Matt Johnson Outdoors
Spinning for Panfish
Matt Johnson Outdoors
By: Matt Johnson

When most anglers think  of panfish
they   think  of  small  jigs  or  hooks
tipped   with  a   crappie  minnow  or
chunk  of crawler.  They  even  think
of   maybe  throwing  a  few   smaller
profiled  plastics  like  tube  jigs and
twister    tails.      But    what    about
spinner-baits?      And    we’re     not
talking   bass   spinner-baits;   we’re
talking       small-profiled       panfish
spinner-baits.     Often  this  method
gets pushed aside when in pursuit of slab crappies and bull gills, but
that shouldn’t be the case.

The spinner-bait has proven its worth on largemouth and smallmouth
bass, pike, muskie, and even walleye, but it’s still not seen as a go-to
lure for many panfish anglers. Is it a confidence thing? I don’t know,
but when the timing is right, spinner-baits can, and will, land more and
bigger panfish.

Spinner-baits come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m sure most of us
has heard of (or even used) the old tried and true Beetle Spin. These
are the types of spinner-baits I’m referring to when looking for panfish
options. We’re talking small-profiled spinner-baits that are a “down-
sized” version of your larger bass spinner-baits. Beetle Spins have
been a classic small profiled spinner-bait, but there are many other
options for panfish that allow the angler to be more productive when
targeting aggressive panfish. Some of which are even smaller in

JB Lures ( offers the Tadpole Spin for those
looking to pursue panfish with spinner-baits this summer. The Tadpole
Spin consists of a “realistic fish” jighead giving the lure a more
natural appeal. The Tadpole Spin also incorporates lively colors and a
lot of vibration, which can not only call fish in, but trigger reaction
strikes as well. The Tadpole Spin is available in three different sizes
(1/16 – 1/4oz) and six productive colors.

Mister Twister ( also offers an option for
panfish spinner-baits. They have their own “Spinner Forms” that allow
the angler to create or design their own spinner-bait. The Spinner
Form comes as just the spinner and arm attachment, what you use for
a jig and plastic is up to you. The Spinner Form is a very versatile
approach to using spinner-baits for panfish. The Tadpole Spin from JB
Lures can also be taken apart and used in the same fashion as well.

A few things to keep in mind when choosing a spinner-bait for panfish
are size, color, action, and profile. Granted, one of these
characteristics might dictate another, but these are the four features
to pay attention to.

Size is important depending on whether you’re targeting sunfish or
crappie, as well as the mood of the fish. You can get away with
throwing 1/4oz spinner-baits for crappies, but sunfish might not find it
as appealing. Going with a 1/16oz or even a 1/32oz spinner-bait might
be a better choice for sunfish. And like mentioned earlier, depending
on the profile and added plastic, you might want to think about down-
sizing those as well when targeting sunfish.

The mood of the fish can also determine what size spinner-bait you
decide to throw. If the fish are highly aggressive, then you can get
away with using 1/4oz or 1/8oz spinner-bait, but if the fish seem to be
in a neutral mood, then a 1/16oz or smaller might be the better choice.

So, by determining what species you’re targeting, and what mood the
fish are in, you can then determine what size spinner-bait fits the
given situation.

Color is another important piece of the puzzle when deciding which
spinner-bait to tie on. The color options available to anglers today are
almost endless. So many colors appear to be the same, but having an
understanding of what colors trigger what response, as well as what
colors better match the given conditions will give you an upper hand.

Colors such as white, chartreuse, hot pinks, and other bright colors,
will give off a larger profile in darker water. They are more “radiant” in
the water and appear larger than they really are. This usually helps a
situation because it allows the fish to hone in on the spinner-bait a lot
easier than when using a darker color that goes undetected. Now,
sometimes “matching the hatch” might be the better choice, and in
this regard, using a more natural color like a purple, blue, brown, or
dark green might work better.

Color can become more of mind game then an actual crucial piece of
the puzzle. When using spinner-baits we’re typically targeting
aggressive natured fish, so the fish are seeing and sensing the
spinner’s vibration and flash, so being picky with the color sometimes
doesn’t even matter.

However, bring a long a nice assortment of colors with you just in
case. Take a long a couple white, chartreuse, orange, purple, brown,
etc, spinner-baits with you when on your next trip. Remember, you can
always change the color of the plastic body, so color is only relative to
begin with.

