by Adam A. Dempsey
Whether you call it a Walleye harness, a crawler harness, a spinner rig, a spinner harness or a variation of these, this simple bait rig catches fish. The spinner harness has basically been around for over 120 years, and over time has been modified and adapted to suit our needs as they arose. Typically, a spinner harness is fished by trolling, often using a bottom bouncer or three-way setup, but can also be used as a drifting, jigging or casting rig. There are plenty of great spinner harnesses available commercially from both large tackle manufacturers and small independent shops. The advantages of the independents is they often cater to fishermen of a local water body and offer baits that are known to produce. They also tend to use higher quality components and offer a larger variety of customized baits that you may not see from the big companies. On the other hand, harnesses from large tackle companies are often easier to find, offer better quality control and can be less expensive. Regardless of where you purchase your spinner harness, there is no doubt you will catch fish with it!
One major advantage of the spinner harness lies in its simplicity. They are inexpensive to make on your own and easy to customize to suit your fishing style and target species. A spinner harness is comprised of five basic components: leader line, hook(s), beads, a clevis and a spinner blade. Sounds simple, right?? Sure, until you start reading up on how to actually make one! There may be only five “ingredients” but there are so many options available to you within those five ingredients it can become overwhelming. So, I thought I would put together this article to offer some assistance with making spinner harnesses that will hopefully suit your needs.
Table of Contents
For those of you who are only interested in the what and how, and not the why, I thought I would just start with some recommendations. What type of spinner harness you tie up depends on how and where you fish. For the majority of anglers, spinner harnesses will be trolled near the bottom on inland lakes or in the water column on big water, like Lake Erie.
For inland lakes, snell on one or two size 2 Octopus hooks, using the quick snell knot, to 3' of 12/14 lb test Trilene XT monofilament or 14/15lb test of Seguar Premium or Blue Label fluorocarbon line. Add 5 or 6 size 6 beads, use two different contrasting colors, followed by a size 4 Colorado blade in silver or gold/brass of any texture; or a solid or blended color of chartreuse, orange or green using a size 4 folded metal clevis or a large quick change clevis. You can add an additional size 6 bead above the clevis if you wish. At the end of the line tie on a barrel swivel using a Palomar knot.
For trolling the water column on big water, snell on one or two size 2 Octopus hooks, using the quick snell knot, to 6' of 17 or 20 lb test Trilene XT monofilament or Seaguar Red Label fluorocarbon line. Add 6 or 7 size 6 beads, use two different contrasting colors, followed by a size 5 or 6 Colorado blade in silver, gold/brass or copper in any texture; or a blended color of primarily purple or pink using a size 6 folded metal clevis or a large quick change clevis. You can add an additional size 6 bead above the clevis if you wish. At the end of the line tie on a barrel swivel using a Palomar knot.
Selecting Components for your Custom DIY Spinner Harness
Let's begin with the leader line. There are a few factors to consider here. First, what type of line? You have several options, including: solid stainless steel wire, nylon coated stranded stainless steel wire, monofilament, fluorocarbon, hybrid or superline. I have come across spinner harnesses made from all of these types of “line”. Next, what diameter/lb test line is best? Spinner harnesses have been made with line anywhere from 6lb to 25lb+ test. What about the length of the line? That's anywhere from 12” to 9+ feet! I am already confused and this is only the first aspect of the spinner harness!! So, let's look at each of these choices and get an idea of what to use and when.
The original spinner harnesses were made with solid steel wire 6” to 12” in length, one or two blades, maybe a bead and a long shank hook. People probably know these as Prescott and June Bug spinners. They worked in the past and you can still buy them today from several manufacturers. The advantage of using solid steel wire is obviously its resistance to damage from rocks, zebra mussels and toothy critters; as well as its stiffness. However, it is susceptible to kinks, not as easy to work with since it's not as easy to tie, limited to a single hook (for the most part) and the practical length of your leader is limited. Not to mention it lacks the more natural, organic motion of the less stiff lines.
Solid steel stainless wire and wire forms (6” to 12” wires that already have one end twisted to form a loop) are available from lure suppliers if you want to use this wire to make spinner harnesses. Hooks are attached by twisting the wire, such as using the Hayward twist, or using crimping sleeves to form a loop. Solid steel wire is still a good choice if you fish areas that are heavy with fish like Northern Pike or you want use it as a cast & retrieve rig. Of course, you could always add a leader line and rig it up as you see fit. Minnows are typically used when fishing this type of rig.
Similar to solid stainless steel is nylon coated stainless steel stranded wire. The main difference between the two is that this wire is flexible and can be tied, although often crimping sleeves are still used to form loops to attach the hooks. Similar to using solid wire, stranded wire has a practical limitation in length. However, stranded wire offers all the benefits of solid wire but is less susceptible to kinks and making a spinner harness with multiple hooks is more feasible. Spinner harnesses made with stranded wire are typically smaller, about 6” to 8” long. Another option I stumbled across is using stainless steel stranded beading wire. This wire is normally used to make necklaces, but some fisherman have used it to assemble spinner harnesses. I cannot comment on how good the wire is for harnesses, but it appears it should be strong enough and might be a less expensive option. You will find that the same companies manufactures wire for both industries.
