Spin Rig for Pike
May 01, 2018
"It was the greatest guide bait of all time," proclaims Bill Lindner, anticipating my question about Lindy's original Spin Rigâ€”that simple but brilliant pike lure of a previous generation. "Today, it's one of the rarest baits produced by Lindy Little Joe. I dare you to dig one up one anywhere. Garage sales, flea markets, eBayâ€”it's nowhere. Know why? Because people who have 'em, hang on to 'em."
Not even Ron Lindner, father of that Hall of Fame photographer and In-Fisherman co-founder owns a single one of them, which, not surprisingly, he invented."Some guy recently spent three grand on an original Lindy Muskie Maulerâ€”one of the first large-bladed pike and muskie in-line lures ever made. We didn't save much of anything from those early days. I wish I had a few Spin Rigs, though, because that lure was and still is, uniqueâ€”and an incredible fish catcher.
"A lot of anglers didn't buy it because it was misunderstoodâ€”looked unfinished, like a spinnerbait missing its skirt," Lindner recalls. "It was overshadowed by the Lindy Rig. But as a versatile and weedless livebait delivery system, the Spin Rig was unmatched. No question, it remains one of the most overlooked pike-catchers in history."
In 1972, Lindy owners Al and Ron Lindner wrote a 20-page booklet, entitled "Flutter Fishing." It's a fun read, offering information that's relevant today. "Back when Al, Billy, and a lot of us were guiding and promoting our Lindy Tackle brand, the Spin Rig produced loads of pike," Ron says. "Other than the Lindy Rig, the Spin Rig was our bread-and-butter presentationâ€”the one we could always count on to fill limits for clients. At times, it was the best thing going for bass and walleyes, too, particularly in weeds."
At least 40 years after the Spin Rig vanished from tackle shop pegs, the lure and its few successors, such as Gopher Tackle's Bait Spin, retain a loyal following. Tony Capra, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based tournament angler and former owner of Capra's Sporting Goods, recalls Kevin Koep and other famed guides of Minnesota's Nisswa Guides League showing him the Spin Rig in the early days. "I was using an old Stan Sloan short-arm spinnerbait and catching fish. One day Koep showed me how to fish the Spin Rig in the same situations. It was stupid-good. You couldn't fish it wrong. The lure was so well balanced and stable it never twisted or tipped over on the retrieve. Just tip it with a 2-, 3-, or 4-inch minnow and let 'er rip."
Capra, who has organized an exclusive multispecies tournament for 3M Corporation for the past 10 years, says the lure accounts for most of the pike and other species caught during the two-day event. "We bring in guys like Jimmy Houston, Roland Martin, and other celebrities, who fish with VIPs and special clients of 3M. When new hot sticks come to fish the lake, I always tell them about the spinrig pattern. They go out on the lake and fish around for a while, then come back and ask, 'What was that lure again?'
"We run about 25 boats and easily catch 1,000 to 1,300 fish during the event. Every year we fish this lake, I go in thinking the fish won't bite them anymore, and every year I'm wrong."
I asked him how many of the 25 tournament boats rely on these lures. "At least 20 are in on the secret. We calculated that if you're not catching a fish at least every six minutes, you might be doing something wrong," he laughs.
Like other anglers who fish the bait frequentlyâ€”and the list isn't longâ€”Capra says everywhere he's taken the spin rig, it catches crazy numbers of pike. At least 30 years ago, legendary guide Marv Koep showed my uncle Chuck Gustafson and me the bait at his famous tackle shop. I recall hitting the water that September day and catching more pike than I'd ever seen in a single day, including a couple in the 15-pound range. For us, the Spin Rig became an overnight fish-catching sensation. No matter what lake we fishedâ€”May through Octoberâ€”so long as pike and vegetation were present, they bit it. On some of the better lakes, it wasn't uncommon to boat 30 or more pike and other species per day.
Spin Rigs Today
Decades later, the only things that have changed are pike populations themselves and the lures; certainly not the fish's eagerness to bite them. I still have dozens of original Lindy Spin Rigs. But I mostly save them for a rainy day that will likely never come. Instead, I and other spin-riggers use Gopher Tackle's Bait Spin or Northland Tackle's Forage Minnow Jig Spin, with similar results. Beyond these three spin rigs, you can also use one of the few remaining short-arm spinnerbaits on the market.
A Bassdozer Short Arm Spinnerbait or Zorro Baits Short Arm Aggravator remain two well-balanced alternatives that work well on horizontal and vertical planes. Some anglers also use Beetle Spin-style lures, which give up some balance, but work well on straight vertical retrieves or for trolling.
Remove skirts and tip with a medium-sized sucker or chub, impaled through the lips or behind the crown. One of the ultra-realistic soft swimbaits, 2½ to maybe 4 inches, are good artificial alternatives. Livebait or soft artificial, the critical factor is maintaining a relatively compact package to maintain balance.
Fishing itself can be as simple as driving around the lake near the deep edge of vegetation, towing the bait behind the boat at 1.2 to 1.5 mph. Eventually, you collide with pike, often by the dozen. Or due to the combination of flash, vibration, and the live baitfish, pike find you, though not all of them will be big. It's a point any pike angler in the lower 48 understands: With an overabundance of small pike in many waters today, catching and harvesting legal limits of fish up to around 22 inches provides fine eating and is good for the lake.
Even in the early 1970s when Lindner unleashed the lure on local lakes, populations around his Central Minnesota home were already beginning to decline from the pike's natural, balanced, low-density/large size population status.
