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SPINNER RIG DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS Part One

By Norm Ziesman

The selection of components for spinner rig construction is the most engaging part of building them.  You will use your planning, budgetary, communication, procurement, creative and logistic skills in this stage as well as a good healthy dose of common sense. In this two-part blog I will walk through each component and what information and opinions you ought to be aware of and consider in making your choices.  I will also give you my choices and why I made them but that is not to say they are the choices you should be making.  I will also tell you where I started out with a “rule” then varied from it and why.  It is only information for you to consider when you make your choices. 

The selection of components for spinner rig construction is the most engaging part of building them.  You will use your planning, budgetary, communication, procurement, creative and logistic skills in this stage as well as a good healthy dose of common sense. In this two-part blog I will walk through each component and what information and opinions you ought to be aware of and consider in making your choices.  I will also give you my choices and why I made them but that is not to say they are the choices you should be making.  I will also tell you where I started out with a “rule” then varied from it and why.  It is only information for you to consider when you make your choices. 

I am guessing if you have read this far, you already have made quite a few and are looking to either see how much we agree or disagree or you are looking to validate your choices.  But, if you are just getting started, this blog is chock full of information for you to digest in a wonderful new hobby or business venture.  My advice is to not expect to get rich from this as a business venture – few ever do.  Do it because you enjoy it and like seeing or hearing that what you created caught fish and put food on someone’s table.

We will deal with each component in the order you would if you were assembling a rig now. Warning – once you get into it, you’re hooked.

LINE

In deciding what line to use (brand, material) and what strength, the main choices are monofilament, fluorocarbon and hybrid (a blend of the two).  Most people would not consider braid an option as it is so tough to break, you would likely lose too much equipment on snags.  If you are making your own, I would say use what you like most in your price range. If you are making them for others, then the fluorocarbon will be the more popular choice.  Mono is definitely easier to work with.  It is more flexible and you will consistently get your snell knot loops or coils to lay flat next to each other.  Fluorocarbon gives you the invisibility along with its stiffness.  Because of its stiffness, when tying snell knots on smaller hooks where the metal is a smaller diameter, it is a little more difficult to get all the snell knot loops or coils to lay flat against each other. In my early days I made rigs with 10 lb. and 20 lb. mono for private use.  When I started making more for possible resale, I began with 20 lb. fluorocarbon, dropped down to 14 lb. and then settled on 15 lb fluorocarbon.  This was primarily due to the diameter of the line and market considerations.  I found with 20 lb. fluorocarbon, I had some issues getting line through hook eyes twice when using the Simple Snell Knot. Changing the line and the knot solved that.

The length of the line or leader is an important consideration in your rig design. Keep in mind that the walleye are not down there in the water with a measuring tape to make sure your offering meets their regulations. So, when we talk about length of leader, it does not have to be exactly that length. Most common leader lengths are 2.5, 3, 3.5 and 4 feet. To some extent, this is a personal choice. Having said that, you should factor into your choice the weight of your rig, whether you have one or more floats on it, how snaggy it is where you will be fishing, water clarity and desired ease in netting a fish given the size boat you will be on. In “Mille Lacs – Thirty Years On The Big Lake: Memoirs and Secrets Of A Walleye Fishing Guide” by Joe Fellegy there are numerous references, insights and stories about the choice of leader length. In it, he describes situations where he would go up to 12 and 14 feet in snell length. I make most of my snells 4 feet in length and I see many do 5 feet and many also do 3 feet. I do smaller lighter snells (size 2 Colorado blades) at 3 feet. My only thought on this is it is easier to make a snell shorter by cutting it, trimming it and retying but it is nigh impossible to make it longer. In making a snell, when it comes time to cut the line from the spool, I always measure off 19 inches longer than the desired ending length for a 2-hook snell, 12 inches for a 1-hook snell. This allows me enough line for the snell loops when tying the hooks on, the gap between hooks (if 2) and enough to easily tie off the last hook and the leading swivel. So for a 4-foot snell, I always start with 5 feet 7 inches of line. You can certainly do it with less, but the little bit extra makes it easier for me to tie the knots off.

