Bill May: Take this fishing technique for a spin

Bill May: Take this fishing technique for a spin
Classic action on the Patapsco River as an angler nets a trout taken on ultralight spinning tackle. (Bill May photo)

Spin fishing for trout may lack the panache of flyfishing, but it’s often the most effective and popular method in our area.

As opposed to flyfishing, very little tackle is required, and it's moderately priced. It’s a great way for beginners to learn trout fishing, for older folks who do not want to wade and for fishing in such adverse conditions as high, muddy water, drought-stricken streams and briary green tunnel streams.


Some expert trout fishermen use only spinning tackle. Pennsylvanian Frank Nale, featured on this page six years ago, averages over 1,000 trout per year using only spinning tackle and homemade spinners.

Here’s how to do it.

Rod, Reel, and Line

My personal choice is a two-piece, five-foot rod, specifically a Shakespeare Ugly Stik, model SP-1102, but any rod with these characteristics will do. It is rated to cast lures from 1/32 to 1/4 ounce, has enough backbone to throw a light lure 60-plus feet and a soft, forgiving tip that protects a light line from a surging fish. It can make standard casts, underhand flips and pitches, bow-and-arrow casts, and casts with only the top half of the rod for tight places.

The major features required of the reel are sure bail closure, a size and weight that balances with the rod, sufficient capacity (50 yards is plenty), and, especially, a smooth drag. I use a Cardinal 652.

I recommend a good quality 4-pound test monofilament that is supple and has some stretch to it. Stren Lo-Vis Clear is one good choice.


Spinners are the first choice, but some are better than others. Trout buddy Rick Boulin has great, documented success with Size 1 Mepps spinners, very similar to Nale’s spinners, with silver or gold blades. I like Mepps and also a 1/16th-ounce Panther Martin with a gold or silver blade for shallow and hard-fished waters. If you plan to release trout, I recommend breaking off one tine of the hook and mashing down the barbs on the remaining tines.

One downside to spinners is that they are easily lost by snagging bottom or by errant casts into streamside shrubbery, which is why some guys make their own.

Trout in hard-fished waters quickly learn to avoid biting flashy spinners.

An ideal second lure is the Berkley PowerBait Trout Worm. Use a long-shanked size #6 to #10 hook strung through the mid-section of a 2 to 3-inch red or pink worm, add a split shot about a foot above, and drift it along bottom. Or run a short-shanked hook through the middle of the worm with the worm at a 90-degree angle to the hook shank, to fish “wacky” style. Both rigs are also is prone to snagging.

So a few years back I tried drifting a wacky-rigged Trout Worm beneath a float, a rig that proved even more effective and rarely snagged. Dropshot rigs are another option.

Note the Trout Worms are scented, and, thus are considered baits in Maryland and some other states, so they cannot be fished on waters restricted to flies and artificial lures only. Squirmy Wormies are unscented artificial worms that can be used on the above restricted waters, if they are tied on, not strung on the hook. The San Juan Worm fly, can also be used.

Boulin ties proven trout flies, such as a black wooly buggers and Patuxent Specials, on unpainted 1/8 and 1/16-ounce jigheads to create effective bottom bouncing lures. Two-inch grubs could also be used. He also touts Berkley pre-rigged 1/32-ounce tubes. Trout Magic jigs and other tiny trout/crappie jigs for spin or fly tackle in black, white, yellow, or olive are other choices.

Spin fishermen can also fish some of the most effective fly patterns. Use a clear spin bubble, 1/2 inch in diameter, or a slim "European" style river float above one or two beadhead nymphs, such as size 14 Prince, Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail or San Juan Worm. You may need to add a small split shot, preferably between the flies.


Berkley Powerbait Trout Dough in rainbow or Trout Pellet colors, rigged on a size 6 to 10 single or treble hook, and slowly bottom-bounced along bottom or fished on a dropshot rig is tough to beat. Wax worms or meal worms may be better in moving water or where repeated casting is needed.

Other Equipment

Hip waders usually suffice with spin tackle, and in many areas you can fish from shore without waders. Camouflage or at least muted clothing will greatly increase your effectiveness. A fanny pack or chest pack can hold lures, flies, hooks and shot needed. Hemostats are useful for removing hooks, especially in catch-and release situations. Likewise a landing net is handy. Finally for reasons of safety and reading the water, wear a pair of good, Polarized glasses.

Presentation Techniques for Lures

The basic techniques are mostly the same with any fly, lure or bait. Frank Nale fishes his spinners strictly upstream with underhand, flip/pitch-type casts and makes steady retrieves. Most fishermen use swing and drift retrieves. Fan cast across the stream and swing your lure or bait along the bottom through a riffle to the pool below. Depending on the depth and speed of the current you may cast directly across stream or at a 45-degree angle (known as "quartering") upstream or downstream.

You want to cover the entire area above and below the riffle all the way to the tail of the pool (the last quiet water before the next riffle). Often newly stocked trout tend to hang in the tail of the pool. Then move upstream or down to the next riffle and pool area and repeat.

With spinners and jigs crank fast enough to keep the lure working and off the bottom while these lures are upstream from you; once they’re downstream let the current supply most of the action on the swing before retrieving.

With flies or lures fished beneath a float, a dead drift, perhaps with an occasional slight twitch is all that's needed.