by Chris Larsen
Autumn is high time to enjoy some of the best walleye fishing of the year. Walleyes are putting on their "feed bags" and jet skiers and pleasure boaters have called it a season. If you've never trolled crankbaits for walleyes, this is primetime for pullin' cranks. This technique allows an angler to cover more ground at a faster rate than jigging with plastics and live bait. Walleyes move into the shallows and their tight-lipped summer attitudes are replaced by an eagerness to snap at just about anything that swims by.
Obviously, a boat is needed for trolling crankbaits. However, fall is perhaps a shore angler's best opportunity to catch trophy walleyes. Since we're focusing on trolling, rod holders are needed in the boat. As far as rods are concerned, bigger is better. Seven or eight foot medium to medium-heavy rods will help get baits away from the boat. A set of planer boards will also help. The latest generation of planer boards are inexpensive and easy to use, making this technique realistic for beginning trollers.
Line counters are essential for trolling crankbaits on rivers. You need to know how much line is out to determine how deep your crankbaits are running. Many anglers use monofilament when trolling. Ten pound mono will typically do the job. However, for best results while river trolling, use lead core line. Lead core is widely accepted by professional walleye anglers as the tool for the job. Lead core line consists of a strand of lead wrapped with a Dacron coating. Lead core is incredibly strong but more importantly, it provides it's own weight so it gets crankbaits into the strike zone without the use of sinkers.
What should you put on the business end of the line? Stick baits and bomber style cranks are sure bets for walleyes. The Storm ThunderStick, Rapala Shad Raps, Lindy Shadlings and Rebels are all good choices. Experiment with several and find the bait that gets in the strike zone.
When it comes to color, let the water be your guide. If the water is clear, blues and silvers are good colors because that is what most of the bait fish are going to look like. If fishing in stained water, a gold or fire tiger crankbait is what I would start with. If you have a good idea what fish are feeding on, try to mimic the forage species. For example, one of the best days on the water I have had was while fishing a clear water reservoir for walleyes. The fire tiger pattern was hot because these walleyes were feeding on perch.
Speed is another element that can mean the difference between a great day of fishing and just burning gas. The most effective speed for river trolling is... it depends. There is no magical number. I’ve caught fish at nearly five miles an hour and caught them at barely over one mile per hour. Experiment and keep track of results. A Global Positioning System (GPS) can provide precise real time speeds. Serious walleye anglers often have kicker motors, typically in the 10 horsepower range to troll at lower speeds. Some simply use their transom mount trolling motors. Others with four-stroke outboards can run very slowly with the “big motor”.
Before trolling a crankbait, it’s vital to tune it. Simply hang it over the side of the boat while running at trolling speed. Be sure it is wobbling consistently and not favoring one side or the other. If the crankbait tends to go to one side, use a tuning tool to adjust the line tie eye to the opposite side. Test it again to be sure you didn’t over compensate. Many high end crankbaits are already tuned. But it never hurts to check, especially if your crankbait already has a few tooth marks in it. It’s also a good idea to sharpen hooks before fishing. When baits hit rocks and logs, hooks become dull over time. Sharp hooks lead to easier, more secure hook sets during strikes.
Trolling is the most effective way to boat big numbers of walleyes in the fall. It's also a great technique for fishing with novice anglers and kids. They don't have to cast, bait hooks, or worry about spooking fish. For them, trolling is simply a boat ride with a bonus of catching fish. The most experienced anglers can set up the rigs and let the kids do the reeling. When one youngster is reeling in a fish, the other can reel up any other lines that may interfere with the landing. This keeps them in the game even when it's not their turn to catch a fish. If you haven't tried trolling yet, the most opportune time is upon us.