A “Go To” Presentation For Great Lakes Walleye Trolling…
May is a rare month for those who enjoy Great Lakes walleye fishing. Rare because a wealth of fishing presentations routinely produce great fishing rewards during the 5th month of the year. The big three of walleye trolling — spinners, crankbaits and spoons — are all great ways to fill a limit from May Day to Memorial Day.
Spinners are perhaps the most popular approach, crankbaits kick butt all month long, but it’s the trolling spoon that really comes on strong when the first big outdoor holiday of the year rolls around. By late May water temperatures on most Great Lakes fisheries are creeping into the 60s and the stage is set for some serious power trolling opportunities.
Of the three common lure groups used by walleye trollers, spoons are routinely trolled at the fastest average speeds. An average speed of 2.0 mph is on the slow slide for most spoon trollers. A faster clip of 2.5, 3.0 or even 3.5 mph tends to cover more water, reduces non-target catches and puts more walleye in the box.
Some of the fundamentals that add up to spoon trolling success are small and others are more profound. The simple, but essential ball bearing swivel is a small accessory with a profound purpose. Spoons simply don’t achieve their maximum wobble, flash and action without the benefit of a high quality ball bearing swivel. Bargain priced brass snap swivels, are tempting but a poor choice compared to using a brand name ball bearing swivel. The cost of these swivels is more than triple that of ordinary brass models. The high cost of ball bearing swivels is justified by the superior action they allow spoons to achieve. Select a swivel with a round snap and ones rated for 15 to 20 pound break strength for walleye trolling.
Both monofilament line and super braids can be used as main line for trolling spoons. A super braid with a 30 to 40 pound test break strength features an 8 to 10 pound test diameter. Because braids are thinner in diameter they allow diving devices to achieve deeper depths.
Braided line must be used in combination with special purpose line clips like the Off Shore Tackle Snapper which are designed to grip and hold the slippery surface of super braids. Some anglers also use an ordinary rubber band half hitched over the fishing line and attach the planer board to the rubber band.
Monofilament is an excellent choice for spoon trolling and 10-12 pound test is a good choice. Manufacturer standards vary for break strength, but most lines that are about .013 in diameter have the right mix of strength and stretch.
A Word On Spoons
Spoons designed for walleye trolling are on the small side compared to other trolling spoons. Because a spoon actually looks bigger in the water than it is, a smaller profile lure is required to target walleye.
The most common forage minnow found in most Great Lakes waters is the emerald shiner. This slender and silvery minnow grows to about three inches long, making it the perfect forage for hungry walleye.
Small spoons like the Wolverine Tackle Jr. Streak, Michigan Stinger Scorpion, Yeck Y-11 Mini-Walleye and Dream Weaver WD Spoon are perfectly matched for Great Lakes trolling applications. All of these lures are produced in a wide range of popular colors and plating finishes.
All spoons require the use of a diving device to help them achieve target depth. These products fall into several categories including floating divers, disk divers and sinking divers.
Two popular products fall into the floating diver category. The Luhr Jensen Jet Diver and the Walker TripZ Diver are similar in design and function. Both divers float at rest and dive like a crankbait when trolled. A six foot leader is attached to the back of the diver. A ball bearing swivel is added to the terminal end and then the spoon of choice.
Because floating divers are buoyant, they are popular among anglers who commonly fish near bottom. The floating feature allows the boat to be slowed down when a fish is hooked without the remaining lines sinking and potentially snagging bottom.
The Walker TripZ features a trip arm mechanism that allows the diver to release when a fish is hooked, so the angler is only fighting the resistance of the fish and not the diver. Other floating divers do not release when a fish is hooked making for a less enjoyable fight.
A simple tension adjustable trip arm allows the TripZ to be tweaked for trolling speed and line stretch, making them fool proof and easy to use.
Floating divers come in various sizes. For walleye trolling the 20 and 30 sizes are the most popular choices.
Disk divers are mini versions of the popular diving planers used commonly for salmon trolling. Luhr Jensen makes one of these divers called the Mini-Dipsy. Other brands include the Walker Deeper Diver and the Big Jon Mini-Disk.
These divers come in a few different sizes, but all are small and ideally suited to walleye trolling. Collectively these pint sized disk divers are unique in that they are easy to use, affordable, effective and can be fished at a wide range of trolling speeds.
Each of these products function in a similar manner in that they achieve their depth by virtue of water being forced over the face of the diving plane. Because mini-disks sink, they are slightly speed dependent. At normal trolling speeds any change in depth is negligible. At slow speeds mini-disks will sink and run slightly deeper than at normal trolling speeds. This is of minor consequence in most open water trolling situations.
Of the popular mini-disks on the market, the Walker Deeper Diver is the only one with a trip arm mechanism that functions the same as the full sized divers. When the trip arm is set the device dives. When the trip arm is released, the diver no longer dives and the angler feels less resistance while fighting the fish. The 45mm model is the ideal size for walleye trolling.
Mini-disks feature a counter balance weight that can be set so the diver dives straight down or angling out to the left or right of the boat. Because these devices are small their outward planing ability is very limited. it’s best to set these devices to dive straight down and use a planer board to gain outward lure coverage.
Like floating divers, mini-disks require adding a leader to the back to accept the trolling spoon.
A third category of divers is the most unique. The new Tadpole Diver from Off Shore Tackle is named because it resembles a Tadpole with a big head and a skinny tail. Like the other divers described above, the Tadpole requires a leader be added to the back of the device.
This diver is made of zinc and achieves depth both from its weight and the diving surface at the head of the device. A simple round snap attaches to the tow arm of the Tadpole and controls the diving ability of the device. When the snap is in the corner of the tow arm, the device dives like a crankbait. When a fish is hooked, resistance causes the snap to slide to the forward position, causing the Tadpole to function like an in-line weight, negating the diving effect.
The function of the Tadpole is flawless and so simple anyone can master the use of it. At normal trolling speeds (2-3 mph) the Tadpole is only slightly speed dependent, making it a good option for spoon trolling situations that target suspended fish.
The leader material used to connect the diver to the spoon can be monofilament or better yet fluorocarbon line. Fluorocarbon is not only nearly invisible in water, it’s tougher than monofilament line. For walleye trolling 15# test leader material is a good choice.
Most divers come with a swivel mounted to the back of the diver. One end of the leader is tied to this swivel and a ball bearing swivel tied to the terminal end.
Either in-line boards or dual ski planer mast systems can be used to troll spoons in combination with floating divers, mini-disks or Tadpole Divers. If only two or three lines are to be fished per side, in-line boards like the popular Side-Planer by Off Shore Tackle is an excellent option. For larger boats that are likely to troll using four or five lines per side, the traditional planer board mast system is a better option.
Because spoon trolling is practiced at a faster average speed than spinners or even crankbaits, there is rarely a need for a kicker motor. The primary outboard on most boats will do nicely for the trolling chores.
In late May water temperatures rise to the point that speed trolling and spoons become a “go to” presentation for Great Lakes walleye trolling. This bite lasts all summer long and well into the fall until water temperatures start to dip.
In addition to covering more water than other trolling methods, spoon trolling helps to reduce the number of non-target fish being caught. Overly abundant species including cats, sheepshead, white bass and white perch can literally take the fun out of Great Lakes walleye trolling. While it’s impossible to completely eliminate catching these less desirable species, spoon trolling does the best job of targeting exclusively walleye.