Trolling for Summer Walleyes

By Dale Helgeson - July 1, 2004
It is getting into the heart of the summer season and the heat is warming up the water. What technique is best for finding and catching summer walleyes? Some people like to live bait rig structure with slip bobbers and live bait rigs but my number one technique is trolling.

Trolling is the number one way to find and locate fish. If the fish are isolated to one piece of structure then live bait rigging can be your best tactic but if you are on a large body of water where the walleyes can roam for food or suspend over deep water then trolling will be the number one way to put them in your boat.

The equipment that I use is Shakespeare's trolling combos with line counter reels, Red Cajun 10 pound test or 30 Pound PowerPro. I also run some lead core rods for added depth and control. I also use a combination of Off Shore and Churches Planer Boards. One of the most important tools though is my electronics. I currently use a Lowrance X15. Always buy the best electronics that you can afford. Look for high pixel count and a high power rating.

You will be looking for the fish and it helps if you have the mapping software and GPS functionality as well. I like to move until I mark fish and then setup and troll the area. I will mark the locations of fish caught. I may also take notes of the speed, technique, how far back the lure was from the boards, weather conditions, depth, water temperature, and any other information that I can use at a later time.

The number one question people ask me is, "What is your favorite lure to use?". It really isn't about my favorite lure. My favorite lure is the one they are biting that day. Some days it is a Nitro Shiner in perch pattern and the next day it could be a silver and black Hot n Tot or a Firetiger Jointed Shad Rap or even a crawler harness with a Fin-Tech Title Shot spinner blade. I don't really have a favorite because I will throw everything in my tackle box at them and let them tell me what their favorite is. Some days you may not even find it but when you do it is a lot of fun.

Trolling for walleyes in the summer can encompass a lot of different techniques. There are harness rigs, crank baits, spoons, combinations, and different techniques for each type of lake you are fishing. There are several variables to decide which one to use. First is to know what type of structure they relate to in the body of water you are fishing. Such as Winnebago where they will follow large schools of bait fish over the mud flats or Bay de Noc where they suspend over deep water under schools of smelt, and even deep weed lines in smaller lakes relating to the small panfish fry.

The first rigging we will cover is harness rigs. When I talk about harness rigs I am talking about night crawler, minnow or leech harnesses. These consist of a swivel, a leader of line I prefer 10 pound test with a spinner blade, and a series of beads (4-5 seams to work best depending on the size of the blade) or a spinner rig body with a colored hook like Daiichi bleeding hook (hooks). Crawler harnesses will have either two or three hooks all tied on with a snell knot, leech and minnow harnesses usually only have one hook.

The crawlers are hooked so that they are allowed to travel straight. I like to just hook the front hook through the head of the crawler just passing through it. The second hook is placed in the collar of the crawler with a little slack in the line for room for the crawler to stretch out. Minnows I place the hook in its mouth and pop it out just behind its head. Leeches I hook through the sucker and thread it on just slightly maybe ¼ of an inch.

These can be pulled behind bottom bouncers, snap weights, pencil weights, inline (keel) weights, or even spoons. The length of leader will vary. On clear lakes I prefer a 10-12' leader but in a river system or dirty water I will use a 2-5' leader. I will usually run them close to the bottom but can be run up higher with less weight or quicker speeds. I tend to run these as .5-1 MPH. Occasionally up to 1.5 MPH. This is one of my favorite techniques for finding sluggish walleyes or working close to defined structure. You want to let the line out until it hits bottom and then I usually count to 10. You want to keep it at a 45 degree angle if it starts trailing too far back increase the weight. I will hook on a spoon instead of a weight if the walleyes are suspended high in the water column. With this technique you will not use the 45 degree rule but let it out about 100-150 feet behind your boards.


"One of the most important tools though is my electronics. I currently use a Lowrance X15. Always buy the best electronics that you can afford. Look for high pixel count and a high power rating."
After catching a fish with this technique make sure the line isn't frayed or damaged by the walleyes teeth, if it is frayed either retie your hooks if your leader is long enough of tie on another leader.

Crank baits can be run in many different ways as well. During the middle of summer I prefer a high action lure like Dave's Lures Nitro Shiner or Winning Streak, Rapala's Jointed Shad Rap and regular Shad Rap, or Berkeley Frenzy's. I prefer these baits because of they offer a lot of flash and vibration in the water. Depending on the depth of water need to reach the fish the amount of line will vary. One useful tool is the Trolling Bible. It will give you dive curves for almost all crank baits and also give snap weight conversions as well.

Many times I will run the crank baits directly back from my boards but in real deep water you may need to put on a snap weight, Dipsy diver or even a down rigger.

Crank baits are very simple to use you just put a snap onto your line and clip it onto the lure but make sure the lure is tuned before you let it back. Test it next to the boat and if it isn't swimming correctly then tune it and test it again until it is running true.

Here are some other tricks when using crank baits in certain situations. When fishing stumps you can remove the front hook and even replace the back hook with a tandem hook to avoid some of the snags from stumps. Crawlers can be added to the front hook and can produce great results when they want that combination. Just hook the head of the crawler on the lowest hook point of the treble hook. In water with a lot of floating debris you can put on a trolling rudder ahead of the bait 4-10 feet to catch the debris and allow the lure to still run true.

I will occasionally troll spoons but I will usually only put a spoon in front of a crawler harness for added flash. When doing this remove the hook from the spoon and tie the line directly to the spoon.

Some people call trolling a lazy man method but when you hit a bunch of fish it can become a highly skilled technique that needs to be practiced and honed like any other technique. If you are willing to put the time and effort into trolling you will reap the benefits of it and you will get hooked on it because it does work. So remember to fish hard and often but take a kid fishing to pass on the memories that will last a lifetime and keep our great outdoor activities going for future generations.

Author Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson is owner and operator of The Outdoor Experience Guide Service focusing on lakes in southeastern Wisconsin. Dale is a professional fisherman fishings the MWC walleye fishing circuits as well as writing articles for Lake-Link and Southeast Wisconsin Outdoor Guide among others. Dale is sponsored by these fine sponsors: Geneva Cabinet Company, Action Marine, DR Plastics, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Black Mountain Socks, RAM Mounts, Frabill, Pflueger Rods and Reels, Dave’s Kaboom Lures, Lake-Link.com, Kick’n Walleye Scents, Minn Kota, Strikemaster Augers, Mapping Specialists, Vexilar, Guest Pro Chargers, PowerPro Lines, KINeSYS Sunscreen, NPAA 872. His Pro Staffs include: Daiichi Hooks, XTools, FinTech Tackle Company, Off Shore Tackle, Navionics, Jammin Jigs/Bad Dog Lures