Featured in Great Lakes Angler, October/November 2018
One of the things that makes walleye fishing challenging is the fact these fish can be found anywhere in the water column. Often these interesting fish are shallow today, deep tomorrow or perhaps somewhere in between as the mood strikes them.
Unlike trout and salmon that routinely find desirable temperature zones to hang out in, walleye are a much more challenging species to pattern day in and day out. Seemingly always on the move, sometimes we can predict where walleye are going and why and sometimes it’s all a big mystery.
THE ACTION IS DEEP
One of the things we can bank on is that certain seasonal presentations routinely produce walleye day after day and year in and year out. In fact, crankbait trolling produces the vast majority of the walleye taken during October, November and December on Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, the Bay of Quinte, Green Bay and other Great Lakes fisheries.
Using very long lead lengths to get the maximum diving depth from crankbaits is a common strategy among walleye anglers in the fall. Some anglers even spool up their trolling reels with ultra thin super braid lines that allow their favorite lures to dive even deeper.
Another crankbait trolling strategy is to use clip-on trolling weights like the popular Off Shore Tackle “Snap Weights” to increase the diving depth of crankbaits. Adding weight to the trolling line causes crankbaits to dive deeper, the question is how much deeper?
Several decades ago the authors of the Precision Trolling depth guides addressed this question and set out to test a host of popular crankbaits fished in combination with a one-ounce Snap Weight. The data collected and published was dubbed the “20 Plus Method” as it involved letting out a crankbait a measured 20 feet, then attaching the one-ounce Snap Weight to the line and then letting out an additional 100 feet of trolling lead.
The data collected was for a crankbait with a total lead length of 120 feet with a one-ounce Snap Weight on the line 20 feet in front of the bait. Dozens of different crankbaits were tested using exactly the same lead lengths and one-ounce Snap Weights.
When the data was analyzed a remarkably consistent pattern developed.
The lures tested with the one-ounce snap weight reached depths about 30% deeper than the same lures trolled using the same lead lengths without the Snap Weight.
That bit of knowledge opened the flood gates and for the first time allowed anglers to predict—with impressive accuracy—how deep their crankbaits were running when fished in combination with clip on weights. The down size of this landmark data was that only the one-ounce size Snap Weight was tested and all the testing was conducted at a summer time trolling speed of 2.0 mph.
SPECULATION RUNS RAMPANT
The problem with answering one question in fishing is the answers often stimulate a host of different questions. In the case of the “20 Plus Method” the obvious question is what will happen to crankbait diving depth if larger Snap Weights are used?
Logic suggests that if a one ounce-trolling weight causes a crankbait to increase its diving depth by 30% that using a two-ounce weight would double that number to 60%. That sounds logical, but in practice it doesn’t work that way. Larger trolling weights create more friction when they pass through the water, negating some of their ability to increase the diving depth of crankbaits.
It’s also important to understand that trolling speed makes a difference as well when trolling sinkers are added to a fishing line.
At slower speeds trolling sinkers have a more profound increase in the diving depth of crankbaits and at faster speeds the increase in diving depth is more modest.
Also important to note, the data in the “20 Plus Method” was created years before GPS navigation technology was widely available to sport fishermen. The trolling speed in the “20 Plus Method” was monitored using two common speed references of the time period including spinner wheel read out on sonar units and also Loran-C speed over ground estimates.
THANKS TO TECHNOLOGY
Technology repeatedly changes the sport fishing scene.
The advent of technology such as Global Positioning System navigation has not only allowed anglers to navigate to known fish holding structures or schools of open water fish with unprecedented accuracy it also allows anglers to impact trolling speed like never before.
Thanks to wireless GPS guided electric motors like the MotorGuide Xi5, the partners of Precision Trolling Data, LLC recently completed a round of crankbait testing that involved using a two-ounce Snap Weight a fixed 50 feet in front of popular crankbaits.
Unlike the “20 Plus Method” this new data incorporates all the common dropper leads (feet back from the weight) used by anglers who fish with Snap Weights in front of their favorite diving crankbaits. This new Snap Weight data was also conducted using three common trolling speeds including 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5 MPH making the information many times more comprehensive than anything previously published.
GPS technology played a critical role in creating this new depth diving data. “Precision Trolling uses GPS guided electric motors in their crankbait testing for several reasons,” says Keith Kavajecz one of the partners of Precision Trolling Data, LLC. “The digital speed controls on wireless style electric motors allows trolling speed to be controlled more precisely compared to using traditional gasoline kicker motors with manual throttle linkage controls. Also, thanks to the GPS tracking features of these electric motors we can set up our tests so that each subsequent pass duplicates the one before it precisely.”
“The ability to replicate our data during testing is critically important,” states Parsons. “Being successful at trolling is about reproducing a pattern that’s working over and over again. Anglers who invest in PTD data enjoy that critical confidence that comes from knowing exactly how deep their gear is fishing.”
The first group of baits tested with two-ounce Snap Weights include classic walleye trolling cranks like the Reef Runner 800 series, Rapala’s Deep Down Husky Jerk 12, the Bandit 5/8 Deep Walleye, Berkley’s Flicker Minnow 5, 7, 9 and 11, Smithwick’s Perfect 10 and the Top 20 Rogue, Rapala’s Husky Jerk 14 and the No. 18 Floating Minnow just to name a few.