KNOTS

Most educational videos on YouTube on how to make your own spinner rig start out with showing you how to tie what is often called the Quick or Simple Snell Knot or the Knotless Snell Knot. It is how I started out.  This link shows you the knots to choose from.  I made my first 500 rigs with the Quick or Simple Snell Knot. They work fine but, to be honest, I don’t like them for two reasons.  One – they do not look like a professional snell knot – the line goes through the eye of the hook twice and the line passing over the outside of the loops is (to me) an eyesore.  Two – the more common complaint – you can push backwards on the line to loosen the knot. After looking at the other knots, I settled on the Uni-Knot Snell Knot.  It looked professional and had the features (path of the line) I liked.  With advancing numbness and arthritis in my hands, I found it a bit hard to tie correctly every time.  I could do a 1-hook snell Uni-Knot Snell Knot no problem, but when it came to tying a 2-hook snell, forget about it.  I needed something similar but easier.  It turned out there was a way to make this knot using a tool such as a straw or tube.  I tried that as well but when a Canadian guide friend told me about the Tie-Fast Tool, I decided to give that a try and have stuck with it ever since.  It turned out to be a lot easier to use than a straw. It took a while to master it and I have now made several thousand with it.  The only challenge with this tool when using fluorocarbon line on size 4 and 6 hooks, is to get all the snell loops to lay down flat next to each other without one loop or coil jumping up a bit.  When you do it right, the resulting snell knot is a thing of beauty worth admiring and I often do that. Yes, I know now I do need help.

Give the Tie-Fast Tool a try if you would like to, the tool is inexpensive.  They call the resulting knot the Nail Knot Snell Knot but I think from following the path of the line in the diagrams, it is the same path as the line in the Uni-Knot Snell Knot.

A lot of experienced fishermen will tell you that they use the Simple Snell Knot because that is the easiest to tie when they are out in the boat and making new rigs on the fly. That is also true and is I totally agree with it. It is what I would do also if I were in the boat tying one up. However, I try to avoid spending any time in the boat tying rigs. 

One last thought on knots – since I also finish up (or start?)  the rig with a swivel rather than a loop, I use a Palomar knot to tie on the swivel.  If you are doing the Palomar knot on your swivels, watch to make sure you don’t have any twists in the line and you will have the best Palomar knot. More on the use or non-use of swivels in the spinner rig itself in Part Two.

HOOKS

There is a lot to consider when selecting hooks. First is how many hooks are you going to need?  Are you making 1-hook, 2-hook or 3-hook snells?  How many do you plan on making?  The more rigs you are going to make and the more hooks on each rig, the more hooks you are going to need to buy.

The reason I point this out is that the clear leaders in perceived hook quality are expensive relative to most other brands.  (I say “perceived” because if you ask the average fisherman which hooks are the best, they will likely all give you the same answer. Very few of them have conducted any experiments to prove it.) Along with this line of thinking, I started out with that premium brand you all know.  If you are buying 20 at a time and you only need 20 or 40, you’re good.  If you are buying 20 at a time and you need 400 or 800, not so good.  This is a great candidate for you to do some comparative shopping if budget is a concern.  Find a good vendor that meets your needs for brand and hook model availability.  This is a good test of your procurement and communication skills.

Most people that have bought a lot of hooks have developed some sort of brand loyalty so I won’t try to talk you out of yours.  Just be aware there are significant price differences.  For those that are new to this, if you are looking for American-made hooks, then there is only one brand left doing that and I am not sure all their hooks are made in the US.  Or that they are all made with US Steel for that matter. Otherwise, ALL of the other hook manufacturers make their hooks outside the United States – hooks are made in China, Japan, Belgium, France, Norway, Singapore, Portugal and Malaysia.  If your guiding principle is to buy American first, then it’s Eagle Claw for you.

As my needs increased and my buying requirements increased in volume, I looked for and found a well-known bulk supplier that offered all the brands and types of hooks to compare. Make sure, if you are based in the United States, that you also check out Canadian vendors as once you factor in the favorable exchange rate, their prices are the same or even lower than the lowest American prices you can find.

For type of hook, I had initially decided I wanted to go with red circle hooks.  I was quickly corrected on this by a Canadian professional walleye fisherman and switched to Octopus (or beak) hooks.  The advice I was given was that circle hooks will cause you to miss too many strikes when trolling with a spinner rig.  I retied all my rigs that had circle hooks on them and replaced the hooks with Octopus hooks. Today, those unused circle hooks still sit in my supply trays. If you prefer, you can go the route of Aberdeen hooks or Slow Death hooks which I have also tried. For now, I am sticking with red Octopus hooks for premium rigs and bronze Octopus hooks for basic rigs.  I may build more of the Aberdeen or Slow Death in the future and have not ruled them out.  There are other bait-holding hook styles to evaluate and you also need to think about whether you want a short shaft or a long shaft on your hooks. While I think a lot of these hook style choices are important to consider, remember they all have their use and some are more suited to trolling live bait than others. And some are more suited to specific situations or type of bait than others.

