Catch more walleye by customizing your spinner rigs to give the fish exactly what they want
Consisting of a few beads, hooks and a rotating blade, spinner rigs—often pulled behind a bottom bouncer—are one of the all-time great walleye presentations. But there’s more to these simple-looking rigs than meets the eye. Learning how to customize your spinner rigs allows you to match the attitudes of walleye, as well as fish more effectively under a variety of conditions. The ready-made spinner set-ups you see in stores rarely cover all the options, but with a little tinkering of the interchangeable and easily available parts, you can customize your own rigs in a wide variety of ways.
When trolling a spinner rig behind a bottom bouncer, the bouncer creates noise and disturbs the sediment as it bounces along the bottom. The length of your spinner rig is crucial in determining how far behind this hubbub your bait will follow.
With a shorter rig, the bait will track closely behind the bouncer, mimicking fleeing prey. Active walleye are attracted to this combination of sound and action, triggering them to chase and strike. Twelve- to 36-inch spinner rigs are ideal in this situation—the more active the fish are, the shorter the rig can be.
Neutral and inactive walleye, on the other hand, will lie close to the bottom, uninterested in aggressively chasing prey. They’ll still inhale a quick snack, however, if it floats by slowly and can be grabbed with little effort. In this case, try using 36- to 60-inch rigs so that the blades and bait travel farther behind the sound and disturbance created by the bottom bouncer. This gives the illusion of undisturbed prey, which is often just what it takes to make a neutral or inactive walleye strike.
The presence or lack of underwater obstacles is another reason for adjusting the length of a spinner rig. When fishing in heavy cover such as weeds or rock beds, use a shorter rig to avoid getting hung up. When fishing over sand, mud flats or beds of small-sized gravel, it’s safe to lengthen the rig since there’s less risk of snagging.
Beads & floats
The beads on a spinner rig help attract a walleye’s attention by flashing and clinking into one another, emitting both sound and visual cues. Beads also act as a spacer to help the spinner blade run properly.
When walleye are aggressive, large and flashy coloured beads are the ticket to attract the fish and get them to bite. Adding more or bigger beads can also increase strikes. And by alternating large and small beads, you can create a different sonic effect that will really fire up the bite on some days.
When walleye are inactive, it’s wise to use smaller and fewer beads to reduce the flash and sound produced by the rig. Another trick to reduce flash is to use opaque beads (below), which don’t reflect as much light as translucent ones.
Fish attitude isn’t the only factor dictating bead selection. Water conditions can greatly impact the visibility of a spinner rig. In murky, stained or high-current areas, the rig needs to be seen and heard. In these cases, your best bet is to use plenty of large, flashy beads. Conversely, in clear or shallow areas, tone it down to avoid spooking the fish.
When you’re out on the water, experiment with colours. Some days, spinner rigs with a variety of colours are hot, and sometimes mono-coloured rigs win out. The same holds true for the number of beads: sometimes, spinner rigs with eight or nine beads will be more effective than those with the traditional five or six. Just be certain to use enough beads so that when the spinner blade rotates, it doesn’t cover or foul the hooks.
When assembling my spinner rigs, I also like to add what I call a “strike bead” closest to the hooks. This bead is always a different colour than the others, and its purpose is to represent an eye or target for the walleye to hit. In most cases, I use a black, red or glow-white bead.
As well as beads, you can add floats to your spinner rig (above). Floats lift the bait higher above bottom, and are best suited for areas with a lot of snags or for times when the walleye are suspended. Over the years, I’ve had success using both a single float and a pair of floats mixed in with the beads. And just like beads, floats come in a variety of colours, giving you many options for customizing your rig.
As a spinner rig is pulled through the water, the blade spins and produces fish-attracting vibrations, sounds and flashes of colour. Spinner blades come in countless styles, sizes and colours, but the general rule is that the bigger the blade, the more vibration and flash it will produce.
Since there’s such a wide variety of blades, experimenting is the best way to figure out which ones to use. I tie all my spinner rigs with quick-change clevises, which enables me to switch out blades quickly and easily, without cutting apart and rebuilding the entire rig. Try each blade for about 10 minutes. If you don’t catch a fish or feel any strikes during that period, it’s time for something different.
How do you narrow down your blade choices? In clear water, walleye are able to see long distances, so this is the time to try natural-coloured blades. These include holographic baitfish replicas or gold, silver, copper (below), brass, nickel and white to represent local forage.
In murky water or areas with high current, the walleye can’t see as far, so use bright colours such as chartreuse, fluorescent pink, orange and red. In low-light conditions, darker colours such as blue, purple, brown and black work best.
Smaller blades are tops in clear or shallow water, as well as when fishing for lethargic walleye or during a cold front. And as you might have guessed, larger blades are suited to aggressive fish, as well as to fishing deep water, windswept areas and spots with high current, where the water will be murky.
Another option is adding a second blade to the spinner rig to make it more visible and much noisier. One easy, effective way to do this is to attach both blades to the same clevis. Use two blades of different sizes, and make sure to put the smaller one on top so that they spin properly.
You can also attach a second blade with its own clevis. This gives you the option of stringing beads between the two clevises or placing the blades next to each other. Again, make sure the front blade is no larger than the rear one so they’ll spin properly.
For tying spinner rigs, live-bait hooks are the best choice. When targeting active fish or trolling large baits, use size #2. Smaller hooks such as #4 and #6 are best for inactive fish or tiny baits. But your choices don’t stop there, because bait hooks also come in many colours.
Believe it or not, there are days when the hook colour seems to make all the difference. That’s why I carry a selection of spinner rigs with a variety of different-coloured hooks. I like brightly coloured or glow hooks in murky conditions, while black and red hooks seem to produce well in clear water.
Most commercially available spinner rigs have two hooks, but by tying your own, you can make rigs with one hook that are perfect for leeches, or rigs with three hooks for giant nightcrawlers. I tie my hooks to the line with standard snell knots, starting with the bottom hook, then adding another hook or two farther up as required.
Here’s another trick: If you’re using minnows, try adding a small treblehook as a trailer. Hooking the minnow through the lips with the main hook, and farther along its body with the trailer, positions the bait more naturally and increases hooksets.
Most spinner rigs are tied with eight- to 20-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon line. While lighter-test lines are easier to tie and work with, heavier lines are more durable and less likely to knot or kink. My favourite is 12-pound-test Berkley Vanish (above), which has proven quite abrasion resistant, even when inhaled by the occasional northern pike.
Saskatchewan contributor Mike Hungle is always looking for a fresh spin on walleye fishing.
Spinner rigs are prone to tangling and kinking, and are notoriously difficult to store. To stay organized, I use a Lindy Rigger Kit. Each kit has three cylindrical foam rig holders that fit snugly in a carrying box, storing perfectly a total of 36 rigs.