Precision Trolling For Summer Walleyes
September 24, 2010
To find and catch your share of walleyes this month, you'll need to cover plenty of water. Here are some tips on the best ways to do just that.
Summer walleyes can be an enigma. During the spring and fall they are in predictable locations. Post-spawn finds them clustered off river mouths where they spawned, or gathered on shallow reefs and structure close by to recuperate and feed. In the fall, they move into the shallows again to bulk up before winter.
Mark Brumbaugh caught this fine summer walleye by trolling a big stick bait on a planer board.
Photo by Dave Rose.
In between, walleyes can be tough to find, especially in large, expansive basins. One reason is because of the sheer amount of water you're dealing with. Walleye schools scatter far and wide in the summer months. Compounding the problem of finding them is that they like to suspend, whether it be to find more comfortable water temperatures or to shadow pelagic schools of baitfish. Obviously, it pays to cover water when searching for the nomadic walleyes and no method is better for that than trolling.
"Trolling is good wherever you go," shared walleye pro Bill St. Peter. He further stated that no matter what type of lake an angler is fishing, "trolling is going to be a good way to cover water and find fish. But you can't go about it haphazardly. Speed is really important. It's surprising how much faster you can go sometimes and catch walleyes, and how slow you need to go to get a bite."
St. Peter said he often finds himself creeping along at 1.0 mph to catch walleyes, especially when using live bait. He does that by watching the ground speed on his GPS.
"The angle of your line can be a good indicator too, but the GPS is going to be the most accurate. You usually don't have a lot of current to deal with when you're walleye fishing, so the GPS will give you a pretty true reading."
St. Peter said he routinely trolls at 1.1 to 1.4 mph when using crawler harnesses and slightly faster when using crankbaits. But that doesn't mean he won't kick the speed up to 2.5 to 3.0 if the slow-troll isn't working. Faster speeds mean switching to speed-forgiving stick baits and crankbaits.
You can get even more precise speed-readings by using a devise that is designed specifically to measure how fast you're trolling. Charter captains who operate on exceptionally large waters rely heavily on electronics that gives them speed and temperature on the surface and below. The Moore Sub-Troll 900 gives precise, accurate readings that can help you fine-tune your trolling presentation. Surprisingly, few walleye anglers use it. You can get more information on the Moore Sub-Troll 900 at www.moorelectronics.com.
"You have to use counter reels," declared St. Peter. Line-counter reels like Cabela's Depthmaster Gold, Diawa Sealine SG17LCA and SG27LCW, Okuma Clarion LC and Diawa ACCUDEPTH Plus are great choices for exact, precise measure of trolling line lengths. St. Peter couldn't stress enough how important it is to know exactly how much line you have out when setting a trolling pattern.
"You really can't be precise if you have different kinds of reels, different size lines, and reels that are not filled to capacity. It's impossible to know exactly how much line you have out when running multiple lines and what you need to do to duplicate a productive trolling pattern.
"Different size lines make a difference," St. Peter continued. "It's not the poundage difference, but the difference in diameter that's the main thing. You need to use line that's the same diameter so lures dive the same depth with the same amount of line out."
A great aid for determining how deep a particular lure or weight/bait combination will dive are the dive charts compiled in "Precision Trolling -- Big Water Edition." The book lists dive curve charts for planers, lead-core line, weights and more. Other editions list dive information for a variety of lures. Using the charts can give a better idea of exactly what depth your lures are running. The book's pages are laminated for on-the-water use. For more information visit www.precisionangling.com.
St. Peter said he typically runs four rods or more when setting up a trolling pattern to search for walleyes. He spots one rod shallow, one rod deep and two in between. The lines are run off in-line planer boards to cover more water, put baits in front of suspended fish, and to minimize tangles.
Two of the most popular in-line boards for walleye trolling are Church Tackle's Mr. Walleye, or TX-22, and Off Shore Tackle's OR Side Planer. Both companies make boards specifically for walleye trolling with Tattle Tail flags that transmit light walleye bites.
The boards take lines out to the side in front of suspended walleyes and increase your trolling spread exponentially. Lines are run at very specific lengths behind the boards covering the water column. Different sized clip weights are added at different lengths when running crawler harnesses. Blades run the gambit of colors until the walleyes show a preference.
One bite might be a coincidence; two bites on the same bait at the same depth is a pattern and St. Peter quickly adjusts the rigs to saturate the zone and take advantage of the hot bite. Depth, speed, set back lengths, blade colors and sizes or crankbait colors are important. All are ingredients for setting up a precision summer trolling program for walleyes.
Picking which bait or lure to start with depends on a number of factors. "It's tough to beat a crawler," claimed St. Peter. The added scent of meat and the subtle spin of a crawler harness is more than most walleyes can stand. "When on fish though, I resort to cranks. They're less trouble, they tend to produce bigger fish, and I can troll faster with them so I can cover more water."
One thing that few walleye anglers do that would add to their catch is to keep a log. As a big-water charter captain, I always kept a log to help identify patterns and trends. Recording latitude and longitude, direction of troll, depth, time, lure, lure depth, which rod had the strike or caught the fish, water temperature, and so on helps to put all the pieces together. A log doesn't help too much when fishing is slow, but after a few bites a pattern develops, and if you're keeping a log it will be obvious. If four of your six bites have been on the outside board while on a 280-degree troll going 1.2 mph with a 30/50 set back (30 feet out before you put on the weight and then another 50 feet of line) with a 2-ounce clip weight and No. 5 Colorado purple mirage blade, you might be on to something. Multipl
y that by a dozen or so bites and you can begin to see how a log can be important.
St. Peter doesn't panic if he doesn't see summer walleyes on the graph. "Because summer walleyes suspend while shadowing baitfish, they're tough to see on the graph," he said. "If you're in water less than 12 feet or so, you're only marking about a 3-foot circle." Suspended fish are going to scatter as the boat moves over them too.
Even in much deeper water you may not mark those suspended fish, but technology may be changing that. Humminbird's Side Scan and Lowrance's StructureScan sonar imaging now allow anglers to look to the side to see suspended fish and subtle structure that others might miss using only down imaging. Even a subtle piece of structure, like a rockpile, may concentrate fish in a large, featureless basin. Humminbird claims that by using the new imaging, anglers will be able to see that type of structure up to 480 feet to the side of their boat. Lowrance's LSS-1 StructureScan permits anglers to move a cursor anywhere on the screen to receive information on distance from the boat and target depth, which could add a whole new level in precision lure or bait presentation. You can find more about the new side-imaging technology by visiting www.humminbird.com or www.lowarance.com.
Just finding summer walleyes is half the battle. By deploying a precision trolling pattern and paying attention to all the variables, you'll be able to solve the puzzle much quicker.