It's also worth mentioning tyable wire leader, which comes in both titanium and stainless steel. Now this is tough stuff! It is normally used for fishing big game toothy critters from Musky to Sharks, but it can be used for tying up your harnesses. Not only can you tie this wire, but it's virtually kink resistant and has the smallest diameter. The biggest disadvantage is that it's quite expensive. Definitely a good choice if you're concered about the potential for serious line damage or bite-offs. Malin, AFW, Aquateko and Terminator all make versions of tyable titanium wire. TyGer Leader makes a stainless steel version.
Nylon monofilament line is an obvious choice for making spinner harnesses. It's inexpensive, easy to tie, flexible [and as such, has a more natural motion], has reduced visibility and is widely available. Most people even have extra line laying around from spooling their reels. However, monofilament is susceptible to line twist, nicking, memory, potentially low tensile strength, rocks and toothy critters. Fortunately, many of these issues can be overcome using a larger diameter line, at the minimal expense of increased visibility and a less “natural” presentation. Monofilament is the second most popular choice of line for making spinner harnesses.
Fluorocarbon line is also a great choice for making spinner harnesses. Similar to monofilament, it's easy to tie and widely available. It also offers additional transparency, stiffness and lower stretch relative to monofilament of the same line diameter. However, it shares all the disadvantages of monofilament line in addition to being typically more expensive than monofilament (especially the “leader line” versions) and has potential knot weakness [although, this is less of an issue if you tie your knots carefully]. Again, most of the problems associated with fluorocarbon line can be offset by using a larger diameter line and using those specifically made as leader material. The leader line versions offer higher abrasion resistance, relative to similar main line versions, and are excellent for tying spinner harnesses. Fluorocarbon line is currently the most popular choice for making spinner harnesses.
Hybrid line is generally monofilament nylon line coated with a layer of fluorocarbon, but can also be a copolymer. Whether it's a true hybrid offering the advantages of both, I am not certain. However, my experience using it as a main line suggests it does offer lower stretch and increased stiffness over monofilament. Whether or not it offers reduced visibility remains to be seen. I am sure how “fluorocarbon-like” or “monofilament-like” a hybrid line actually is will vary widely amongst the different brands. Would this be a good choice for making spinner harnesses? It might be, but I can't really see any reason why it would be better than monofilament or fluorocarbon line. Of course, hybrid lines are definitely cheaper than fluorocarbon leader line so perhaps that alone makes it a viable choice if you're looking for some partial benefits of fluorocarbon without the added cost.
The final option are the superlines. Both braided and fused superlines are very thin diameter, low stretch lines. Although they have great tensile strength at low diameters, they are still prone to nicking and don't really offer much protection from being frayed or cut by rocks and toothy critters. The thin diameters also make the line very flexible, which in my opinion, is a bad characteristic for a spinner harness as this can result in twisting, tangles and interfering with how the spinner spins. Although, this is elss of a problem with the fused superlines. The superlines are also relatively expensive. So, the characteristics that make this a great main line also make it a poor choice for spinner harnesses. I would strongly advise using the other line types over any superline.
Once you've decided what type of line to use for your snells you now have to decide what diameter (lb test) and how long your snell should be. For wire line you will likely want something that is rated at 20 to 30 lb test, which has a large enough diameter for the spinner to spin properly and is strong enough to withstand the majority of freshwater fish. The length of your wire should be 6” to 12”, otherwise it just becomes far too impractical. If you make your spinner harness at lengths <12”, you will most likely need to add a 3' mono or fluorocarbon leader line if you're trolling behind bottom bouncers or three-way rigs. These shorter spinner harnesses are just fine for casting out rigged up as a Carolina Rig (bullet weight on your main line ahead of the spinner harness) or trolled using some type of in-line weight.
For monofilament, fluorocarbon and hybrid lines you will either use line in the 8 to 14lb test range or the 17 to 20lb test range. The most popular being 12 or 14 lb mono (line diameter 0.014” and 0.015”, respectively) and 15 or 20 lb fluorocarbon (line diameter 0.015” and 0.016”, respectively). Overall, smaller diameter lines, such as 6 to 8lb test, are preferable as they are flexible and offer a more natural movement or finesse approach to your bait. However, if you're fishing a water body that has a lot of inherent risks for line fray and being cut (e.g,. zebra mussels, net stakes, rocks, toothy critters, etc..) you will want to select a larger diameter line that's going to withstand them. Also, the smaller diameter lines are more prone to memory issues, tangles and lack the resilience compared to higher diameter lines after they've been abused in the net a few times. The smaller diameter lines won't work as well with the larger blades either, so in those cases you may need to choose the larger diameter lines. So ultimately, it's a balancing act in which you have to decide what characteristics are more important to you and the water body you're fishing. If finesse is more important than resilience, choose line in the 8 to 12lb test range, otherwise if you're running larger blades, fishing water with a lot of Northern Pike or just want the assurance of larger diameter line, select line in the 14 to 20lb test range. Popular line choices include Trilene XT and Trilene Big Game for monofilament lines; and Berkley Vanish, Berkeley 100% Fluorocarbon, P-Line Fluorocarbon and Seaguar Fluorocarbon (Blue Label, Red Label, AbrazX, InvisX) for fluorocarbon lines. Blood Run Tackle even markets a fluorocarbon line specifically for crawler harnesses.
