Swapping Spoons for Spinners

When it comes to trolling, good ideas quickly become new tactics. That was the case for 2002 In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) rookie pro Brett Wilkins, who competed in two PWT events last year, cashing a check on his home water, Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin.

Wilkins is an "east-side" troller; he lives to the east side of Lake Winnebago--the state's largest lake and a hotbed of trolling activity.

Years ago, Wilkins was having modest success trolling spinner-nightcrawler harnesses for suspended walleyes. But amidst huge populations of sheepshead and white bass, and loads of smaller walleyes, he wanted something that would consistently trigger bigger fish.

Although a devout troller, Wilkins was aware of many Winnebago walleye chasers who cast spoons in the shallows, and he married the two concepts. The result was a trolling rig that substitutes a spoon for the traditional spinner blade.

Instead of using a typical #2 to #5 spinner blade, Wilkins snapped a Little Cleo spoon into the Quick Change clevis of his spinner-crawler harness and started trolling. After fine-tuning colors, sizes, and bead combinations, he perfected his new creation. The components:

  • 1/4-ounce Little Cleo spoon (remove split rings and hooks). Best colors: greens, chartreuse, lime.
  • 5/8-ounce in-line keel weight Bead Chain sinker run 4 feet ahead of the spoon.
  • Quick Change clevis.
  • Silver, purple and white beads to imitate suspended baitfish.
  • #6 hooks, tied 4 to 5 inches apart.
  • 10-pound Trilene XL line.

When trolling with planer boards, Wilkins runs 1.2 mph to 1.3 mph. He likes to set his lines 30 feet back in calm conditions and clear water, to target the 10- to 12-foot depths. When the lake is rough and dirty, he runs his rigs only 12 feet behind his boards and estimates that they run about four feet deep.

Tipping nightcrawlers on the double-hook rig are usually best, but Wilkins has experimented with single hooks and extra-large leeches at .8 mph for bigger fish in the afternoons.

"With the spoon wobbling and swinging in a large arc," Wilkins said, "the rig works in early season as soon as the walleyes move out and suspend over the mud basin, and it continues producing right up to about 70 degrees F water temperatures." Above 70 degrees F, Wilkins usually switches to crankbaits.

In comparison testing, running various sizes of spinner blades side by side against Cleo spoons, Wilkins found that bigger walleyes always grabbed the crawler harnesses rigged with spoons. "The heavier thumping wobble triggers bigger walleyes. My tournament results prove it works," he said.

With his method of replacing a spinner blade with a spoon, Wilkins has been able to finish near the top and win several mega-team tournaments on Lake Winnebago. Competing against 300 teams required an advantage, and one of those ideas has kept Wilkins at the top of the Winnebago tournament game for many years.

This is the first public news of this system to the walleye world. Congratulations to Wilkins and all walleye pros who share their knowledge, helping all anglers to become more effective.

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