Have you ever heard anyone describe trolling crankbaits for walleyes as “boring””? If you have, just understand that they simply haven’t yet grasped the true art of this complex presentation. There have been hundreds of articles and numerous books written about this highly productive tactic, and yet every season new tackle innovations and presentation “tweaks” contribute to trolling’s evolution. If your walleye trolling isn’t catching the numbers of fish you’d like it to, or worse yet, you feel it’s a ‘boring” technique, we have a few tricks for you to incorporate into your trolling pattern this season that are sure to help.
All too often, trolling is looked at as letting a couple lines out behind the boat, putting the motor in gear and just covering water. That’s not trolling … That’s a boat ride! If you’re serious about trolling for walleyes, you’ve got to have the mind-set that this is a very “active” presentation that takes a good deal of effort and thought. There’s constant experimentation … changing lures, running depths, planer board spread and speed.
It’s long been a popular tactic to incorporate “S” turns into a trolling pattern. By doing this, more water is covered on each pass, and the turning motion changes the speeds at which the lures are running. As the boat changes direction, outside lures speed up, and inside ones slow down. This can and often does trigger bites that would not otherwise occur. It’s a tactic that can be very productive any time trolling crankbaits with boards is called for, but it seems especially so from post spawn through the summer months when large numbers of walleyes are found roaming the open basin areas of many lakes.
The “S” turn trolling pattern can also be effective when executed along expansive structural breaks, like the edges of large flats that drop into the main-lake basin or the old river channel in large reservoirs. By serpentining the length of the break, your lures cover both the lip, as well as the adjacent open water. This is a great way to target those “fringe” fish, that utilize the edge of the flat for feeding opportunities, and then move straight out from the structure to suspend in open water the rest of the time.
Because you are varying the speed the cranks run, it’s imperative to use baits that can function throughout a wide range of speeds. One of our favorites for this application is the Berkley Flicker Shad. While it’s always important to have your baits properly tuned for maximum performance, it becomes especially critical when using this type of trolling pattern. A crank that is only slightly out-of-tune may appear to run fine trolled slowly, only to run out of control when towed at higher speeds. If you’re not sure how to tune a crankbait, it’s actually a very simple process. Lower the lure into the water next to the boat as you are trolling. Watch to see if it runs straight, or turns up to one side or the other. If the crank runs up to the right, take a pair of needle nose pliers and bend the line tie of the lure slightly to the left … if it runs up to the left, adjust the line tie to the right. It won’t take much tweeking at all before you get your baits running true and perfect.
A highly effective adaptation to the “S” turn trolling pattern is the more radical “W” turn. Instead of the wide, sweeping turns of the “S” pattern, make sharp 90º turns … more of a zigzag. This causes the lures to make dramatic speed and direction changes that trigger bites when nothing else will. Trolling like this does have its problems however. It’s best to reserve the “W” pattern for calm days. The purpose of the dramatic turns is to give more action to the lures, which on windy days is rarely necessary due to the action imparted by the boards surging in the surf. When executing a “W” turn, the inside boards will come to a halt until you straighten out and the line catches up again. If you are not using a set of ballasted trolling boards, chances are the boards will fall over, and possibly dive under the surface once line tension is restored. You need to be using a board like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers. These boards are ballasted so that they remain up-right even at rest. This eliminates the chances that the board will be out of position when the line retightens.
Reading boards, or detecting when a fish has hit the lure, can be tougher when incorporating a “W” trolling pattern. Outside boards are speeding up, pulling hard and sweeping around. The board will actually look much the same as it does when there is a fish on the line, so its best to watch the rod bend on outside lines when making the sharp turn … while they will flex more than when running straight, a sudden throbbing, or doubling over will indicate a strike has occurred.
On the opposite side, the boards that are stalled and waiting for lines to tighten again can be extremely difficult to read. You may notice the board “squat” when a fish takes the crank, but even that is not easy to detect. Equipping the OR-12’s with Tattle Flag kits will make reading these bites much simpler. The spring operated flag will flop to the down position when tension is applied to the lure, indicating “fish on”.
Sharp hooks are vital for this presentation, because so many fish seem to hit the inside lures when they stop or slow down. This makes hooking up much more difficult. Replacing factory hooks with Mustad Ultra Point Triple Grip Trebles will go a long way to improve hooking ratios. These hooks feature Mustad’s UltraPoint technology that make them super-sharp right out of the package, and the unique bend to the hook locks the hook in place and make it tough for the fish to come lose.
Don’t be a “boring walleye troller”! Take an active approach and “turn” your trolling patterns into fish producers. It may just “turn” out to be just what you needed to get your Next Bite!