The length of the snell is highly dependent on how and where you are going to be fishing your spinner harness. If you're trolling behind a bottom bouncer, pencil weight, slip-weight or three-way rig you typically want a snell from 3' to 6' in length – closer to 3' if you're close to the lake bottom [24” to 30” in really snaggy areas] and up to 6' if you're trolling higher in the water column. Of course, that doesn't mean your spinner harness has to be that long, you could always attach a separate leader line if you wanted to, but most anglers generally don't – more hardware to deal with and additional knots increase line weakness. Unless of course you're using steel wire, you'll want to use a longer leader on these shorter 6” to 12” steel wire spinner harnesses. If you're using the spinner harness as a Carolina Rig [or “Walleye Killer” Rig], under a slip-bobber or trolling with an in-line weight, an 8” to 24” snell length should be fine. Ultimately, whatever length you choose your spinner harness needs to stay above the lake bottom and far enough away from your weight system to not “spook” the fish and to provide a more natural presentation.
When it comes to hooks, there are several options to consider – how many, style, size, gap length between hooks and what knots to use. The majority of harnesses are tied with a type of live bait beak hook, such as an Octopus hook. However, there are some single hook harness styles that use either an Aberdeen, Bait Holder, Extra Wide Gap (EWG) worm or Offset Shank worm hook. I also like to use Streamer and Steelhead fly hooks. For the most part, you want a good quality live bait hook that has a offset eye to accommodate the snell knot. Some hooks do not have an offset eye, such as the Aberdeen, so you will have to take some pliers and bend the eye yourself. You may break a few hooks in the process, but you will manage, and don't worry, the bent hooks will retain their strength. If you're fishing extra snaggy waters it might be better to switch to a hook that can straighten out easily, such as an Aberdeen hook, so you don't lose your entire rig. Popular hooks include Gamakatsu Octopus and Walleye Wide Gap, Owner SSW, Mustad Octopus, Double Wide Live Bait and Live Bait, VMC Octopus and Matzuo Octopus.
I have compiled a comprehensive list of hooks suitable for tying spinner harness that you may download here.
Most hooks come in three or four colors red, black nickel or bronze, but there are some that come in an assortment of colors from green to fluorescent pink. Some anglers feel that the red hooks depict blood and act as a fish attractant. Other bright colors may also be a visible attractant to fish. However, use whatever color hooks you like as most of the hook is covered with bait anyway. I'd stay away from any brass hooks though, they are too brittle and will snap when snagged.
A spinner harness for baiting nightcrawlers usually has one to three hooks, with the majority being one or two hooks. You will see many commercial spinner harnesses with three bait hooks, but most anglers discovered all those hooks are unnecessary. Two hooks are often used when fishing with a whole nightcrawler and a single hook for half of a nightcrawler, a leech or a minnow. Of course, putting a whole nightcrawler on a single hook is also a perfectly viable option. Many anglers opt for a single hook because it works well for them and is obviously less of an interference, but others like the assurance of that second hook. It's also worth noting that spinner harnesses used for “big water” trolling suspended fish sometimes use a bait hook followed by a treble hook. The idea is that it's supposed to increase your chance of hooking a fish. It's not recommended to use treble hooks on inland lakes, primarily because you generally fish closer to the bottom on these lakes and it will likely increase your chance of snagging.
Hook size obviously depends on the style of the hook, target species and overall harness size. For live bait Octopus style hooks, sizes 4 or 2 hooks are good for the majority of Walleye fishing. For two hook harnesses, it's not uncommon to see two #4, two #2 or a combination of #4 and #2 Octopus live bait hooks used. If you use two different sized hooks on the same spinner harness, tie the smaller one on the bottom as the trailer hook. Most predator fish will target the eyes or front of their prey. For single hook harnesses a size #2, #1 or 1/0 Octopus live bait hook is often used. Sometimes a longer shanked hook is preferred for single hook harnesses, such as a #2 , #1, 1/0 or 2/0 Aberdeen or a size 1/0, 2/0 or 3/0 EWG or Offset worm hook. The larger hook and longer shank provides more room to thread on your nightcrawler and is often a better choice when using minnows. You may want to bend the hook eye a little on some of these long shanked hooks so the sit straight once tied, however they can be brittle and you may break a few while attempting this. When you need to downsize, such as during a Mayfly hatch or targeting Brook Trout, #6 Octopus hooks or a single #4 Aberdeen hook are a good choice . Also, don't be afraid to go a size smaller or larger if you need to. Sometimes you will need a very subtle presentation and other times you're catching some serious hook benders.
