The Reel-World Guide to Spinner Baits

5lb Thick Fall Largemouth on
Northland Tackle Spinner
Size, brand, blades, colors, material, hooks, trailers, blah, blah, blah. So many opinions and marketing exist in the world of spinner baits, my go-to lure for rivers year-round and fall fishing. Why? Three reasons: they are inexpensive (mostly), effective, and versatile. 

Some say use dark colors in sunlight, bright colors in clear water, dark colors in dark water, and white when the wind is blowing ESE at 5 MPH...... I'm about to give you real world spinner bait credentials being the fish I've caught on them throughout this post (respectable fish by Wisconsin standards).

I've used spinner baits for many years. I read all the articles, watched the videos, and scoured the forums. Thus, I was a spinner expert.  I was completely wrong.  Last year I hit a local river for Small mouth Bass with a family member (yes, a gas powered vessel).  This was an awakening and humbling experience. I had just made a trip to Cabela's to get some new cranks and other pricey lures the articles said to get for river smallies. Having been a largemouth lake fisherman I was excited and "prepared" for my first true river adventure. I shared the news with the family member taking me on the trip. He said "Use what you want, but if you get a snag the current is too strong to free it. I just use spinner baits.".  OK, fine. My new lures will swim another day. I have a good selection of spinner baits, my fall largemouth go-to.

19.5" Summer Mississippi River
Largemouth on James Gang
 Lovertail 2
We hit the water and I assess the the conditions. The water is muddy and the sky sunny. I recall my memory banks from the articles, forums, and videos. Survey says a black spinner with double blades is going to land the most fish.

My family member's advice as we launch the boat is "Don't get a snag or a backlash. You'll miss half the float in the strong current.". Ok, fair enough. I've only been using a baitcaster for just over a year but became relatively proficient. I'm ready. A comment was made about my color selection. But no worries, the articles said I made the best decision.

The river was strong and it took us a long time to motor up the current in the aluminum fishing boat with a 25HP motor. The trolling motor served no purpose other than dodging boulders in the fast current.  This wasn't your typical fishing trip, slow and relaxing. The fast current, constant dodging of boulders, and requirement for perfectly executed casts provided a constant feed of adrenaline at all times.

After the first float, it was apparent my articles and other research were dead wrong. My family member had a bright green spinner bait and I black. I caught one fish and he several. Thus began my awakening and true love for the simple lure meant to mimic bait fish.

22" Chippewa River Smallie on a Northland Tackle Spinner
I tie on a bright green spinner and start landing nice river smallies.  My largest of the day a 22" beast that gave my baitcaster a run for its money.

The spinner bait has since been my sole lure on rivers and in the fall.  After this experience, I ignored the research previously performed and spent countless hours perfecting my technique, landing me the best fishing season of my life this year.


Many varieties of spinner baits exist of various shapes, sizes, colors, designs and materials.  Prices range from $1 to $10-$15.  I exclusively use the Northland Tackle spinner baits for non-inline spinners (I am in no way affiliated with them).  I find their $2.50-$3 price very reasonable.  I've also landed dozens of fish, including large Northern Pike, on them.  Sure, a $15 titanium spinner may last longer with the stronger metal, but it won't prevent a snag or a large pike from stealing it.  It is more cost effective in the $3 range.  And the $1 ones, well, you get what you pay for at that point.

Respectable Northern Pike
on James Gang Lovertail 2
For inline spinners, I exclusively use the James Gang Fishing Co. LoverTails.  They make a bass/pike and musky size.  They also make inline buzzbaits.  I use these for several reasons.  First, they were designed by a local 7-year-old lure design prodigy, Alex Piontek.  They are also modular, allowing for hook replacement.  You can also swap out the 3.8-4" paddle tail for a paddle tail of your choice depending on the action and color you want.  Most importantly, these are extremely high quality.  I've landed many fish on them and have yet to lose or break one.  They are longer so naturally are protected from pike cutting them free.  I had a 45"+ pike bend the thick hook on one this year when it rammed my kayak.  I simply bent it back (and can replace the hook if needed).  An amazing lure.


