Before his untimely death, Gregg Meyer was a cagey multispecies angler who often used spinnerbaits to catch walleyes. ”Once the spawn is over, walleyes are all about feeding,” he noted. “They move shallow into warm water where the food chain is in high gear. Banks and shallow flats are loaded with minnows, small panfish—all sorts of prey. Anglers usually use crankbaits and jigs tipped with bait or artificials to work that zone, but at times a spinnerbait can be more effective.
“Since spinnerbaits are snag-resistant, they work better than just about anything else around standing timber, flooded bushes, and brush,” he said. “Walleyes use that cover when feeding on panfish, shad, and minnows. Rocky shores can be good, too, especially when a modest wind is blowing in. I also fish the tops of shallow flats and along drop-offs where the flats breaks into deeper water. Preyfish must be present to get walleyes hunting shallow. In spring and early summer, some days they’re shallow and some days they’re not. You need to experiment, have faith, and not give up on this technique. Like anything else, it doesn’t work all the time.”
Meyer uses his bass tackle for spinnerbaiting—a medium-heavy baitcasting outfit 6 ½ feet long and a reel spooled with 10- or 12-pound mono or braid of similar diameter. “If you don’t have baitcasters, your kid’s spincast reel will do,” he says. “You’re fishing shallow, but you still need to be aware of structural elements, so you need sonar, unless you’re familiar with the lake’s layout. The unit also helps pinpoint baitfish when you’re deeper than 5 feet or so.”
Meyer uses spinnerbaits from 1/8- to 3/8-ounce. He wants a true-running bait with good components and uses various models from Stanley Jigs of Huntington, Texas. A tapered-wire shaft enhances vibration that may be a key component of the spinnerbait’s attraction. The Stanley Salty Boss is hard to beat.
“Some days, blade color matters,“ he reported. “I switch among silver, gold, white, chartreuse, and key-lime-green blades. For the skirt, baitfish colors work fine in clearer water—silvers, golds, smoke-sparkle, and so on. In murkier water, chartreuse and white do well.”
Meyer says that top-quality polarized sunglasses are vital, as you often are sight-fishing. He favors those that block out light from the sides, such as the Wiley X models with a foam insert that seals the glasses around your face “Look carefully and you can spot walleyes in water as shallow as 6 inches,” he says. “Keep your distance, approach cautiously, and you can catch those fish.
Meyer uses a variety of retrieves to trigger walleyes. “When they’re holding shallow and tight to the bank, cast right onto the edge of the shore. It’s common to have fish bite in the first five feet of the retrieve. In deeper water, make the retrieve smooth and slow, so the spinnerbait moves along near bottom. If you’re fishing a sloping area, slow down as the water deepens, to keep the spinnerbait down—what the bass guys call ‘slow-rolling.’”
Meyer uses the lure’s snag resistance to saturate shallow cover, easing it among boulders, weed clumps, brush, and stumps. Make it bump the cover on occasion, as that momentary change in direction can trigger bites from less active fish. He’s also found that a spinnerbait works well when retrieved parallel to a rocky bluff or the riprap face of a dam or causeway. Once you figure the prime depth, you repeat the presentation.
At times it pays to experiment with more erratic action. “Pause the bait and let it flutter,” he recommended. “The blade on a good spinnerbait lets it helicopter down, and that can be deadly on walleyes.”
Tips for Success
A spinnerbait is essentially a simple lure and at times there’s no wrong way to work it. Like other lures, it doesn’t always work, but when it’s on, it can load the boat with big walleyes. Meyer has a few more tips to help get you started.
Bait: “At times, it pays to tip the spinnerbait with a nightcrawler or minnow. There’s something about the look, smell, and taste of real food. Make sure the lure continues to run perfectly straight when bait is attached. Critters often turn on the hook and ruin the presentation. So I don’t use bait unless it seems necessary.”
Short strikes: “If you get bumped and don’t hook up, try a trailer or stinger hook to nail short strikers. Some days, the stinger gets most of the fish. But it can be a pain around brush and grass, so I don’t use one until I start missing fish.”
Other species: “It’s common to catch both bass and walleyes as you move along a bank—pike as well. But if you start catching nothing but bass, it’s time to move, unless you’re just fishing for fun. I love bass, too, and it’s hard to abandon a fast bite on anything.”
Tackle care: “You’re working through cover, and the line takes a beating, even heavy mono or braid. Moreover, walleyes really slam these things. Check the line and retie to keep from eventually breaking off a lunker. After catching some fish, the lure may get out of balance. Bend the overheard wire back into shape so it runs true. Sharpen the hook, too, and replace skirts when they get threadbare.”
Spinnerbaits are at their finest around shallow cover and on shallow banks in spring and early summer, but they can also be used deep. Again, the presence of cover often is the key. Across much of the West, when reservoirs rise they flood deeper trees and walleyes often suspend in the tops of those trees. Slow-trolling one-ounce spinnerbaits on a long line through the tops of the trees can be deadly. Anglers also use leadcore line to get spinnerbaits down.
Meyer has also had success with a teaser ahead of a trolled spinnerbait. “Before you tie on, string on a couple beads—-my favorite color, key lime —then a clevis with a tiny Colorado blade, then four more beads. It looks like multiple baitfish being chased by a smaller predatory fish,” he says.
Spinnerbaits use flash and vibration to sell the image of vulnerable prey to a predator. Meyer: “As a spinner turns, it produces a steady flash, since both sides are gold or silver or whatever. But when you watch a school of baitfish, they don’t produce a regular flash; it’s far more random. At times an intermittent flash or flicker is a better trigger than a constant flash. To produce intermittent flash, use a magic marker to blacken the concave side of the blade.”
Some anglers in the West have been using spinnerbaits for many years, but it generally hasn’t caught on elsewhere. Don’t let tradition stand in the way of success. In the right situations, walleyes eat spinnerbaits just as well as they do crankbaits and jigs.
*The late Gregg Meyer, Wilsonville, Nebraska, had a career in law enforcement, in addition to being an avid and innovative angler. This was his last of several contributions to In-Fisherman.