To attach hooks to the snell line, a snell knot is most often used. This keeps the hooks secure and the hook shank aligned parallel to the axes of the line. Some anglers like to tie a Trilene, Palomar or Improved Clinch knot for the bottom hook. Those are all great knots and are probably just fine for non-trolling applications. However, those knots provide a pivot point for the hook and as you troll it will likely have more independent movement compared to a snelled hook. You really want the hook shank parallel to the line so the harness functions as one single unit. Also, keep in mind that if you want to use one of these non-snell knots, your hook should have a straight eye. Otherwise, the direction of force applied during the hook set will be directed away from the hooks point and may result in lost fish. For any additional hooks, a snell knot is almost always used. When tying multiple hooks, keep a gap between the bottom of the hooks from 2” to 4”, with 3” being a good target. If you're using smaller worms or dead leeches, this gap should only be 1.5” to 2”. It's helpful to use a marked template if you want to be consistent with your gap size. The template can be as simple as marks on your desk or paper; or a board with two nails or screws in it. You can even use a “helping hands” or two fly tying vices if you want to be even more precise.
There are at least four different snell knots used on harnesses - the Traditional Snell, the Uni-knot Snell, the Easy Snell and the Simple or Quick Snell. Of these, the Simple Snell is most commonly used for obvious reasons – it's simple to tie. However, the Simple Snell is not secured and is only maintained with applied tension. This really isn't a problem, but the snell can come undone if the line is pushed back through the hook eye. As a result, some people apply glue on these snells. Regardless, it's a good knot and widely used for spinner harnesses. The Traditional, Uni-knot and Easy Snell knots all lock down once tied. They are slightly more challenging than tying the Simple Snell, but after some practice they are quite easy.
It's important to point out that there are some slight variations in how to tie the same knot and, in this case, the Traditional Snell in particular. Basically, you have the option whether or not to pass the line through the hook eye. The method I illustrate passes the line through twice to form a loop. However, you don't have to do that, you can skip passing through the eye altogether or only pass through it once as in STEP 1 [but not in STEP 2]. The knot will still hold just fine and there are instances where this is how you must snell the hook because some hooks don't have eyes! Furthermore, for hooks that don't have offset eyes , such as Aberdeen hooks, or only slightly offset eyes, such as Drop-shot hooks, [and you don't want to make it offset with pliers] I would recommend using a knot that only passes through the hook eye once or not at all – the Uni-knot Snell, Easy Snell or modified Traditional Snell knot all qualify. This will help keep the hook parallel to the line, which is what you want with a spinner harness.
Of course, if you don't really feel like dealing with lines, hooks and knots, there are plenty of commercially available pre-tied snells from all the major hook manufacturers that would work great in most cases.
The beads on a harness function primarily as a spacer to keep the rotating blade above the hooks and from interfering with the hook set, but also act as attractors by adding color, flash, a profile and possibly some vibration. Beads are typically round and smooth or faceted, but can also be oval or ring shaped. In addition to beads there are spacer bodies and stacker beads specifically made for spinner harnesses that can be used in place of multiple single beads. For the most part, beads for spinner harness are made of plastic, but glass and metal beads are sometimes used. I'd stay away from glass and metal beads due to their added weight and potentially sharp edges though. Especially considering there are good quality plastic beads with metal finishes available. You can use everyday craft beads from the discount “dollar” stores or art and craft shops, but tackle shops and online tackle suppliers have the best selection.
The number of single beads threaded onto your snells is dependent on the size of the bead and blade. You want to use a minimum number of beads so that the bottom of your blade at rest is above the eye of the top hook. I like to use 5 or 6 beads, so I try to match the bead and blade size to accommodate that. Adding more beads is fine, but add too few and you may have problems hooking fish. Many people, myself included, add an additional bead or two on top of the spinner blade. This is supposed to help keep the blade spinning by shielding the clevis and blade from debris in the water. It may also act as an “eye” for the harness, adding some attraction to your bait. There are those that debate the validity of these points, and I cannot contest them, but I am confident that it cannot hurt to add that extra bead.
The size of beads most often used for spinner harnesses are 2mm (5/64”), 3mm (1/8”), 4mm (5/32”), 5mm (3/16”), 6mm (1/4”) and 8mm (5/16”). The metric system (millimeters) is standardly used to indicate the diameter of the bead which is often just shortened to sizes 2 to 8. Although there is no right size bead to select, you typically want to match the size of your bead to the size of your blade. The smallest flikker blades, such as Colorado 00, 0 and 1, you would use size 2 and 3 beads. For small blades, such as Colorado 2 and 3, you would use size 3, 4 or maybe 5 beads. For medium sized blades, such as Colorado 4 and 5, you would use size 5 or 6 beads. With the largest blades I'd probably still only use up to size 6 beads, maybe some size 8, but ideally some larger spacers would be best. Any larger and your harness will be far to bulky and performance will start to become hindered. You can also mix and match different sizes and types of beads, such as round beads with stacker beads, sleeve beads and spacer bodies. Customize your spinner harness however you see fit – more subtle finesse or loud and large. There isn't a right answer and you will want to adjust what size beads you use depending on what type of bait you want to offer. Just be sure to keep that blade above the hook.
