By Dennis Foster
When it comes to fishing for walleyes, speed and spinners sound like a direct contradiction in terms. Running spinners, typically when baited with night crawlers, has always been a somewhat of a slow-moving, tedious affair.
Standard fare is dragging them up and down structural elements with the standard weighting system of a bottom bouncer ranging from 1 ounce on up to 3 and even 4 ounces, depending upon depth, current and wind conditions. This has become a staple on the large, windswept reservoirs of the Dakotas, where the technique was born and ultimately perfected.
Another technique that was developed and fine-tuned on these very same reservoirs is the slow-death method, which basically refers to a kinked fine-wire Aberdeen-style hook that slow rolls a half-crawler. This method is seductively simple and downright deadly when properly presented.
JB Lures Slow Death Rigs
As simple and effective as the slow-death method is, it can be made even better with some tinkering. After a couple of seasons of trial and error, I developed what is now the Slow Death Plus line for JB Lures. It uses a standard Mustad Slow Death hook and incorporates a 4 mm bead that’s followed by a contrasting, colored 8 mm bead and then a small aircraft-style propeller blade.
This combination gives the rig a slightly bulkier profile and, when combined with the color and slight flicker and flash of the blade, serves to make the whole package even more deadly. There are versions with floats and even a two-hook harness where the worm is threaded directly onto the line, but we’ll leave those subjects for an upcoming article.
Now, through extensive testing I have taken the next logical step and come up with the Super Death Plus Spinner series, which combines the proven rolling action of slow-death rigs and further enhances it by incorporating the time-honored thump and flash of a spinner rig. This is accomplished by using a slightly bigger and stouter hook in the form of the Mustad Super Slow Death hook. This holds up much better to the hard strikes it will elicit at higher speeds, as well as being suited to hold the trophies the Great Lakes consistently kick out.
I have followed this up with two Matzuo sickle hooks. I also do something a bit interesting in that I use either a whole crawler or an artificial bait, such as Gulp! from Berkley. If you are not currently experimenting with artificial baits, I would strongly urge you to do so.
As far as setup goes, I run the head end of the crawler onto the Mustad Slow Death hook in a traditional fashion, but I do not impede its natural rolling action by impaling it with the two sickle hooks. The result is an incredibly natural and nearly irresistible motion.
I understand that not hooking our bait seems to be counterintuitive at face value, but trust me on this, because once you run it beside the boat, you will instantly see why it is best employed in this freestyle fashion. The whole crawler rolls uninhibited and has an eerily realistic snaking action, with the hooks running right there with it.
When a fish overtakes the rig, these hooks easily swing into their mouth and immediately find a meaty home. In fact, I’ve found that the hook-up ratio with this rig is over 90 percent. Not only does it produce more hits, but it also all but eliminates getting bit short.
It will also soon become readily apparent that the bites it elicits are bigger, too, which means consistently heftier fish. I feel this is due to the entire crawler stretching out completely and making for a larger overall profile. Mature fish are selective feeders and will find this more appealing — after all, bigger fish prefer bigger meals.
At the same time, I am also a proponent of running large No. 5 blades for that very same purpose. Should you feel a need to scale this down a bit, there is a single-hook Super Death Plus version, or you can simply use the rig’s quick-change clevis and snap in a smaller blade.
As important as the design of the leader portion of this rig is, there is an equally critical component that serves to perfectly balance the entire package — that being a proprietary blade from JB Lures called the Ventilator. Versions are currently available in either a size No. 3 or No. 5 blade with quick-change clevises for flexibility, depending upon conditions.
The Ventilator blade is truly unique in that it has two vents incorporated into a Colorado-style blade. I feel the commotion and change in pressure created by water being forced through the vents transmits a feel of vulnerability to the fish. Furthermore, the vents create a sort of gyroscopic, stabilizing effect on the whole rig at higher speeds.
In most fishing circles, 1.5 mph is typically thought of as the upper end for pulling spinners, but at this speed and even higher is where the Ventilator blade begins to shine, because it can be pulled clear up to and beyond 3 mph without them blowing out. Try that with any other spinner, and I can all but guarantee you will soon have a tangled mess on your hands.
Put ’Em to Work
Now that we have the construction of our speedy spinner rigs explained, what is the best way to put them to use? This presentation is well suited for quickly covering ground on large flats or tapering shorelines.
