Single greatest walleye presentation…
If I was limited to using just one of the popular walleye fishing presentations, the choice would be easy. As much as I enjoy catching walleye on a wealth of lures and fishing methods, I have no delusions when it comes to the single fishing method that gets the job done in spades.
What was once called a nightcrawler harness is now more commonly referred to as a spinner rig. A spinner rig consists of a couple hooks tied on a leader dressed with a few colorful beads and topped off with a blade that rotates enticingly around the leader. I’m not sure why walleye are so overwhelmingly attracted to a spinning blade. Just as puzzling, I have literally no explanation for why walleye like nightcrawlers.
What I do know is how to put these two elements together in such a way that walleye are powerless to resist opening their mouth. The common spinner rig fished near bottom with the help of bottom bouncer is the most simple and effective way to catch walleye day in and day out in most bodies of water.
Start With The Spinner
Not all spinner rigs are created equal. Over the years I’ve learned to refine my rigs so as to make them as efficient as possible at attracting and hooking walleye. Mostly I tie my own spinners, but there are some exceptional rigs out there that are commercially tied. Two of the best are produced by Wolverine Tackle and Bait Rigs Tackle. Both of these companies have dedicated themselves to producing rigs tied using the best components available. Fluorocarbon leaders, premium hooks, and the best possible blade finishes add up to harnesses that are hard for both man and fish to resist!
Fluorocarbon line is the perfect leader material for spinners because it’s tough and very hard for fish to see in the water. I tie my spinners using 15# test Vicious Fluorocarbon.
Hooks are also important. Size is the first consideration. I tie harnesses using two hook sizes. A No. 4 hook is used when targeting walleye in natural lakes where the average fish is going to be less than 18 inches long. Often these are the same lakes that require fishing in or near weed lines. A No. 4 hook is the best compromise between size and function.
When I’m fishing bodies of water that have larger walleye, I tie my spinners using a No. 2 sized hook. A larger hook is superior at not only sticking, but holding onto hard fighting walleye.
The ideal hook style for spinner rigs are compact designs known as beak hooks. A host of manufacturers including Mustad, Eagle Claw, Owner, Gamakatsu and VMC produce hooks suitable for tying walleye spinners.
Blades are the next important component of a spinner rig. The blades I used to fish 10 years ago rarely come out of my tackle box anymore. Blades that are solid painted colors like chartreuse, orange, green, red or combinations of these are old school. I’m sure they will catch walleye, but not nearly as well as the newer finishes that are way more sophisticated.
The modern walleye spinner blade closely mimics modern trolling spoons in terms of the colors and plating options. Blades with multiple color paint jobs do a much better job of creating the flash patterns that catch fish. My favorites are painted on hammered blades that help to soften and defuse the flash more than smooth blades.
Depending on water clarity a copper, brass, gold or silver base finish is where the painting process starts. For example, on Saginaw Bay, I rarely fish any blade that isn’t painted on a copper background. This particular blade plating option just seems to work better day in and day out on this particular water. In other fisheries different plating finishes produce better. As you might guess different blade size and shape also matters.
The most common blade sizes are 3, 4 and 5, but they’re available in both smaller and larger sizes. Overwhelmingly the most popular blade shape are Colorado, but Indiana, Willow, Chopper and Hatchet designs are also effective. This is exactly why a serious blade fisherman has such a huge assortment of blades that range widely in size, shape, plating option and of course highlight color. The options are literally limitless.
A harness intended to be fished with a bottom bouncer should be from 30 to 60 inches in length. When I tie my own I start with 72 inches of leader material and the finished harness ends up being 42 to 48 inches in length.
If the harness is any shorter, it presents the blade and bait a little too close to the bottom bouncer to trigger strikes. If the harness is a little too long, the blade will sink down and contact bottom, leading to more snags than fish.
The Bottom Bouncer
I also have some rather specific requirements of bottom bouncers. Models that feature a bent arm design must be tied onto the line directly using a clinch or other popular knot. I prefer to use models that twist the wire into a small loop for the eye tie attachment. This allows me to rig my rods with a snap and attach the snap to the bottom bouncer. Since I use the same rods to troll bottom bouncers as crankbaits and other lures, this makes it easy to change presentations without having to cut and retie every line.
Bottom bouncers are available in many different sizes. I only carry three sizes including one, two and three ounce models. Bottom bouncer fishing isn’t finesse fishing and it’s not necessary to use precise weights on the bottom bouncer. In fact, it’s better to use a bouncer that’s heavier than necessary, but set to run correctly than to use one too light for the job and set poorly.