One of the most asked questions is what color beads to use? Obviously there is no correct answer and this will vary depending on where you are fishing, what your target species is and what time of year. However, whatever your standard go to crankbait colors are, should work just fine. Some of the more popular colors are red, chartreuse, yellow, green, purple, pink, white and gold. What about patterns? Well, you can mix and match however you see fit. Personally, I like to try to make contrasting patterns as I feel contrast is more important than the actual color. Try bright eye catching colors and also try matching the local forage base. A good example of this is during a may fly hatch where you want to use more earth tone colors, like browns and gold, to match the rising nymphs. Figuring out and discovering new productive combinations is all part of the fun of making custom tackle!
In addition to beads there are some situations where you want to use a foam float instead. These small pill shaped floats function as spacers but more importantly they help raise your harness up a little more into the water column. This can be especially useful when you're fishing very snaggy areas like timber piles and stump fields. For most spinners harnesses you'll probably want to use two or maybe three pill floats instead of beads. You can put some small size 2 or 3 beads at the ends of each pill float if you wish.
Click here for a table showing the number of beads required for a given blade type, blade size, bead size and clevis size for all blade types.
The clevis is simply a fastener that attaches a blade to your line while still giving the blade the freedom to spin and limit any line abrasion. There are two commonly used types of clevis, the simple folded metal clevis and the plastic quick change clevis. The folded metal clevis is a thin piece of brass that has been stamped into a donut shaped disc and folded in half. The “D-shaped” clevis is slipped through the hole of the spinner blade and then the snell line is threaded through the clevis in the spaces where the folds in the metal were made. The metal clevises are cheap and effective. They come in four different sizes (1, 2, 4 and 6) to accommodate the wide range of blade sizes available and in polished brass or nickel plate. The advantages of these clevises is that they are inexpensive and spin easily at low speeds and with smaller blades Also, do not confuse these with stirrup clevises which are designed for steel wire spinnerbaits. The line thread holes in stirrup clevises are too sharp to be used on monofilament or fluorocarbon lines.
The most popular clevis is the quick change clevis, so named because the spinner blade is attached using the open hook of the clevis allowing it to be removed and replaced at any time. This is a nice feature and allows you to change your presentation on the fly without retying or making dozens of spinner harnesses with various blade colors and styles ahead of time. The most common quick change clevises are made of plastic and typically come in white, black, yellow or red; and are available in three sizes (small, medium and large) to accommodate all the various blade sizes. The downside of these clevises is they can occasionally throw the blade, but more current clevises include a “keeper” design that helps prevent this. The plastic quick change clevises are also bulkier and the plastic offers a little more resistance against the line, so they don't spin as well with smaller blades and at slow speeds relative to folded metal clevises.
There are also a few other clever quick change clevis designs made of wound metal wire, or plastic and wire, that are almost guaranteed to keep your spinner blade from coming off using clips or spring wraps. There is even a clip-on version of the folded metal clevis. These newer designs offer the benefits of both the folded metal clevis and the plastic quick change clevis. Interestingly, you can even make your own “spring” type using some stainless steel wire forms and a wire former by wrapping the wire into seven coils and then forming a loop that overlaps the main wire.
When deciding what clevis to use, if you're using small blades, plan on trolling or drifting slow, or simply don't care about changing your blades, I would suggest the folded metal clevises. Otherwise, any of the clevises will work just fine, but be sure to match the correct size clevis to your spinner blade.
The spinner blade is the heart of the spinner harness. There are at least a dozen different styles of spinner blade and an endless selection of textures, colors and patterns. The spinner blade draws fish to the spinner harness by creating flashes of color and light, vibration and movement. All the various blade types differ in how they move and produce these effects. The three most commonly used blades are the Colorado, Indiana and Willowleaf. The Colorado and Indiana blades are teardropped shaped, with the Colorado blade having a wider base. The Willowleaf blade is long, narrow and shaped like a leaf.
The differences in the blade shapes result in a difference in the angles the blades rotate, relative to the axis of the snell line, as well as the speed require to maintain motion. The Colorado blade rotates at an approximate 60 degree angle and at relatively slow speeds, while the Indiana rotates at an approximate 45 degree angle requiring higher speeds while the Willowleaf blade rotates at a 30 degree angle requiring the fastest speed. In general, the smaller the angle of blade rotation, the less vibration, more flash and higher minimum speed required for rotation a blade will have. The majority of the less common blade types (Chopper, Dakota, French, Minnow, Oklahoma (i.e., Cascade, Olympic, Turtleback), Ripple, Royal Willowleaf, Swing, Tomahawk (i.e, Doc Sheldon, Hatchet), and Whiptail) have rotational angles and speeds that fall between the Colorado and Willowleaf blades. The exception being the deep cut Colorado, propeller and smile style blades. The deep cut Colorado blades are very similar to the standard Colorado blades, but the deeper cup increases water resistance, and as a result, the minimum speed for rotation is lower for the same size blade. The propeller and smile blades rotate around the axis, at 90 degrees, because they slide directly onto the snell line without the need of a clevis, and require the least amount of movement for rotation.
