Spinner rigs, ’crawler harnesses, whatever you want to call them, in many situations they excel in catching summertime walleyes.
For those unfamiliar, a typical walleye spinner rig consists of two snelled hooks, a series of colored beads and a spinner blade mated with the snell via a clevis. A 3- to 4-foot snell is then finished off with a small swivel. Within this foundation there are many variables to play with, including size of spinner, color of beads and type of spinner.
Walleyes are known for liking both live bait and artificial lures. Spinner rigs blend the two, utilizing the qualities of both. You have the attraction of the spinner blade to get their attention and the appetizing appeal of the bait to seal the deal. And you can cover water more quickly than with other common live-bait options such as rigging and jigging.
Spinner rigs are most commonly baited with a healthy nightcrawler. But I’ve enjoyed excellent success using ribbon leeches as well, especially if you can get larger leeches. If you can’t, baiting each hook with a single leech also works. Fresh leeches are much tougher than ’crawlers, making them a good option because panfish are constantly nipping off the back end of your ‘crawler. Artificial nightcrawlers, offered by a variety of soft-bait manufacturers, also work, and again can be used in response to nuisance panfish bites.
Where do spinner rigs work best? In my mind, in areas where walleyes could be scattered, but are likely relating to the bottom. This could be along the edge of a weed line. Or over a stump-covered flat. Places likely to hold feeding walleyes but lacking the spot-on-a-spot characteristics likely to bunch them up in specific areas.
The classic way to present a spinner rig is in conjunction with a bottom-bouncer sinker. Though various designs exist, the most common consists of a V-shaped wire, with one long leg and one short leg. The longer leg goes through the center of a cylindrical-shaped lead weight, squeezed on about midpoint on the leg. The shorter leg is terminated in a loop holding a snap swivel. This is where the swivel of the spinner rig is attached. The looped end of the bottom bouncer, at the nose of the V, is where the main line attaches. Weights of one-half to 3 ounces are typically appropriate for inland Pennsylvania waters, where the targeted depths usually run from 5 to 20 feet.
As its name suggests, the bottom-bouncer sinker is meant to bounce along the bottom, in this case with the spinner rig in tow. Boat movement can be from a trolling motor, outboard motor or by way of a controlled wind-driven drift. In any case, a good starting point is to shoot for about 1 mph.
Most outboards won’t troll down this slow but can still be used by kicking the motor in and out of gear. A much stealthier approach is to use an electric trolling motor. A transom mounted motor is OK, particularly if you aren’t trying to work into a stiff wind. It’s tough to troll into much of a wind with a transom mount as the wind wants to push the bow around, a concern not shared with a bow-mount motor, where you’re pulling the boat rather than pushing it. Motor-steered bow mounts (as opposed to cable drives) offered by leading trolling motor manufacturers are the ultimate in boat control in regard to pulling spinners.
When the wind is right, and the area you’re trying to cover is too precise (example: a large stump flat as opposed to a defined weed edge) you can do a wind drift. Start at the upwind end of the targeted area, position the boat sideways to the wind (port side to the wind if you’re in a tiller boat) and trail the lines off the side as the wind pushes you along. If your speed becomes too great, you can use a drift sock to slow things down. A line angle of about 45 degrees lets you know that you’ve properly matched bouncer weight to boat speed.
Regarding the spinner rig itself, you can make your own or purchase them pre-tied. I’ve used both with success. On my DIY spinners I prefer a plastic quick-change clevis. Not only do they offer the option of switching out blade style, size or color, but they’re less abrasive on the snell than brass clevises.
As far as blade options go, Indiana-style blades are a good all-around choice. Sizes 2 and 3 work well for our inland waters. And standard “walleye colors,” including chartreuse, lime green, orange and purple, work well. Relatively new to the market, polycarbonate blades such as Northland Tackle’s Butterfly Blades simply thread onto the snell without a clevis. These thin blades work at extremely slow speeds, which at times can be an asset.
Though you can hand-hold a rod while pulling bottom-bouncer/spinner-rig combos, generally it works better to leave your rod in a rod holder. Value-priced moderate action rods have enough “give” to allow a walleye to eat the bait. By the time the rod lays back, the walleye is hooked. Level wind reels, often offered in combination with rods and marketed as trolling combos, excel for this type of fishing.
Finally, storing spinner rigs can be problematic. The best way I’ve found is to wrap the snell around a piece of foam 1-inch pipe insulation. Start with the swivel end of the snell, pushing it into the pre-cut slit in the insulation. Now simply wrap the snell around the insulation, popping the trailing hook lightly into the insulation when the entire snell is wound to secure it. Cut the insulation to a length that will slide down into a cavity of a standard 3600 or 3700 utility box. Each length of insulation will hold a dozen or more spinners. Use smaller compartments in the box to hold extra blades and swivels.