Mackerel and Spinning Gear
Even small fish such as mackerel put up a good fight when caught on light spinning gear.

Spinning is a type of fishing where a solid metal lure (the spinner) is drawn through the water in order to tempt a predatory fish into attacking and becoming hooked. Spinning is an extremely popular type of fishing around the whole of the UK and many anglers find this type of fishing exciting as they are constantly active, casting and retrieving, knowing a fish could take the spinner at any moment. The need for relatively deep water means that piers, jetties and rock marks are the places where spinning is most effective, although there are a number of steep shingle beaches where it is perfectly possible to catch fish on a spinner or other type of lure. Fishing with spinners goes hand in hand with light tackle, and hooking a pollock, coalfish or bass on light gear is one of the most exciting types of fishing, and even a single mackerel can give great sport if caught on the right tackle.

Types of Spinner

While anglers have crafted lures to catch fish for many centuries it was not until the late 1800s that spinners began to be commercially produced on a mass scale in the USA and Britain. Spinners such as Dexter wedges, Toby spinners and Mepps spinners soon became established as reliable fish-catching lures by the early to mid-twentieth century, and all of these designs are still popular and widely used today.  Read our full article on the different types of spinners available to UK anglers by clicking here.

Types of Spinners
From left to right: a traditional mackerel spinner which rotates as it is reeled in, a modern single-piece minnow-style spinner and a wedge-style spinner, based on the original Dexter wedge.

Spinners are so-called because many traditional designs incorporated rotating blades which revolved around a central section as the spinner was drawn through the water. While this type of spinner is still available most spinners used today are made of a single section that does not revolve, although some such as wedges are designed to wobble from side to side as they are reeled in which mimics an injured fish. Spinners for mackerel are relatively cheap, with 1oz spinners costing around £1.50 – £2.50 each, with heavier spinners, and the more realistic ones designed for catch bass, being more expensive. View the full range of spinners available at Sea Angling Shop by clicking here. Spinners are typically silver in colour as this resembles a small preyfish such as a sandeel or sprat, but spinners can also come in a wide range of other colours. Most spinners are fitted with a size 4 or 6 treble hook, but many anglers either flatten the barbs or the hook or replace it with a traditional J-hook to allow any fish which are caught to be unhooked and returned to the sea more easily.

Spinning Rods, Reels and Line

Telescopic Rod and Reel
Light fishing gear such as telescopic fishing rods and small fixed spool reels are usually used when fishing with lures.

The rods and reels needed for spinning are relatively cheap when compared to full-sized beachcasting rods which are designed to fish with bait from beaches or rock marks. Generally, anglers choose a light rod and reel combination in order to gain maximum sport from the fish they are targeting, and using a heavy rod would becoming tiring due to the repeated casting involved when spinning. For these reasons anglers often use a purpose-made spinning rod that is usually 7 – 10ft long and is capable of casting lures of 1oz – 2oz. These rods can be telescopic, which makes them easier to store and transport, although a non-telescopic rod will usually be more sturdy and be capable of reaching longer casting distances. Sea Angling Shop sells a range of rod and reel sets that are suitable for spinning around the UK – click here to view and purchase. An alternative is to use a bass rod. These rods are generally around 11ft long and have a casting weight of 2 – 4oz. They can be used for both bait fishing and spinning and, as they can cast heavier lures than spinning rods, they offer longer casting distances than spinning rods and the ability to handle larger fish. Both spinning rods and bass rods can also be used for float fishing from rock marks or piers.

While small multiplier reels can be used with spinning rods most anglers opt for a fixed spool reel as they are simpler and easier to use. For smaller spinning rods of 7 – 8ft a rear drag reel can be used, but for longer spinning rods and bass rods the reel should be front drag (read more about reels and the drag systems in our article here). Reels used with smaller spinning rods can be filled with 10 – 12lb monofilament fishing line. Anglers using 10ft spinning rods or bass rods should use monofilament which has a 14 – 18lb breaking strain. Some anglers do use braided line for lure fishing, but the vast majority of anglers keep things simple and stick to monofilament fishing line. As spinners are fairly light and power casting is not used there is no need for a shockleader and the same strength line can be used all of the way through.

