Walleye Trolling TacticsBy Adam Walton - June 1, 2013
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 their 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 suspended walleyes. 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. Line counter reels that precisely measure how much line you are pulling, combined with knowledge of your lures intended running depth, are essential when targeting fish suspended in the depths. 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 that bite out of reaction.
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 determine what works best on any given day. When pulling harnesses, boat speed and bait depth are very important. In my experience, boat speeds in the range of 0.5 to 1.5 mph are most effective. The addition of bottom bouncing 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, high densities of zebra mussels, or an abundance of small non-target fish species, natural live bait night crawlers have a tendency to rip off. The new Uncle Josh "Meat" Crawler solved this problem for me. 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 the mid to 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 offer a quick reference guide detailing the proper running depths of many lures and harnesses matched with a variety of weight sizes and styles. Increasing boat speed to a range of 1.5 to 3.0 mph works best when pulling cranks in the hot summer months. Another key tactic is to incorporate an "S" trolling pattern while changing up boat speed to fluctuate lure action and incite more bites.
Lure color choice can make or break a day on the water. Chartreuse lures are most commonly used because walleyes see this color well. Other good options include white, orange, pink and red. In semi-clear water, darker colors can also produce - particularly lures with purple and gold coloring. If fishing very clear water, try matching the color of natural bait such as shad and ciscoes. Only time on the water and experimentation will determine what colors work best for you.
Use these tips this season and I know you will put more fish in the cooler. Trolling numerous lines behind the boat can be a difficult task at times so please be courteous to those fishing around you. Cutting in front of or across others leads to tangled and/or cut lines and we all know how much lures cost! Plot your course and watch what others are doing and many of these accidents can be avoided. Lastly, let's all help protect our fishery by releasing breeders and only keeping eaters. Walleyes over 18 inches are key to successful reproduction and the sustainable quality fishing we have in our beautiful state. Good luck on the water and stay safe.
Adam is currently a pro staff member with Crestliner Boats, Mercury Marine Motors, Northland Tackle, and Hard & Soft Fishing. He also a member of the Pure Fishing Select Angler Program and St Croix Guide Program.