Bottom Bouncers, Old and New



The best ideas are the simplest. At the time, it was revolutionary. Just as applicable as ever. The clichés could go on and on. Go back to the basics of walleye fishing and the bottom bouncer ranks high on the list of inventions. This year marks its 55th anniversary and while many of the original promoters have passed, current-day guides prove that the system still excels.
In fact, knowing the history of the wire and lead contraption might be enough to bring the presentation back into style. I will not call it a revolution until I see it. I see too many memes that start with, “one secret trick to catching more fish,” to know that nothing is really new and that there are no secrets. But somehow the comforting idea of backtrolling in a deep-V with a small outboard surrounded by just one or two rods seems not only simpler, but still relevant. On top of that, everyone knows we would eventually catch fish.

Bob Meter invented the basic bottom bouncer in North Dakota in 1964. His original goal was to improve on a Carolina-style rig that snagged too much. The first try included the weight blobbed at the end of the wire which worked OK, but once he moved the weight up the wire the system was born. It took ten years to catch on (no social media back then) and escape the Bismark, ND area.
By 1978 the rig reached the hands of Gerry Allen, the first guide on the Missouri river reservoirs of South Dakota. Gerry had grown up fishing the area with his dad and the Bob Meter rig replaced a 1-ounce barrel sinker setup. Immediately the heavier weight (often 1.5 to 2-ounces) with the long wire allowed him to fish faster and still trigger walleyes. As a guide, his clients learned the system but it would be almost another 10 years for the rig to truly blossom.

Early events on the Manion Walleye Circuit and then the Manufacturer’s Walleye Council (now the Master’s Walleye Circuit) included anglers pushing the limits of reading early sonar, expert boat control, and slip sinkers pulling bait down to the fish. The Lindy rig was the name of game and bait was strictly pulled at 0.6 mph.

At some point in the 80’s South Dakota guides Bob Probst Sr. and Mike McClelland showed up and caught walleyes at double the speed which generally led to more fish. As the tournaments moved throughout the country this self-promoting duo highlighted the versatility of the rig catching suspended fish in the great lakes, landing walleyes near rocks in Minnesota, and generating mud bites throughout the plains.
At that time, these guys were heckled at boat ramps across the country. Tournament angler Chad Allen remembers a 1984 event at Mille Lacs, “The other anglers scorned Bob and Mike at the dock. The mud was going to affect the bouncers, the spinners were too clunky for the clear water, the snells were too short to catch fish.” Allen explained that these hypotheses were true in some sense. The walleyes that week did require a presentation a bit off the bottom which traditionally required a three-way rig with a long dropper. Bob and Mike had a simple solution that highlights the versatility of the bouncer, “we just reeled up our weights two turns and caught just as many fish as anyone.”

Steve Fellegy met with Bob and Mike at the Mille Lacs event and goes further into the details, “Mille Lacs had a big baitfish population so the overfed walleyes required some finesse. Bob and Mike had their big bouncers and heavy line which did not work immediately, but give good anglers like that an inch and they will catch a mile.” Adjustments to the conditions are key but a weight system in front of bait is going to a sure deal for walleyes at some point.
A Saginaw bay event led to more conflicts. The other boats were catching fish on Hot-N-Tots. Crankbaits have slow dive curves so it took time to set up for a run across a flat or gravel bar. The fast-dropping bottom bouncers saved time and worked at all depths from shallow weedlines, through suspended fish on the graph, and then skimming top of a rockpile. At some point even if a presentation is not perfect, keeping it in the water at the right depth and speed pays dividends. The duo fished their versatile bouncers all the way until their retirement from tournaments in 2006.


