By Nick Simonson
The multi-colored blades hanging on the tackleshop wall lit up my eyes like Christmas lights as I prepared for what has become a holiday and wintertime tradition of tying up walleye spinners for friends, family and the non-profit outdoor groups’ silent auctions I contribute to this time of year. I know that many of those on my gift-giving list are hard-core walleye anglers and these custom lures provide not only a unique present which gets many fellow outdoorsmen through their summer with a dozen new rigs, but also a chance for me to unwind at my lure making desk with a project to burn up the long winter evenings.
Tying spinners came about for me as a way to match the colors on my favorite lakes throughout the region; deep reds and purples for the bog-stained lakes in Northeastern Minnesota, bluegills and silvers for the clear walleye lake near where I once resided in southwestern Minnesota, and chartreuses and perch patterns for my home water of Lake Ashtabula north of Valley City, N.D. The joy of customizing each offering to the prey patterns and confidence colors for each lake was often matched by the heightened success they provided in comparison to other, more commercially-available hues and helped me complete the research, development and testing process season-after-season, and send some away to friends in all locations to keep the scientific method moving for them as well, while putting a few extra fish in their livewells. What follows is a basic how-to to help you get started in the same rewarding process.
For those starting out, the most challenging part of tying walleye spinners is the mastery of the snell knot. While there are many ways to secure a hook or two (or three) on the line, and even a number of different snelling methods, finding one that works and practicing it over and over is the only way to do it effectively. I once had a hunting buddy explain that he purchased a 20-dollar tool on the internet that upped his efficiency to ten single-hook snells in an hour. As we walked for late season pheasants, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that after a couple weeks of practice and a gross of my own attempts, I was now able to tie 24 double-hooked snells in an hour and have two rolls filled with complete spinners in under two; so I just smiled, knowing that there are no shortcuts in learning how to tie a snell with tight wraps, firm footing and zero stretch or bends in the line that may weaken its integrity – it simply comes down to practice. Monofilament or fluorocarbon lines from six- to 20-pound test work best, depending on application with the caveat of being sure to moisten the snell knot as it’s pulled tight to avoid weakening the connection.
Most spinners are trolled behind bottom bouncers and run in that 36- to 42-inch range, but depending on bead materials, spinner blades and other accents such as foam floats, they may be longer or shorter. It’s best to err on the longer side, and trim down later, so snelling a stretch of line that’s 45-inches long generally allows an angler to adjust to conditions, the spin of the lure and other factors on the water with a simple snip. Just make sure to remember that the last three inches of line will either be tied in a surgeon’s loop (never an overhand loop) or connected to a small swivel for attachment to the bottom bouncer.
From that point, it comes down to color. Whether it’s a confidence shade like bright pink, or a forage-matcher like purple and silver to resemble the flicker of a small chub, putting together the pattern above the hooks is as important to the angler as it is to the fish. Oftentimes, in the process of coming up with a pattern, it’s about what looks good to us as the artists, but in the end the fish will tell us what they want next summer and we can adjust each winter’s efforts from what we learn in the openwater season. Stack enough beads above the hooks to provide a buffer from the blade so its end doesn’t nick or damage the knot but keeps it close enough to create an attraction that draws fish to the bait.
Folded clevises are ideal for walleye spinners, and size 1 can be used for blades that are size 2 and smaller, and size 2 folded clevises can be used for blades up to size 5 in most cases. For those that like a plastic quick-change clevis and the ability to switch blade colors, types and sizes on the water, make sure that enough beads are present to provide the necessary spacing between the attractor and the business end of the setup, and keep bead colors general – silver, gold, red and the like – to go well with many blade options.
With a little bit of practice snelling, some research and testing on the water, and adjustments in each off season with those summertime learnings, tying walleye spinners can become a fun and engaging wintertime pursuit that produces more fish each openwater season. Give this area of lure making a try, see what connects in your waters next season and share the fun with friends and family in the immediate one!