All of these lures are proven walleye producers and each of them becomes even more useful to the ardent troller when combined with in-line sinkers such as the Snap Weight. The Snap Weight and crankbait data created by PTD is sold through phone apps including one for Android devices sold at the Google Play store and one for iPhone devices sold at the Apple Store.
SNAP WEIGHTS AREN’T JUST ABOUT FISHING DEEP
Using a Snap Weight in front of a crankbait enables that lure to reach significantly deeper depths. The ability to fish deep is a huge advantage for the angler who targets fall walleye, but the advantages of Snap Weights aren’t just about fishing deep.
“I use Snap Weights to get my baits deep, but I also use them just as often to shorten up my trolling leads and make my trolling efforts more efficient,” says Hall of Fame Walleye Pro Gary Parsons. “Anyone who has spent much time trolling knows that the secret to catching more walleye on crankbaits is to target the specific depths these fish are feeding at. I take my trolling strategy to another level by striving to target fish at the depth they are feeding at and also using the shortest practical lead lengths.”
The ability to shorten up trolling leads while still keeping baits in the strike zone speeds up both the line setting and fish landing process. This in turn keeps the lures fishing longer and contacting the maximum number of fish.
“Trolling is a game of numbers,” says Parsons. “Anglers who understand how numbers like lead length, line diameter and trolling speed impact on the diving depth of lures have the tools needed to literally aim their favorite lures at fish they are marking on a sonar unit.”
LESSONS LEARNED IN THE FALL
Trolling crankbaits in combination with in-line weights is very popular among walleye anglers during the fall. “Actually the same crankbait trolling patterns that produce fish in the fall work equally well in the spring right after ice out,” says Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV. “During the pre-spawn period in March and early April adult-sized female walleye are very susceptible to large profile crankbaits fished near the bottom. After moving shallow to spawn, females once again seek out deep water and are vulnerable to crankbaits trolled slowly in deep water.”
In late spring when the water begins to warm another uniquely different crankbait trolling pattern starts to emerge. “As the water warms, walleye get more active and crankbaits can be fished at faster trolling speeds,” says Keith Kavajecz. “In warmer water walleye tend to key on smaller “young of the year” sized forage minnows. Not surprisingly smaller profile baits tend to produce best at this time of year.”
Incorporating small profile and modest diving baits such as Rapala Shad Raps, Berkley Flicker Shads, the Cotton Cordell Wally Diver, Salmo Hornet and Reef Runner Rip Shad allow anglers to match the hatch by providing baits that are similar in size to readily available forage fish.
Fishing small profile baits with limited diving ability in combination with Snap Weights makes perfect sense. “The second round of crankbaits to be tested in combination with Snap Weights will be the modest diving shad baits popular with walleye trollers everywhere,” says Kavajecz. “Once the testing on these fundamental baits is completed, the next logical step is to start the process all over again but this time testing with additional sizes of Snap Weights.”
TIPS FOR BOARD TROLLING WITH WEIGHTS
Adding weights to crankbait trolling lines poses some interesting issues when using in-line planer boards. The extra weight in combination with the natural resistance of deep diving crankbaits puts a lot of drag on in-line boards.
The outward planing ability of these boards is compromised to a degree. Also, the original generation of the Tattle Flag articulating flag systems do not have enough spring tension to handle the extra weight, causing the flag to fold down.
“Anglers have some options to explore in regards to improving the planing ability of the OR12 Side-Planer when fishing with heavy Snap Weights and deep diving crankbaits,” says Nick DeShano of Off Shore Tackle. “The Side-Planer features a ballast weight screwed in place in the bottom of the board. By removing the screw and sliding the weight about an inch forward, the weight distribution brings the nose of the board down a few degrees and allows it to enjoy more bite and also to pull more weight without sacrificing outward planing ability.”
Anglers also have the option of rigging the Side-Planer with a newly re-designed after-market Tattle Flag kit. “Tattle Flags are spring loaded flag systems that enable the flag to fold down when a fish is hooked,” explains DeShano. “Historically the linkage arm on the Tattle Flags has run parallel with the top of the board. With our new kits anglers can rig the linkage arm running from the flag on a downward angle to a screw eye mounted near the bottom of the board. This new rigging lowers the tow point of board, brings the nose down and allows the board to pull more weight to the side.”
It’s also important to note that the new flags on the Tattle Flag kits include a tab that provides four additional holes in it that allow for more spring tension settings. The extra spring tension settings mean that anglers can troll with deep diving crankbaits—even with Snap Weights added—while keeping the flag vertical until a fish strikes.
SUMMING IT UP
It’s a given that walleye thrive in the Great Lakes and these fish are also well known for using every inch of the water column. The anglers who target these fish must come prepared to fish at whatever depth fish are located. Combining the natural diving ability of crankbaits with in-line trolling sinkers is becoming one of the most popular and productive ways to put crankbaits anywhere in the water column walleye show up.
- Written by Mark Romanack/Fishing 411 TV