"Even though we caught plenty of 8- to 12-pound pike in the early days, more and more of our fish weighed 1 to 3 pounds with each passing season," he says. Guides loved the lure, Lindner recalls, because the Spin Rig would boat great numbers of fishâ€”to fill stringersâ€”rather than catching one or two heavyweights per day. Much of the magic of the original Spin Rig was due to its compact design. Lindner built it so stable that you could fish it like a jig, a slow-moving livebait rig, or as a rapidly trolled lure. The rig's short arm, matching Indiana blade, and balanced lead-head/hook arrangement allowed it to flutter flawlessly.
"Anyone could catch fish with it. That was our goal. In those days, livebait fishing was the thing, so we designed it to present a minnow in a realistic horizontal posture. The hooks on the early versionsâ€”which the factory later changed, much to our chagrinâ€”were hand-bent and offset slightly. The bent-down hook held a minnow or sucker perfectly upright when pegged between the eyes. It also worked in concert with its tear-shaped head to further maintain balance."
Lindner adds that to give the lure a slow helicoptering action on the fall and a more distinct thump, they flattened the blades by hammering them against a wood block. This, too, was changed in production.
"The stability and versatility of the original Spin Rigs allowed us as guides to put the lure into the hands of three different anglers at once, all doing different things," Lindner says. "While we back-trolled along a weededge, one angler would tow a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce Spin Rig behind the boat. A second would cast up on the flat, jigging a slightly lighter lure through cabbage; a third might cast and retrieve a 3/8-ouncer down the break. By the way, these lures ran incredibly clean through vegetation. Not only did we catch tons of pike, but the Spin Rig was one of the lures that opened our eyes to the presence of weed walleyes."
Capra, who's likely fished modern designs, like Gopher's Bait Spin as much as anyone, offers additional guidance. "The Indiana blade's a big deal," he says. "A Colorado blade gives the lure too much lift, and a willowleaf doesn't thump enough. It flashes a lot, but you need vibration to attract fish from greater distances. An Indiana blade thumps, flutters, and flashes reasonably wellâ€”it's the ideal blade for spin-rigging. You want to feel the lure thrum when you pull it. Then you kill it and let it flutter. Almost always, that's when pike smack it.
"Cast or trolled, it quickly finds the thicker cabbage clumps, or the little sand clearingsâ€”all the fish-holding spots," he says. "It's an awesome way to find the best vegetation and dissect a spot because you feel everything, and you can pull it through the thick stuff with zero downtime."
For trolling, Capra prefers a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce size, while for casting he might go as light as 1/8 ounce, showing fish a slower drop when necessary. Like Lindner's original Spin Rigs, Capra likes to bend and slightly offset the hook point on the Gopher and Northland versions, and also bend it slightly downward to counterbalance a medium-sized minnow. He says some anglers also open the R-bend slightly, to enlarge the gap and perhaps increase vibration.
Medium-power casting tackle with a 7-foot rod is a great setup. I've long used two St. Croix rodsâ€”an Avid Casting AVC70MM and a Premier PC70MF, both medium-power, moderate-fast action. Twelve-pound test braid such as Sufix 832 or Power Pro matches the spin-rig system, particularly for ripping through cabbage stalks. Plenty of old-school spin-riggers prefer mono, since it provides shock absorption during strikes, preventing less aggressive pike from dropping the bait before eating the minnow up to the hook point.
"When pike are going, they attack the whole thing and you sense when it's okay to set the hook immediately," Capra says. "Other times, when you set and come back with a gashed minnow, you need to start bowing to the fish. Drop the rod back or even feed a foot or two of line to let 'em chew and turn. Reel up tight and hammer the hook home."
Rather than standard wire leaders, Capra suggests a tieable wire leader to minimize terminal tackle and preserve the critical balanceâ€”that beautiful fluttering helicopter action. "I use an 8- to 12-inch section of 10- to 15-pound-test Cortland Toothy Critter, tied directly to the bait. Use the same knot for connecting to a small swivel on one end and the R-bend of the spin rig on the other. It's basically a simple clinch knot; the diagram's on the package. Make a loop through the eyelet, do 2 or 3 wraps around the main wire line and pass the tag end back through the loop. Pull the tag end only, so the wire doesn't curl up and cinch down tight. Snip the excess with a wire cutter."
Pike Harvest Perspective
Catching pike in the numbers suggested by Lindner and Capra, the spin-rig system addresses the need to harvest many more small pike. Across the central and southern tiers of the pike's natural range, many waters contain too many of them, resulting in part from past overharvest of large pike that widely cannibalize their smaller brethren, limiting their numbers.
In Minnesota, new 2018 regulations address this issue. Biologists have pointed out that lakes that once yielded no more than 3 to 5 pike per gillnet prior to the early 1970s now have 15 to over 30 per net. As numbers increase, pike size decreases precipitously. Decades of harvesting top-end-size pike upset the balance and the new length and bag limits are attempting to shift it back. Want more big pike? Harvest your limit of small ones and release everything over about 22 inches. In about 20 years, if all goes well, populations may start to look like they did when the Spin Rig was invented.
Across North-Central Minnesota's lakes, harvest limits have been elevated from the traditional three fish per day to 10. The regulation encourages the harvest of small fish, and requires that no more than two can be longer than 26 inches and all from 22 to 26 inches must be released. Anglers who have generally disdained small "hammerhandles" in favor of killing larger fish should rethink their approach and embrace Selective Harvest.
Regulations such as these put the power of managing for balanced pike fisheries in the hands of anglers. But for them to work, we need to take fish home: Pickled pike. Smoked pike. Baked pike. Pike tacos. Pike burgers. Filleted and pan-fried into nugget-size morsels. Take two extra minutes to slice out Y-bones and you're left with some of the sweetest, most delicious freshwater fish you've ever tasted. If you ask Ron Lindner and Tony Capra, there's no better way to fill the fridge than with a lure that time forgot.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt, Brainerd, Minnesota, is an avid angler and historian of the sport. He contributes to all In-Fisherman publications.