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Using In-Line Spinners for Trout

In the hands of an accomplished angler, in-line spinners can be a deadly lure for trout of all species, regardless of the time of year. But to be successful using hardware involves much more than just chucking and winding.

A Panther Martin was used to fool this brown trout.  Trout caught on spinners can usually be easily released.

A Panther Martin was used to fool this brown trout. Trout caught on spinners can usually be easily released.

As with any type of river fishing, anglers using spinners need to know how to read the water to locate productive lies and the holding stations of trout. Trout use pockets behind boulders, logjams, ledges and other in-stream structure to break the current. From there, they can dart out to secure prey or intercept drifting insects. When fly or baitfishing, it’s a simple matter to place the offering in the path or feeding lane of the trout. But with spinners, anglers need to calculate the angle of the retrieve so the spinner swings close to the trout’s lie. Doing so usually requires a down-and-across approach. Done properly, the spinner then swings in an arc in front of trout and through likely holding spots.

For the most part, spinners seem to illicit reflex strikes from trout. There is usually no need for repeated drifts through prospective lies like when using flies or bait. With spinners, it’s an all or nothing approach. To a trout, the spinner might look like something good to eat or it might just represent an intruder in the trout’s territory. Either way, two or three casts in a perspective run without a strike means it’s probably time to move on. And that is the beauty of spinner-fishing -covering water. It’s a run-and-gun approach that covers water and presents the lure to the maximum number of trout. It’s a numbers game that usually pays off in the angler’s favor. It can be done by wading anglers on small- to medium-size streams or from a boat on larger waters.

To make the most of spinners, anglers need to master a few basic casts. Where room permits, overhand or sidearm casts work fine. Overhand casts are perfect when distance is needed and the lack of overhanging limbs permits the use of such a cast. Sidearm casts excel when there is the need to keep the spinner low to the water. It’s a big advantage if the angler can do this from either the backhand or forehand to reach some tricky lies and to allow you to present the spinner at the proper angle in virtually any fishing situation.

The most useful cast for spinner fishermen, though, might be the pendulum cast. It’s a takeoff on the flipping technique that bass anglers use. The pendulum cast starts with the lure hanging from the rod tip on a line that’s a little shorter than the length of the rod. The trick is to swing the spinner in an underhand arc, while pointing the rod tip where you want it to go, and releasing the line off your trigger finger all at the same time. With a little practice, the cast becomes second nature and offers a number of advantages over other casting options. First, it’s a very accurate cast. Its low trajectory also allows you to get the spinner under overhanging limbs and obstructions and close to rocks and logs. The spinner also enters the water very quietly without much splash to prevent spooking fish. What’s more, when using a pendulum cast the rod is automatically in position to begin the retrieve, which minimizes hang-ups. When fishing spinners the rod tip should be low to the water, pointed downstream so the spinner swings across the current.

A friend of mine who fishes small streams for brook trout is adept at making the pendulum cast. He can flip tiny spinners into frying pan-sized holes in the brush and undercut banks without getting hung up. Most people wouldn’t think of fishing these tiny streams with anything but bait, but my friend regularly leaves the stream with a creel full of brookies done in by the pendulum cast and micro-spinners.


When fishing spinners, don’t give up on your retrieve and assume that nothing is there. Many times trout will follow the lure a good distance before striking. I can’t begin to tell you how many times a trout has nearly jerked the rod out of my hands with little more than a rod’s length of line out. This is especially true as the spinner is swinging and then suddenly changes direction and begins rising, coming upstream. The change in direction makes following trout think their meal is about to get away and many times they will nail it at your feet.


Once you become adept at analyzing water and in-stream cover you can pretty much predict where a trout will be, but resist the temptation to make the ultimate cast your first cast. Trout in streams usually set up a pecking order, with the largest trout taking up the best lie and with subordinate trout lined up behind – especially in a long, productive run. Big trout might take up prime positions behind current-breaking structure throughout the run or in isolated locations, too. The idea is to not go for broke on the first cast. Work the run systematically. Make short casts to cover the water in front of you first. It might not look like the best spot, but it will often hold a trout or two. This is especially true if the water is high. Many times trout will move to the inside of bends when the current is strong and the water is off-color. You may never know that there are fish at your feet if you don’t fish that water first.


A good practice is to fan-cast the area when conditions and room permit. Make three or four short casts at slightly different angles to cover the water immediately in front of you. Lengthen your casts slightly and repeat the process. Lastly, make longer casts that swing across the entire run and pay particular attention to locations that look particularly fishy. Move downstream slightly and repeat the process. Not all the trout will bite, but you can make sure that they all saw your spinner and it didn’t go unnoticed.


Here's a beautiful brown trout fooled with a spinner.  Spinners cause trout to strike out of anger as much as hunger.

Here’s a beautiful brown trout fooled with a spinner. Spinners cause trout to strike out of anger as much as hunger.

The ideal rod for fishing spinners should have a fast or extra-fast action. This means a quick taper that has a fairly stiff butt section, but a flexible tip section. Most rod manufacturers make rods that fit the bill. The length of the rod is largely determined by the size of the body of water you’ll be fishing and the weight of the lures. A six-foot rod is ideal for small streams and creeks where you’ll be casting in tight quarters. A 6 1/2 foot or 7-foot rod would be a good all-round choice on medium-sized rivers and 7 1/2 foot rod would perform better in a bigger river where you’re likely to encounter bigger fish. The reason for the different rod lengths is two-fold. The longer or shorter rods will allow you to manipulate casts depending on the conditions. A six-foot rod is going to be easier to use on a small, brushy creek. A 7 1/2 foot rod would be a better pick for a wider stream or river. A longer rod will also give you more leverage when it comes time to go toe-to-toe with a trophy trout.

