Putting A Spin On Open Water Walleyes

Summertime is the time to get out looking for big walleyes in the big open water! Big open water fisheries, the Great Lakes and some of the large reservoirs out West come to mind … the types of waters where open water trolling techniques rule the summer walleye patterns. But don’t rule out your favorite walleye lake. In most cases, walleye will move off structure and roam the large basin areas of the lake in summer, and you’d be surprised how good the bite can be for these suspended schools of ‘eyes.

While most summertime open water trolling is considered a game for crankbaits, spinner/crawler harness combinations can be dynamite producers. Spinners will often prove themselves more productive than cranks when weather conditions are less than stable, water temperatures are cooling, or whenever fish are in a “less than aggressive” mode. To be successful you need to keep a few key things in mind … Open water fishing is a “search and destroy” mission. You’ve got to search the water to find the fish before you fish for them. By doing this you will eliminate wasted time and trolling passes. Use what in the pro-walleye game is known as the “Skip Search” method. Run your boat into a likely area to start. On many lakes these fish are “sight feeders” meaning they usually only eat what they can see. For this reason it helps to start your searching by finding the cleanest water you can.
Motor along keeping a close eye on the depth finder. The better the locator, the better your chances are of being able to spot fish whether they are suspended or hugging the bottom. Units like the Lowrance LCX19C with its 480 vertical pixels and 3,000 watts peak-to-peak power (with a 200kHz transducer) offer great resolution and therefore give an excellent picture of what’s below the surface. Another great unit is the the Lowrance LCX-104C which also sports 480 vertical pixels and 4,000 watts peak-to-peak power (with a 200kHz transducer), but features a large 10.4 inch diagonal screen which is especially nice when using the split-screen option. Those combinations of vertical pixels and power will give the kind of resolution that will allow you to spot the cagiest walleyes … even those belly-to-the-bottom.
Searching for walleyes with electronics used to be a painstaking procedure, because in order to spot fish you had to cover water slowly. New units like the ones mentioned incorporate very powerful processors that enable the units to gather and display information much faster. Therefore it’s possible to cruise likely walleye structure at speeds up to 25 to 30 mph and still mark fish. Look for fish high, low and everywhere in between. In fact if you are marking fish 10 to 15 feet down, assume that there are some fish even higher and try running some baits only 5 or 6 feet down. These really high fish often go undetected on sonar, and often are the most aggressive ones.

Sometimes you won’t see the big “arcs” characteristic of large walleyes, but you will find large schools of baitfish (these will appear as “clouds” on the unit). Arcs or clouds indicate a good place to start fishing.

Once a school of fish is located, then you can circle around to set up on them. It’s best to set up so that you will be trolling with the wind. This will greatly improve your boat and speed control, and speed is a very important factor. GPS will enable you to accurately pinpoint the school of fish and make precise trolling passes through the school.

Slow is the way to go when fishing Open Water Spinners. Trolling speed will run somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/2 to 3/4 mph (at such slow speeds a speedometer’s accuracy usually isn’t to reliable). Basically you want to move fast enough to keep the blades turning.

A spinner designed specifically for open water trolling will be much more effective than a standard walleye spinner. For years we have tied our own open water spinners using 14 pound test/6 pound diameter FireLine for durability, Mustad Triple Grip Treble Hooks for superb hooking and holding power, Quick Change Clevises and large #5 and #6 Blades for better flash and attracting capabilities. Many companies offer great blades for this application, with our favorite being Northland Tackle’s Holographic Rainbow Baitfish-Image blades. These are extremely shiny blades that give off a tremendous amount of flash and have a unique 3-D color effect that really attracts walleyes.

A good all-around set for trolling suspended fish would be to run the spinner out 100 feet (this is called a “lead”), add a 3 ounce Off Shore Snap Weight and then let out a “dropper” of 10′, 25′, 35′ etc. to get the rig to the fish zone. Varying your depths to start with will give you more coverage and let the fish tell you what zone will be most productive. A 3 ounce Snap Weight gives you the best overall depth control, and is the heaviest weight you can use and still run the rig on an Off Shore OR-12 Side Planer in-line board. If you are going to run the spinners close to the bottom, it is better to go with a shorter lead to the Snap Weight, say 10 feet, and let more line out on the dropper to get it down. This will give you much better control of the spinner and help to keep it from dragging the bottom as you troll.



It’s important to have the spinner running nice and straight, so letting it out slowly is essential. If you put the spinner and crawler harness in the water and start letting it out too quickly, the chances of it fouling are greatly increased. Anyone who has reeled in a spinner and found it to be a tangled and twisted mess at the end of their line will understand how important this step can be.

First, put the spinner in the water and inspect it to be sure the blade is turning and the crawler is running straight. Let out the “lead”, add a Snap Weight, feed out the “dropper” and attach the Side Planer. Once the board is in the water, loosen the drag on the reel and put the rod in a rod holder so the board can pull line off slowly. This will allow you to begin setting another rod while that one heads out to the side of the boat. When the board is where you want it, tighten the drag and you’re open water spinner fishing.

Day in and day out a big juicy nightcrawler will be your best bait option for Open Water Spinners. Take special care when hooking the crawler to leave the critter plenty of room to stretch. Hook the front treble in the nose of the crawler and the back treble about half way down the crawler. If you are using really jumbo crawlers, you may only want to hook it just behind the crawler’s collar. If you hook it too far back, the crawler will not run straight when stretched out causing the rig to spin uncontrollably and increase the chances of a tangled mess.
While trolling cranks may be your first summertime choice, be prepared to “put a spin” on these open water bruisers. It’s a trick you won’t want to hit the water without.