Walleye Trolling Tactics

Although jigging spring walleyes is very productive during pre-spawn and immediately after post spawn, nothing can beat trolling planner boards or long lining lures in the summer months. Many anglers simply throw on a Rapala, let some line out, and call it good. They even catch fish here and there.  What better way to cover a large amount of water and pull in fish, right? While this may be true, there are many other factors that can help you become a trolling master.

Let’s first discuss post-spawn walleye behavior. After spawning, many large females are exhausted and hungry. They’re looking for an easy meal that doesn’t require a lot of effort. In other words, even though trolling lures at a fast speed may produce some walleyes, slowing down your presentation will typically produce better. What is the best speed in this case? I’ve always done well pulling lures at 0.5 to 1.5 mph in the early summer months. As the water warms up and fish fully recover from the spawn, their metabolism greatly increases. This not only means fish are going to move more aggressively, it means they’ll feed more frequently to keep up with a faster metabolism. Walleyes will also look to get more bang for their buck by feeding on larger food sources. This is when trolling large crank baits at a faster speed will produce well. I’ve found 1.5 to 2.5 mph to be the best speed in this case; however it’s not uncommon to pick up very aggressive fish at 3.0 mph.

When fishing deeper water, using electronics to find suspended fish feeding on near-by bait fish is an effective way to boat more walleyes. Fish positioned on the bottom typically are not feeding as actively as those suspended. Although you may get some reactionary bites from bottom dwellers, targeting suspended fish is normally more productive. Once you determine the depth most fish are suspended at, try running lures slightly above their position. Using line counter reels that give a precise measurement of line out, combined with knowledge of your lures intended running depth, are a must when targeting suspended fish. When fishing shallower water less than 6 feet, running or bouncing the bottom works fine. Since the water is shallow, feeding fish won’t typically suspend and simply mix in with non-feeding fish. This allows the potential to pull both aggressive fish and those docile fish which bite out of instinct.

As far as lures, it’s hard to beat a Northland Tackle crawler harnesses in the early summer months. Harnesses provide a lot of action at a slow speed, which is perfect for lazy, post-spawn walleyes. When selecting a harness, there are two main types of blades to look for. One is the rounder “Colorado” blade which offers a wide and slow rotation that runs a little higher in the water. The other blade option is a “Willow” blade, which offers a narrower and faster rotation that runs a little deeper in the water. When using a “Colorado” blade, your pole tip should be held so the line is at a 45 degree angle to the water. “Willow” blade harnesses however work best when the pole tip is dropped so the line angle around 20 degrees to the water. Both blade styles can be very effective and only experimentation will decide what will work best for you. When pulling harnesses, boat speed and depth are very important. Running boat speeds in the range of 0.4 to 1.5 mph seem to be the most effective and adding bottom bouncer pencil weights, snap weights, or in-line weights will help get your harness to the proper depth. For those who troll areas with heavy cover, natural live bait night crawlers have a tendency to rip off. I’ve found the new Uncle Josh Bait Company’s “Meat” Crawlers to help with this issue. Made of all natural pork fat, these artificial crawlers look and feel like natural bait, but are stronger and less likely to come off the hooks. The 7 inch Canadian Crawler has produced the best for me, but Uncle Josh offers other colors and sizes which may work better in your favorite fishing areas.

Once the water temperature increases in late summer months and the walleyes are very aggressive, I’ll switch to crankbaits. Salmo, Reef Runner, Berkley Flicker Shad, and Rapala cranks all work great in a variety of waters. Partnered with dive charts, these cranks can be deadly on the wariest walleyes. In order to match the depths of fish marked on electronics, dive chart books or phone apps offer a quick reference guide, showing the proper running depths of many lures. When trolling crankbaits, an increased speed range of 1.5 to 3.0 mph works well. Another common tactic is to incorporating an “S” trolling pattern and change up the boat speed to help fluctuate the lure’s action and incite fish to bite.

Lure color choice can make or break a day on the water. Most walleye anglers know chartreuse is the most common color used. The reason being is that walleyes see this color the best; however they also see white, orange, bright pink and bright reds well. In semi-clear water, darker colors can also produce well, particularly lures with purple and gold coloring. If fishing very clear water, try matching the color of natural bait in the system. Only time on the water and experimenting will be the sure way to find what colors work best for you.

As a last note, please be respectful to other anglers trolling near you. Pulling six lines that are out a great deal away from the boat are not the easiest to control in last minute situations. Cutting in front or across others can cause a huge problem of tangled or cut lines. Try to plan your course and watch what others are doing. Also, let’s all help protect our fishery by releasing breeders and only keeping eaters. Walleyes over 18 inches are key to successful breeding and long lasting quality fishing we have in our beautiful state. Good luck on the water and stay safe.

 


 

Adam Walton is the owner of Pikepole Fishing Guide Service and specializes in multi-species angling.  He is a licensed United States Coast Guard Charter Captain and a certified State of Wisconsin Paramedic.  Along with guiding, Adam participates in professional walleye tournaments and is a contributing writer for Badger Sportsman Magazine, Lake-Link, and ODU Magazine.   To contact Adam, call 608-290-3929 or email him at awaltonjfd@gmail.com.