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               Summer 2005 Issue

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Get The Lead Out for Contour Cranking
Keith Kavajecz and Gary Parsons


At first glance, trolling crankbaits for walleyes seems like a simple task … toss out a couple of lures, let out a bunch of line, pop the motor in gear and you’re trolling … NOT!  Proper trolling technique requires precision at many levels.  First of all you need to know the precise depths of the walleyes that you’re targeting. Then you need to understand precisely what set-up is needed, to get precisely the right bait, to precisely the right depth, at precisely the right speed, to trigger the fish.  Sound complicated?   It can be, especially when walleyes are scattered along sharp breaks, and not relating specifically to a particular depth, but more of a “depth range”.   We already know your question, “With all of your years of tournament angling experience, you guys must have developed a way to cover multiple depths efficiently to catch these fish."  Precisely!

 The technique is known as "contour trolling".  Unlike "open water trolling", where baits are trolled over open water in search of suspended fish, contour trolling targets walleyes relating to structure.  Baits are trolled in a manner to maintain their depth in close proximity to the bottom, while following the contour of the structure holding the greatest numbers of fish.

 It’s a scenario that plays out on many walleye waters, particularly large reservoirs. Walleyes relating to a shallow break along the old river channel in the upper stretches of the reservoir.  The break may go from four to eight feet, flatten out for a short distance, and then drop off into deeper water.  Fish may be scattered all along the break, not really concentrating in any particular spot, so trolling becomes the most efficient method of contacting the greatest number of fish.  Now if the walleyes were to be all been sitting in the same depth, say six feet of water along the break, it would make it a relatively simple task to pick a lure that would run just off the bottom with a particular length of line out to pick off fish on each trolling pass.  However, its much more typical for the fish to not only scatter along the length of the break, but up and down the break as well. Some could be hanging at the top of the break, while others will be sitting off the deep edge.  The challenge becomes finding a way to cover the entire depth range without constantly adjusting the amount of line out for the lures to follow the contour. The answer is a tactic most anglers would only consider a "deep water" technique … trolling lead core line.

 Trolling lead core in this situation gives you several advantages.  First of all it allows the use of small crankbaits, which often mimic the preferred forage this time of year, while still letting you cover multiple depths.  In many reservoirs, breaks like this will be littered with snags, and the smaller baits have a tendency to glance off obstructions and snag less often than larger lures.  Lead core's large diameter and water resistance also makes it very "speed sensitive".  Slowing the boat speed allows the lead core to sink, taking the trailing lure deeper.  Conversely, speeding up causes water to "push" the lead core up, allowing the angler to fish a lure shallower.  Therefore, instead of constantly adjusting the amount of line out to cover varying depths, simply changing the trolling speed allows for movement of the lures up and down the break.

 Another advantage to using lead core on structure is the fact that it has no stretch, making it very sensitive.  Anytime you're fishing tight to the bottom, there's the chance your lure is going to pick up debris, causing it to lose its action and making it useless for catching fish.  By combining the lead core with a leader of no-stretch FireLine, it's easy to monitor the bait's action by watching the rod tip.  If the lure picks up a leaf or other bottom debris, the rod tip will stop vibrating, letting you know its time to reel that bait in and clean it off.

 Let’s say you want to fish a shallow break, say four to eight feet deep … the water is dingy water and the contour is rather complex (a common situation on many walleye reservoirs). A good set up would be to run 30 feet of lead core with a ten foot leader of FireLine. That may seem like a short leader to most anglers familiar with lead core trolling, but in this scenario it’s absolutely the best way to go.  The short leader gives the lead core more control over the bait's depth and path, allowing you to work the lure in and out of small cups and contours along the break.  On the other hand, if you're dealing with clear water and less "snaky" contours, a longer leader would be a better choice.  The same pattern will work on deeper structures as well, like a break going from fifteen to eighteen feet. It's just a matter of letting out more lead core.

 Of course fishing with lead core does require having the right equipment.  Since lead core is so bulky, large capacity reels like the Bass Pro Shops Gold Cup Line Counter GC4000LCB Trolling Reel are a must. As for the rods … long trolling rods with soft tip sections and moderate actions are ideal for absorbing head shakes and bulldog runs of a fish hooked well behind the boat. The Walleye Angler Signature Series 8'6" Trolling Rod available from Bass Pro is a perfect match for the Gold Cup Reel, creating a great combo capable of handling all of your lead core trolling presentations.

 Would this be considered an unconventional trolling method?  Maybe … but walleyes can be very unconventional adversaries.  Being consistently successful at catching walleyes requires versatility, precision and the occasional unconventional thought.  It’s a matter of fitting the presentation to the situation at hand.  We know this somewhat unconventional use of lead core for trolling shallow structure works well … after all, it’s accounted for some great tournament finishes for us, including Keith’s 2002 PWT Championship win and was a contributing factor in Gary’s 2003 PWT win on Lake Oahe.  If you're serious about catching walleyes, and you haven't experimented with trolling lead core, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  It's a versatile and deadly presentation!