Swing it for More Walleyes
How to Fish the Pendulum System
By: Mark Martin

I have always looked at these winter months as the time when I can begin to catch up on some learning.  You see, during the period from April through September is tournament season on the Professional Walleye Trial (PWT) where I compete.  During that period, magazines stack up next to my reading table, waiting for this season when I can finally devote some time to studying the written word.  Since I’m thinking so hard about what I’m going to learn for the coming fishing season, why don’t I take this opportunity to pass along some wisdom that I’m sure will put more walleye under your belt next season also.      

Sure, I can fish a jig, and pitch to shallow walleye or work them in weeds, but when it comes to my bread and butter, everyone has one.  The one that I am so effective at and have great confidence in cashing a check with , is trolling.  Not just any trolling, but trolling with bottom bouncers.  Bottom bouncers are actually a misnomer because they are quite a bit more versatile than just for fishing on the bottom. 

A bottom bouncer itself is just a 90º bent wire with a weight cast to the leg that sticks out towards the bottom and a trailing arm that you attach your bait to.  Bottom bouncers can be of varying weights, typical weights in  my box are from ¼ oz. to 4 oz.  They can also be painted or plain lead, and in most instances I fish painted, it adds an element of attraction to the trailing bait presentation.  Bottom bouncers, made by a variety of companies, all claim certain traits that make their designs better than the others do.  The one aspect of a bottom bouncer design that is truly imperative is, if it spins and twists your line if you pick up speed or hit bottom.  This you can only find out by experimentation of many different kinds, or listen to the advice of an old pro… like me (I don’t feel that old).  The only bottom bouncer I use, for the previous reason stated, is the Northland Rock Runner.  It has an R bend where you attach your line, and this simple bend will keep you fishing productively without tangles and spinning, as long as you are not dragging them on bottom. 

Now the bottom bouncer itself is an element of the equation to successful trolling and not the only key.  The rig that fishes the bottom bouncer is just as important.  Working up from the bottom bouncer, the next element is the line.  Although many fisherman use monofilament lines as their main line, I have a distinct advantage over them by using 20lb. test Fireline.  Because Fireline has no stretch, it transmits information to me up the line.  I  have much better feel and am able to keep my rig at the precise depth to make it most effective.  You see, many fisherman make the mistake, knowing or unknowingly in the case of mono, of having their bottom bouncer in contact with the bottom too much, especially if it is a soft or sandy bottom.  When fishing a contour edge, we need to keep the rig slightly above the fish’s head. Because all predators look up to feed, a rig presented below them may go by unnoticed.  I want my bottom bouncer to tick the bottom slightly, just occasionally.  In fact, the ideal depth would be, when I drop my  rod tip down to the water’s surface, the bottom bouncer makes contact with the structure.  By constantly checking for the structure, I am fishing within a foot or so of bottom, and right over the walleye’s heads.  The process of checking for the bottom attracts attention.  Fireline transmits that slight bit of information to me immediately, no matter what the bottom content is, so that my presentation spends more time in the productive fish catching zone.  

Now it’s up the line to the ideal stick and gear (rod and reel), combo, to maximize not only our feel for this type of fishing, but give us the ability to haul in some monster ‘eyes once we hook’em.  A long rod is required, with my personal choice being the Gary Roach 7’10” medium action collapsible rod teamed with an Abu-Garcia 5500 reel.  The good news is that this is the same rod I use for many applications, including a planer board rod, so if you get this one, it has a great deal of versatility. 

Now once we have geared up, it is time for bait selection.  Although you can present a variety of baits on a bottom bouncer, the primary weapon is the spinner rig for fishing crawlers and leeches.  For reasons you will understand better in a moment, the spinner rig of choice for me is the Northland Float-N-spin.  Ideal shell lengths, for fishing structure, is 4 to 4 ½ feet, and for open water, lengthen it to 6 to 8 feet.  There are reasons why the Northland Float-N-Spin is a superior rig.  One reason is the float that keeps my presentation from falling deeper than the bottom bouncer when I reduce speed.  Speed, whether fishing structure or open water, is the key to fishing a bottom bouncer for maximum effectiveness. 

Here’s another example, that should go a long way in helping you understand how to use a bottom bouncer and regulate its fish catching ability with speed with planer boards in open water.  If I want to present baits to both fish that I’ve marked on my Eagle Optima depth finder at 20 feet deep, I’ll use a 3 oz. bottom bouncer and let out 27 feet of line.  Trolled at about 1.4 to 1.8 mph, this bait will take my bait down to about 17 to 18 feet deep, right over the fish’s head, where I want to be.  Now, let’s say I mark a school of fish at 15 feet on my Eagle Optima, I want to put that bait in their faces, right now, not on the next pass, because they may be gone by then.  The way I do that is what I call fishing the pendulum.  By increasing my speed, up to about 2.0 to 2.2 mph, the bottom bouncer immediately rises up, and by the time the bait comes by that school, it is tight over their heads and if they are active, they’ll hit it.  This is a prime example of the pendulum theory of fishing where I can swing the bait up to fish for the fish that appear on my depth finder screen. 

The other end of the pendulum, would be if, fishing the same rig under the same set of circumstances, my Eagle Optima shows me a group down at 23 feet deep.  To swing the pendulum down, and get the bait in above them, I simply hit the idle/resume button on my TR-1 autopilot and it kicks the speed down from 2.2 to 1.4 on my Mariner 9.9 hp Four Stroke kicker motor, and pendulum the bait down.  As my Lund 1990 Pro V glides down in speed, the bait is presented right to the fish, and pow! In a perfect world, I’ve just caught a fish that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to see or hit my bait.  

The pendulum system of fishing requires perfect boat control along with precise speed adjustments.  Although extremely effective at producing fish for years, this was a very cumbersome technique because I was forced to steer my boat, control my throttle, and fish all my rods all at the same time.  I already know what happens when I have a great multitude of tasks to take care of when fishing some of them invariably suffer.  Well, the task of pendulum fishing has become much easier with the advent of autopilot systems for kicker motors.   I now use the TR-1 autopilot system, because not only does it steer my boat automatically, adjusting for cross currents and cross winds, but also controls my throttle so I can adjust my speed without ever touching the motor.  I simply stand anywhere there is a fish finder in the boat, and a small hand held remote about the size of a microphone, and making steering and speed adjustments.  There is also a button on the remote that when hit, immediately idles the motor down, and when I hit again, brings the boat back up to the speed it was at before the button was hit.  It allows me to work the pendulum more effectively than ever before.  That means more fish on the end of my string, and after all, that is why we go fishing!  For more information about the revolutionary new autopilot system from TR-1, call Nautamatic Marine Systems at 1-800-58-TROLL.           

So this winter, take a little time at the sports shows and learn some about fishing bottom bouncers.  Collect some of your own and start to fish the pendulum on your favorite waters.  I can guarantee, that once you figure it out, it is not very hard.  You will be putting more fish in the boat also.  See you at the sports shows!