Cutting Edge Tactics For Catching Walleyes Using
Trolling with a spinner/crawler rig taken to depth with a bottom bouncer is perhaps the most consistently productive walleye fishing technique out there on many bodies of water, especially the Great Lakes. When it comes to spring and summer walleye fishing on much of Saginaw Bay and Lake Erie, bottom bouncer presentations are a top choice accounting for more walleyes in the box than any other technique that I know of. I have been perfecting the art of big water, bottom bouncer fishing for walleyes over decades and through trial and error along with lots of experimentation, I have developed some unique techniques that savvy anglers are now using to really up their walleyes catch big time. There is certainly a lot of poor advice out about how to fish with bottom bouncers, mostly from folks that just haven’t experimented enough to really refine their techniques. Read on for some cutting edge tactics for catching boatloads of walleyes using bottom bouncers.
Earlier this year, we enjoyed a robust crankbait bite taking some very nice sized walleyes for weeks in April out of Au Gres on Saginaw Bay. Like usual though, one day that bite just died a quick death and the fish just disappeared from the clear waters in the shallows where we had been catching them. This happens every spring there and the walleyes relocate where they scatter out over deep water. On April 24, 2015, the crankbait bite died and luckily I was not on a charter, but rather I was just out fun fishing and scouting with a friend of mine Bill Mauro. We had trolled with cranks for over two hours with only one hit, so we decided to change over to spinner/crawler rigs pulled behind bottom bouncers over deeper water. We deployed six lines: three using half crawlers and three with whole night crawlers. The only reason I used whole crawlers on one side of the spread was because Bill was skeptical of using half crawlers, which I use regularly with very consistent success.
The wind was blowing from the northeast, so we trolled from deeper water toward shallower water starting out 35 feet and heading towards the Au Gres River mouth. We didn’t get any hits until we got to 25′ of water and then we started getting pretty good action, but only the half crawlers were getting bit. Our bites stopped when we came close to 20′, so we then pulled lines, ran back up wind and set up for a second, more targeted trolling pass over the best area and with a complete spread of half crawlers then too as Bill became a half crawler believer by then. We continued to catch fish, but a problem cropped up as Bill’s boots were literally disintegrating right off his feet. Neither of had ever seen anything like it before. One minute he was wearing perfectly fine boots and an hour later he was standing there practically barefoot. It was cold that day too with temperatures in the 30s, so his feet were not doing so great. He was making a mess out of my boat too with his boot parts, so we decided to end our fishing adventure a couple fish short of our limits, but we had amassed a good enough catch though to win a bet with another fishermen friend of ours who was out in his boat and stuck with the crank bait program with little to show for it.
The Bottom Bouncers
Not all bottom bouncers are created equal. I learned that lesson years ago when I was fishing in a big walleye tournament and bought some bottom bouncers at the local bait shop. With a big fish on the line, the walleye suddenly broke off and I was really POed to find out that it was the wire of the bottom bouncer that had failed. It cost us thousands of dollars in that tournament, so from then on, I only use the best quality bottom bouncers available. My favorite bottom bouncers are made by Walleyes Choice manufactured just outside Gladstone, MI (walleyeschoice.com). They are made with .040 gauge, stainless wire and premium components and I have never had one fail. I prefer the plain lead color ones.
I have not used a bottom bouncer that is less than 3 ounces in many years. In fact, I use 3 ouncers to target walleyes from 8 to 40 feet deep. Any deeper than 40′, and I use 5 ounce bouncers and if I’m really looking to get a spinner down deep, then I use 6 ounce models. A lot of self proclaimed walleye experts will tell you to use much lighter bottom bouncers, but if you try heavier ones, you will never go back. I have done side by side testing many times where lighter bottom bouncers are fished next to heavy (minimum 3 ounces) bouncers with the same spinner rigs on each. The heavy bottom bouncers never fail to produce a lot more bites. My theory is that the heavy bottom bouncers kick up silt and tidbits of food that turns the walleyes on. But even when I’m fishing for suspended fish, those heavy bottom bouncers sometimes will out produce similar rigs with fish-weights, Snap Weights or other measures to bring a spinner rig to depth. Those heavy bottom bouncers must also then create some kind of disturbance or vibrations in the water that walleyes are drawn to. I can also troll faster while still maintaining bottom contact with heavy bottom bouncers, which allows me to show my lures to more fish. What ever the reasons, you will never see me with light bottom bouncers on any of my rods because I’m in the busness of catching lots of fish and those light bottom bouncers are a handicap for that effort.
The Spinner/Crawler Rig
I tie all my own spinner/crawler rigs and I am extremely fussy about them as I have learned through the process of elimination what works best. I start off with 25 pound test, fluorocarbon, leader material, which is the heaviest line that will fit through the clevises I use. Walleyes are not line shy, so the havier and tougher the leader material the better. My bottom bouncer harnesses are about five feet long. I first tie on a #4, Eagle Claw, bait holder hook with a snell knot leaving a tag end of about 5″. On that tag end I tie on another #4 bait holder hook using a half-blood knot spaced about 3″ from the front hook. Next I string on a variety of beads and rig floats and then I slide on a white, quick change clevis that I buy from Cabela’s. The spinner blade goes on the clevis and I finish off the rig by tying a loop knot, which is attached to the snap-swivel on the bottom bouncer.
