During the cooler water periods of spring and fall, as well as during cold front conditions, these suspended open water fish can drop to the bottom or just plain get finicky and tough to catch. It takes a technique that can move a little slower, be very depth precise, and yet still exhibit the attracting and triggering characteristics needed to draw the walleye’s attention in the vast open waters. That’s when open water spinners shine.
There was a time when the spinner was thought of as strictly a presentation for use on structure, run behind a bottom bouncer … no more! The open water fisheries of the Great Lakes, as well as many larger and mid-sized inland lakes have proven to be dynamite spinner waters when the right components are put to use. An open water spinner differs from a structure spinner in several ways. The blades are typically bigger (sizes ranging from #4’s to #6’s), treble hooks are often used in place of single hooks, and the weighting systems used are designed more for targeting suspended fish rather than bottom oriented walleyes.
Weighting systems for open water spinners range from clip-on style weights that can be affixed to the line anywhere to create very long “leaders” and removed easily to fight in the fish, to in-line weights such as those commonly known as “keel weights” or “bead-chain sinkers”, which are tied into the line a few feet ahead of the spinner. I’ve seen days when one system out produces the other, other days when it was about fifty-fifty. I almost always start by running both styles and go with what ever presentation is getting the most bites.
Average trolling speed for open water spinner fishing will run 3/4 to 1 mph. To help cover water in the vast open water, spreading out your lures with the use of in-line planer boards is essential. This will allow you to cover a much wider swath through the water, covering water more effectively in search of biting walleyes.
The gear you choose for open water spinner fishing is key to success. I suggest long rods, 7’6” to 8’6”, with strong backbone and a forgiving tip section. Rods like this hold up well to all the trolling accessories such as weight systems and boards. Team those rods up with a quality line-counter reel. This will allow you to duplicate successful trolling set-ups much easier.
For spinner trolling applications, the best line I’ve ever found is the old stand-by Berkley Trilene XT in 10 pound test. It has just the right amount of stretch for handling big open water walleyes and is tough enough to hold up well to the use of added weights and in-line boards. For the spinner harnesses themselves, Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon Leader Material in 15 pound test is perfect. The leader material fluorocarbon is stiffer than regular fluorocarbon fishing line, making it the ideal choice for spinners.