I use a one ounce model when fishing in water up to about 15 feet, a two ounce model up to water 25 feet deep and a three ounce model for water up to 40 feet. Rarely is it necessary to fish a bottom bouncer in deeper water than 40 feet.
I commonly use the same trolling rods and line counter reels for bottom bouncer fishing that I also use for other walleye trolling chores. This prevents me from having to carry extra rods and reels dedicated to just one fishing presentation.
In most cases I’m not holding the rod in my hand, but rather setting the bottom bouncer and then putting the rod in a conveniently located holder. If it’s necessary to hand hold a bottom bouncer rod, I prefer to use an eight foot-six inch medium action triggerstick with a baitcasting reel.
This rod and reel combination is light enough to hand hold and long enough to provide a little extra coverage. Regardless of what rod and reel I select for bottom bouncer fishing, all reels are loaded with 12 pound test monofilament. I prefer co-polymer lines that are a little thinner in diameter and have a little less stretch than nylon monofilament.
Setting A Bottom Bouncer Rig
Setting a bottom bouncer and spinner rig is simple, but lots of folks do it wrong. Start by setting the boat speed before setting any lines. To run properly a bottom bouncer needs to be fished at a consistent speed. This is why I always fish bottom bouncers with the wind. Trolling downwind I can control my speed. Trolling into the wind makes it impossible to accurately control boat speed.
Speeds ranging from 1 to 1.5 mph are ideal for spinner fishing. I begin by placing the bottom bouncer in the water and making sure the spinner is trailed out behind and spinning properly. Then I free spool the bottom bouncer until it hits the bottom. At that instant, I put my thumb on the reel spool to prevent line from playing out and troll forward for a few seconds. When the line pulls tight, the bottom bouncer is lifted up off the bottom.
I continue by free spooling the bottom bouncer a second time. The second the bottom bouncer hits bottom, I engage the reel and set the rod in a holder or attach an in-line board.
This simple line setting method guarantees that every line is set perfectly and ticking along the bottom as designed to function. If too much line is let out, the bottom bouncer will tip over and drag on the bottom. If not enough line is played out, the bottom bouncer will not maintain frequent contact with bottom.
Kicker Or Electric Motor?
Either a gasoline kicker motor or an electric trolling motor can be used to troll bottom bouncers. I have both methods of boat control on my boat and use them alone or together based on fishing conditions. In calm weather and modest wave conditions, I prefer to use the electric motor. When the wind picks up, the gasoline kicker motor gets the nod.
If the waves get bigger than about three feet, I’ll often use the kicker motor and electric motor at the same time. I use the electric motor in reverse to actually slow down the boat speed, so I can maintain contact with bottom in big seas.
The ideal trolling speed for spinners ranges from 1 to 1.5 mph. Faster speeds tend to make it tough to maintain contact with bottom.
Flat Lines Or Boards?
The bottom bouncer fishes equally well as a flat line straight out the back of the boat or used in combination with in-line planer boards like the popular Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer. When fishing flat lines I like to set one rod perpendicular to the hull and a second straight out the back.
If I’m fishing with a buddy, a six rod set up that presents one line out each side on a in-line board, one line perpendicular to the hull on each side and two lines straight out the back of the boat on either sides of the outboard saturates the water perfectly with fish catching baits.
Water depth and also bottom contours dictate if using in-line planer boards makes sense. If the water depth is less than 15 feet and or the fish are using big flats, in-line boards are a deadly way to fish a bottom bouncer.
When the water depth changes quickly such as when fish are found on sloping contours, it’s almost impossible to fish bottom bouncers on boards effectively. In this situation it’s better to hand hold the rods so constant adjustments can be made to maintain contact with bottom.
Cold Front Considerations
Spinner rigs fished on bottom bouncers will typically out produce any other walleye fishing presentation when a front rolls into town. Still, there are ways to massage a little more production from spinner rigs when fishing in cold front conditions.
I normally fish 4, 5 or 6 size blades. When fishing in cold fronts, I drop down to a smaller No. 3 or No. 2 sized blade. I’ll also slow up from my favorite trolling speed of 1.5 mph to a speed around one mph.
The Importance Of Good Bait
A bottom bouncer and spinner rig is only as effective as the nightcrawler used with them. The biggest and best quality nightcrawlers make a huge difference. I take every effort to select premium crawlers and also to keep them that way by storing them on ice while fishing.
Summing It Up
The always popular bottom bouncer and spinner rig is without question the most versatile of all mainstream walleye fishing presentations. Fished correctly this classic structure presentation will catch walleye in natural lakes, the Great Lakes and even in rivers.
No walleye angler worth his “kicker” would limit himself to just one fishing presentation. That said, if you had to fish just one way, it would be an easy decision to pick the bottom bouncer and spinner.n