Lure Fishing Marks

Generally, the best fishing with any type of lure takes place when there is relatively deep water to cast into. This means that piers, groynes, jetties and breakwaters which offer a safe and stable platform to cast into deep water are amongst the most popular spinning locations, as are deep water rock marks. Many lure fishing marks, especially piers, will get very busy with people fishing for mackerel in the summer months, particularly in areas that are popular with tourists and holidaymakers.

Spinning Fishing
Many anglers fishing with spinners and lures seek out the deeper water accessed by fishing from piers, breakwaters and jetties.

Piers that are open to anglers can see anglers fishing almost shoulder to shoulder in the summer months, and there can, unfortunately, be problems with angling-related litter and anti-social behaviour from a minority of people who are fishing. It is becoming increasingly common for angling on piers to be restricted to certain times and sections of the pier, and there have also been a number of piers around the UK where fishing has been banned due to the actions of a minority of people fishing there.

Seasons and Species

Spinner Mackerel
A mackerel caught on a spinner.

Lure fishing with spinners is generally seen as a summer activity. This is because the most commonly caught species is mackerel and they move into shallow, inshore waters (and within range of sea anglers) when the seas start to warm up. The exact time at which mackerel arrive varies from year to year and by location. In areas around the south and west of the British Isles, they may arrive in number in April or early May, but places further north may have to wait until later in the year until mackerel are present in good numbers. What is clear is that mackerel are arriving earlier and staying for longer each year, with mackerel catches still being made into October and even later in some parts of the UK. Other species which can be caught on spinners, such as pollock, are also most commonly caught in the summer as they spend the winter in deeper offshore waters. Bass, especially smaller school bass, are another species which anglers target with spinners, and other species which can be caught on spinners include greater sandeel, gurnard, coalfish and sea trout.

Spinner Methods and Techniques

Anglers usually cast out as far as they can and then reel in the spinner, making it come back towards them in mid-water where most predatory species will be hunting. However, the manner in which the spinner is retrieved can make a huge difference to catch rates. As the diagram below shows changing the speed at which the spinners is reeled in will change the depth at which the spinner travels through the water. This can be used to cover all depths – anglers can reel in quickly and if no fish take the spinner they can reel in progressively more slowly so that the spinner is working in deeper water until the feeding fish are located. Anglers should be aware that reeling in very slowly and having the spinner work at greater depths increases the chances of the spinner becoming snagged on the seabed.

Slow and Fast Retrieve
Reeling in quickly will see the spinner work near the surface, while a slower retrieval rate will see the spinner active in deeper water closer to the seabed.

Another technique is the sink-and-draw method. This involves reeling in rapidly for several turns of the reel and then allowing the spinner to sink down for several seconds before reeling in again quickly for another few turns and then allowing the spinner to sink again. This technique allows the spinner to cover a wider area in the water column and the sinking and then moving action can also help to attract fish.

Sink and Draw
The sink-and-draw method: When it is reeled in (solid arrow) the spinner moves up in the water column, while stopping reeling sees the spinner drop back down into deeper water (dotted line) before the process is continuously repeated.

Alternatively, some anglers experiment with a jerky and erratic retrieval consisting of quick and slow turns of the reel along with sweeping the rod tip upwards in different directions. This can make the spinner resemble an injured or disoriented fish and prove an effective method to attract fish to the spinner. While mackerel are indiscriminate feeders which will attack any kind of lure which passes them larger pollock and especially bass can be more selective feeders and the latter two techniques can prove more effective when targeting these species.

There can also be tell-tale signs that mackerel and other predatory species are present which can give anglers an indication of where to cast their spinners. Disturbances at the surface of the water, which can sometimes look as if the sea is boiling, are caused by sprats and small fish being forced to the surface as they are chased by mackerel. Casting a spinner near an area where this is happening is likely to prove productive. Diving seabirds can also mean that small fish are present which in turn means that larger fish are likely to be in the same area. Watching for signs such as these can help anglers find actively feeding fish and therefore increase catches.