I only use #3 Colorado Blades on my bottom bouncer, spinner/crawler rigs. Those blades spin great at both slow and fast trolling speeds and they seem to work better on bottom bouncers than any other size. Often times I troll at a fairly brisk speed and the small, Colorado blades really perform better than big ones at faster speeds. Bigger blades start to wobble and tangle at fast speeds, whereas the small ones just spin like crazy and continue to draw in fish.
My main line is clear, 15 pound test, Cabela’s, Salt Striker co-polymer, which I’ve used for many years and it is both very thin and tough stuff. I string a 1″ length of thin, carburetor hose in front of a snap swivel to act like a shock absorber to prevent rod damage from people that don’t stop reeling when the bottom bouncer reaches the rod tip. The snap swivel is attached to the loop on the front of the bottom bouncer.
Two of my favorite spinner crawler rigs are fire/tiger and red/silver. Fire/tiger consists of orange beads, a chartreuse rig float and chartreuse with orange blade. Red/silver has red beads and a plain, silver blade. These rigs have accounted for literally thousands of walleyes at Saginaw Bay over the years on my boat.
The Trolling Spread
I typically troll with eight rods: Six off in-line planer boards and two off the gunnels (flat lines). With heavy bottom bouncers I have found that Church Tackle Walleye Boards perform very well. Some planer boards will simply not pull those heavy weights very far out to the sides of the boat the way Walleye Boards will. I also like to space the boards out when running bottom bouncers as it seems like when they are too close together, you will get fewer bites. I prefer a spacing of about 50′ for best results. I have some friends of mine that like to run a lot of lines, but when they space them to close together, those extra lines will actually reduce the overall number of hookups compared to a well spaced out, simpler spread.
If I am unsure about how far to set the bottom bouncer rigs back behind the boards for a given depth and trolling speed, then that is where those flat lines are very important. After setting my trolling speed and course on my auto pilot, I will let out a metered amount of line with my line counter reels while holding the rod and I will feel for the bottom bouncer to be just ticking on the bottom. I then subtract the estimated distance of the line from the tip of the rod to the water’s surface and presto, I have my setback number for my planer board rigs. If the depth increases, rather than letting out more line on all my rigs, I may just slow down a little bit all the while monitoring the bottom contact once in a while on my flatlines. Conversely, if I troll into shallower water, I can just speed up a little to keep things ticking on bottom nicely.
For Suspended Walleyes
Last year my clients caught hundreds of suspended walleyes on Saginaw Bay with spinner/crawler rigs taken to depth with bottom bouncers. One area we fished during July and August was 15 to 20 feet deep with weeds on the bottom, so running the lures to deep just got them fouled. By setting them about 10′ off bottom though, the walleyes really went nuts over them. When we (and friends in their boats) tried using other methods to take the spinners down, they got far fewer hits than the bottom bouncer rigs did. Also, those fish would sometimes just turn off at mid day moving down to the bottom and deeper. When that happened, we just slid out a little deeper and dropped the bottom bouncers down to the fish and continued catching walleyes with no muss, fuss or delays from re-rigging.
Bottom bouncer rigs are often being drug over bottom debris that can dull hooks. Even catching a lot of fish will dull and bend hooks. Extremely sharp hooks are critical to holding onto fish with spinner rigs. Every day I re-sharpen my spinner/crawler rig hooks and I don’t put a rig back into storage until it is sharpened. I use a hook sharpening stone to touch up hooks and keep it right in my pocket at all times to perform touchups while fishing.
I mentioned earlier that I use half crawlers a lot. Day in and day out they will simply catch more fish that whole crawlers. I string the tip of the nose onto the front hook and insert the back hook right though the collar of the crawler. Then I break the crawler off about one inch behind the collar and use the tail end of the crawler on the next bait-up with similar hook spacing. If the night crawler is too small to come up with two decent sized, useable halves, I just pinch off the tail and toss it out. I’m not sure why walleyes prefer half crawlers, but they certainly do. I’m not even sure why they go after crawlers in the first place because there are certainly no naturally occurring night crawlers swimming around in the open waters of the Great Lakes.
I do know that for some odd
reason, walleyes just love night crawlers though. I suspect that
the broken crawler gives off more scent than a whole one. The shorter length of the bait certainly will decrease short strikes upping the bite to catch ratio significantly. Also, if a crawler gets bit and it is a little torn up, but can still be threaded back onto the hook, then reuse it as that torn up one will draw walleyes like a magnet. Besides, using half crawlers
will result in a great reduction in
live bait expenses, which is always
a good thing for anglers on a
The author offers fishing charters specializing in Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay walleyes. Contact Mike Veine at www.trophyspecialists.com or 734-475-9146.