Catching mountain trout with in-line spinners

Big trout like this brown will often hit a spinner when nothing else works.

In-line spinners often work when flies, bait don’t

Spinner fishing is an effective alternative to fly fishing when trout aren’t rising to a dry-fly pattern or hitting nymphs. A spinner often will elicit a strike even when trout aren’t hitting live bait.

I’ve seen many good spinner anglers work a section of stream and catch trout after trout after bait fishers had quit in disgust minutes earlier. A big bonus is that bigger trout, especially browns, will hit a spinner when nothing else works.

Trout are attracted more by the vibrations a spinner emits and the flash of the blade than by anything the lure imitates. But spinners do simulate minnows. The primary appeal of spinner fishing is that you can fish with the same lure all day long. I seldom use more than three types of spinners: a plain Mepps Aglia, a black or white Rooster Tail and a yellow Panther Martin with black dots. If I don’t catch a trout with one of these lures, the trout aren’t hitting.

One rule of thumb for spinner fishing is to use a silver spinner blade for dingy water and a gold blade for clear water, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. As far as equipment goes, either an ultralight or light spinning outfit for small streams and a medium outfit for larger streams, such as the Tuckasegee, French Broad or lower Oconaluftee River. On ultralight and light rigs, 4-pound-test line works well. Six-pound-test line works well on a medium rig.

Make angled casts for better presentations

With spinners, you can fish either upstream or downstream, because casts usually are angled across the stream toward the bank. Let the spinner sink and then begin your retrieve, alternating between fast and slow. Giving the spinner an occasional twitch often will elicit a quick strike if a regular retrieve doesn’t work. Spinners can be used in deep pools, runs, riffles, flat water and shallow water. On small, brushy streams where fly-fishing is next to impossible, flip a spinner under low-hanging laurel branches and other brushy growth to reach a trout’s hiding place. On big streams, you can make long casts and cover more water in less time.

Spinners work particularly well after rain muddies a stream. A trout might not be able to spot a fly in high, dingy water, but it can hear or sense a spinner cutting through the water.

Unlike live bait, you can use a spinner in both wild and hatchery-supported waters. Exceptions are the fly fishing-only streams. If you fish wild-trout waters or delayed-harvest waters, make certain the spinner has only one hook. You may have to snip off hooks to make the lure legal since most spinners come with trebles.

Pair spinning gear with flies

Spinning gear also can be used to fish large fly streamers such as a Muddler Minnow, Zonker and Woolly Booger or large nymphs such as a rubber-legged Girdlebug and Giant Stone. You’ll have to pinch on a little lead for casting purposes. When using streamers and nymphs, set the hook as soon as you feel a hit. It takes only a millisecond for a trout to determine if a lure is real or artificial.

You can even use a spinning rig with dry flies by attaching a small bobber to your line. The bobber keeps dry flies afloat almost as well as a floating fly-line. By adding a little weight and varying the length of the leader, you can fish a nymph on the bottom or just below the surface. The trick to casting with a bobber is to stop the cast about two feet above the water. Although the bobber will make a slight splash, it lays the leader and fly flat and straight on the water.

Some spinner fishing tips:

• When fishing hard-to-reach pockets made by log jams, brush, overhanging limbs or undercut banks, cast short of the pocket, release line and let the current sink the spinner before starting a retrieve.

• Work a spinner through a riffle early in the morning or late in the evening to catch feeding trout. Cast to the head of the riffle and quickly retrieve the lure through the riffle. If you don’t get a strike after three or four casts, move on.

• To avoid spooking trout, work the water closest to you first.

• For small streams, use a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce spinner. For large streamers, use a ¼-ounce or larger spinner.

• Trout rarely swallow spinning lures. Fish usually are hooked in the lip, making catch-and-release fairly simple, even with treble hooks.

Consider spinner fishing a step up from bait fishing and a good alternative to fly fishing, especially when trout get the frustrating condition known as lockjaw.

Robert Satterwhite
About Robert Satterwhite 177 Articles
Bob Satterwhite has been writing about the outdoors, particularly trout fishing, for more than 25 years. A native of Morganton, N.C., he lives in Cullowhee, N.C., close to the Tuckasegee River, Caney Fork, Moses Creek, and several other prime trout streams.

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