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Spinner Fishing for Trout: Try These Tips for More Fish

HuntnFish has spent many years on the water fishing and has caught nearly every species of fish in Washington State.

How to Catch Trout With Spinners

Spinner fishing for trout has always been a favorite of mine. When used properly, spinners can catch all sorts of different species. Of course, the tactics for one fish are not the same as for the next. In this lesson, I will concentrate specifically on the tactics I employ for trout. Many of these tips, however, are good to keep in mind whenever you fish with spinners.

So read up, take some notes, and start catching more trout on spinners!

A hefty brown trout. Although I couldn't tell you why, brown trout seem to prefer gold plated spinners with darker bodies.

A hefty brown trout. Although I couldn't tell you why, brown trout seem to prefer gold plated spinners with darker bodies.

Fan Casting

While it might seem silly to go to a lake or stream and repeatedly cast your favorite spinner to the exact same spot, I'm sure many of you are guilty of this at least a couple of times; I know I am. Often this happens if I am having a conversation or distracted for some other reason. In general, this is a bad plan. Sure you might get lucky and find out that the fish are right in front of you, but often it's not.

"Fan casting" refers to covering more water with your lure. Visualize the water in front of you as a clock. Don't just cast to 12 o'clock; instead cast from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock. Cover all the water within your casting radius.

Sometimes I wonder if the need for fan casting isn't one of the causes of "beginners luck." Personally, I don't believe in luck, so instead, I try to figure out what causes it. Inexperienced anglers often have little control over where their lure goes. The result is that they fish randomly in many different directions, so, even if by accident, they are fan casting. Who knows, maybe I'm crazy.

Cover More Water With Each Cast!

Counting Down

Another mistake I notice a lot of anglers make is that they begin to reel in the spinner as soon as it hits the water. If the trout are feeding near the surface, you'll be fine; but this is not always the case. If the trout are holding deeper in the water column, chances are it will be a very slow day.

The solution? Count your lure down. Depending on the shape and size of the spinner, a good rule is that it will sink one foot per second. After you make your cast, wait and count. This will give you an idea of how deep your lure is. I will usually reel in one cast on the surface, then let the next one sink down for two counts, then four, six, eight counts, and so on. Eventually, you will know where the bottom is. This will help you focus on the entire water column.

Now for some advice that might sound silly at first.

I count out loud.

I don't scream it, but loud enough so I can hear myself. Why, might you ask? Well if you catch a fish on an "eight" count, wouldn't it make sense to count down to eight again the next time? Of course! Sometimes though, in the heat of the battle with the trout, I will forget what number I was at. I find counting out loud helps me keep track of where I was. Maybe this won't be an issue for you. Just thought I'd throw it out there.

So there you have it, between fan casting and counting down, your lure you will be covering much more of the water in front of you, and reaching more trout. You're already on your way to being a much more effective spinner fisherman!

Brook trout (technically a member of the char family) are typically smaller than other trout species, but make up for it in their aggression and willingness to bite spinners.

Brook trout (technically a member of the char family) are typically smaller than other trout species, but make up for it in their aggression and willingness to bite spinners.

Snap Into Action!

It's called a spinner for a reason. If the blade isn't spinning, you're not trout fishing. You need to keep that blade moving. Oftentimes, the blade on certain spinners will stick. The result? A wasted cast.

How to solve this?

Right when you start to retrieve the lure, give the lure a jerk with the rod. This isn't a hook-set, just a nice short jerk. The tension on the line and the rush of water over the blade will get the blade to jump into action. I do this on practically every cast. It's just an easy way to ensure your lure's effectiveness.

Hooks dressed with feathers and mylar, like the one seen above, add extra motion and flash to your spinner. Experiment with tying your own dressed spinners!

Hooks dressed with feathers and mylar, like the one seen above, add extra motion and flash to your spinner. Experiment with tying your own dressed spinners!

Trigger the Strike

Don't you love that feeling you get when a big trout follows your lure right up to your feet? The only thing better than that is having it strike. The truth is, a lot more trout probably follow your lure than you will ever realize. The idea is to convert as many "follows" into "hits" as possible. One way to do this is to twitch your rod tip towards your lure. The slack in the line causes the lure to pitch to the side and change pace. This can often trigger a bite from a trailing trout. A word of caution—if you put too much slack in the line the blade may stop spinning altogether, killing the action, and any chance of catching that trout. So keep it subtle.

Cast Further, Feel the Strike!

Cast Upstream

This is one that seems to get a lot of attention. When fishing in streams or rivers, cast upstream, initially, and let the lure swing around as you retrieve it. There are a few reasons for this. For one, trout must face upstream in order to fight the current. Additionally, almost all food will be drifting downstream, making this the natural presentation. So put it in the trout's face, cast upstream, and reel downstream.

A second reason to cast upstream is to get your lure deeper. On downstream casts, the force of the current will cause your lure to rise up and skip along the surface. Your lure never has a chance to get down to the fish. If however, you cast upstream, your lure will be able to sink deeper to where the fish might be holding.

Brown trout on a Mepps Aglia spinner.

Brown trout on a Mepps Aglia spinner.

