For many of us, the classic inline spinner represents the first artificial lure on which we duped a stream-dwelling trout, a significant milestone in an angler’s progression, one that likely started with the drifting of red worms, meal worms or salmon eggs.
Classic spinners — ones like the Rooster Tail, Blue Fox Vibrax, Panther Martin and Mepps Aglia — have inherent qualities that make them effective trout-getters for tyro and veteran alike. The rookie will benefit from the built-in attraction a simple cast-and-crank presentation provides, as well as sharp, relatively diminutive treble hooks that essentially set themselves. Conversely, the old hand understands the significance of the details, raising spinner fishing to that of a highly efficient search-and-capture approach.
In a vein similar to the largemouth/spinnerbait connection, a key to spinner success is in fine-tuning variables such as size, blade profile and lure finish in relation to the conditions faced.
Spinners most appropriate for stream trout fishing run from size 0 to size 2. A condition that would lean one toward the smaller end of this scale is clear water. Another is the size of the trout being fished for. If the quarry is hand-sized native brookies from a backwoods stream, go small. On the other hand, when the setting is a fair-sized stream flowing strong from early spring rain and snowmelt, it’s fitting to use a larger version, which is easier for the fish to see, and more representative of the size food they eat.
Color provides another opportunity for refinement, though personal preference, fueled by the confidence established from past success, is a significant factor. That said, color can make a difference. On the local streams where I learned to fish a spinner, a popular combination was a brown Rooster Tail with a copper blade, particularly for brown trout. The accepted theory was that the color combination suggested a crayfish, a food source browns are especially fond of. This match-the-hatch notion can effectively be applied to white-bodied spinners with silver blades, a finish that mimics many minnow species.
Contrasting colors can help turn the head of a trout, particularly when the water is stained. For example, the bright dots on the black blade of the Mepps Black Fury — another classic trout spinner — might provide the look trout respond to under conditions of marginal clarity.
Treble hooks with a bucktail dressing have the potential to trigger an extra strike or two, the breathing look imparted by water passing through the hair making the difference between a trout eating the bait or turning at the last moment.
How and where you fish a spinner is as least as important as lure details. Think of a spinner as a search tool, one best used to seek out active fish. So fish it in and around feeding lies — areas trout migrate to when in the feeding mode — and also tight to cover, relying on the spinner’s powers of attraction to draw fish out. Spots of these natures include the tailout sections of pools; transition zones where a riffle feeds a slower pool; deep, boulder-strewn runs; pocket water alongside riffles; tight to undercut banks; and next to logjams.
The blade of a spinner needs a certain resistance to “bite” against, so don’t make casts directly upstream. An exception to this would be in areas where the water is deep and the current slow. Upstream casts allow the lure to get deeper; since the current is comparatively light, the lure can be retrieved at a rate that keeps the blade rotating.
Typically, though, the most productive presentation is one where the cast is angled just slightly upstream, so the bait swings down with the current during the retrieve. Often a trout will hit a spinner at the end of the swing, as it suspends in the flow, so give the bait a second or two at this point, perhaps even jigging it a couple times with the rod tip.
The better spinner anglers put the wear-and-tear on wader soles, covering a lot of stream during a day, firing casts in and across likely lairs, and then moving on.