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Summer 2004 Issue

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Making Crankbaits Work for Walleye
by Tony Puccio 

The world of walleye fishing has really opened up as anglers discover that crankbaits work in so many different situations. Ten years ago if you told a die-hard walleye angler that you were going to troll a minnow- imitating lure for early season walleye, he would laugh at you. If you told this person that you were going to go out over very deep water, tie on a plastic-lipped minnow imitator, add two ounces of lead onto the line, put it on a board that would pull it all away from the boat, and then troll it pretty fast, this angler would be rolling on the ground howling as he threatened to tell all the boys at the bait shop about your mental condition.

 No one's laughing now! We have discovered just how effective trolling crankbaits can be for walleye. It's not just open water situations either. Trolling cranks works on weedlines, and over bars and sunken islands for suspended fish in the Great Lakes as well as the western reservoirs. I'd venture to say that there's probably not a lake that holds walleye where you can't fool them by trolling the stick baits.

 When you troll crankbaits for walleye, you have to be willing to put in a little effort. Let's say that you see some walleye on the depth finder, spread over a sunken island. Be sure to note what depth these fish are at. It's important that you get the bait right into or above the fish. Remember, walleyes have eye's on the top of their head and prefer to look up.

 You need to experiment with how much line to let out behind the boat. Add weight to the line if you need to get the lure deeper than it's capable of running on its own. Try to match the shape and color of crankbaits to available forage.

 Walleye on a particular body of water might like a short bait with a tight wobble. On another lake or reservoir, the walleye might prefer a long narrow bait that has a wide wobble. You have to experiment until you come to a conclusion. My favorites are: the Luhr Jensen Powerdive minnow and Hotlips Express for tight action and the Kwikfish or PJ shiner for wobble action.

 Who ever said boat control wasn't important when trolling didn't catch many fish. You have to plan your routes well to catch walleye. On a weedline, you want to be right on the edge. Get out a little too far and the bite may stop.

 On an open-water, suspended-fish situation, the walleye are relating to something-- the depth, the thermocline, or maybe bait fish. You need to key on that "something" in your trolling pattern to be sure your bait is where the fish will see it, and hit it.

 I use a 9.9 Mariner four-stroke motor to control my boat. This motor is controlled by the TR-l Autopilot which allows me to set the motor on a heading and maintain the course. This is also true of my Minn Kota Bow-mount autopilot. While the autopilot is steering my boat, I can switch baits, add weights, clip the line to trolling boards; even fight and land fish. "Autopilots" allow hands-free boat control, allowing you to focus your priorities on fishing and putting more fish in the boat.

 Trolling boards is becoming a popular part of the crankbait trolling presentation. Boards allow the angler to spread multiple lines out instead of trying to run them all straight out behind the boat. Some people claim that when the boat spooks walleye out to the side of the boat, the boards direct the baits right into the walleye. Since boards are so easy to use, I even incorporate them on smaller lakes. They work. I use the Offshore OR-12 side planer along with Offshore Snap Weights. My favorite line is Trilene XT 10 lb in conjunction with my Mitchell Riptide line-counter reel on a Loomis MBR941 7 ft. 10 in. Trolling rod (this makes for a well-balanced combo).

 It sure is amazing how many walleye anglers are using crankbaits these days. A lot of them are laughing about it too, because they're having so much fun catching all those fish.  For more information regarding the methods or products mentioned in this article, call (608) 277-5555  or e-mail: [email protected]. 

This article is reprinted from the March, 2004 issue of the Fishline, a publication of Southtowns Walleye Association, the largest Walleye Club on the North American Continent.