Thus, the reason for the popularity of the Colorado blade should be obvious. It can be fished at slow to moderate speeds and produces excellent vibration and flash. Perfect for the majority of Walleye fishing waters. However, Willowleaf blades are very popular for trolling big water suspended Walleye. You can troll quite fast, generating a lot of flash and covering a large amount of water searching for active fish. Most of the other blade styles fall in between these two extremes and are good choices during the warmer months when fish are more active. Regardless, if you only used Colorado blades for all your spinner harnesses, you would never feel handicapped and will always catch fish.
Spinner blades also come in eight to twelve different sizes. The smallest sizes, such as the Colorado and Indiana #00, #0 and #1 (~1/2” to 3/4”), are good as flikker blades on many live bait rigs, such as jigs, slip-weight rigs and slip-bobber rigs. Sizes #1 and #2 are great for smaller presentations, like “Go-Getters” for Rainbow and Brook Trout and Mayfly harnesses for Walleye. The midsize blades, such as the Colorado and Indiana #3 and #4 (~1” to 1 1/4”), are perfect for most Walleye spinner harnesses. However, many of the anglers fishing big water Walleye will use large blades, such as Colorado #5 to #8(~1 1/2” to 2”), Indiana #5 to #9 (~1 1/2” to 2 1/2”) and Willowleaf #5 to #8 (~2 1/2” to 3 3/4”), for the added vibration and flash to attract fish from further away. It's also important to consider that smaller blades will rotate at slower speeds relative to their larger counterparts, so you may want to downsize if you are trolling slow. Some anglers also like to "match the hatch" so to speak and choose smaller blades early in the season and larger ones later on, much like crank bait selection. Same goes with seasonal temperature changes, choosing "slower" blades during cooler periods and "faster" blades in warmer periods. These are just guidelines of course and there is nothing wrong with using a larger or smaller blade wherever you fish. Just make sure you pick the correct clevis size and snell line to match the blade you choose.
Mack's Lures Smile blade. This is a propeller like blade made of Mylar plastic cut into a smile or crescent shape. It is threaded onto your snell line through a hole in it's center like a propeller. What's important about these blades is that they spin at very low speeds and provide a lot of flash with little vibration. This makes them excellent choices for backtrolling spinner harnesses or as an added attractI think it's also worth noting one of the more specialized blade types, ant on drifting rigs and high action rigs, like the Slow Death rig.
I'd suggest the following guidelines when picking a blade size and style. If you are trolling slow ( <1.0 MPH), drifting or casting/retrieving, choose a smile, deep cut Colorado or standard Colorado blade; or if you really must use a different style, choose a small blade. When you're trolling at moderate speeds (1.0 to 1.7 MPH) you can pick whatever blade style you like. At faster trolling speeds (1.8+ MPH) you are better off using a lower resistance blade, like the Willowleaf Royal Willow or French.
If one blade is good are two or more blades better? Maybe, but most anglers report that adding a second blade didn't seem to increase catch rates. Regardless, double bladed spinner harnesses were very popular fishing for suspended Walleye on big water. These particular spinner harnesses use two #4 Willowleaf blades and two or three #2 Octopus hooks [or a #8 or #6 treble trailer] with size 3 or 4 beads. The profile was kept tight and trolled relatively quickly to cover a lot of water. Today, it seems like using a single large blade harness has succeeded the double Willowleaf spinner harnesses. Another option is to add a smaller flikker blade above your “main” blade for some additional attraction. Obviously, you can do this with any blade, but make sure you added enough spacer beads between the two so the action isn't hindered and it's probably best to use the same blade styles due to the differences in minimum speeds for rotation.
What about blade color, texture and pattern? There are as many different custom colors and patterns of spinner blades as you can find spoons from Salmon spoon manufacturers – 100's if not 1000's. The local shops that make these custom painted blades do an incredible job and offer some interesting colors and patterns. However, there are several “go to” standard colors and “textures” that will always produce fish. The metal finishes nickel, brass, gold, silver, copper in both hammered or smooth polished are always excellent choices as are the color painted finishes white, chartreuse, yellow, green, orange and five of diamonds. The hammered, hexed, diamond, scaled, ribbed, prism and rippled textured blades create a more erratic reflection pattern, which is great when the fish are easily spooked, while the smooth finishes produce a strong flash of light from a single point. When picking a blade color, choose whatever system you follow when selecting crank baits or spoons (e.g., bright lures on bright days or in murky water and dull blades on overcast days or in clear water). If you find that your first choice isn't producing as expected, either switch out the blade on your quick change clevis or simply change to a different harness altogether. Of course, if you have more than one person in the boat it's a great idea to each select a different color at first and then go from there.
Now that you've selected your line, snell length, hooks, beads, blade and clevis, it's time to assemble the spinner harness. First snell your hook(s) using the appropriate snell knot. Next, add on enough spacers so the your blade is above the top of the top hook. Spacers can be beads, springs, tubing, stack beads, special harness spacer bodies, floats or a combination of any of these. Based on the size of your blade, pick an appropriate clevis and thread that onto your snell above the beads. You don't need a clevis for a propeller or Mack's Smile Blade. You can thread on a bead or two after the clevis if you wish. That's pretty much it, your spinner is basically done you just need to decide how you're going to attach it to your main line.