Fish to the Cover

Fish the cover: under logs, under banks, behind rocks, in trenches, and really any other structure on the river or lake bottom. So if the fish are there, so should your lure be (assuming you're trying to catch fish). Now if you cast and drop the lure right on top of the cover, the fish will spook, and you're out of luck. Instead, cast well past the cover, then use your rod tip to guide the lure past the cover.

Additionally, if you trust your casting skills, and you don't mind losing a lure or two, look for the really tough cover. Gaps in weed beds, trees hanging into the water: the kind of cover most other fishermen avoid at all costs. Sure, you might snag up; you might also get "the one".

Vary Your Retrieval Speed

Reel fast, reel slow, change it up. Depending on how aggressive the trout are feeling, one might work better than another. As a general rule, retrieve more slowly in cold water and faster in warm, but this is by no means set in stone. Just keep trying until you find what works.

Color Selection

Some people would swear that this is the most important part. I, on the other hand, concentrate more on presentation; I believe that any color lure can be effective if fished properly. That being said, there are a couple of things I try to keep in mind.

  • In stained or turbid water, you will need more flash. This means either sizing up spinners or switching to a shinier blade.
  • In clear water, either size down lures or switch to a less reflective blade.
  • In cold water, fish seem to respond better to more flash, so go bigger or shinier.
  • In warm water, fish respond better to less flash, so go smaller or less shiny.

As far as reflectivity: silver is shinier than gold, after which come, copper, bronze, brass, nickel, and a few others (I think in that order but I'm not sure). The only reason I bring this up is that nickel and silver are difficult to differentiate between with the naked human eye; this is troublesome because nickel is much less reflective from the fish's point of view. Many cheaper lure companies will replace silver with nickel to cut corners.

So what if it's hot and clear, or cold and turbid, or hot and stained? This is where it gets confusing. Just try to make a good guess at it and give it a try, and if it doesn't work? Well, that's my next point.

If They Aren't Hitting, Change it Up

Why fish with the same lure all day if the fish aren't hitting it? Try a different one. Now I don't want you to spend all day changing lures and not fishing; give each one a fair chance before switching again.

To make this easier, attach a snap swivel to the end of your line. This will prevent having to retie your knots constantly, and prevent line twist.

A quick note: don't be tempted to go cheap when buying swivels. Sometimes you can get away with it, but not here. Cheap swivels tend to bind under the line tension and not spin. Before you know it you might end up with a lapful of bird's nest. Instead, opt for a ball-bearing swivel. Ball-bearing swivels will still spin under all kinds of tension.

I Have A Favor To Ask

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  • Best yet, if this helped you catch some fish recently, send me a picture using the 'Contact the Author' link at the top of the page and I'll feature you and your catch in an upcoming post! Thank you!

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I spin for trout without braid, just with monofilament?

Answer: Absolutely! I actually prefer monofilament when casting spinners for trout.

Question: Is it possible to catch kokanee with spinners?

Answer: While I wouldn't say they are the most popular lure for kokanee, they will certainly catch them. If you're able to use bait in the area where you will be fishing, adding a piece of scented corn to the spinner hook will probably increase your odds.

Kokanee often school further from shore, in deeper water, so unless you're fishing from a boat it will be more difficult to target them.


Chris Wolf on August 26, 2020:

I just started using spinners and I am having fun using and them. The Meps spinners are the most successful so far.

Chris on November 17, 2019:

I've found that using a snap swivel on the hook and with a flurocarbon hook length to a ball bearing and mono mainline is better than just one swivel, especially fishing rivers.

A swivel spinner is also a great help when fishing upstream.

SoloOne on May 21, 2019:

Great stuff here! Very helpful for a beginner!!!!

Frank on April 10, 2019:

White rooster tail all I use

George Hoherd on December 10, 2018:

Good and helpful.

Kevin on November 09, 2018:

I never use a swivel with spinners. It hampers the movement of the spinner imho...i fish a small shallow rocky creek with runs of steelhead and salmon as well as resident rainbows and browns in northern indiana...your other advice is on point tho

Mark Weatherley on September 01, 2018:

great read and advise

Roger Dale on August 06, 2018:

I like using Joe’s Flies brand spinners. They are made in West Virginia and come in an orange package. They have many different types of flies. I typically have the most luck with the brown patterns, such as the March Brown or the Muddler. But I also typically fish in the summer when the water is clear and low. I haven’t had as much luck with them in freshly stocked trout.

huntnfish (author) from Washington on July 24, 2018:

Depending on what section of the Descutes you're fishing, thats some pretty big water.

Of course, the easiest way to increase casting distance is using a heavier lure, or adding additional weight, like you did. Both of these come with a few drawbacks of course. Depending on the fish you are targeting, a much larger heavier lure might be outside of the fish's prey size range. A 12" trout will rarely strike a 1 oz spinner. On the other hand, adding additional weight to the line can make a lure more difficult to cast, and can also affect its action in the water. Adding additional weight will also cause the lure to sink more quickly in the water column (sometimes good, sometimes bad).

