Fishing with Spinners in Rivers and Streams

Fishing with Spinners in Rivers and Streams

This post will discuss fishing with spinners in rivers and streams. Spinners are excellent artificial lures. They catch a wide variety of species. Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, trout, salmon, walleye, pike, panfish, rock bass, and other species will take one. Spinners really shine when used in rivers and streams. The current keeps the bait moving and the blade turning.

fishing with spinners in rivers and streams

Spinners are simple lures that have been around for many decades and work well for anglers fishing in rivers and streams. Spinners consist of several components. A shaft runs through the center of the lure and had a body of some type. A spinner blade rotates around the shaft and body, providing flash and vibration. A hook rides on the tail of the shaft.

Advantages of fishing with spinners in rivers and streams

One great aspect of fishing with spinners is the simplicity. Many artificial lures require the angler to impart the action. Often times, “feel” is needed to detect a strike. This is not the case with spinners. A slow, steady retrieve works best. The action is built into the lure. Finally, most fish hook themselves.

trout fishing blue ridge

9 useful spinner fishing tips;

  • Use the current by casting directly across the stream
  • Lighter spinners work best in small streams
  • Silver blades work best on sunny days
  • Gold blades are the choice during low light conditions
  • Heavy spinners are best for trolling
  • Single hook spinners result in an easier release
  • When fishing spinners, slower is usually better
  • Small spinners will catch big fish
  • 1/8 ounce is a good all-round spinner size

Spinners are fairly heavy for their size. This means that they cast well on light tackle. Most fish in rivers feed on bait fish, which spinners mimic realistically. Spinners come in many different sizes and finishes to match any angling situation. All things considered, they do not snag all that often when worked correctly.

Click to read some river fishing tips

Fishing with spinners in rivers

Spinners are very easy to use. It is one of the advantages of fishing with spinners in rivers and streams. They are an excellent choice for novice anglers. It really does not take a lot of skill or experience to catch fish with spinners.

Best fishing lures in rivers

The best approach when fishing with spinners in moving water is cast across the stream and let the spinner “swing” with the current. Anglers can give the lure a little twitch to get the blades rotating. The spinner will continue down stream on a tight line, blades rotating and flashing. Strikes may occur at any time. However, it often happens as the line tightens up at the end and turns sideways in the current.

Click on the title link to read Capt Jim’s E-book Fishing for Crappie, Bluegill, and Panfish

Quiet water behind rocks and other obstructions are prime spots to cast a spinner. Fish will lie in ambush, out of the current yet close enough to have the flow bring a steady stream of forage. Deeper runs between riffles are outstanding spots to try as well. The bait will need to sink a tad deeper in these areas.

Spinner fishing in slow moving rivers and streams

best 13 bass lures for pond fishing

Most rivers have fairly consistent physical characteristics. There are riffles or rapids, separated by deeper, slower pools. Depending on the fish species, many will hold in the deeper, slower water. They can feed without fighting the current constantly. Spinners are very effective in these deeper pools as well. Heavier spinners that sink more quickly are usually the most productive.

The same approach of casting across the current works well in the deeper pools as well. The difference is that without the swift current, the lure will sink faster. Anglers will need to adjust the speed of the retrieve to keep the lure from snagging on the bottom.

Spinner fishing tackle

Light or ultra-light spinning tackle is the best choice for fishing streams and smaller rivers with spinners. It is versatile, affordable, and easy to use. With a little practice, anglers can land fairly large fish using light line and tackle.

fishing in rivers for smallmouth bass

A 6 1/2′ light action rod with matching 1000-2000 sized reel and 4 lb to 6lb line is an excellent all round outfit. Anglers fishing ultra clear water for trout often drop down to 2 lb line to increase success. Conversely, in stained water for larger fish, anglers can go up as high as 10 lb line. Here are links to rod and reel combos as well as line.

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for light rod and reel combos

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Top spinners for fishing rivers and streams

While spinners are all very similar, there are some differences as well. These differences affect when the spinner will work best and in some cases the species being pursued. Lighter spinners work best in smaller, shallow streams. Heavier spinners obviously work better in deeper water.

Fishing the North Shore of Minnesota

Top 4 spinners for rivers and streams

  • Worden’s Rooster Tail

  • Mepps Aglia

  • Panther Martin

  • Blue Fox Vibrax

The top spinners for fishing rivers and streams are the Wordens Rooster tail, Mepps Aglia, Panther Martin, and Blue Fox spinners. These four spinners will cover every river and stream fishing application.

Most spinner manufacturers offer anglers many different sizes and colors. Generally speaking, light colors and silver blades work best in clear water and on sunny days. Copper blades and darker colors perform better on cloudy days and in low light conditions.

