One of the most important abilities any walleye angler can possess is the ability to present all available presentations to walleyes as conditions dictate. In May and early June, live bait presentations start to play a larger role in angler success.
Utilizing crawler harnesses with bottom bouncers is certainly in the top five of all productive presentations of any experienced walleye angler. However, many who have never run them might not know all that bottom bouncers have to offer. There is more to these rigs than meet the eye. Let’s take a closer look.
A bottom bouncer consists of a rigid, high tensile three-way wire running through a weight ranging on average from 1/2 ounce to 3 ounces. The weight is positioned approximately a third of the way down on the wire extending an additional two-thirds of the wire downward below the weight. The initial reason for the design was it allowed anglers to get the bait down to the bottom in areas with bottom structure, such as large rocks, without getting snagged like a three-way rig often does. The top of the wire is twisted to form a loop, which is connected to the end of the line, whereas the rear has a swivel that attaches to a 3-foot leader and subsequent bait. Crawler harnesses are the rig of choice for most bottom-bouncer anglers.
Bottom bouncers have been around so long that the origins are sketchy, but it is thought they were developed by anglers on the Missouri River impoundments where rocky bottoms were a big problem for anglers trolling harnesses. Although the inventor of the bottom bouncer certainly had the anti-snagging ability of the weighted wire in mind, the originator probably had no idea that the best characteristic of these weighted wires would end up being the incredible vibration the wire sends out that absolutely drives walleyes over the edge. The vibration of a bottom bouncer far outweighs the worry of spooking the fish because of the bulkiness of this rig.
Fishing a bottom bouncer correctly means coordinating boat speed, lake depth and setting the rig accordingly. Boat speed needs to be set first, and that speed should be maintained unless the angler plans to reset the rigs to the new speed.
Here is an important rule to follow on boat speed. The speed should be set so that the weight of the bottom bouncer will set the rig in the desired zone and depth while the line from the bouncer to the rod tip runs at a 45-degree angle. This is where the weight of the bottom bouncer utilized will vary. Running a bottom bouncer in 12 feet of water at 1.5 mph may require a 1-ounce bottom bouncer to successfully run the line at a 45-degree angle. Trolling in 20 feet of water at the same speed may require a 2-ounce bottom bouncer.
Fishing line also comes into play, and many experienced anglers will run 10-pound-diameter braid instead of monofilament down to the bottom bouncer, then utilize mono on the harness. Braid runs deeper than mono and is more sensitive, allowing the angler to easily feel when the bouncer hits bottom. Braid just allows this setup to run more efficiently.
Another important issue to discuss is how little things such as the blade on the harness can impact how a bottom bouncer will run. Just the size of the blade or blades on the crawler harness has a huge impact. A number 5 Colorado blade will have much more vibration and drag in the water than a number 4 Indiana blade. But that is also why bottom bouncers shine, as a 2-ounce can quickly be replaced with a 3-ounce. It is recommended that those big blades are run on the inside lines or right off the side of the boat. Mixing braided lines and mono lines will also make a difference on how far back the same weight of bottom bouncer will run.
Setting bottom bouncers properly isn’t hard, but it is important to know how to set them correctly. Keeping tension on the line is the key. Dropping a bottom bouncer to the bottom once will not allow it to continue to run on the bottom, as boat speed will create drag and friction on the weight, causing it to rise in the water column. Therefore, the rule is to drop the bottom bouncer to the bottom three times in order to run on the bottom. Again, when setting the bottom bouncer, the line should be taunt. Free spooling the line will allow the bouncer to lay on the bottom and foul the harness. If planer boards are used, the angler must simply use a thumb on the spool to make sure the board continues to move forward while moving out slowly, keeping the line to the bouncer tight until it reaches the desired position.
Bottom bouncers shine on large flats or trolling just off breaklines that have a consistent depth. Anglers can also run bottom bouncers up and down breaks or in varying depths by moving up to the bow and running the rig utilizing the bow-mount electric motor and holding the rod in hand just like a Lindy Rig. This will enable the angler to get the added benefit of increased vibration from the bouncer’s wire, but still cut across clean water with turns or running up or down breaks by reeling in or letting line out.
This is where braided line really shines. Anglers will feel every bump through braid. When running from the bow live bait-style, it may be necessary for the angler up front to run a slightly heavier bottom bouncer than the angler in the back of the boat to help eliminate tangles, especially on turns.
Bottom bouncers are effective in May and early June. Just about every species will hit a harness with a fat nightcrawler. It is really recommended to clear inside lines when the outside planer board falls back, as it guarantees no tangles and allows the anglers to perform a quick check on their spinner rig. If it is found the harness is tangled up, it may be necessary to run a ball bearing stainless steel swivel between the bouncer’s rear swivel and the crawler harness. Adding the ability to run bottom bouncers effectively will substantially increase success.
There are several baits and hook configurations to incorporate on the business end of a bottom bouncer. Single-hook spinners can accommodate a minnow or leach that will often outshine crawlers, especially if other fish like white bass keep picking crawlers off. Plastics do have their place when white bass and perch are outcompeting walleyes. Natural plastic worms will continue to put walleyes in the boat consistently and will stay on the hooks much longer than a crawler.
Anglers fishing big water often will use treble hooks on the harness to increase hookups on big, aggressive walleyes. The best tip of all is when walleyes are nipping the tail off the crawler, simply apply a stinger hook to the back hook on the harness. (Anglers should always check their state’s fishing regulations to know how many hooks are allowed on each bait). Use the snubber-style stinger, which has the rubber on the loop, and place it on the rear hook of the harness and snub it tight. It will make a difference on light biters.