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in-line spinner
Cheap Thrills: Forget pricey swimbaits. Bass are just as apt to nail a simple in-line spinner. Tosh Brown

With scores of flashy new lures hitting the market each year, it’s easy to forget one that’s been around for more than a century. Most anglers would agree about the simplicity of fishing in-line spinners. They may not be pretty or have the appeal of a $20 swimbait, but their reputation for catching fish is legendary. And there’s no better time to put them to use than in early spring. Bass, pickerel, trout, and a variety of other species are drawn to this basic bait’s vibration as water temperatures climb. Throw in a high hookup percentage and the fact that it’s impossible to fish them wrong, and you have a deadly weapon. Choosing the hottest spinner and fishing it in the best location can pay huge dividends. Here’s how to get it done.

in-line spinner
An in-line spinner. Mepps

Largemouth Bass

Whether the bass in your region are in pre- or postspawn stage, sometimes an in-line spinner draws more strikes from these notoriously tough spring fish better than the fanciest new crankbait. To target these bass with in-lines, focus on the transition zones adjacent to deeper water and the shallow spawning areas. Look for depths of 5 to 10 feet, preferably with emergent weed growth, and cast a No. 3 or 4 Mepps Black Fury on a ­medium-​­action spinning outfit. Vary your retrieve to see how fish react. Some days, a slow, steady retrieve that falls deeper in the water column will get the most bites. Other times, a fast-moving bait fished just below the surface will trigger fish to feed.


For a large portion of freshwater anglers, spring is all about trout fishing, and a lot of them are flinging in-lines because both stocked and wild fish annihilate them. It’s essential to fish trout spinners on ultralight tackle with no more than 4-pound-test. Any heavier makes it difficult to cast the smaller spinners you’ll need for trout. A 1⁄16-ounce Rooster Tail is the perfect choice for stream fishing. Cast your lure up- and across-stream, take in the slack line, and begin your retrieve as the spinner drifts in front of you. The current will aid in turning the blade. Depending on the strength of the current, you may need to slow or pick up your pace to keep the bait below the surface, off the bottom, and in the strike zone.


They may not be as prized as their big cousins, the northern pike and the muskie, but pickerel are one of the first species to become active after ice-out. Pickerel will eat anything from live baits to stickbaits, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck, an in-line spinner is the way to go. If you want to find pickerel, look no farther than the weeds. Depending on where you live, weeds may be matted in 5 feet of water or barely emerging in early spring. Hunt for weeds that have tops 1 or 2 feet below the surface. This will enable you to bring a spinner over them without getting hung up. There are plenty of spinner options to choose from, but a No. 4 or 5 Classic Vibrax from Blue Fox is tough to beat for this fish.