top of page

This week's Feature Blog

Understanding Walleye Spinners

By: Mark Romanack

Harnesses are one of our favorite ways to catch walleye. This shot of Jake Romanack from Fishing 411 TV was taken on Lake Erie recently.

​As fishermen we love to confuse newcomers to the sport. In part we achieve this by coming up with creative names for presentations and then using two or more different names to identify the same thing.

​ Case in point: the garden variety nightcrawler harness is often simply called a “spinner” by walleye enthusiasts. Considering in the fishing world there are about a dozen other uses for the word “spinner” it’s easy to see how folks can get confused.

​ To set the record straight, when anglers are talking about walleye fishing with live bait rigs the terms “spinner”, “crawler harness”, “meat”, “harness” all mean the same thing. It’s the process of attracting walleye using Colorado, Indiana or another blade style fished in combination with a live nightcrawler.

​ The simple nightcrawler rig we all fished as kids is actually one of the most deadly presentations for catching walleye. In some parts of the walleye world anglers will cast these rigs, but mostly when we talk crawler harnesses we are referring to slow trolling them for suspended walleye and also bottom hugging walleye.


​ When walleye are found holding tight to bottom structure, a nightcrawler harness fished in combination with a bottom bouncer sinker is hard to beat. This timeless walleye fishing presentation catches them in rivers, in natural lakes, in impoundments and also in the Great Lakes. In short, anywhere a walleye is likely to be found in abundant numbers the bottom bouncer/spinner rig is going to catch them.

​ If you have not learned how to set a bottom bouncer for walleye fishing, this video link  will help getting you started in the right direction.

The most common lengths when fishing a nightcrawler harness with a bottom bouncer are 36-42 inches. If the harness is longer, the blade and hooks will likely contact the bottom and foul. If the harness is shorter, the right start and stop action the bottom bouncer imparts will not function properly.

​ When fishing bottom bouncers I tend to favor fairly small blade sizes. For inland lakes I’m most confident when fishing a No. 2 or 3 size blade. For rivers, impoundments and the Great Lakes, a larger 3.5, 4 or 5 blade is typically best. If I had to pick one blade size that works most places and most times, it would be the No. 4 Colorado blade.

​ When fishing bottom bouncer rigs the angler can hang onto the rod or put the rod in a conveniently located rod holder. I personally feel the rod holder does a better job. Most people when they hold the rod in their hand, feel the bite and set the hook before the fish has actually had a chance to get the bait firmly in their mouth.

​ When the rod is fished in a rod holder, the rod will double over and load up when a fish has been hooked, eliminating the human error element entirely.


​ Anyplace that walleye suspend in the water column, fishing spinner rigs can be deadly effective. Because spinners don’t dive on their own, some type of trolling sinker or diving planer must be used to get the rigs to depth.

​ Unfortunately, there are about as many ways of getting a harness to depth as their are bodies of water where walleye reside! To simplify things, I recommend using the Off Shore Tackle Tadpole Diver. This uniquely designed sinking diver is in my humble opinion the best way to get spinners to the depths walleye are feeding.

The Tadpole Diver comes by it’s name naturally. The head of the Tadpole features a tow arm and functions as a diving surface much like the lip of a crankbait. The difference is the Tadpole doesn’t wobble, it simply dives.

​ The leader aka crawler harness is attached to the back of the Tadpole Diver using a ball bearing swivel.

​ When setting the Tadpole the main line is attached to a round snap that is mounted onto the tow arm. When this snap slides to the elbow of the tow arm, the Tadpole is ready to be placed in the water and allowed to dive.

​ When a fish strikes and is hooked, the snap on the tow arm will slide into the forward position. This converts the Tadpole from a diving device into an in-line weight. The advantage is when fighting fish, the angler feels every head shake and doesn’t have to fight the resistance of the diver.

​ Tadpole Divers come in various sizes, but the No. 1 and No. 2 sizes are by far the most popular with walleye anglers. If you are curious how deep Tadpole Divers will dive, they are included in the Precision Trolling Data phone apps.

​ So Tadpoles do a great job of getting the harness to depth. They also fish nicely in combination with in-line planer board like the popular OR12 from Off Shore Tackle. Fishing the Tadpole Diver in combination with in-line boards makes it easy to set multiple lines per side of the boat, increasing the odds of contacting and catching fish.


​ Both bottom bouncers and Tadpole Divers are devices that excel at the slower trolling speeds. The ideal speeds for fishing spinner rigs ranges from about 1.2 at the slow end, to about 1.7 at the fast end. If blades are fished any slower, they don’t rotate properly. If blades are fished much faster than 1.7 MPH, line twist can become an issue.

​ A small gasoline engine is the traditional means for slow trolling spinner rigs. I prefer however to use an auto-pilot style electric motor for these chores. The Garmin Kraken on my boat is not only a silent means of moving the boat, the “Heading Hold” feature makes it easy to establish a course and to keep the boat on course hands free. This makes it much easier to set lines, fight fish and enjoy the spinner experience.


​ Many anglers prefer to tie their own spinner rigs for walleye. The list of components needed for tying your own harnesses includes an assortment of blades, beads, some No. 2 octopus style hooks, 15 pound test fluorocarbon line and a device known as a clevis designed to hold the blade to the fluorocarbon leader.  The Trokar TK2 (black) and the TK2RXL (red) octopus hooks are ultra sharp and perfectly shaped for snelling on harnesses.

​ For those who prefer to buy harnesses factory tied, the Yakima Bait HammerTime Walleye Harness is hard to beat. Tied using ultra premium components, these harnesses were designed by Jake and Mark Romanack especially for walleye enthusiasts.

The author fishes harnesses for walleye frequently during the warmer months of the year. This HammerTime Walleye Harness was designed by Mark and Jake to help anglers catch more walleye.


​ The nightcrawler harness fishes best when baited with a healthy crawler. The bigger the better when it comes to fishing nightcrawler for walleye.

​ I recommend placing the front hook on the harness directly into the nose of the nightcrawler and the second hook should be placed about at the collar on the crawler. This leaves the majority of the worm to dangle and wiggle freely in the water. This action of the nightcrawler is exactly why they work so well at catching walleye.

​ If the nightcrawler gets bitten in half or torn, replace it with a fresh one.

​ Anglers have been experimenting with soft plastics designed to imitate the action of a live nightcrawler. While there are options on the market, my experience suggests that nothing works better than the real McCoy when it comes to fishing harnesses.


​ These basics should help beginners get started trolling nightcrawler harnesses for walleye. Be fair warned, fishing harnesses is very addictive. Not only do these rigs catch a ton of fish, this slow trolling presentation is a very relaxing way to fish.


  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon

Get Weekly Newsletter FREE

    Each week the 411 team produces a new "how to" article, a new YouTube Tech Tip and more. Get it all in one place in your inbox! Feel free to share any of it on social or clubs.

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page