Fourth Quarter Fishing: The End of November AndThe Beginning of December…
In Michigan and Ohio the fourth quarter of walleye fishing plays out in the last couple weeks of November and the first 10 days of December. Beyond that point boat launches start to ice up and open water fun for another year is all but history.
Late in the open water season it’s the weather that dictates fishing success. On those days the wind is calm to lightly variable, slow trolling for walleye can be amazingly productive. The key to dialing in these fourth quarter fish is understanding how to dial down the action on popular crankbaits.
Crankbait Action Matters
Among anglers who troll late in the season, most will agree that a rather small selection of crankbaits produce the most bites. Among this “short list” of crankbaits are legendary lures like the Reef Runner 800 series, Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick and the Rapala Deep Husky Jerk series. Call them the “big three” of walleye trolling crankbaits, each of these lures feature proven fish catching actions that seem to excel when the water is cool both during the spring and fall of the year.
My experience with these baits suggests they fish best when the water temperature is from about 45 to 55 degrees. Because these lures are all “lipped divers” they generate a rather lively action. At the water temperature ranges outlined above that lively action does a marvelous job of triggering strikes from walleye.
I get the most from these baits by slightly speeding up or slowing down my trolling speed to achieve subtle, but important differences in lure action. At trolling speeds ranging from 1.7 to 2.1 MPH the trolling action on these plugs is rather lively. By simply slowing down to 1.6 to 1.2 MPH each of these lures takes on a whole new and much more subtle wobble.
Often subtle changes in trolling speed as minute as 1/10th of a MPH can make the difference in both action and the number of bites. Making speed adjustments this refined is a job for an auto-pilot style electric motor. Gasoline kicker motors, especially four stroke models, struggle to hold a consistent idle speed at slow speeds and in cold water fishing conditions.
The MotorGuide Xi5 is the new kid on the block when it comes to auto-pilot electric motors. Available in 12, 24 and 36-volt models, the 24 and 36-volt models featuring the 60-inch shaft are the best choices for deep V open water trolling boats.
Ultra-Slow Trolling Baits
When water temperatures start to approach that threshold of 45 degrees, it’s time to add into the trolling mix a few other crankbaits that have even more subtle actions than the big three of walleye trolling already mentioned. The crankbaits that have the most subdued action are stickbaits or what a lot of anglers refer to as jerk baits. Not all of these baits are proven walleye slayers, but the list of stickbaits that produce walleye routinely in cold water is much longer than many anglers realize.
Noteworthy baits in the “stickbait” category include the Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue and Perfect 10, Rapala Husky Jerk 12 and 14, Rapala Original Floating 13 and 18 Minnow, the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow and Pins Minnow Floating series, Reef Runner RipStick 700 series, Bandit Walleye Shallow, Storm Original ThunderStick AJ and Salmo Sting 12.
All of these lures have their days on the water and are well worth investing in for late season trolling chores. Because these lures are shallow diving by their very design, they are best fished in combination with in-line weights, Tadpole Divers and lead core fishing lines.
Getting To Depth
Stickbaits have that magical top to bottom rolling action that seems to trigger strikes from cold water walleye better than just any other lure. The problem with these baits is they dive so shallow, they need a little help in reaching the depths fall walleye are often found favoring.
Three proven methods can be used to get shallow diving lures to depth with the most common being in-line weights like the famous Off Shore Tackle “Snap-Weights” now called the Pro Weight System. What makes “Snap-Weights” so popular is they can be clipped on the line at any point between the lure and the rod tip. Separating the weight from the bait allows the lure to run naturally and the weight to increase the running depth without spooking fish.
A typical set up is to let out the lure 50 feet and then to clip on the Snap-Weight followed by another 50 foot of line. Commonly referred to as the 50/50 rigging method this trolling set up is largely accepted by veteran anglers and works nicely to get shallow diving lures to deeper depths. Depth is increased by adding increasingly larger size Snap-Weights to the line, making it easy to stagger lures in the water column simply by using an assortment of Snap-Weight sizes.
A second and also popular option for reaching depth with stickbaits is incorporating sinking lead core line. A normal lead core rig consists of a 50-foot leader of fluorocarbon line married to three to five colors of 18 to 27-pound test lead core line and finally 100 to 150 yards of monofilament or braided line backing.
Commonly referred to as “segmented lead core” this set up allows the angler to deploy his lure and all the lead core line on the reel. A planer board is placed on the backing line and the whole set up runout to the side of the boat. Using segmented lead core it’s possible to set two or three lines per side of the boat, spreading out lures both horizontally and vertically in the water column.
Lead core is highly speed sensitive and even minor changes in trolling speed can make a huge difference in how deep the lures will fish. For cold water walleye trolling with lead core the most productive speeds tend to be 1.7-1.2 mph.
A third and equally noteworthy option for getting shallow diving lures to depth are the Tadpole Divers also produced by Off Shore Tackle. Tadpole Divers were originally designed to be used as in-line weights rigged about six feet in front of a trailing lure. A growing number of anglers are setting up their Tadpole Divers to fish more like Snap-Weights by placing an OR14 Planer Board Release on the tow arm of the Tadpole and an OR16 Snap-Weight Clip on the back of the Tadpole.
This rigging allows the angler to deploy the stickbait on a longer 25 to 50-foot lead behind the boat, then to attach the Tadpole to the line. A line counter reel is normally employed in this rigging option and the reel zeroed out when the Tadpole is placed on the line. This allows the angler to monitor the amount of trolling lead from the Tadpole to the rod tip, making it easy to dial in specific depths.
The chief advantage of using Tadpole Divers is they reach greater depths with shorter trolling leads than either lead core line or in-line trolling weights.
Colors And Scent
Late in the season when trolling speeds are ultra-slow, it’s even more important to be concerned with details like lure color and lure scent. Because at slow trolling speeds walleye have the luxury of scrutinizing bait longer before making the decision to strike or not, it’s an advantage to have a wider selection of color choices to experiment with. Custom painted baits are rapidly gaining in popularity across the Great Lakes and it’s safe to say that on places like Saginaw Bay and Lake Erie, custom painted bait rule.
Darrell Wood of Hi Tech Custom Painted Baits(www.hitechcustompaintedbaitsllc.net) is one of the most innovative custom lure painters in the region. An avid walleye fisherman himself, Darrell spends copious amounts of time designing and refining color patterns for all the popular crankbaits.
In addition to choosing custom painted baits, a growing number of anglers are using various fishing scents that add a “scent stream” in the water. Some anglers believe that adding scent attracts fish and others feel it masks unnatural odors on their lures. Either way, adding fish scent is a good idea for slow speed, cold water trolling conditions.
Lots of fish scents are on the market. The jury is still out on which of these products produce best, but it’s a safe bet that using scents made with natural fish forages is a home run. Pro-Cure (www.pro-cure.com) is a leader in producing fishing scents made with natural forage fish like smelt, alewives, etc. The Pro-Cure Super Gel products stick great to crankbaits and are made from super concentrated formulas. A two-ounce bottle will last the average angler an entire season.
Summing It Up
The fourth quarter of walleye fishing produces some of the biggest walleye of the year. Fishing is a game best played by putting the odds of success in your favor. The odds of catching a Master Angler or Fish Ohio class walleye in late November and early December is one safe bet.