Treble hooks – many rig-builders like to make their trailing hooks a treble hook.  The argument is they give you a better hooking percentage.  The pushback from the disbelievers is they really don’t. The other argument against treble hooks is they tend to tangle in the fish net more than straight hooks. If your making rigs to sell, let your customers be your guide.  I have started out with single hooks for both the leading hook and trailing hook and so far, have not changed or added trebles.  I have not ruled them out for the future though.

Barbless hooks – while some regions now require hooks to be barbless and no doubt, over time, other regions will follow, for now I have chosen to stick with barbed hooks. For those that need barbless, they are already familiar with how to pinch down the barb and are not expecting most private tackle vendors such as myself to have barbless hooks. We may all have to someday but not yet.

Now that we have covered brand and style, that leaves us number of hooks, size of hooks, color and spacing yet to discuss.

I initially made half my rigs with 1 hook and half with 2 hooks. I currently don’t make any with 3 hooks.  My thinking was when people just wanted to use a live minnow, salties or leech, they might only want 1 hook, but if they were using crawlers or plastics they would want 2 hooks.  And it is rare that someone asks for 3 hooks. Once I started building rigs for public sale though, I decided rather than build half of each, I would build all of them with 2-hooks.  Then, if the person using the rig wants only 1 hook they could just trim off the trailer.  The leading hook was tied so that it would stay on the line by itself so the rig would still be useable. 

A discussion on selecting hook size will, no doubt, trigger some debate.  While I started out with all size 2 Octopus hooks, for both leading and trailing hooks, I have since altered that.  Currently, I will still do all size 2 Octopus hooks for blades size 5 and 6.  For size 4 blades, I will do a size 2 leading hook and a size 4 trailing hook.  For size 2 and 3 blades, I will either do two size 4 hooks or a size 4 leading hook and a size 6 trailing hook.   I know others will use larger hooks even up to 1/0 for walleye but, for now, for the rigs I am building these are my current choices.  Over time, I will probably move away from size 6 completely and possibly do larger hooks on the larger blades at some point.

I am aware there are many colors of hooks being offered besides the more common bronze, black, nickel and red.  To this point, I have not encountered anyone using the newer colors nor have I seen any demand for them.  If one becomes more dominant as a popular choice, I will add it to the product line.  I will have to do more research on people’s experience and reports on various colors. For your own rigs, certainly your choice is the best choice for you.  Fluorescent or not?  I don’t know.

And, lastly on hooks, the topic of spacing often comes up.  While I started out my 2-hook harnesses several years ago with many of the hooks at 3 inches apart, I long ago switched to 3.5 inches apart.  I know some do less and some do more.  But 3.5 inches seems to me to work the best.

RULE

Your choice of snell knot will determine whether you first tie on the trailing hook or the leading hook.  If you chose the Simple Snell Knot, you start with the trailing hook, and then add the leading hook.  If you chose the Uni-Knot Snell Knot, or Nail Knot Snell Knot, you start with the leading hook, and then add the trailing hook – which means you have to have a tag long enough for the second hook when you are tying the first leading hook.

EXCEPTION

An exception to the above rule occurs, when you select the Uni or Nail Knot, forget to leave enough tag line for the second hook and the hook you tie on first ends up being the trailing hook.  In this case, you can mix knots and still add the leading hook using the Simple Snell Knot.  Just don’t tell anybody.

Later on in Part Two of Spinner Rig Design Considerations I will cover beads, blades, clevises and swivels.

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MY OLD MAN’S LURE

They sure don’t make them like they used to.  My Dad used to have a special lure that he used constantly to catch walleye in my younger days.  Actually, he called walleye “pickerel” as most Canadians did and still do, but today pretty much everyone knows them as walleye.  The lure had a unique fish-catching and fishermen-catching gimmick. Today, there is no modern lure like it at your tackle store.  Not one.

The lure was made in 1959 by the South Bend Tackle Company, although after reading their history that could even be debatable as to whether they made it or had another company make it for them.  The history of this company is at https://historymuseumsb.org/south-bend-bait-company/

The company began in South Bend, Indiana as the Worden Bait Company in 1901 and its founder was Frank G. Worden.  Jacob Kuntz had bought the company from Worden and in 1909, named it the South Bend Bait Company. Their most famous bait product line was the “Oreno” line as in Pike-Oreno or Bass-Oreno.  In the ensuing years, ownership and management changes continued, but by late 1958, it was headquartered in Chicago, owned by Seymour and Benjamin Fohrman, and renamed once again to the South Bend Tackle Company.  The name change was meant to reflect the fact they also made rods, reels and other accessories besides lures.