There are two ways to attach your spinner harness to your main line. You either tie your favorite loop knot, such as a Double Surgeons Loop, a Perfection Loop or a Figure 8 on a Bight knot; or use a barrel swivel, preferably one with a ball-bearing tied with a Palomar knot. I highly recommend using a ball-bearing swivel to help prevent any line twisting that may occur. This is especially important when using large blades and/or low diameter line for your snells.
Two hook spinner harnesses are used primarily for nightcrawlers, but can also be used for leeches. To bait your double or triple hook harness, nose hook the worm or thread the head of the worth through the top hook, straighten the worm out and hook the second hook under the worms collar. If you use a third hook, straighten the worm out again and thread the last hook through. The goal is to have a relative straight, but not stretched out, hooked nightcrawler. A leech is similar, but for a two hook harness the gap distance should be smaller and for this type of rig a dead leech is used.
For single hook harnesses you can use nightcrawlers, leeches or minnows as bait. To rig up a nightcrawler you can use a whole or half (or even less) of a worm and nose hook it, thread it onto the hook at the head, Texas rig it or hook it through the center wacky style. Most often you will probably use some form of nose hook or threading if you're trolling. A Texas type of rigging works if you're using a single EWG worm hook and casting and retrieving. If you are drifting, you can use any of the hooking methods, but try center hooking the crawler for some added action. When using leeches you will either nose hook them or thread them onto the hook at the head.
Minnows also need to be hooked so they stay straight. To accomplish this you need to put the hook into the minnows mouth, out through one of the gills [carefully!] and then pierced just under the skin before the dorsal fin. You can also hook the minnow through the head just behind the lips. A minnow that remains alive will usually be better than dead one.
Here are a few interesting tips and modifications you can try that may offer you that little bit extra to prevent snags and land more fish.
Try putting a plastic tube over the beads for a different profile.
To add a gap between your hooks and the blade and beads you can use a bobber stop, barrel or snap swivel or wrap your line twice through the last bead on the harness. This allows you to thread your worm or leech further up the line.
Instead of using a trailer hook, try a floating jig head if you're experience hang-ups.
You can create a simple two hook spinner harness by tying a trailer hook to any inline spinner.
If you're short on clevises, try using a small crane swivel.
As an added attractor, tie a wobble type spoon inline using O-rings 4' to 6' ahead of your spinner harness; or attach the beads and hooks directly below the spoon to create a spoon harness.
Try using a small spoon instead of a spinner blade for different action.
Use a rotating bent Aberdeen hook (#4, #2 or #1) like the Mustad Slow Death, VMC Spindrift, Matzuo Death Roll (now called Rip'N'Roll), Trokar Re-volve, Eagle Claw Rotating Aberdeen or Tru-Turn as a trailer hook for added attraction of a spinning worm. Be sure to use a bearing swivel between the blade/beads and the hooks.
There may be situations where you have to adjust your spinner setup to address some specific needs, such as a specialized type of forage or a particularly "hostile" environment. Here are a few examples of some spinner harnesses that have been customized to address specific situations:
A) If you're fishing a stump field or heavy timber try a Timber Rig. This style of harness has a 24” to 30” snell length of 12lb test mono; a single 1, 1/0 or 2/0 worm hook followed by a bobber stop about 1” to 1.5” above the hook, two or three pill floats and a #3 or #4 Colorado blade with a size 3 bead ahead and behind the clevis. Thread the hook through the worm over the line all the way to the bobber stop.
B) Try a “Walleye Killer” Carolina rig for casting edges of rock piles, reefs and weed beds. This rig is 12” to 18” of 15 or 20 lb fluorocarbon or mono line, a single size 4 or 6 Octopus live bait [or similar] hook followed by five size 5 or 6 beads and a size 3, 4 or 5 Colorado blade. Tie an end loop at the end of the line using a Double Surgeons Knot or Perfection Loop. Thread a size 4 or 5 bead through the loop so it sits on top of the knot followed by a 1/8oz to 3/8oz egg or bullet sinker.
C) Try a “Mayfly Rig” during a mayfly hatch when nothing else seems to be working. This is a more finesse spinner rig using 12” to 18” of 8 to 12 lb fluorocarbon line, with a single #6 or #4 live bait or long shank Aberdeen hook, four to six size 3 gold, or gold and brown, beads, and a size 0, 1 or 2 gold Colorado, Indiana or French Blade attached with a size 1 metal clevis. A small piece of worm is threaded onto the hook to try and mimic a mayfly nymph. You can also rig this like a “Walleye Killer Rig”.
D) For Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout and Splake nothing beats fishing with a worm. A good spinner harness for drifting or trolling for trout is often called a “Go Getter”. It's simply a downsized spinner harness that uses 12” to 18” of 8 to 12lb fluorocarbon or mono line snelled with a single #6 or #4 bait holder hook. About 4 or 5 size 3 or 4 red, white or pink beads are added followed by a gold or silver #1 or #2 Colorado Blade using a size 1 metal clevis. You can add another bead on top of the blade, I like to use red or black for the “eye” bead. Bait with a small worm or half a nightcrawler and you'll land a nice trout in no time!
