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Summer 2009 Feature Article





Harnessing Walleyes
by Jason Mitchell

Spinners are incredible tools for catching walleyes and this presentation in some form offers the angler a surprising amount of versatility.  For many anglers, spinner harnesses are used in conjunction with bottom bouncers.  This presentation is extremely versatile and effective but bottom bouncers aren’t the only method for presenting spinners.  From open water trolling on the Great Lakes to precise tight quarter tactics that probe weed edges on small natural lakes… spinners should be an important tool for walleye anglers to consider at some point each season.

Spinners offer the angler the advantage of great latitudes of speed in the sense that you can productively fish anywhere from half a mile per hour to almost two miles per hour or more.  To get the spinner blade to turn at the slower end of the spectrum, use a metal clevis instead of the plastic quick clip variety along with using rounder cupped blades (Colorado).  Smaller blades also seem to turn easier at slower speeds than larger blades.  At a faster pace, long willow leaf shaped blades tend to handle increases in speed better and it also seems to help if the snell itself is tied with heavier line as the heavier line has less of a tendency to twist at higher speeds. 

Tipping options vary with night crawlers probably being the most popular bait for tipping but night crawlers are not the only option.  Leeches work well behind a spinner but generally won’t handle as much speed as a crawler.  When using leeches on spinner harnesses, what works well for me is lightly stepping on the leech with my foot to kill the leech and hooking the leech through the nose (narrow end).  This keeps the leech from spinning so much and twisting around the hook. 

Minnows also work well at times as well… again hooking the minnow through the head so that the minnow doesn’t spin out of control at faster speeds. 

Another tipping option that has really begun to catch on in the past few years is Berkley Gulp!  I have had a lot of success with Gulp! particularly the leeches and crawlers especially late to mid summer when pulling harnesses at speeds of one mile per hour or more.  Whatever you tip with, just make sure to watch the harness next to the boat to make sure that the bait or Gulp! is flowing naturally behind the spinner to prevent extra line twist and also, from my own experiences it seems like bait that isn’t spinning just seems to catch more fish.  What also works well in many applications is to use as heavy of line as possible in the sense that heavier line tends to track through the water better with less twisting.  Many anglers tie spinner harnesses with ten to twenty pound monofilament. 

Tactics for presenting spinners varies across the walleye belt.  On the massive reservoirs located on the Missouri River System in the Dakotas, bottom bouncers originated several years ago and in many areas, a bottom bouncer is a very common and effective way to present spinners to walleyes.  The key to the bottom bouncer’s success is again versatility.  Bottom bouncers can be fished below the boat or behind the boat.  Bottom bouncers are fairly snag resistant and follow the contour of the bottom extremely well.  Bottom bouncers also telegraph the bottom very well so that an angler can get a more intimate understanding of the lake bottom.  Anglers can use bottom bouncers to troll expansive flats with a more horizontal presentation back behind the boat or even behind planer boards but this same piece of equipment is versatile enough to fish near vertically with precision to probe corners and break lines in tight quarters. 

Anglers trolling spinners for suspended fish might incorporate bottom bouncers but often, large split shot or trolling weights are used to position the spinners at different depths through out the water column.  Bigger water often calls for much larger blades. 

In my experiences, blade shape and size combined with speed is much more crucial to experiment with than color but the fish do seem to respond to different combinations of general color combinations like chrome or gold, chartreuse, blue.  Little details however like scale patterns, eyes and fleck are meaningless to the fish in the sense that if a fish can see these small details on the blade, you are fishing the spinner to slow to even turn the blade.  These little details are designed to catch anglers who think the blades look cool. 

What is important is balancing the harness.  Large blades require more and larger beads and vice versa.  Hooks should be sharp and far enough back from the blade for better hooking percentages.  Bait should be fresh and hooked in such a way to cause the bait to just slide and wobble through the water without spinning.  High quality ball barrel swivels should be used above the harness to take out as much line twist as possible.  The fundamentals of using spinners to catch walleyes are fairly simple and this presentation is extremely versatile in the sense that spinners can be used to catch both aggressive and neutral fish. 

Many anglers store their harnesses and rigs on foam pool noodles.  These pool noodles can be found in the toy section of many large retail stores.  Another adaptation you can make to the harness when you are tying them is to put a bobber stop between the first bead and the second bead from the hook.  This allows you to slide the rest of the beads and blade up the snell further which can pay dividends at times when the fish are just following the bait and biting short.  Also, many anglers are quick to put a new fresh crawler on after getting nipped short but if the fish are hitting short, you might be surprised how well half a crawler works.  On a harness, just let the back hook hang free when using half a crawler unless debris on the bottom is an issue for snagging.

Spinner harnesses in some capacity or another work well on rivers, reservoirs, natural lakes and the big water of the Great Lakes.  Different regions often require specific adaptations as using spinners on the Great Lakes is a much different program than using this presentation on a small natural lake but regardless of region, this presentation is so adaptable.  The bottom line is that this presentation is also extremely effective and easy to use. 
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