The lure my Dad had was named the “South Bend Optic” and it was so-named due to its design.  It originally retailed for $1.35 and was probably the same price in Canada as it was in the United States. At that time the Canadian dollar was usually par or worth up to five cents more than the US dollar.  He bought his Optic at Simpsons-Sears in Polo Park in Winnipeg in the 1960’s.  At the time, my mother told him that the lure better be good at catching fish because it had already shown it was good at catching  a fisherman.

And it was easy to see why. The Optic was essentially a clear plastic shad-shaped minnow and sealed inside the clear plastic on both sides was another piece of plastic with 4 black vertical stripes on either a green, orange or yellow background.  The outside plastic on the sides was edged or rippled to provide a prismatic effect. When you wiggled the lure, the black lines appeared to move forward and back on their own. It had a red plastic lip on the outside over its forehead.  It had a raised eye on each side. Two size 6 treble hooks completed the lure. The packaging implied it could catch all kinds of fish.

That lure always held a special spot in my Dad’s tackle box and it was, without question, his “go-to” lure.  He used it when he fished in the lakes of Ontario and lakes and rivers of Manitoba. 

On one memorable trip, he and I, along with a cousin and uncle of mine and led by my Dad’s cousin, Wilbert, fished a remote lake northeast of Kenora in a canoe, all five of us. The journey just to get to our destination was unforgettable and began at 4 a.m. at Wilbert’s home in Lac Lu.

I have spent many an hour trying in my later years to find that exact lake on the map or satellite photos but I cannot pinpoint it.  I know it was quite a ways up along the Jones Road that runs roughly northeast from the Kenora Airport.  As the sun came up, we finally got to the first lake we were to put in, we had to first load up the canoe (size large) with the five of us and our gear, and get in. Wilbert was going to be the sole paddler all day. We were at a public boat ramp on this remote lake with no lodges around and yet, there were 6 other boats there waiting to get in – from Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.  We were in the middle of nowhere but these groups all knew this lake had fish apparently. The rest of us were there to fish and obey Wilbert’s instructions.  Wilbert had chosen the lake we were heading to from information given to him by a local bush pilot. The pilot had spotted the smaller lake from the air just to the east of the one we were putting into first. He thought he had figured out a way to get to it via a portage through bush and muskeg.  And, it “looked like it should have pickerel in it”. We set out on the first lake. 

There were already other fishermen out on that lake and Wilbert did not want to let them see where we were going.  He hated the fact even back then that American tourists were fishing without any regard for conservation so he was not about to share his discovery. Our instructions were to watch out for all of them and let him know when none were in sight.  We went into a small bay on the eastern shore, were out of sight from everyone else on the lake, and that was when he made the mad dash to shore. 

Our next instructions were to unload the canoe as fast as we could, and then follow him through the bush.  When the canoe was empty, he strapped the two paddles across it, threw it over his shoulders and charged through the bush.  No matter how hard we tried, we had a difficult time keeping him in sight.  And each of us had a light load.  Wilbert was a real authentic bush man.

After about half a mile through the bush, we arrived at a giant bog.  It was the muskeg on the west side of the hidden small lake. Wilbert surveyed where he thought the best place to put in was hoping we might have a tiny channel to the lake.  He studied it for a little bit, checked a few spots and chose our way in.  Other than two or three shallow spots where we had to push our way through, we made it all the way through the muskeg to the west end of the small lake without getting too wet.  And now, we had an entire lake to ourselves for the whole day. Almost.

I fished with a small red and white Dare Devil spoon and Dad put The Optic to work.  While Wilbert paddled us up and back along the south shore, we all caught fish steadily.  In no time we had our limit and only one pass up and back along the south shore was needed.  When we got to the far east side of our mystery lake, we realized we indeed did have company on the lake after all.  There in the weeds of a bay, stood a huge bull moose, grazing on whatever he could find.  He kept his eyes on us but did not seem to be agitated at all. A little later, we had a shore lunch of sandwiches and a short break. Near the end of the trip, we pulled up to a nice flat rock and Wilbert cleaned and packed all the fish on it. We were on our way back out by late afternoon.

Dad eventually lost that lure on a log in another Ontario lake, but not until after it had provided him a lot of memories and a lot of “pickerel” on the stringer. 

I acquired a couple of Optics off the internet for old time’s sake.  Both are in the green color Dad once owned. I plan on giving one to my Dad for his 100th birthday this year.

Check out the video here to see the prismatic effect of the South Bend Optic.

While building spinner rigs for Painted Back Rigs, I decided to pay homage to the South Bend Optic lure with a rig designed to reflect the color pattern without the prismatic effect.  Our tribute in The Basics Group of product on paintedbackrigs.com is THE OPTIC NERVE with a Colorado size 4 sparkling bright green blade.

THE OPTIC NERVE in the Basics group on painedbackrigs.com
The South Bend Optic