Every Day in South Dakota

Gerry Allen and his son Mike now run the Allen’s Hillside Motel and Guide Service with up to 15 boats on the water each day and the only thing that has changed since 1978 is the boat size.
Gerry explains, “For 40 years I have guided by backtrolling with bottom bouncers. I do not carry any other rig. Depending on the wind, we put a drift sock up front and backtroll with the kicker motor.” With a laugh Gerry adds, “This way the lines never find their way into the prop.”
Explaining the tactic is simple, “I use enough weight to keep the bait close to the boat and therefore right on the structure I want to fish.” Excellent boat control separates good anglers from great ones and after 40 years of guiding Gerry remains one of the best. “If I see a group of fish on the sonar, I still toss out a marker buoy,” adds Gerry, “and will toss out a second one if the school is large enough. I go back and forth through that area until the bite slows down.”
The starting speed each day is fast (between 1.6 and 2.0 mph) and if that is not producing Gerry slows down to 1.0 to 1.6 mph. A #4 chartreuse blade is still the go-to lure for him in front of a two-hook half-crawler rig or a single Aberdeen hook through a minnow. Only in the last few weeks before ice does the guide team vertically jig if the bouncers do not produce.
The Hillside team uses Lund Pro-V’s for tournaments but run pontoon boats for guiding comfort in rising plains winds. Nothing is more stable than the big floats and guests can hold a rod from many of the deck chairs. Pontoons are not new to walleye fishing, Bob Probst always pushed for boat producers to come out with a walleye-specific model.


Putting the Weight to Work

The hardest part about running bottom bouncers these days is confidently choosing a rod that fits your style, manages the weight, and delicately hooks fish. Chad Hall presents his basic strategy, “Pick one of the many 6’-6” medium to medium-heavy casting rods that is light enough to hold all day. Pair it with a quality baitcasting reel and go fish with it.”
Although baitcasting rods are tops for hand-held fishing, Chad said that Bob Probst Sr. always had a 9-foot spinning rod out as a dead rod in a rod holder. The spinning reel was easier to pop open and let out a bit of line in the rod holder and the long length kept the presentation out of the way of other lines.

One company, St. Croix, still offers a rod that specifically mentions bottom bouncing. The Bounce-N-Troll’s (ECC70MHM) 7-foot length, medium-heavy power, moderate action, and ½ to 3-ounce weight rating sums up the standard specifications. Although not specifically-named as such, the Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Casting rod (WY70MFBBT) designed by Gary Parsons and the Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye Casting Rod (ETW70M-MFC) are also walleye-specific bottom bouncing rods for all around use.
From here, the rod choice depends on if you regularly use rod holders versus hand-held trolling and if you prefer braid or monofilament line. Jason Mitchells designed his Elite Series by Clam casting rods (10804) to be hand-held. Since a hand-held rod “gives” more than one in a rod holder, they warrant a faster action.
In the same thought, monofilament “gives” more than stretch-free braid and thus line choice can help dial-in a setup. At the other end of the spectrum, an angler who prefers braid and rod holders might move towards a softer-action rod outside of the walleye-specific options. For full flex situations, Salmon/Steelhead rods work well and are available in longer lengths. I use the Fenwick HMX86MH-FC but it took examining multiple options to choose a favorite.

The perfect bottom bouncing reel does not exist either. Some anglers lean towards small line-counters like the Okuma Cold Water 350 Low Profile, Daiwa Accudepth IVC Low Profile, or the Abu Garcia 5500LC. Others find the nearly-extinct flipping switch on a casting reel a vital option. The Abu Garcia Silver Max is about the only reel left in the market since the Quantum Accurist was discontinued.
After running the equipment gauntlet, line choice seems easy. Braid cuts through deeper water and transmits bottom composition better than fluorocarbon or monofilament. Monofilament has stretch to better manage big fish in the shallows while fluorocarbon has its place in clear water. I spool my Abu Garcia Silver Max reels with 10-lb Berkley Fireline but leave enough room on the spool for 20 cranks (about 40 feet) of 10-lb Berkley Trilene XT monofilament. I never cast these reels so it is easy to replace worn monofilament, swap it out for fluorocarbon as needed, or even remove it altogether and use the braid for deep fish later in the year.

Weights

The Meter Lure company still sells the Bob Meter version and it looks precisely the same as it did 40 years ago. Four-inches from the tip of the wire to the weight, the distinct R-bend closed by a sleeve, and a few more inches of wire to the line tie. It looks exactly like the Northland Rock Runner, the Bass Pro Shops XPS, and Worden’s Bottom Walker. Worden’s also offers a Spin-N-Glo version if you really want to try something new. If anything, the dozen pack of generic bottom bouncers from Scheel’s is the best option.

