Spinning Your Way to More Walleye

By Steve Ryan - July 1, 2009
Summer offers some of the easiest walleye fishing to be had throughout the year. Forget the talk about dog days of summer. Walleye enjoy a nice summer day as much as anyone in the Midwest.

Over the last decade, crawler harnesses and spinner rigs have likely won more tournaments for competitive walleye anglers than any other lure or bait system. Yet many casual anglers have still not embraced these rigs. That means catching far fewer walleye throughout the summer months.

Any new fishing technique brings a certain intimidation factor. To get over that you either need to jump in blindly or tap on the experience of someone who has master this approach. Lynn Niklasch, a fishing professional and guide from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, has a keen knowledge of all the intricacies of catching walleye on spinner rigs. Such expertise comes from more than twenty years of experience fishing all types of Midwest waters for walleye. From small natural lakes, to river systems, flowages and the Great Lakes, Niklasch has confidence in catching walleye on spinner rigs under any conditions.

The whole spinner rig system can be broken down into a few simple rules that can be applied by anyone. First, the rig itself is simple. It's a leader of 12-15# monofilament line; a blade attached to the line with a clevis; 4-8 beads and 1-3 hooks snelled at the end of the leader. A lively nightcrawler, leech or minnow is added to the hook and a weight attached at the front of the rig to get it to the desired depth. For those just getting starting on spinner rig fishing, pick up several packages of pre-tied rigs like Lindy Little Joe Crawler Harnesses and Hatchet Harnesses. These rigs come with quality components and offer the convenience of being ready to fish straight out of the package.

Niklasch starts using spinner rigs once the water nears fifty degrees and runs them all summer long. Niklasch notes "most anglers get comfortable running stickbaits early in the season and are too slow to move away from them as the season progresses. Crankbaits have the wobble and profile to trigger strikes but they can't match the combination of scent and action that spinner rig offer. There is just nothing like running live bait rigs for walleye."

Niklasch finds that shallow walleye and those suspended over mid-depth structure are the most active. For these reasons, he suggests running spinner rigs high in the water column. "Many anglers need to break the stereotype in their heads that walleye are inactive fish, laying with their bellies on the bottom and unwilling to move more than a few inches to take a bait", notes Niklasch. Walleye are in high gear come June and July. For this reason, do not use too much weigh in front of the crawler harness. Add just enough weight to get the rig down to that mid-depth range or just above any emerging weeds.

Keeping trolling speeds to a modest 1.1-1.7mph. This gives walleye a little more time to see and react to the bait. In addition, walleye will often follow behind spinner rigs for considerable distances prior to taking the bait. Don't make these walleye swim too far before getting their meal.

The whole spinner rig system is most effective when run with multiple in-line planer boards. Multiple boards means more lines can be fished a various distances from the boat. Cover more water and catch more fish - it's a simple concept. However, if you don't have a bunch of planer boards, rod holders and a kicker motor, don't give up on this presentation.


Start by investing in two planer boards and two to four rod holders. Get two Off Shore Tackle brand planer boards with tattle flags. These flags will actually tip down when you have a bite or when weeds get stuck on the spinner rig. An absolutely great invention that is simple for beginners to use and understand. With just an electric trolling motor, crawler harnesses can be pulled for several hours while trolling with the wind. Also, with enough wave action, two crawler harnesses can be drifted on long lines without the use of any motor.

Niklasch favors a standard three hook Lindy Little Joe Crawler harness for early season action when walleye short strike more often and will run two hook harnesses when fishing above weeds later in the season. He nose hooks the crawler with the first hook, and then with the crawler fully extended, he inserts the remaining hooks. Always get the biggest and liveliest crawlers you can find. Quality bait stays on the hook better, gives off a better scent and action. For stained water, fish blades with bright colors like firetiger, perch and gold/orange patterns. In clear water, switch to silvers, pinks and blues.

In water as shallow as 6-10 feet of water, one or two spilt shots are all the weight needed to fish spinner rigs at mid-depth. To fish slightly deeper water, add a Lindy No-Snagg sinker to the rig. These No-Snagg sinker pull nicely through all types of cover without snagging up. Sinkers of 1/8-1/2 oz are enough to fish depths of 10-15 feet of water. When running depths of more then 15 feet consider using a bottom bouncer of ¾-3 oz.

As the water temperatures warm, Niklasch runs spinner rigs with slightly larger blades and favors Hatch Harness due to their unique quick spinning blades and two hook design. When water conditions muddy, try using a Shake-E Blade Rig. Since decreased visibility impinges on the flash of traditional spinners, the Shake-E Blade offers greater vibration and an erratic action to attract fish. The Shake-E Blade Rig is also tied with brass beads in conjunction with colored beads. These brass beads create added noise when fishing stained water. All these little advantages mean bigger results at the end of the day.

This summer give crawler harnesses a spin. With just a few varieties of spinner rigs in hand, your walleye catch will go way up. To get a complete lesson on all the nuances of fishing spinner rigs, contact Lynn Niklasch.

Author Steve Ryan
Steve Ryan
Steve Ryan is an outdoor writer and avid angler who enjoys targeting trophy fish throughout the Midwest and beyond.