What I like to do before ever wetting a line is to make a couple of 30 mph runs up and down the structure using trim tabs to keep the nose down on my Lund to get a safe, quick and thorough understanding of the presence of fish, bait, and any depth or structural elements they are relating to. I can accomplish this with confidence thanks to the clarity of Raymarine’s multi-function displays coupled with the accuracy of Navionics background mapping that I have relied on since the turn of the century. For this season it gets even better with the advent of Raymarine’s Axiom displays featuring built-in RealVision 3D sonar and the new Light House 3 operating system. This is all driven with blazing-fast quad-core performance.
Once I have found an area with decent prospects, it is time to get busy. A good starting point is, say, 1.8 mph, and you can play with speeds up to 3 mph to determine if there is a decided preference. A typical setup can include more than just the spinner option, too.
Assuming there are three anglers in the boat, I may send planer boards out via 8-foot, 6-inch St. Croix Eyecon Trolling Rods. I place one deep on the outside that’s suspending a big, aggressive crankbait such as a Deep Diver 800 Series Reef Runner, and on the inside facing shore, I run either a Super Death spinner behind an inline weight or a smaller shad-bodied crankbait along the lines of a Ripshad 200 Series Reef Runner tight to shore. Ten-foot Eyecons can be rigged with spinners with medium-weight snap weights or a confidence crank like the Deep Little Ripper straight out the sides. Off the stern I typically run a 7-foot, 6-inch rod with a heavy snap weight basically in the prop wash with a spinner, and on the other side I’m typically sporting a 5-foot “shorty” leadcore rod with a diminutive crank, such as a No. 4 Salmo Hornet or a Mini Ripper.
In effect, this sets out a buffet line of baits and spreads them over a large swath of varying depths where we are quite literally seining the water for bites. On some days you will see all rods get their share of bites. On other days, a pattern will soon develop, and you can adapt your overall setup as needed.
When talking about running multiple baits at multiple depths and speeds, a quick discussion on line is in order. You can choose to use mono or braid depending upon the depth, and I personally keep my line selection limited for simplicity. My personal preferences for superlines are 10-pound Fireline or 12-pound NanoFil, which have the same exact diameters, and for monofilament I use the standard and ever-reliable Trilene XT in 10-pound test.
A loose, general rule of thumb I follow is that I prefer mono in depths of 10 feet or less, and the superlines in depths beyond that. Mono in shallow water allows us to get our weighting systems and baits a bit further back from the boat, and the stretch it provides allows us a little cushion for what are often viscous, head-shaking, turn-and-run bites in the shallows.
In deeper water, the thin diameter and low-stretch qualities of braid helps keep baits within a controllable distance without going to unreasonable amounts of weight. Play around with the options until you come up with a program that works best for you.
Another factor to consider is that spinner-blade size can play a significant role. The old nemesis to innovation and learning — conventional wisdom — holds that big blades are only for big water, like the Great Lakes. While there is some truth to that, it is far from definitive.
It’s important to keep in mind that big blades, such as those in the realm of No. 5s, can perform just fine in smaller waters, particularly in the heat of summer. They can also be beneficial if you are dealing with a lot of panfish and cigar-sized walleyes. Bigger blades coupled with artificial crawlers will help deter these pesky fish to some extent.
Also, keep in mind that we are not approaching this from a finesse standpoint, as this is a bold and brash presentation specifically designed to target the largest and most active fish the area holds. When done properly and when you’re dealing with aggressive fish, it can be the difference between an average day and a day that averages big fish. If you are encountering tentative fish with a neutral to negative attitude, it takes but a second to snap in a smaller blade to see if that improves the situation.
I have a well-deserved reputation for being a nonconformist, but I wholeheartedly embrace this and fully realize that I have covered a lot of questionable ground here. Most likely, there’s more than a few of you saying an emphatic “really?” to yourself. Use as much or as little as I have shared, but if you take the time to employ some of these high-speed, larger-profile tactics I do believe you will start to open some eyes, including those of the actual walleyes you’re targeting.
Besides, where’s the fun in doing what is accepted practice? Always keep in mind that normal is on the very same plane as being flat-out boring.
About the Author: Dennis Foster is an outdoor communicator, guide and tournament fisherman. He welcomes input, and questions and comments can be directed to either of his websites at eyetimepromotions.com or dakotapheasantguide.com.