The best way to squeeze out the most casting distance from a specific lure is to make sure your rod, reel, and fishing line match the lure you have selected. Fishing rods are designed as springs, able to store up and release energy imparted from you flicking the rod backwards and forwards. If the lure is too light compared to the rod action, the lure cannot store any spring energy in the rod. If the rod is too light compared to the lure, it will not transfer enough energy back to the lure to compensate for the lure weight.

If you fishing line is too heavy, too old, too tangled, or too stiff, it will also severely affect your casting distance.

Having a nearly full spool of fishing line can also make a big difference. If your spool is only half full, the line experiences a lot more drag as its peeling off.

With a well paired rod, reel, and line, even 1/8oz lures can really fly.

But, if its still not quite enough, a couple split shots clipped to your line 16" or so from your lure will work in a pinch.

If you have any further questions, feel free to hit the contact the author link to shoot me an email, I'd love to help!

Robert G Cantrell on July 24, 2018:

Took up trout fishing recently because I retired after an absence of 40 years. And that was primarily trolling on the Oregon coast. Love your article and I'm one of those newbies who had good luck because I've had quite a bit of success with inexpensive gear and random lures here in the Pacific Northwest. My question is with such light gear I need to know how to cast further to get my lure out in the river further. Last week on the Deschutes River I just added a couple swivels which helped but would like to know the best technique.

huntnfish (author) from Washington on April 16, 2018:

Thanks MrWick! Some awesome tips right there!

I absolutely agree with your point about switching to jerkbaits and stick baits when you want to target bigger fish. I've pitched spinners through a hole for hours and caught plenty of mid-size cutthroat, and then switched to oversized Rapala and nailed a Brown twice the size of any of the cutties on the first cast. Those big fish are often just looking for more food for less effort.

I typically use monofilament for almost all trout fishing. Can you share your thoughts on going with a braid for this style of fishing?


MrWick on April 15, 2018:

I spin fish the driftless region in southern Wisconsin. Places like Black Earth Creek, Castle Rock Creek and Gordon Creek. My go-to spinner are Wordens Rooster Tail in 1/8 oz, firetiger pattern (chartreuse skirt, orange and green body). The willow blade and weight distribution help keep the lure up in the water column and give me better depth control. Because I always fish upstream with spinners getting the lure deep isn't hard but keeping it inches above a log etc can be challenging especially since I'm trying to keep the lure in the strike zone as long as possible. I find I can use a slightly slower retrieve with the Rooster Tail vs Mepps, Panther Martin and Vibrax. I also think the willow blade mimics the shape of a minnow better than the oval blades of the others. The only downside to the Rooster Tail is the wire they use is noticeably thinner/weaker than the others. I think this helps from a presentation standpoint but it also makes them pretty easy to bend and thus affecting the rotation of the blade which is the last thing a spinner fisherman wants. I find the firetiger/brass blade combo far outfishes other patterns I use. Browns seem to like the color gold above all others in my experiences. Which leads me to my next personal favorite- a gold suspending Rapala Husky Jerk. I'll generally use a #6, occasionally a #8 and in rare, very specific situations I'll go big with a #10. My experience tells me I'll catch more fish with spinners but larger fish on jerkbaits. Since January I've been experimenting with the X-Raps trying to compare the action, specific presentations and effectiveness with the Husky Jerk. Early indications are the trout prefer the HJ's despite my human eye liking the X-Rap better. With it's dressed rear treble hook and tight wobble the XR looks extremely realistic. The fish however, at least during the cold months of Jan-March, seem to prefer the looser wobble and bigger flash of the HJ.

I use a Shimano Stradic 1000 size reel, St Croix 6'3" Eyecon ML with Extra-fast action, 4 lb Power Pro line with a 3-foot Seagur 4 lb Fluoro leader.

Russ on February 18, 2018:

Great article.

I prefer rooster tails and vibrio rooster tails.

They consistently work. Some of the meps spinners I bought occasionally don’t spin. Plus I like the dressed treble.

huntnfish (author) from Washington on December 08, 2017:

Thanks Jake! Glad you found it helpful. I'm just trying to share something I love and inspire people to get out and fish. If you have any further questions ask away!

Jake on December 07, 2017:

This is one of the most helpful sites I have seen. Thank you

Phill on August 26, 2017:

This really helped!

Eric on August 04, 2017:

I like using Joe's Flys. If you havnt tied one on yet, give em a try. You can get them on ebay and sometimes bass pro or cabelas. There a spinner that has a fly. Very effective for the Au Sable here in Michigan were they see alot of preasure from mepps or panther martins.

dmhannan on August 17, 2016:

Great article... definitely learned something new, especially the casting upstream, allowing the lure to both sink and present well.

Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on October 22, 2014:

Spinners are my favorite lure to use when fishing for trout and small mouth bass. The Yellow Coach Dog pattern seldom lets me down.

collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on December 23, 2012:

In-line spinners are my favorite way to catch brookies and browns. Good point about changing it up. I usually start with french blades then I switch to inline blades if a hole doesn't product. Great hub!

David on January 02, 2012:

Great article - I'm a fan of - it has a lot of great information on catching trout with spinners.