Action is one of those features that might not play as big of a role
when deciding which spinner-bait to use for panfish. Yes, action is
important, but it’s the action that you cause the spinner-bait to make
that is most important, and not so much the action the spinner-bait is
designed to do.

Since we’re dealing with smaller spinner-baits, the room for multiple
spinner-blades and beads is just not there. We’re often stuck with
only one blade, which in most cases is a Colorado blade. Exchanging
the Colorado blade for a willow-leaf blade could definitely change the
action, but not to the extreme that we see with our larger bass-style
spinner-baits. The action we need to focus on is the speed of the
retrieve and how often we allow the spinner-bait to fall or hop.

Allowing the spinner-bait to fall through the water will give off a
wounded baitfish appeal, which can trigger both negative and
aggressive panfish into striking. As the spinner-bait falls, the blade is
spinning which gives off vibration and flash. So sometimes doing
nothing can result catching more fish.

Hoping the spinner-bait can also imitate an injured minnow, but I look
at it more as a form of jigging, much-like what we do when jigging a
minnow for walleye. Spinner-baits don’t always have to fall victim of
the cast-retrieve technique, they can indeed be used throughout
various jigging sequences as well.

Speed of the retrieve is probably the most important piece of the
action puzzle. Depending on where the fish are holding, as well as
their mood, you will have to determine how fast you want to retrieve
the spinner-bait.

Slow-rolling a spinner-bait is usually one of the most productive
actions when pursuing panfish. A slow, constant retrieve across the
strike zone will allow the panfish plenty of time to strike. Working a
weed line or brush pile are two places where slow-rolling a spinner-
bait can be very effective. In these situations we’re looking at ambush
feeding panfish, so keeping the spinner-bait up against the structure
is important, and allowing the fish enough time to strike the lure is

When targeting panfish over a large flat or shallow bay, a more rapid
retrieve might be in order. Now, by rapid I don’t mean “ripping” the
spinner-bait through the water, instead I mean a more constant, fast-
paced retrieve where you’re intention is to cover a lot of water yet
provide an action that allows the fish to stay within its comfort level.
When searching for panfish I’ll often use the more rapid retrieve.

Action is important when targeting panfish with a spinner-bait, and
most of the action comes from the angler, and not so much from the
spinner-bait. Knowing when to “slow-roll” and spinner-bait can play a
significant role. The key here is to try a lot of different actions to see
which one works the best for you. Once that confidence is maintained,
then you’ll find out that spinner-baits can be a very productive option
for panfish.

Profile pretty-much sums up the previous features all into one. Profile
consists of how the spinner-bait “looks” to the underwater world.
Size, color, and action can all determine the profile of a spinner-bait.
The example of how a white spinner-bait causes the lure to appear
larger than it really is can be used as an example of profile. White
changes the profile of a lure in dark water.

Changing the plastic body on the jig of the spinner-bait can change
the profile as well. Switching from a twister tail to a stinger style
plastic will change the appearance of the spinner-bait. The twister tail
will give off a larger profile, while the stinger plastic will appear more
sleek and thin while being retrieved through the water.

The size of the spinner-blade can also change the profile of the
spinner-bait. A larger spinner-blade is obviously going to give off a
larger appearance. Same with changing the color of the spinner-blade,
where on one hand you have flash (silver blade), but on the other
hand you have some sort of color (colored blade), both of which give
off a different appearance in the water.

The profile of a spinner-bait is the “big picture,” and if you have the
profile right, then catching fish won’t be as tough. Tying together
action and profile will allow you to be a lean, mean, fish-catching

Spinner-baits are an overlooked approach to catching panfish, but
don’t let that be the case for you this summer. Spinner-baits have a
tendency to draw-out the larger panfish, and they allow you to be more
effective when trying to cover large areas of water. Both sunfish and
crappies will be more than eager to devour a small-profiled spinner-

So, once that water warms up, and we find ourselves targeting
summertime panfish, try giving spinner-baits a try if you haven’t
already, because you might just find a new way of putting more and
bigger fish in the boat!

Good Fishin,
Matt Johnson
Horseshoe Chain
Fishing Reports