grass or rocks. For color considerations, see section above. Most anglers associate bodies with blades, but some opt for contrast. It’s a personal decision.
The best store-bought spinners are built on fluorocarbon fishing line. The fluorocarbon is almost invisible and very resistant to abrasion. Another added benefit of fluorocarbon is its rigidity, which prevents it from tangling on itself.
The strength of your leader material is a matter of personal preference and can vary greatly from water to water. In very clear, cold water with scary fish, you might want to test as small as 8 pounds. In murkier areas or where large walleyes are present, you can easily go up to 20 pounds. The twelve pound test is a good overall weight.
Most anglers usually use monofilament or braid as the main line on the reel. I prefer monofilament for fishing in open water, drifting or for use in a rod holder. Mono has a lot more stretch, which provides a bit of extra cushion to prevent the fish from both smelling you and hooking you in too soon. Just make sure your main line is stronger than your bottom line so you can break without losing weight.
When hand-holding a rod or fishing in deep water, using a braided line on your mainline will greatly increase the feel. The extra sensitivity is due to the braid having a very low stretch. Low stretch comes at a price though, so compensate for loose drags and use softer rods to keep fish hooked.
With such a light bite and a bony mouth, walleye makes hook selection the most important part of your tackle. You will see spinner rigs with many different types of hook setups depending on the type of bait and cover you are going to fish.
Most anglers will use a large single hook to catch a leech or minnow, such as the VMC SpinDrift or Mustad Slow Death. However, most spoon anglers use a nightcrawler on their rigs with two or three octopus hooks. When fishing bottom and away from snags, it is not uncommon for anglers to use a rig with a treble hook as a trailer to help increase hookups.
Unlike a crankbait or jig, a spinner rig requires a delivery system to bring it to the desired depth. While most people fish spinners close to the bottom, these rigs work just as well for hanging eyes. Like any lead weighted presentation, exact dive depths can be difficult to predict with so many variables such as wind, current, weight size, and drifting or trolling speed. Charts can be found online to put you in the rough range, but the old tried and tested method of hitting bottom can be hard to beat to really know where you stand for your given setup. Here are some of the most popular methods for getting deep spinners.
Bead Chain: Bead chains are simply cylindrical weights with a bead chain swivel at each end to reduce twisting. Large reservoirs and Great Lakes anglers use them for drifting or trolling with planing boardsbut they can be used almost anywhere.
Snap Weight: The same type of clip-on weight which can be used to deepen crankbaits also work well for trolling rigs, especially in extremely clear water or finesse conditions. Drop 20 to 50 feet of line, attach the weight, then drop the line until you reach the desired depth. Just be sure to unclip it before it hits your tip-top.
Bottom Bouncer: Perhaps the most widely used, versatile and easiest to fish delivery system for spinners is the spreader bar style bottom bouncer. Ironically, contrary to its name, a bottom bouncer is not meant to bounce off the bottom, but only touch bottom occasionally to check for contact and depth. Don’t let it stab you in the heart like this fisherman from South Dakota.
Three-way rig: A similar setup to a bottom bouncer, but instead of having a fixed truss wire, a three-way rig includes an additional swivel where you attach a dropper line and sinker. The advantage is that you can easily adjust the length of the droppers to fish further off the bottom than you can with a bottom bouncer.
Many other weights, like roach walkers or slinkies or even split-shot, can be used to bring a spinner rig to the bottom. Match your weight to your fishing style and find what works for you and your waters. Keep it simple or go down the rabbit hole, but never forget that spinner rigs catch walleyes better than almost anything else.