As mentioned above, there are many views, parameters, etc. around color selection.  I found them to be about 27.6235% accurate.  Thus, I have a simple approach.  I have three colors at the ready.  I start with a bright green color (even better if there are a couple strands of orange in there to contrast).  If the bite doesn't happen or slows, I switch to a black and white color, if that doesn't work, black, finally I will tie on a white.  I have only made it to white once this year and ended up switching back to the green, which is what ALL of the fish pictured in this article with Northland Tackle in the caption were caught on.
5th of 7 Largemouth Landed within 10 minutes in one
Mississippi backwater hole via Northland Tackle Spinner
Photo By: Chang Lor of

When I'm in thicker conditions, or the spinner bite is not hot I tie on a James Gang Fishing Co. LoverTail2 with a bluegill colored skirt.  Mated with a bright green Kalins paddle tail, or a 4" Havok shad colored paddle, it is deadly.  Bass and pike go crazy over it.  The weedless design allows it to run through grass beds and through brush.  The unique design is unlike other lures fish see regularly, which is why it is my go-to when the bite is otherwise slow.


Strong Chippewa Valley River Smallie on
Northland Tackle Spinner
Photo By: Chang Lor of
Big fish, especially in the fall, won't spend precious calories for a small meal.  Thus, I use large spinner baits.  I use 1/2 ounce dual-blades (Colorado and Willow combo).  These cause more flash and displace more water.

For the James Gang Fishing Co. inline spiner, I use their bass sized LoverTail2.  But have been talking to the owner about mating it with a muskie hook for the bigger pike.


Fall Fatty on Northland Tackle Spinner
I've read about several modification options: turn the skirt inside-out, put on a worm or swimbait trailer, hammer the blades flat, remove the skirt and use a swimbait, name it Bill Dance for good luck (just kidding on the last one).  I have tried modifications and they work at times.  However, I have found the Northland Tackle spinners work best unmodified.  Adding trailers reduce the hookup percentages, the skirt design is strong and provides a nice pulsating action, and the blades have a nice flash in the water (you can feel them if using braid).  

One of my buddies adds a trailer hook if he is having issues with hookups, but I opt to go without.  No specific reason other than my hookups haven't been an issue thus far.

The James Gang Fishing Co. LoverTail2 comes with a paddle tail on the weighted hook.  Other than swapping out different colors, I stick with softer 3.8" paddle tails for the best action.  The flash of the blade, followed by the pulse of the high-quality skirt, chased by the paddling tail make the action beatiful stock.

Of course scents are another popular modification.  JBs Fish Sauce makes a baitfish scent that adds to the baitfish similation of the spinners.  They make scent sticks and pastes that you can rub in the grooves of the spinner's head for a long-lasting scent.

Retrieve Method
5lb. Tanker on Northland Tackle Spinner
Photo By: Chang Lor of

You'll find several methods out there, many of which I have tried.  They include burning it, a retrieve, pause, retrieve, slow roll, slow roll to drag bottom, and many others.  My most productive technique has been a mostly steady roll.  Every-other-crank or so, I'll give the reel a 1/2 rotation quick flick.  This small darting action mimicks the movement of the bait fish while not completely pulling it out of the range of the strike.  

Spinner baits tend to swim higher in the water column.  At times, if I want to fish deeper, I will cast the spinner out and let it sink to my desired depth (either I wait for it to hit bottom or do a slow 10-count).  The retrieve needs to be slower when doing this to keep the spinner deep, but I've caught several nice deep fish on spinners.

Cast Placement

Another topic which has varying techniques of various complexity.  Work it on points, ledges with a 43.2354 degree slope, cast it onto the boat ramp while someoene is launching and bounce it off the tire, etc.  I have found a simple technique for spinner bait placement.  Ambush points.  Especially in the fall, the big fish are hiding, waiting to ambush their prey.  The big ones aren't going to expend precious calories to attach a lure several feet away when it knows another will likely pass closer.

Ever since my first river trip where accurate casts were critical, I've become deadly accurate casting spinner baits.  Practice often to become confident and accurate in your casting.  I have caught my biggest fish not on the retrieve, but when the lure lands in the water precisely on an ambush point.  This could be between two rocks, between some stumps, a crack in a rock wall, a pocket on the edge of a weed ledge, or bush hanging into the water.
When fishing spinner baits, I focus more on casting extactly where they are likely to be waiting rather than where I want to retrieve.  About 75% of my nice fish caught on them hit it while it is falling after the cast.