My first bottom bouncer came from a catalog in the mid-80’s. At summer camp we had caught some walleyes in a reservoir tailrace and therefore we assumed (incorrectly) that the rest of the lake was swarming with the creatures. I remember filling out the handwritten order form, having my dad write a check, and licking the stamp to send it in. Six weeks later I had a small spinner tying kit and two sizes of orange-painted bouncers. The design had really short arms, no wire, and I pulled them for walleye throughout Kansas and later for trout in Colorado.
Two other weight systems adjust the classic design. The pencil weight attaches to a clevis slider system that is threaded above a swivel on the main line. This system allows the weight to be changed easily without affecting the spinner snell. Northland sells a standard version called the Rock Runner and a stainless steel version called the Slick Stick. Cabelas and other suppliers sell unpainted pencil bouncers in sizes up to three ounces.
A modified three-way rig has come into fashion lately as a less-intrusive version of the bottom bouncer. A cannonball sinker on a 4 to 16-inch loop of mono attaches to the sliding clevis similar to the pencil styles. Luhr-Jensen has a rubber cannonball named the Black Betty that bounces off of rocks and in Denver, we buy bulk cannonball sinkers from Sportsman’s Warehouse in sizes up to 2 ounces. Long-term research by Colorado guide Nathan Zelinsky leads us to paint all of our weights white in the clear water.

Innovations on the Innovation

Current National Walleye Tour pro Gary Parsons remembers those early events. “I spent much of my first few years of tournaments trying to beat Bob Probst and Mike McClelland. It was a singular goal at the time.”
Parson’s remembers the start of the trend, “It wasn’t a secret, Bob and all of the Dakota anglers had buckets of the wire bouncers in their boats and would sell them out of the back of their truck. I was a disciple of Babe Winkelman’s worm tactics so I was naturally drawn to the presentation.” At the same time, other anglers scoffed at the contraptions until the big reservoir tournaments where the bouncers ran away with the prize money.
Parson’s continues, “Bob was so far ahead of his time in many ways and the bottom bouncer was his tool.” Gary fished with Bob at some point in 1984 and remembers, “He would use a flasher and drive over a school of fish. Bob would point out how the active fish hovered off the bottom. We went over other groups of fish and he would then ask me if I thought they would bite. It was like an exam at walleye school.” At that point it was Bob’s ability to place the bouncer right through the area at the right speed that produced fish.
After learning the basics, the innovative Gary Parsons was the first to use bottom bouncers on planer boards in a major tournament. “We were fishing a 4-foot deep sand flat near Saginaw Bay and, on a whim, decided that the gentle contours would allow us to spread out our lines on boards. The first day we weighed a 28-lb bag of fish. The second day we caught nothing due to high winds and were ready to leave early to drive home when someone stopped us and explained that even though boats in the river had caught fish, our weight held up for first place.”
Gary’s further work to publicize the slow death rig brought bottom bouncers back into the spotlight about a decade ago. Like those before him, Gary would stand at the back of truck and hand-bend Aberdeen hooks for other anglers explaining how to thread the crawler on just right to produce the now-classic spin. Bottom bouncers are back on everyone’s boat again as tackle trends follow almost-predictable boom-and-bust cycles.

Try One Tomorrow

Chad Allen explains how the system is the best way for an angler to start walleye fishing, “Pick an area in a reservoir, river, or lake to try out. Guide the bottom bouncer along the bottom with a crankbait or minnow in the winter, or a nightcrawler in the summer for 20 minutes. Keep the speed at 0.8 to 1.1 mph. If nothing bites, then move to the next likely spot.” This system almost guarantees fish and over time, the angler can start correlating sonar returns, boat control on structure, depths, speeds, and vegetation details with fish caught and progressively refine their own process.
In today’s detailed world of walleye the simplicity has a draw. Shopping in one aisle of the big box store, no need for a fancy depth finder that switches between twenty screens, a simple boat and one hand on the motor. The real discriminator is always time on the water, the ability to adapt, and a focus on what is happening in the fish’s world at that moment.

I really connected with this description of walleye success. One set of rods, a tub of live bait or even some of the new plastic offerings, and miles of water in front of the boat. I would survive but my personal walleye rig would seem empty without three or four tackle boxes and dozens of rods on deck. If Bob Probst’s basics gives me permission to run a dead rod up front, I will take him up on that offer. I will hand-hold the other rod because I like to contact the bottom and eventually feel the tug. A tap here, a slow bend there and the fan tail pull of a walleye eventually gives away the bite.