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Things that Go Round and Round

By Mark Romanack
Captain Terry Kunnen of TKO Charters is a master spinner
fisherman who works his craft on the Western Basin of
Lake Erie in May.

Walleye anglers in the Great Lakes region will soon put down their crankbaits and turn to another lure group. About the time the surface waters creep close to 50 degrees, the crankbait bite starts to decline and the “spinner bite” kicks off with a vengeance.

When it comes to catching big fish, crankbaits rule and most of those big fish are taken in the early spring and late fall. During the warmer water periods of the year, nothing out fishes the “spinner” or nightcrawler harness.

Note that the garden variety crawler harnesses you may have fished as a kid aren’t exactly what this army of walleye anglers are using today. Like everything else in the tackle industry, walleye spinners have refined over the years into a lure group that does a lot of things well. Truth be told, more walleye are probably caught on “spinners” than all the other popular lure groups combined!

Fishing spinners with the help of a sinker called a “bottom bouncer” or “bottom walker” is the dominate way that spinners are fished early in the season.  Little more than an upside down “L” shaped piece of wire with a weight on long arm and a snap swivel on the short arm. This unique sinker is tied to the main line at the elbow between the two arms and the crawler harness is attached to the snap swivel on the short arm.

For best results the crawler harness should be about 40 inches in length. If the harness is too long, the trailing spinner and crawler will contact the bottom and potentially pick up debris and zebra mussels.

Fishing a bottom bouncer/spinner rig correctly requires first setting the boat trolling speed. To keep this rig ticking along bottom requires maintaining a consistent trolling speed and also keeping the boat in about the same water depth.

The author with a typical walleye caught fishing
bottom bouncer and spinner rigs near bottom.
When the surface waters of the Great Lakes
approach 50 degrees it’s time of the spinner
bite to start.
The most common speeds for bouncer fishing start at about 1.2 MPH and stretch out to about 1.6 MPH. To maintain contact with bottom the angler must choose a bottom bouncer size that can easily be kept in contact with bottom while fishing at about a 45 degree angle behind the boat. Bouncers come in a lot of sizes, but the 1, 2 and 3 ounce models are the most commonly used.

It’s important to note that fishing a bottom bouncer is not a finesse presentation. Anglers are well advises to use as much weight as necessary to maintain that always important contact with the bottom.

Gradually as the surface water warms, walleye start to leave the security of the bottom and suspend in the water column to hunt for baitfish. Spinner rigs are deadly on suspended walleye, but this is not a job for the classic bottom bouncer and spinner rig. A better tool for the job are the various trolling sinkers on the market designed to target suspended walleye.

The Tadpole Diver produced by Off Shore Tackle leads the pack in terms of open water trolling weights that are commonly used to present spinners. Available in a No. 1, 2, 3 and Magnum sizes, most walleye anglers find that the No. 1 and No. 2 fish plenty deep for the majority of walleye they encounter in the Great Lakes region.

The Tadpole Diver is named for it’s shape. The rounded head of the Tadpole acts as a diving plane, causing the diver to achieve depth in much the same way a crankbait dives. The narrow tail section is where a snap swivel is mounted and the spinner rig attached.

Because Tadpoles dive like a crankbait, Precision Trolling Data has tested these products and published Dive Curve data for all the common sizes, trolling speeds and line types. This data is available in both an Android and iPhone app or as a printed product known as PTD “Stickers”. The stickers are printed on waterproof vinyl and designed to stick to the utility boxes most anglers use to store their fishing tackle.

Eric Martin, one of Jake’s fishing buddies caught this nice Saginaw Bay 
walleye pulling a Tadpole Diver with a Fish Flash and a trailing
 HammerTime Spinner rig. Off Shore boards are an important means
 of spreading out lines and covering the maximum amount of water when
 trolling suspended spinner rigs.
When targeting suspended walleye, it’s best to use planer boards so multiple lines can be stacked per each side of the boat. Tadpole Divers fish exceptionally well with the Off Shore Tackle OR12 Side-Planer Board.

This popular in-line board can also be equipped with an after market item known as the “Tattle Flag”. The Tattle Flag is a spring loaded flag kit that allows the flag to tip down when a fish bites and is hooked. Anytime anglers are trolling at slow speeds or when using live bait, the Tattle Flag kits make it far easier to detect subtle bites and also to tell if a small non-target fish has been hooked.

The blades used in popular spinner rigs vary greatly in size, shape and color. The most common blade shape is the Colorado blade, but a fair amount of anglers fish other blades including Indiana, hatchet and Smile blades.

In general when fishing on the bottom the smaller sizes of these attractors are used. With blades the sizes 2, 3 and 4 are commonly used in combination with bottom bouncer sinkers. When targeting suspended fish, generally the blade sizes are increased to a No. 4, 5 or 6 size.

The Yakima Spin n Glo body is another strong contender for fishing crawler rigs. Not only do these attractors spin at slow speeds, they give off a lot of flash and their natural buoyancy helps keep the rig from contacting bottom and getting fouled with zebra mussels. The most common sizes of Spin n Glo bodies for walleye fishing are the No. 6 and No. 4 sizes. These attractors work equally well for fishing the bottom or for suspended fish.

Traditional walleye fishing colors and finishes have caught countless walleye from the Great Lakes basins. In recent years, much brighter color combinations have become popular especially on Lake Erie. Flame pink, chartreuse, anti-freeze, purple and other bright colors are starting to dominate the spinner fishing scene on Erie. The stained waters of Erie help in part to explain why these brighter than normal color shades are effective.

Fish Flash attractors can be attached directly to the back of a lot of 
different kinds of divers. The author’s favorite set up with the Tadpole 
Diver in the middle. The spinner rig is attached to the back of the 
Fish Flash and this rig fished in combination with in-line boards.
Other anglers have discovered that adding flashers to their spinner rigs helps them catch more fish in stained and dirty water. The 4 inch Big Al Fish Flash produced by Yakima is a triangle shaped flasher that spins on it’s own axis so it has near zero drag in the water. This attractor is commonly attached directly to the back of a Tadpole Diver or other diving planer and the spinner rig added to the ball bearing swivel on the Fish Flash.

This simple set up has become a dominate factor in targeting suspended walleye on Erie, Saginaw Bay, Green Bay, Little Bay de Noc and other Great Lakes fisheries.

More flash can also be added to rigs fished on the bottom. The Yakima Spin n Glo Bottom Walker is a bottom bouncer sinker with a Spin n Glo body factory mounted to the short arm. The Spin n Glo spins and creates extra flash, meanwhile a more traditional bladed spinner rig is fished behind this trolling/drifting weight.

The tactics outlined here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spinner fishing success. These fundamental presentations produce countless walleye every year. The best spinner fishing gets started in late April and hits a peak in May and June. Spinner fishing continues to produce impressive numbers of fish throughout the summer.