6 lb. Tanker on Northland Tackle Spinner
Photo By: Chang Lor of
This said, beyond accuracy, stealth is important.  Once you become proficient at placing your casts, you have to learn how to land the spinner in the water silently.  Not an easy task with the heavy bladed contraption.  But I found if I throttle my spool slightly with my thumb, it keeps the line tight during the cast.  I sidearm cast to keep the spinner close to the water.  Right before it is about to hit the water, I stop the spool with my thumb while dropping my rod tip.  This often makes the entry splash unbelievably quiet.  Note: I am not able to cast accurately or quietly with a spinning reel, but spend 99% with a baitcaster so haven't taken time to practice.


Again, many opinions in this area.  I have used spinners on a multitude of lines and rods/reels, including an ultralight spinning pole with 6lb mono.  I firmly believe it is all about personal preference in this area.  Since most Wisconsin waters are stained from farmland runoff and whatnot, I fish exclusively braid (except for finesse).  Again, personal preference.  I just like horsing the fish into the kayak with a nice spool of 50lb. braid.  But here is my current preferred setup for spinners:

Ardent Denny Brauer Topwater Rod (7' Medium action).  Note: I am going to go to a Heavy action Ardent Edge 7' rod next year so it handles pike a bit easier.

Ardent Apex Pro 7.3:1.  This is a nice, strong reel that hauls in anything that bites a spinner with ease.  The faster gear ratio is just a personal prefrence.  It allows me to pull the fish in faster once hooked.  I just slow my retrieve to compensate.  Note:  I am moving to an Ardent Magnum next year.  A bigger reel to allow for heavier line so I can handle pike better next year.

50lb. braid - use your brand of choice.  I've tried several and have yet to find one I'm in love with.  I'm giving another brand a try this year.  Note:  I'm moving to 65lb. braid to better handle the pike next year.

 What Next?

My approach is to keep it simple.  Balance lure quality and price.  Targeting ambush spots.  Simple retrieve.  And rod/line/reel selection augmented from personal preference.  What are your next steps if you want to build confidence with spinner baits?

1.  Get yourself a bright green, black, and white double-blade spinner bait (I exclusively use Northland Tackle for the reasons mentioned above).
2.  Get a bluegill and a white James Gang LoverTail2 here:  
3.  Grab some JBs Fish Sauce sticks or paste here (note- you can get 10% off your order with code TTF10): 
4.  Be mindful of the pike and other toothy creatures.  Depending on your line, consider a steel or fluro leader to mitigate stolen lures.
5.  Practice casting accurately and silently until you are confident in your casts.
6.  Practice casting accurately and silently until you are confident in your casts.
7.  Practice casting accurately and silently until you are confident in your casts.
8.  Practice casting accurately and silently until you are confident in your casts.
9.  Look for structure where a predator is likely waiting for prey.  Use your new casting skills to hit that spot, hesitating for a moment when it hits the water to allow them to grab it on the drop.
10.  Keep an open mind and adjust.  The above is what works best for me,  If you prefer a spinning reel, use it.  If you prefer mono or fluro, use it.  This is all about proficiency and trial-and-error.

Thank you for reading, I hope my first true how-to article helps you on the water.  My goal was to share my experiences, adding some humor.  I also wanted to give you a no-nonsense approach to spinner bait use that doesn't require a complex flow chart, data sheet, and formulas to factor in all conditions.  I found my method to be simple, less stressful, and highly effective.

Please leave a comment if you have any feedback or further questions on my first true how-to!  I would like to get feedback.  I love teaching others and will likely continue writing with a mixture of my usual shenanigans coupled with how-to articles.

6.5 lb Wisconsin Fall Tank on Northland Tackle Spinner


  1. Once again, an excellent article.

    I have used spinner baits in the past but not as much as this past year. I think it's my favorite bait or really my most confident bait I used this year.

    I'm going to study this post over the winter and hope some of it sticks in my gourd so when I'm out on the water I can be a better fisherman.

    1. Brian - thank you so much! Glad you love the article, and I hope it helps you! Do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or feedback!


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