Rod selection also has to do with lure weight. On a small stream, you’re likely to be using light, size-0 to size-2 spinners and catching foot-long trout. On a big river, you might be using half-ounce spinners that sport a big No. 5 blade and catching trout that are measured in pounds, or even steelhead or salmon. Rod choice should be determined by where you expect to be fishing and the lures you plan on using. Match the rod to the quarry.

St. Croix Rod Company makes a multitude of rods in their Legend Elite Series of spinning rods that are ideally suited to spinner-fishing. They feature fast or extra-fast tapers and come in a variety of lengths. St. Croix’s LES60MLF or LES60MF rods are great choices for small- to medium-sized streams and good picks for all-round spinner-fishing. The slightly longer LES66MLF is available in either one- or two-piece versions and might be the best choice if you can only afford one rod. If your fishing involves bigger rivers, bigger spinners and bigger trout, salmon or steelhead, check out St. Croix’s LES70MLF, LES76MF or the new LES70MLXF that features an extra-fast taper.


Reels need to be fast and silky-smooth, with a no-fail bail. They don’t need a “huge amount” of line capacity. Match the reel to the rod. A high-speed gear ratio is a plus. Check out Abu Garcia’s Revo Premier or their classic Cardinal series for spinner-fishing.

Line needs to be tough. You’re going to be pulling it across logs, limbs and rocks and you need to count on it to get some of your spinners back once they’re snagged. I’ve always been a fan of Berkley’s Trilene XT in the clear color. You can get away with 4- or 6-pound test on small streams, but you might want to beef up your line to 10- to 12-pound when targeting bigger salmonids in larger streams and rivers. Line weight is not really an issue as far as spooking trout with spinners. When trout see a flashing spinner the killer instinct kicks in. They are keyed in on the spinner and are in the chase mode when homing in on it and are oblivious to the line.


The spinner you choose to use needs to match the water and conditions just like your choice of rod. Small 0-, 1- and 2-size spinners are perfect for small creeks and streams. Larger spinners are better for bigger streams and rivers where water depths dictate that you get your lure deeper and where you’re likely to catch some bigger trout. Keep in mind that “the bigger the lure, the bigger fish” theory usually applies to spinners, but not always. Be sure to add a quality, ball-bearing snap swivel to the terminal end of your rig before you put the spinner on. Spinners are just that – spinning, and without the swivel they are going to twist the heck out of your line.


Lots of manufacturer’s make spinners. Some of the best are Wordon’s RoosterTail, Blue Fox Vibrax, Mepps, Panther Martin and Double Loon. I particularly like Harrison-Hoge Industries’ Panther Martin and the Double Loon¬† spinners. Several of the Panther Martin spinner models have a lead body that gets the spinner deep. Most spinners feature a French-type blade, which rotates around the shaft of the spinner on a clevis. The Panther Martin spinner though uses a sonic blade with the shaft running right through the blade that allows it to spin freely at low speeds with very little resistance.


Eric Warren’s Double Loon spinners have a bright, lasting finish, a heavy, aerodynamic body and tape that highlights the back of the blade so following trout see a glimmer of color. The smaller sizes of the Double Loon also have a brightly colored, feathered treble that sometime makes the difference between follows and strikes. Both the Panther Martin and Double Loon are spinners you don’t want to be without.


While gold is probably the best spinner color, silver can be good at times.  Adding different colors of tape to the blade can enhance a spinner's appeal.

While gold is probably the best spinner color, silver can be good at times. Adding different colors of tape to the blade can enhance a spinner’s appeal.

Color choices for spinners have exploded exponentially in recent years. Besides the normal gold and silver, spinners now feature myriad natural and metallic colors and finishes. They now have color patterns that look like miniature trout or baitfish. I’ve had limited success with the new colors. Give me a black body, though, with a gold blade and chances are pretty good that I can catch some trout. One exception is a black-anodized body and blade. There’ve been times when spooky trout wouldn’t pay attention to the flashy blades and jumped all over the more subtle colors.

An option to buying commercially-made spinners is to make your own. You’ll have an initial investment in parts, but making your own spinners can have advantages. For one, making your own is a lot less expensive and you can create your own custom combinations. It can be a great hobby on cold winter nights and represents some real cost savings.


Just last year I was exploring a new river. The section was fairly slow-moving with little in-stream cover. I wasn’t too impressed and I was about to give up when I came to a place where rocks on each side caused the stream to narrow, quicken, and then plunge over the rocks to a pool about 10 feet below. I told myself, “If there wasn’t a trout in this spot, there weren’t any trout in this river.”

I positioned myself to make a cast so the spinner would swing through the deepest part of the pool. The spinner was halfway across when I felt a solid thunk and I could feel the trout shaking his head. Unable to get the spinner out of his jaw, the chunky, 20-inch brown shot one way and then the other, back and forth across the pool. I was finally able to slide the flopping trout up on some rocks at the base of the overlook I was standing on. Now what. It was a good ten feet down the rock face to where the trout was flopping. My black Lab, looked at me and apparently read my mind. He ran down the bank a ways, negotiated the cliff, snatched the trout, brought it back up and dropped it at my feet.

Having a good retriever is almost as important as having a good selection of spinners.