Wordens Original Rooster tail spinners

The Wordens Original Rooster tail is a terrific spinner! It is Capt Jim’s personal favorite. It is one of the lightest spinners for it’s size. This makes it a perfect choice for trout fishing in small, clear streams. It has a gentle presentation and the blades spin with very little movement.

bluegill fishing


Rooster tail spinners are available in a single hook version. This is great because it allows anglers to use them in waters designated “single hook artificial lure only” areas. These mostly involves rivers where catch and release trout fishing is instituted or encouraged.

Rooster tail spinners are not only for trout anglers. These lures are very effective for panfish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, walleye and other species. Generally, these species will be found in slower moving water.

rooster tail

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Rooster Tail spinners.

Mepps Aglia spinner

The Mepps Aglia spinner is a classic lure that has been helping anglers catch fish for many years. It comes in both a plain and dressed hook. For whatever reason, it has become a ‘big fish” bait. The larger versions are very good for pike, bass, walleye, and even musky! The gold blade/dressed tail combination seems to be the favored finish.

river fishing for musky

The Mepps Aglia does catch plenty of trout. However, it is favored more by anglers fishing slower, warmer rivers for bass, pike, and other species. It is also good when trolled in the larger, deeper sections of rivers.


Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Mepps spinners.

Panther Martin spinners

Panther Martin spinners are another excellent spinner for fishing in streams and rivers. It is a bit heavier and more compact than the Roostertail and Aglia spinners. They are a great choice in deeper water. Anglers fishing larger rivers with deeper pools use them successfully.

walleye fishing guide

Panther Martin spinners can be used in swifter current, as long as there is a bit of depth. Anglers fishing them in shallow riffles will hang up and lose some baits. They are a great lure to use when the water has some color to it. Panther Martin spinners put out a unique, fish-calling vibration.

panther martin

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Panther Martin spinners.

Blue Fox spinners

Blue Fox spinners are the heaviest of the four spinners highlighted. They have a substantially heavier body than the other spinners. Blue Fox spinners are the best choice for anglers fishing larger, deeper rivers. They are usually the spinner of choice for spring walleye anglers.

pike fishing in Minnesota

These lures are great for anglers who like to troll in the holes of deeper rivers. The weighted body will get down deep where fish hold out of the current. They can certainly be cast as well.

blue fox spinner

Anglers can click this link to shop Amazon for Blue Fox spinners.

River and stream fishing environments

trout fishinh tips

River and stream fishing can really be broken down into three categories; Warm water, cool water, and cold water species. Warm water species include sunfish, crappie, largemouth bass, and catfish. Cold water species are basically trout and salmon. Obviously, cool water species bridge the two and include pike, walleye, smallmouth bass, musky, and stripers. There is some overlap.

Cold water river species

Trout and salmon are the most predominant cold water species. The introduction of dams and therefore a tailwater has resulted in a boon in cold water rivers. They can control the water temperature in the rivers by controlling the depth at which they release water. This allows them to keep the rivers at ideal water temperatures.

rainbow trout fishing lures

Cold water streams come in many sizes. They range from tiny streams to raging rivers. Small rivers are usually the easiest to wade and fish. Locating fish and presenting baits is usually easier as well. Larger rivers are a bit more challenging. Safety becomes in issue both wading and boats.

Anglers can read more about the best rainbow trout fishing lures here.

Often times, larger rivers are best fished from a boat. Anglers can position themselves much more safely and strategically to present spinners to fish. Salmon will certainly take spinners, and some of them grow quite large! Trolling can be a very effective technique to locate and catch salmon and trout in larger rivers.

salmon fishing in tailwaters

Warm water river species

Most warm water species inhabit rivers that are slower and deeper. They can have some swifter portions as well. These are low land streams and rivers that meander along. Most offer anglers the chance to catch bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, and catfish. Rivers with a lot of bends, deeper holes, and abundant structure are the most productive.

Cool water species

river fishing lures

Cool water river are a bit of the best of both worlds. Anglers can catch walleye, smallmouth bass, pike, striped bass, and even musky in these rivers. Many are often cool enough to harbor decent populations of trout. This is particularly true in the cooler months on stocked rivers. Stocking is done to take advantage of the lower water temperatures.

Conversely, many of these waters are warm enough to also hold largemouth bass, catfish, and panfish. One great thing about fishing with spinners in rivers and streams is that just about every game fish species will take them!Anglers can read more about the best lures for small rivers and streams here.

In conclusion, this article on fishing with spinners in rivers and streams will help anglers catch more fish using these terrific and versatile lures!


Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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