Since their conception in 1938, spinners remain a tried-and-true tackle box staple for trout fishing. They became popular in the mid-1900’s, and today, dozens of brands of spinners still decorate the pegged walls of freshwater tackle shops across the country. Although fishing with a spinner is often as simple as casting it out and retrieving it just quickly enough to get the blade spinning, there’s more to consider when selecting a spinner that’s ideal for your trout fishing pursuits. To help you make the right selections from that overwhelming shop wall of colorful spinners, we’ve broken down the history and anatomy of these special freshwater lures and compiled a noteworthy list of the best spinners for trout fishing.
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History of Spinners
The first inline spinner was invented in 1938 by French engineer Andre Meulnart of Mepps. Mepps is a French acronym for Manufacturier d’Engins de Precision pour Peches Sportives, and in English, their acronym translates to: Manufacturer of Precision Equipment for Sportfishing. Meulnart creatively named the original Mepps model the Aglia, which in Latin means “butterfly,” due to the fluttering action of the blade as it spins on a clevis around the shaft.
Spinners weren’t introduced to the American market until 1951 when Todd Sheldon—a small tackle shop owner in Wisconsin— got a brief taste of the Aglia’s success on the Wolf River. His friend, a World War II veteran, gifted him the spinner which he brought back from overseas. By 1960, Mepps’ Aglia had a reputation for catching more than trout, and Sheldon had sold his tackle shop to focus on importing Mepps spinners as demand increased.
Other manufacturers like Panther Martin and Howard Worden caught wind of the spinner’s success and also began producing them in the early 1950’s. The tackle industry exploded with new variations of spinners with specific differences in construction thanks to Mepps, the pioneers of these must-have trout treats.
Anatomy of a Trout Spinner
The spinner’s design is simple. It consists of a metallic blade that rotates around a metal shaft as a result of catching water as it is retrieved; however, the speed of retrieval differs with each type of spinner. On top of retrieve speed, the blade style, size, material, lure weight and other features will impact how effectively the blade spins. When a spinner is not fished at the correct speed, it drags through the water without any action and is rendered useless.
Primarily, trout are attracted to the reflective flash and gentle vibrations of the blade as it spins, catching sunlight and imitating lively forage. Many anglers also believe that trout—especially in stained water—respond well to vibrant colors, which is why spinners often feature bright neon paints and patterns. In the 1960’s, Mepps even began “dressing” their treble hooks by tying squirrel hair and a turkey quill for a fuller profile with additional action. This eventually led to incorporating loud, dyed-hair colors like chartreuse into hook skirts.
Color and weight aside, one of the most important considerations when selecting spinners for trout is the blade type.
Types of Spinner Blades
Across the many brands of trout spinners today, there are three main blade styles that influence sink rate and retrieve speed in order to generate the desired action from the lure.
Colorado Blade: These stout, rounded blades will excel in shallow environments where visibility is decent, but may be hampered by muddy water or vegetation, forcing trout to rely more on vibration than sight to track a lure. The slightly concave blade along with a greater spinning angle from the shaft creates more drag, allowing the lure to sink slowly and produce substantial vibrations as it is retrieved. Because of its ability to catch more water, spinners with Colorado blades can be retrieved at slightly slower speeds than spinners with willow or Indiana blades.
Indiana Blade: Almost identical in appearance to the Colorado blade, Indiana blades are not as wide and spin closer to the shaft. This creates less drag so the lure will sink more quickly than one with a Colorado blade, making it most effective in transition areas like ledges and drop-offs. However, because of its tighter spinning radius, the Indiana blade generates less-pronounced thudding sounds when compared to its stumpy cousin, the Colorado blade, so keep a close eye on water clarity to account for visibility and vibration.
Willow Blade: These blades are often seen on large wire “spinnerbaits” used for bass fishing. They are long, narrow and have a realistic profile that more closely resembles the body of a small baitfish. The shape allows it to sink with ease and generate less drag than Colorado or Indiana blades, which makes it ideal for use in clear, deepwater environments like kettle ponds. Mepps uses a custom version of the willow blade that they adapted and called the Aglia Long blade. Less drag means it catches less water than the Colorado blade, which results in more subtle, acute vibrations and a quicker retrieve needed to impart the desired spinning action.
Examples: Worden’s Rooster Tail
Top 5 Spinners for Trout
The dressed Mepps Aglia remains a long-standing trout favorite, and while the larger sizes cast well, smaller dressed spinners are most productive where only short casts are necessary to reach the fish. Generally, Aglia’s from Size 0 to 2 are suitable for most trout fishing along the shores of creeks and ponds, but in larger lakes and rivers where trout grow to substantial size (like the Niagara River), Aglias in sizes 3, 4 or 5 may be best.
Panther Martin Classic Regulars cast like a bullet due to the dense body weight and lack of hair or hackle, which can inhibit casting distance. For the same reasons they cast well, they sink fast, making them a go-to choice in situations where anglers need to cover water and fish deeper. Additionally, a larger-than-average blade sends out fast, heavy vibrations to mimic a fleeing baitfish and generate violent strikes. Panther Martin spinners weighted between 1/32-ounce and 1/8-ounce are appropriately sized for most trout fishing applications, although heavier 3/8-ounce and 1/2-ounce spinners will out fish small ones in deep, open-water environments where a larger blade and heavier weight are necessary to attract trout at the desired depth.
The Mepps Black Fury is a tool best used on the river or in murky lake waters after heavy rains or snow melt. Swing it across the current into shallow pools and eddies where larger trout dwell, awaiting something to drift within striking distance. Without a bucktail or squirrel tail skirt to provide additional buoyancy, these spinners sink more quickly than a dressed Aglia, but are sized the same. Size 0 through 3 are best for fishing ponds and streams, while sizes 4 and 5 will catch large trout in waters like New York’s Great Lakes and Finger Lakes.
The Worden’s Original Rooster Tail excels on a fast retrieve in clear water environments due to a more subtle vibration produced by the smaller, willow-style blade as it spins around the shaft. In addition the shape of the blade, the hackle trailer provides additional action and sways like a fish tail, contributing to the natural baitfish profile. Rooster Tails in the 1/32-ounce, 1/24-ounce and 1/16-ounce classes will imitate a wide-variety of baitfish and perform best on streams and in clear kettle ponds.
The Blue Fox Classic Vibrax is most effective in deep water environments where vegetation and submerged structure provide ambush points for trout. The lure swims well in variable depths from sub-surface to five feet down, and due to it’s heavy, low-frequency vibration combined with a bright flash, is more likely to draw trout in from a distance. Like most spinners, the lightweight options are armed with smaller hooks that are more appropriate for trout. Blue Fox spinners with blades from size 0 (7/64-ounce) through size 3 (1/4-ounce) will cover the bases for trout anglers fishing small ponds and rivers, while sizes 4 (3/8-ounce) through 6 (5/8-ounce) will have more reasonably sized hooks for big game trout.