Walleyes are the largest members of the perch family, however these heavyweights of their own clan are not known for hard-pulling fights or drag-sizzling runs. Let’s face it, Ol’ Marble-eyes is most sought after due to its excellent culinary qualities, which are most noted when the filets in your frying pan reach your dinner plate. Simply put, the fish taste great! But even though this fine game fish isn’t known for its fighting ability, it really is not the slacker on the end of the line that even some seasoned anglers seem to think.
Anglers in the know will acknowledge that, on the right tackle, a mature walleye can and will put up a dogged fight. Also, walleyes are more aggressive than many fishermen seem to realize. After all, lots of walleye angling involves dunking a worm or jig just off the current line and reeling in slowly but surely until feeling that distinctive tap, tap, tap — or maybe just the weight of a feeding fish.
Anchoring up and casting around the current breaks is a great way to catch walleyes, especially since these game fish prefer to school up. If you catch one, more are sure to follow. Finding them first, though, is essential to great fishing during the spring.
But what about trolling for walleyes? If you aren’t trolling your favorite lake or river during the spring season, you’re missing out on some fine catching. One of the biggest assets of trolling is that you’ll cover lots of water, which will more likely put you over feeding fish faster than any other type of fishing technique.
PROPER TROLLING SPEED IS ESSENTIAL
Expert angler and walleye enthusiast Captain Harold Bailey loves to troll during the spring and into the summer. He says the two most important parts of trolling are the speed at which you move your baits along, and then what types of baits you use to entice these big perch to bite.
“Speed is crucial. I’ll try trolling at 1.25 to 1.3 or 1.4 miles per hour to zero-in on the correct speed,” said Capt. Bailey. “Some days it doesn’t seem to make any difference, while on others it makes all the difference what speed you’re moving along at. Ultimately, the walleyes will let you know when you’ve found the correct speed. But on most days, you’ll have to zero-in on the proper speed to catch fish.”
To troll properly, you’ve got to use quality gear. Capt. Bailey employs six 8-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Shakespeare Ugly Stiks matched to Daiwa Sealine SC47 LCA, Cabela’s Depthmaster II and Okuma Magda Pro brand conventional line-counting reels. On the business ends of these rigs are six easy-to-use Off-Shore side-planer boards. These planer boards help to spread out the baits and prevent spooking any walleyes, and they have enough ballast to run true even during rough conditions.
Though Capt. Bailey says there’s no set rule on the spacing of the planer boards, you want to make sure they’re far enough apart to keep the baits away from each other; you’ll cover more bottom and probably encounter more fish. Each planer board’s stationary flag helps you to keep an eye out for when a walleye decides to hop on. Then a quick snap of your rod and you’re line is free to fight the fish without the encumbrance of a heavy weight.
One important thing to remember is to be sure your bait is on the bottom. On our trip, Bailey used 3/4-ounce bottom-bouncers and made sure they were touching bottom. His reels are spooled with clear 14-pound-test Stren monofilament line.
“Side-planers help me to spread out the baits and prevent the walleyes from spooking,” he says. “After all, you’ll probably be fishing in shallow water in the spring.”
TWO TOP TROLLING RIGS
Since walleyes are known for attacking live bait, especially minnows or worms, Bailey uses two effective end-game rigs to catch them up! The first is the Slow-Death harness by Mustad, which is better fished over rocky bottoms. The Slow-Death rig spins the worm and makes it irresistible to springtime, shallow-water walleyes. “It replaces the old harness and connects directly to the bottom-bouncers sinker rig,” explains Bailey.
The backbone of the Slow-Death rig is the hook, which was designed by Mustad walleye pro-staffers Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz. “We spent countless hours testing hook bends until we perfected a Slow-Death hook design that any angler could rig effectively,” says Parson.
“The hook design creates an enticing, corkscrew presentation that makes the whole technique so effective,” adds Kavajecz. “Now, Mustad has taken it one step further with a ready-to-fish rig that makes fishing this deadly technique even easier.”
The second effective trolling rig is the Wally Pop J-Series by Mack’s Lures, which is better-suited for using where emerging weeds are present, according to Bailey, since the lure’s built-in float and spinning blade help prevent it from becoming snagged on weeds. This second two-hook lure provides a trolling harness that gives a crawler an enticing action. When a walleye bites, the natural feel of the lure’s soft body gives you that extra time to set the hook. It’s been said this lure is effective even at the super slow speed of 1/4 mile per hour.
MURKY WATER OFTEN BEST
Although marble-eyes are noted for preferring clear, cold water — and extensive gravel or rocky areas to spawn — spring’s cold water temperatures often mean looking for slightly warmer water.
“Oftentimes, in the spring, it’s a good idea to look for dirty (muddy) water,” says Capt. Bailey. “Why? Because it’s a little warmer and the walleyes will move into it during the early spring.”
Obviously, some areas where muddy conditions occur include where streams come into the main body of water, even manmade situations like groundwater runoff and drainpipes. Besides runoff areas, coves and bays will hold suspended sediment longer after spring downpours, and also be slightly warmer than the surrounding clearer water. It’s just another aspect of spring walleye fishing to keep in mind, since most of us will look for walleyes in clearer water conditions. As the spring progresses, and the water warms more to the walleyes’ liking, you’re more likely to find the fish in clearer water, just off current breaks and over gravelly bottom as expected.
So, including trolling tactics in your spring walleye fishing will go a long way toward helping you catch more of these big perch right now. You’ll also likely notice that these game fish — almost always noted for tasting great — are also surprisingly good fighters when they’ve put on some years and weight. Whatever your reason for seeking walleyes, now is prime time to do just that. Hope to see you on the water!