Of all the available lures there are to help you catch fish, few stand out more than French Spinners. I can’t state this as a 100% fact, but I firmly believe you would have a hard time finding anyone who has ever fished that hasn’t used one of these at some point. I think it would be difficult to find someone’s tackle box without at least one of these in it. I’m not even sure it would be possible to go into any place that sells any fishing tackle at all that didn’t have some of these on the shelf. In my humble opinion, no other lure in history has ever had the same appeal to both fish of all species, and anglers as the French Spinner. If I could only have one lure to fish with, this would be my first choice.
Of course, there are many companies making French Spinners, and they are not all created equal. Strangely, each one has ultra-loyal followers, and there have been fights started over which one is the undisputed Master of the Water.
Why is this lure so popular? Does it really work better than all others? That is what we will explore with this article.
The Birth Of The French Spinner
There are several claims for the origin of the French Spinner, but it is widely accepted that it was invented by a French Peugeot engineer, André Meulnart. He loved to fish and in the late 1930s, he designed a revolutionary new fishing lure with a rotating blade that drove trout insane. He called it the Aglia, which is Latin for Butterfly, because of the way it looked cruising through the water. It took Europe by storm and he patented the design in 1938. André created the now famous MEPPS (Manufacturier D’Engins De Precision Pour Peches Sportives) company to manufacture the lures and ship them all over the world.
During the 1940s, Europe was ravaged by WW-II, and many US servicemen became acquainted with the Aglia. The lure made its way across the Pond to the US, where it was discovered to be deadly on just about anything that swims. When Frank Velek returned home from the war, he gave an Aglia to the owner of a local Tackle Shop, Todd Sheldon. He tried the lure and became hooked. Determined to market them in the US, he started buying them from a French woman, trading the spinners for stockings, which at that time were still in short supply in some places. But the demand for the Aglia far outstripped her ability to craft the lures and wear out stockings, so Sheldon began buying them directly from MEPPS. In 1956, he sold his tackle store and became the US distributor of MEPPS lures. In 1960, their sales topped over half a million, unheard of at that time.
What started as a small operation in the back of a tackle shop in Antigo, Wi. has become one of the largest fishing lure distributors in the world. Sheldon passed away in 1995, and his son Mike is the current CEO of Sheldon Inc., which owns MEPPS S.A., and Mister Twister in Minden, La. They market over 4000 different lures.
Imitation Is Sincere Flattery…
At around the same time Meulnart was tweaking his design, a Polish fisherman named Stanislao Kuckiewicz designed a similar lure. The difference was that the Aglia’s spinner was mounted to a clevis, which allowed the blade to spin around the shaft. Kuckiewicz’s design mounted the spinner directly to the shaft. It is unknown whether Stanislao had seen a MEPPS, and used it as a basis for his design, or came up with it independently. However he got the idea, it was different enough from the MEPPS for him to get a patent on the design, and it proved to be as deadly on fish as the MEPPS. By the 1960s, the lure was marketed in the US as the Panther-Martin, and distributed by Harrison Hoge Industries Inc. Like McDonald’s, they can boast of over 104,000,000 sold. Panther Martins have just as loyal a following as MEPPS does.
The Roostertail also came out about the same time as the MEPPS and Panther Martin. Designed by Robert Worden sometime in the late 1940s or early 50s, it differed from the MEPPS by having a solid body, rather than beads as on the MEPPS.
Since the history of the MEPPS is so well documented, and the others have sparse information available, my guess is that the Roostertail designer saw a MEPPS somewhere, and changed the design just enough to get a patent. Or, I suppose it could have been developed independently….three times??? However it happened, these are the Big Three French Spinner providers and all three have viciously loyal followers. I personally use all three…
Anatomy Of A French Spinner
A French Spinner is a simple design as far as construction, but complex in what it does. The lure starts with a wire shaft. A loop is bent in one end for a place to tie a line on to. Next, from the other end, a bead, and a blade attached to two clevises is threaded onto the shaft. Then, a bead or other spacer is placed behind the rear clevis to help the blade spin. Now, a weighted body or several weighted beads are threaded on to the shaft. Lastly, a treble hook is placed on the shaft and the shaft is bent into a loop to hold the hook permanently. Any excess wire is trimmed, and now you have a French Spinner, ready to fish. Thye can be easily crafted with just a pair of needle-nose pliers. I’ve been making them for a few decades, and homemade spinners are fantastic to fish with.
The key to a French Spinner is the blade. As it rotates, it puts out a ton of low-frequency vibration and sound, right in the middle of most fishies’ hearing and detection range. Like ringing a dinner bell, it brings fish in from quite a distance. Once they get into the visual range, the colors, and flash finish the job.
To fish a French Spinner, you just cast it out, count down to the depth you want, and make a medium, steady retrieve. Jigging a spinner just interrupts the blade spinning. One good tactic is to reel the spinner in fast enough to where the blade creates a surface wake, without actually breaking the surface. At times, this can drive fish insane.
Do They Really Work?
Anyone who has ever fished with a French Spinner will tell you that if you could only have one lure, this should be your choice. They may argue viciously over whether it should be a MEPPS, Panther-Marti, or Roostertail, but they will agree it should be a French Spinner. Although I use all three designs, my favorite is the MEPPS Black Fury, and any spinners I make closely imitate that color pattern. I am also very fond of the Roostertail in Fire Tiger colors. My favorite Panther Martin is a chartreuse and black Go-Glo.
More trout have been caught with inline or French Spinners than on any other lure, except flies. Believe it or not, more smallmouth bass has been caught on the MEPPS Aglia than on any other lure, according to surveys conducted by Field and Stream Magazine (March, 2008). For walleyes, the French Spinner far outdistanced the next best lure, which was the jig. The only category where the spinner does not come in first is with Largemouth bass, which prefers a plastic worm by a slight margin, and panfish, who prefer small jigs. However, neither beat the spinner by much.
French Spinners are easy to make, inexpensive to buy, and easy to fish with. What more could you ask for?