Spring River Trolling

By Dale Helgeson - April 1, 2005

The ice has washed down river and you are on your way to your favorite river for some spring river walleye fishing. This is one of the most anticipated times of year for many walleye anglers. After being cooped up in the house or fishing through the ice nothing compares to reeling in a monster walleye in the boat.

This time of year can be very unpredictable. You can get a foot a snow one day and the next it will be 60 degrees out and the sun beating down sometimes both in one day.

But before you get to the river you need to make some decisions. What type of fishing are you going to do? Do you vertical jig, pitch plastics, use live bait rigs, or a seldom used option of trolling.

Trolling Options
Trolling is often overlooked in the spring because it can be a lot of work in a river with usually high water and a lot of debris floating in the river. But if you have the patience and perseverance it can be very rewarding.

Spring trolling can take many different twists and styles. You can troll crank baits, jigs, a combination of both, and on mono, PowerPro, lead core, or hand lines.

Standard Trolling
Standard trolling techniques consist of running rods in rod holders dragging crank baits. Typically when using this method of trolling running rods at different depths is the key. Try to run some up close to shore using Off Shore Planer boards to get them into the shallow water. But also run some off the nearest river channel. This time of year use a less erratic motion lure like Dave's Kaboom Lures, Kaboom Shiners. They have a nice tight wobble but are shallow runners. Run these up tight to the shore on straight mono or PowerPro. PowerPro will allow you to straighten hooks so you can get your lures back and just have to replace the hooks.

You can run a deep diver off the river channel but using the same baits but adding a snap weight will get it down to the desired depths.

You will have to check your baits often for debris but if you have Tattle Flags on your boards it will help detect it for speedier removal.

Lead Core
Lead core trolling is just really starting to take off. It is a great way to stay near the bottom but you will have difficulty using planer boards with them because of the added weight.

Run just two rods on a side so you will have to run them straight back out of the rod holders. Try to stagger your rods with different positions of the rod holder. RAM makes a great rod holder that allows the rod tips to be at different angles as well as adjusting the angle from the boat so you can get a good spread with less tangles.

Lead core offers some big advantages for river trolling in that you can raise and lower your baits according the constant depth changes in the river thus allowing for your lure to be in the strike zone more often.

When trolling just simply let out line until you hit bottom with the lure and reel in a couple cranks to keep it just off bottom. When going up just reel in to raise the bait. It can be hectic with the constant reeling and letting out of line but can pay big dividends.

Again in the spring I use the Kaboom Shiner. You want to use shallow running baits with lead core because of it is easier to control.

Jig Trolling
Jig trolling can be simply trolling upstream using a heavy jig or using a combination of a heavy jig usually around 1 ounce on the bottom or your line and a three way swivel up higher with a leader coming off with crank bait on it.

This can be trolled up a river very slowly and you keep the rod in your hand so you can jig the jig off the bottom and keep constant contact with the bottom.

Hand Lining
Hand lining is becoming very popular in rivers. Hand lining is accomplished using hand line reel that are strung with cable. A large weight is attached to the end of the cable and there are leader hooks on the cable to run your leaders back to your baits.

The leaders are run back at different lengths to reduce tangles. This is a great way to cover three different depths at one time while maintaining bottom contact.

It is very tiring as you wear a glove and constantly pump the cable to let more line out or to let the reel bring cable in. Shallow running crank baits are the bait of choice for this technique as well. A good make of hand line reels are Rivera. They also make downriggers for fishing deep water.

Boat Needs
There are a few things besides the standard equipment needed to be successful while trolling the river.

Make sure your boat is setup properly for trolling. I have my Action Marine Skeeter 2050ZX rigged with a Yamaha T8 kicker and Minn Kota Auto Pilot trolling motors. Make sure you have these rigged up properly. Then you will need quality rod holders. I use RAM 114B's with rail mount kits. They are very dependable and easy to use. If you need help in rigging your boat for trolling, see a professional. I use Action Marine for all my boat needs as it often saves time and money having everything done right the first time.

So next time you head out to the river don't be afraid to throw some trolling gear in the boat and try to get some overlooked more aggressive walleyes.

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