E) The "Slow Death" Spinner Rig is an adaptation of the "Slow Death" rig which consists of a special bent hook and a bead. As the rig is trolled the hook and worm spin. So, why not make it better by adding a blade! Start by tying a "Slow Death" or similar hook (e.g., Mustad "Slow Death" or "Super Death", Trokar Re-volve, Northland Crawler Hauler and Tru-Turn worm hooks) to a size 1 or 2 swivel with a short 2" piece of 8 to 10 lb test mono or fluorocarbon line using a Palomar or similar knot. The swivel is used as it dramatically reduces line twist. Using the same line, tie a 36" to 72" piece onto the other end of the swivel. Thread on three or four size 4 beads; or a float with a size 3 or 4 bead on each end of the float (the beads keep the float ahead of the knot and allows the blade to spin more freely, followed by an 0.8" or 1.1" Mack's Smile Blade, a size 2 or 4 Propeller blade or a size 2, 3 or 4 Colorado blade. This is a slow presentation, so only these three blade styles should be used. More recent introductions of the "Slow Death" hook by Matzuo, the Rip'N Roll, and VMC, the Spindrift, come with a barrel swivel attached or built into the hook so you obviously can tie these directly to the line. Typically a half of a worm is threaded onto the hook, leaving about 1/4" to 1/2" hanging off the bottom.
Storing your blades, beads, hooks and clevises is easy with a Plano, or similar, utility box. Alternatively there are all sorts of small plastic containers suitable for storage at your local craft or discount “dollar” stores.
There are several options for storing and transporting your harnesses. There are many commercially available options made specifically for storing spinner harnesses. There are foam coated plastic tubes that allow you secure your hooks and then wrap your harnesses around, such as the Northland Tackle Tamer, the Lindy Rigger X-Treme Holder, the Tackle Buddy Snell Holder and the Snell Tender. If you like things more compact, you can use a Plano box that contains specially designed plastic snell holders that stores from 36 to 60 spinner harnesses.
Of course, there are plenty of inexpensive DIY storage options. The most popular being a foam pool noodle cut into ~12” lengths (short enough to fit inside a deep Plano 3731 StowAway box) in which slits are added. The harnesses are hooked into the foam and wrapped around the float within the cut slits to keep them in place. These can be kept in a standard plastic box or one gallon resealable bags. You can also use pipe insulation or some other foam toys in a similar manner.
Another option is a flat piece of insulation foam or other type of board in which you can attach your hook on one edge, wrap your snell around the board and secure the end with a small nail or pin. This can be a little bulkier, but the board can be cut to fit inside of a plastic storage box.
Using small resealable plastic baggies is another option. These are inexpensive, easy to get and store very compactly. You can even pack them away neatly into a tackle binder or large resealable bag. The downside to this is potential tangling of your line when you are removing your spinner harnesses as well as coiling of the line due to memory. It's easy to avoid tangling by simply pulling out the entire spinner harness before unwrapping it; and memory can be remove by simply securing the hook at one end and pulling the other end to “stretch” out the line. You can also use small cardboard squares, or purchase the Tangle Tamer Cards, or slices of pool noodle to wrap your line around and then store them in plastic baggies or a binder with plastic storage sleeves.
The most common use of a spinner harness is trolling. Spinner harnesses are trolled using inline weights, clip on weights, behind bottom bouncers or three-way rigs at 0.8 to 1.7 miles per hour. You can also do some back trolling at 0.5 to 1.0 miles per hour, but make sure to use a Colorado or Smile blade if you're going really slow. Alternatively, you can troll big blade or Willowleaf harnesses on big water at 1.8 to 2.4 miles per hour. Trolling a spinner harness will be most effective once the water temperature is above 45F. At the lower temperatures you want to troll slow and as the water warms up, increase your speed 0.1 to 0.2 MPH for every 10F rise.
You can also drift fish spinner harnesses using split shot weights or a slip-weight rig. Typically, these slower presentations use spinner harnesses with smaller Colorado or Indiana blades. You can use a similar rig under a slip float, jigging to add some additional flash to your bait.
With a “Walleye Killer” type of rig (explained above) you can cast and retrieve your spinner harness. This works great fishing structure, like timber, stumps, weed beds and rock ledges. You could use this rig similar to where and how you would cast and retrieve a jig and grub.
I hope this article has helped with not only how to make a spinner harness, but also why specific components were selected and recommended. Of course, as with many things, there isn't really a wrong way to assemble a custom spinner harness. Let the local and current conditions always guide you for optimum results. So, relax, grab a drink and start assembling! Don't get too carried away though, it's not hard to end up with 100's of spinner harnesses!
I'd like to acknowledge and thank the following websites for providing information and images that helped me put this article together. Please visit them!
Forums and Blogs
Custom Spinner Blades
Spinner Harness Component Retailers and Manufacturers
Fishing Line and Wire Manufacturers