Have you ever been trolling a crankbait only to realize it's not diving deep enough to reach the fish indicated on the sonar unit? This is a common trolling scenario occurring just about everywhere in the walleye heartland. Sooner or later, avid anglers trolling crankbaits realize additional measures are required to reach those deeper fish.
In fall, when water temperatures start dipping, trolling crankbaits becomes arguably the most efficient walleye tactic. It works so well because one can cover huge amounts of water; cranks can also be very accurately deployed to specific target depths, and by experimenting with different models, sizes and colors, productive patterns emerge quickly.
The key to consistently catching fall walleyes is preparing with the right mind-set, the right lures, the proper gear and employing the most productive trolling tactics.
MONOFILAMENT LINE OR SUPER BRAID?
Many factors influence the depth a typical floating/diving crankbait will achieve. The diameter of the fishing line used has a profound influence on crankbait-diving depth. Smaller-diameter lines create less friction or drag in the water than larger-diameter lines. This means that anglers trolling with thinner-diameter lines have a wider range of trolling depths.
Two very common line types walleye trollers use are 10-pound-test monofilament and 10/4 diameter fused and braided superlines. It can be argued that the ideal line for trolling walleye crankbaits should be both thin and strong. A thin line helps lures achieve deeper depths, and a strong line is required for big fish or for preventing line failure caused by abrasion from using accessories like in-line boards.
This argument suggests a super braid or fused fishing line is a good choice, being thin in diameter and also exceptionally strong. On average 10/4 diameter superline allows a crankbait to dive approximately 20 to 30 percent deeper than 10-pound-test mono. So, achieving more depth could be as simple as spooling up with thinner superlines.
Perhaps, but most walleye trollers prefer using more affordable monofilament line. Not only is mono more economical, its modest amount of stretch makes it more forgiving and less likely to fail at the worst possible moment.
True, monofilament lines tend to be larger in diameter, and they don’t allow crankbaits to reach maximum depths. However, getting lures to run deeper on mono can be as easy as adding in-line trolling weights to the line.
THE 20 PLUS METHOD
Some years ago, the Precision Trolling “Troller’s Bible” depth guides published the trolling depths associated with adding a 1-ounce trolling weight to popular crankbaits. The data was based on using 10-pound-test monofilament line and letting out a popular crankbait 20 feet behind the boat. The next step was to add a 1-ounce in-line weight to the line, then completing the setup by letting the crankbait out an additional 100 feet.
The total lead length of 120 feet, plus the 1-ounce in-line sinker causes floating/diving crankbaits to achieve about 30 percent more depth than they would at the same lead length without the added weight. Using this trolling system, anglers can reference the diving depth of specific lures in the Precision Trolling guide, and by doing some simple math, it’s possible to judge approximately how deep crankbaits will run with a 1-ounce weight.
The 20 Plus Method gets anglers into the ball park and works as well today as when it was published more than 20 years ago. However, other, more sophisticated methods of determining diving depth of crankbaits trolled in combination with in-line weights have also surfaced.
In 2006, much of the trolling data in the hard-copy versions of the Precision Trolling guide were made available on both Android and iPhone. The diving depths of hundreds of popular crankbaits and all the common sizes and types of in-line trolling weights are included in the Precision Trolling Data app.
This landmark data allows anglers to choose the lures and lead lengths they want, then combine this data with the running depth of popular in-line trolling weights.
Say an angler decides to let his favorite crankbait back 25 feet and that lure runs 7 feet down at that lead length. He then adds a 2-ounce, in-line weight and plays out an additional 25 feet of line. The in-line weight is running 13 feet down, so combining the 2 feet-down numbers gives the angler a calculated estimate that the bait is running 20 feet down. Anglers have used this method for many years.
THE 50 PLUS 2 METHOD
About a year ago, the Precision Trolling app released new data associated with trolling selected crankbaits with the popular Snap Weight clip-on trolling sinkers. This unique data allows anglers to select a specific model of crankbait and deploy that bait 50 feet behind the boat. At that point, a 2-ounce Snap Weight is placed on the line and additional secondary lead is played off the reel. This secondary lead is known as the “dropper lead,” and, ultimately, the more dropper that is played out, the deeper the crankbait runs.
The advantages of this trolling system—based on using .013-diameter monofilament line—are many. By using a rather long (50 feet) initial leader, trollers avoid the Snap Weight spooking walleye in clear waters. Secondly, adding a 2-ounce in-line weight significantly increases diving depth of floating/diving crankbaits, nearly doubling the maximum diving depth of most cranks.
Thirdly, an in-line weight allows anglers to reach target depths with shorter trolling leads than is possible when using the superline option. The in-line weight overcomes friction created by using monofilament line and allows anglers to enjoy much improved lure-diving depths.
The 50 Plus 2 data also accommodates trolling speeds, providing anglers several common trolling speed options to pick from. Because the 50 Plus 2 Method is based on specific crankbait models and specific trolling speeds and lead lengths, it enables crankbait anglers to predict with certainty the depths their favorite lures are running.
Currently, there are 16 popular walleye crankbaits included in this new data, and more lures will be added as time allows. The 50 Plus 2 data appears under the “line type” options on the Precision Trolling phone app. In this same category, most lures also include data for 10-pound-test monofilament and 10/4-diameter fused lines. A few lures also include depth data for lead-core line used in combination with crankbaits.
Knowing where gear is running in the water column is crucial when targeting walleyes with crankbaits. Trolling speed profoundly affects walleye success in the fall.
In part, this is true because as water temperatures dip, one must troll at slower speeds to consistently trigger strikes. The most productive fall trolling speeds range from 1 to 1.5 mph.
When popular crankbaits are trolled at slower speeds, these lures' actions become slightly subdued. Actually, this is a good thing. Cold-water walleyes often react best to baits with a subtle to moderate wobble.
Controlling trolling speed allows anglers to precisely dial in specific trolling depths. One of the least understood advantages of adding trolling weights is the angler can achieve depth two ways: one, by adjusting lead lengths, and, secondly, by adjusting trolling speed.
Historically, the best tool for walleye trolling was a gasoline kicker motor. Modern trollers depend on a different strategy known as “two-motor trolling” to more accurately control boat speed. The introduction of wireless and GPS-guided electric motors enables anglers to refine trolling speeds like never before possible.
In two-motor trolling, the gas kicker motor provides the primary propulsion, and the autopilot-style electric motor is used to tweak the trolling speed and also to handle steering/navigation chores. Because wireless electric motors feature a rheostat thrust control, trolling speed can be controlled down to a range of plus- or minus-.1 mph. Refining trolling speed to this degree allows anglers to dial in the most productive trolling speeds on any given day.
SUMMING IT UP
Walleye fishermen don’t agree on much, but one of the philosophies they do agree on is that trolling success is largely about depth control. The confidence of knowing that crankbaits are running at or slightly above the depths where fish are consistently showing up on sonar is critical to fishing success.
Anglers who know where their gear is fishing in the water column can then experiment with other important variables such as trolling speed, lure models and lure colors until a productive pattern emerges. Putting the pieces of the “trolling puzzle” together and enjoying success is what makes fall trolling so satisfying.