Mud EyesBy Dale Helgeson - July 1, 2006
As I arrive to the flat I try to decide whether to run my favorite crank bait or troll crawler harnesses. Both can work very well but I prefer to use crawler harnesses during the hatch, but don't be afraid to throw out crank baits like a Dave's Kaboom Baits Winning Streak or shallow running Nitro Shiner.
One thing to remember about trolling the flats are that the big fish will be higher in the water column. For instance if you are fishing 20 feet of water the fish may be 5 feet from the surface. You may get some down toward the bottom but the bigger fish are more consistently caught up near the surface.
When running crank baits experiment with the depth until you find water range the fish are at. A basic setup I use is to stagger my lines until I catch a fish. For instance if I am running Dave's Winning Streaks I will stagger them at different depths. I will run one at 15 feet back, one at 20 and so on until I have all the lines I can legally have out in the water. One very important thing though is this is the amount of line back from my Off Shore planer boards. I will let out the line on my line counter reels and then clip on the Off Shore boards and then let out the line to make my spread of boards. Using planer boards is very important as the fish are very high in the water column and you will need to get your baits away from your boat.
When using shallow running baits I will let out more line usually starting at 50 feet. Check the Precision Trolling Bible for running depths and take notes on what depth you catch fish on so you can repeat it.
Colors will depend on the local bait fish. I try to use natural colors such as a perch or shad pattern for trolling crank baits. Crawler harnesses very as well. I usually always use something with at least a couple red beads but blue, purple, green, and orange have produced very well for me also try to put some rattle beads on as an attractor. Blades are another issue to look at. You will have to let the fish tell you what they want whether it is hammered copper Colorado blades or gold hatchet blades or silver perch Indiana. I have had success with Fin-Techs glow blades as well especially if you are going to troll at night.
When trolling for the large walleyes on the flats I will use a Daiichi Bleeding Bait treble hook on the end of the harness and a single hook for the forward hook.
When trolling for theses shallow suspended fish I have caught them without any weight. Some people use bottom bouncers and only let out short leads of line to the planer boards. I like to use Off Shore snap weights about 20 feet in front of the harness. Inline or split shot weights are another great option. Just try to make sure your baits are at the right depth and you use the same system for all you lines. Whether it be a ½ ounce snap weight or a number 5 split shot keep them all the same so you can duplicate your system.
Now that you have your rigs setup and have them in the water I try to keep it slow. I usually run crawlers from .8-1.4 MPH and 1.2-1.8 MPH for crank baits. I will run crank baits and crawlers at the same time from 1.2-1.4 MPH.
Also if you are running electronics such as my Lowrance 111HD or my Humminbird 987 with GPS make sure the waypoint all you fish to see if they are concentrating in a certain area. It is very important to creating a pattern area. It is also easier to document what you were doing at the time you caught the fish and can relate it to the waypoint. Such as speed, type of bait, color, depth, water temperature, date and weather conditions.
So once you hit the water and the water temps are on the rise don't be afraid to go high for the big walleyes. If you are getting bit by smaller fish don't be afraid to raise your baits higher in the water column. You may be rewarded with a fish of a lifetime.