Over the years trolling has become “The” tactic on many large bodies of water frequented by walleye anglers … The Great Lakes, the Missouri River Reservoirs, Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago and even Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs are all trolling hot-beds. More and more anglers are discovering that big waters can most effectively and efficiently be fished by tactics that cover a lot of water and cover it quickly. Now, while using tools such as planner boards to spread trolling lines horizontally are key to finding fish on big water, you’ve got to master the vertical aspects of the trolling presentations also! That’s where weighting systems come in to play, and there are options galore to choose from.
Maybe to better illustrate our point, let’s look at one scenario and the different possible weighting systems that could be used to get the job done. Let’s say for instance that it’s a beautiful summer morning on Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. The forecast is calling for sunny skies and moderate breezes in the 10 to 15 mph range. As we head out toward the Charity Islands, we know we’re going to be dealing with suspended walleyes so we begin by cruising our first area closely watching the fish finder for signs of life. We don’t go far and begin to see clouds of bait fish near the surface, over 48 feet of water… things are beginning to look good. We go a little further and see the tell-tale arcs of predator fish … some down within two or three feet of the bottom, some about half way down in the water column at about twenty five feet. These are the fish we’re looking to target. The higher fish are the active feeders and the ones that are most likely going to bite.
Our weapons of choice on this day will be spinners tipped with crawlers. On its own, a spinner won’t go down in the water very far at all on a troll, so we know we need a weighting system to get the lure to the fish. While there are a number of options available to us for weighting, let’s look at what we consider to be the three most versatile and effective; Off Shore Tackle’s Pro Weight System (which can be used as either a Snap Weight or an in-line weight) and the Off Shore Tackle Tadpole Resettable Diving Weight.
The Off Shore Tackle Snap Weights are made now by combining the Off Shore Tackle OR20 Guppy Weights (available in various sizes) attached to an Off Shore Tackle model OR-16 Snap Clip (Off Shore’s popular “Red” clip). The weight can be clipped to the main line anywhere from a few feet ahead of the lure to a hundred or even a hundred and fifty feet ahead of the lure under extreme conditions (extremely clear water – extremely spooky fish). When a fish is hooked, the Snap Weight is simply removed from the line as the fish is being reeled in. On this day we’re dealing with fairly clear water, but the fish should be aggressive enough not to be too spooky so we let out the spinner about fifty feet before attaching a two ounce Snap Weight. Then we let out another fifty feet and attach an Off Shore Tackle OR-12 Side Planer board to take the presentation out to the side of the boat, spreading our baits to cover more water. With an average trolling speed of 1 to 1.5 mph, our first spinner should be right in that twenty two to twenty five foot range where we marked the arcs earlier.
On another rod, let’s rig one of a new Off Shore Tackle Guppy Weight “in-line” style, meaning its tied into the line between the lure and the rod. On the main line we use a ball-bearing snap-swivel to connect a one ounce Guppy Weight, and then connect our spinner to the back of the weight (also using a swivel). The spinner is tied on a four foot leader, which is about an average length for use with in-line weights. If the weight was tied much further from the spinner, it would make netting fish a tricky proposition since the in-line weight obviously cannot be easily removed as in the case of the Snap Weight. Again we let out fifty feet of line before hitching up an OR-12 Side Planer and send this set-up out into our trolling pattern. By letting out a couple more lines varying the size of the weights, we’re soon trolling the area and covering a wide swath of the water column both horizontally (with the use of the OR-12 Side Planer boards) and vertically (various weights covering various depths).
Our third option is the Tadpole Resettable Weight, a unique in-line type of weight design that allows the angler to set the dive-planer-style weight to carry a bait to a desired depth, then when a fish is hooked, the weight “releases” allowing the fish to be brought in without added resistance on the line. So why the three different styles of weights? They all serve basically the same function … that is take our offerings down to the fish zone … but they each add their own benefits to the presentation and until we start getting bit, we won’t know which one the walleyes prefer on this given day. Snap weights, besides having the advantage of being able to be attached virtually anywhere on the line, give baits like spinners a much different action than in-line weights like the Guppy and the Tadpole. Picture the scenario above … we mentioned we were trolling in a moderate breeze, which we’ll say had us trolling in two to three foot waves. With the Snap Weight attached about fifty feet ahead of a spinner, the rise and fall of the weight caused by the board bobbing up and down in the waves, would induce only a slight undulation in the trailing spinner because most of the bobbing action would be lost in the fifty foot leader. On the other hand, with the in-line weights only four feet ahead of the spinner, as the board above climbs up and down the waves, the weight rises and falls trailing the spinner close behind. Which is better? Some days one … some days the other … that’s one of those things you need to let the walleyes tell you.
Of course there are other weighting options too; lead core line, bottom bouncers, even split shot. The main point to remember this season is to learn and understand all the weighting systems available to you as a walleye angler. Learn the best times to go “light weight” and when to go “heavy weight”, when to troll Snap Weights and when in-lines or other options are called for. Learn the ins and outs (or should we say ups and downs) of your weighting options and you’ll be ready for your Next Bite all season long.