Spinner rigs account for a huge proportion of all walleyes caught in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs across the walleye belt. Also known as a worm harness rig, this relatively simple tackle can be fished from the bottom to the surface, fast or slow, and provides a good mix of power and finesse. These lures typically slide freely on a leader, unlike common in-line trout spinners or angled bass spinnerbaits, but the principles are the same. When things get tough, a spinner rig is the go-to for those in the know.
While you can buy pre-tied spinner rigs anywhere walleye gear is sold, it’s far cheaper and more engaging to make them yourself. Blades, clevises, bodies, leader material, and hooks are easy to buy in bulk online or at your local tackle shop. Tying your own rigs is a great way to stay occupied while watching TV or sitting shotgun on a long drive to the lake.
Walleye anglers typically slow-troll spinner rigs out of a boat, but drifting them with the wind or current works great too. You can also cast and retrieve these lures, but that presentation is often better suited to a simpler rig with less tangle potential. Either way, here are seven factors to consider next time you put on a spinner rig for walleye.
Blades Blades are the heart of a spinner rig—it’s the part that spins. These metal or plastic pieces put off both flash and vibration. While there are many different types of blades, the four most popular and easy-to-find designs are Colorado, Indiana, willow, and propellor blades. The first three styles generally must be attached to the leader with a spinning clip called a clevis, but prop blades do not.
Colorado Blades: Round in shape and usually metal, the Colorado blade puts off a lot of vibration and works best at slower speeds. Deep-cup versions are also available, providing even more thump and helping turn the blade even at extremely slow speeds. This extra vibration makes them perfect in off-colored water. The wide shape, however, will cause more drag than other blades and make these ones ride up higher in the water column under higher speeds.
Indiana Blades: Narrower and longer than a Colorado, Indiana blades offer a good middle-of-the-road balance of flash and vibration. They provide more flash and less vibration when compared to a Colorado blade but can be trolled or retrieved faster. Indiana, Colorado, and willow blades are usually made of metal with a metallic or fish-color print finish.
Willow Blades: The longest and narrowest of the blade options, willows offer the most flash but minimal vibration. This means that willows excel at faster speeds and in cleaner water.
Prop Blades: Generally constructed out of a plastic or other light material, these blades spin more easily than any other style. These blades thread through the middle with a flange on either side, so a clevis is not required. The advantage is that with very little weight their effective speed range is just about as slow or fast as you can go and still catch fish. Because they are so light, they will not drag your rig down when dropping back line or stopping. While they can put off a decent amount of flash, they don’t offer as much vibration as other styles and generally are better suited for very clear waters.
Size One of the most underrated aspects of spinner fishing is selecting the right sized blade even within the same style category. The difference between a #3 and a #6 Colorado 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 larger bodies of water or the Great Lakes, sizes #4, #5, and #6 are the standard. When in doubt, going smaller is usually better unless water is off-colored and you want fish to be able to find the presentation.
Color Folks have written entire books about lure color choice for walleyes. Purple, chartreuse, orange, and straight metallic are among the more popular options, but some people use every shade under the sun. However, you would do well to follow standard guidelines about color choice, such as using gaudy colors in stained water and more natural hues in clear. Experimentation is key here.
Body Spinner rig bodies can be broken down into the categories of sinking and floating. Sinking beads and tubes help keep you close to the deck, while floating pills help you stay above grass or rocks. For color considerations, refer to the section above. Most anglers match bodies to the blades, but some go for contrast. It’s a personal decision.
Line The best store-bought spinners are constructed on fluorocarbon fishing line. Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible and very abrasion-resistant. Another added benefit of fluorocarbon is that its stiff, which helps keep it from tangling on itself.
The strength of your leader material is a matter of personal preference and can vary significantly between waters. In very clear, cold water with spooky fish, you may want to go as little as 8-pound test. In more turbid areas or where big walleyes are present, you could easily go as much as 20-pound. Twelve-pound test is a good all-around weight.
Most anglers typically run either monofilament or braid as a mainline on the reel. I prefer monofilament when fishing open water, drifting or when using it in a rod holder. Mono has a lot more stretch, which provides a little bit of extra cushion to keeps both the fish from feeling you and you setting the hook too soon. Just make sure your mainline is stronger than your leader so you can break off without losing your weight.
When hand-holding a rod or fishing deep water, using braided line on your mainline will drastically increase feel. The extra sensitivity is due to braid having very low stretch. Low stretch comes with a price though, so to compensate loosen drags and use softer rods to keep fish hooked up.
Hooks With such a light bite and boney mouth, walleye make hook selection just about 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 will be fishing around.
Most anglers will use a large single hook when fishing a leech or minnow, such as the VMC SpinDrift or Mustad Slow Death. Overwhelmingly though, most spinner fishermen use a nightcrawler on their rigs with either two or three octopus-style hooks. When fishing off the bottom and away from snags, it is not uncommon for anglers to use a rig with a treble hook as the trailer to help increase hookups.
Delivery Systems Unlike a crankbait or jig, a spinner rig requires a delivery system to get it into the desired depth. While most folks fish spinners in close proximity to the bottom, these rigs work equally well when for suspended ‘eyes. Like any lead-weighted presentation, exact diving depths can be hard to predict with so many variables such as wind, current, size of weight and speed drifting or trolling. Charts can be found online to get you in the ballpark range, but the old tried and true method of hitting bottom can be tough to beat to really know where you are at for your given setup. Here are a few of the most popular methods to get spinners to depth.
Bead Chain: Bead chains are simply cylindrical weights with a bead-chain swivel on each end to reduce twist. Large reservoir and Great Lakes anglers use them to either drift or troll with side-planer boards, but they can be used almost anywhere.
Snap Weight: The same type of clip-on weights that can be used to get crankbaits deeper also work well for trolling spinner rigs, particularly in extremely clear water or under finesse conditions. Let out 20 to 50 feet of line, clip on the weight, and then let out line until you reach the desired depth. Just make sure to unclip it before it smacks your tip-top.
Bottom Bouncer: Perhaps the most used, most versatile, and easiest to fish delivery system for spinners is the spreader bar-style bottom bouncer. Ironically, unlike its name suggests, a bottom bouncer isn’t meant to actually bounce bottom—only to occasionally touch bottom to check for contact and depth. Just don’t let it stab you in the heart like this South Dakota angler.
Three-Way Rig: A similar setup to a bottom bouncer, but instead of having a fixed firm wire, a three-way rig includes an extra swivel where you attach a dropper line and sinker. The advantage is that you can adjust dropper lengths easily to fish farther off the bottom than you can with a bottom bouncer.
Many other weights, like Roach walkers or slinkies or even split-shot, can be employed to get a spinner rig to the bottom. Adapt your weight to your fishing style and find what works for you and your waters. Keep it simple or go way down the rabbit hole, but never forget that spinner rigs catch walleyes better than almost anything else.