Trolling or drifting live bait is a technique that walleye fisherman have used forever, and I believe it will remain one of the main stays of walleye fishing forever. Even though equipment has changed over the past decade, the idea remains the same -put fresh bait in front of a fish and it should take a bite.
Trolling live bait with the various techniques that are available, is simply a matter of taking a good thing and spreading it around. Live bait is such a great producer, it only makes sense that when you increase the water that you cover, you will also increase the exposure to active fish.
The first and simplest method is to use what is called a Roach or Lindy rig. You have a hook, some length of line, a swivel, a stop and a bead then finally your sinker. What has changed is the introduction of new advanced hooks and snells. Remember the hook is your first connection point to the fish and if it fails so will you. Spending a little extra on quality hooks like VMC's new colored Walleye Wide Gap hook will help to assure success. I am a believer that colored hooks do work, I very seldom, if ever, fish with a Roach type rig without colored hooks. VMC has come out with a new pre-tied snell that includes VMC Walleye Wide Gap hook and a fluorocarbon leader. The characteristics of fluorocarbon make it nearly invisible in the water along with it's abrasion resistance this makes it the ultimate line to present live bait. When live-bait fishing I would not be without them.
When fishing Roach or Lindy rigs I talk about a stop and a bead above my swivel. What this allows me to do is change the length of my snell without re-tying my line. The stops that I like to use are Hi-Vis bobber stops. You slide them onto your main line before tying to the swivel. You simply pull both ends of the bobber stop tightening it onto your line and cut the tag ends off. In a soft sand or mud bottom I like to use a long snell, say 8 to 12 feet. When in rocks because of the snags I will shorten my lead to around 5 feet.
When it comes to the main line for rigging, I almost always have 6-pound Berkley Pro-Select premium line in Phantom Green. On occasion I may step up to 8-pound in real snag infested waters. When using this light of a line, it is critical to be changing line often. One nick in the line can cause you to lose the fish of a lifetime. If you fish a lot, as I do, or if you are just tired of the work required to change line on your reels, there is good news. Berkley has come out with a new line winding station. It is called the Cyclone Spool Station and is designed to work a lifetime. Once you start using it, you will never again struggle to make sure you get the line on in the correct direction, or skip putting line on because you don't want to deal with the hassle. The Cyclone Spool Station makes spooling easy and fast and is well worth the investment.
For equipment when rigging, I use a very soft tipped fast action spinning rod. I use Fenwicks HMG Graphite rods. For windy days I use Fenwicks G959L rod and for calm days I opt for Fenwicks GFS 70. I like the shorter rod on windy days because the wind has less affect on the rod. For a reel I use Abu Garcia's Tournament Spinning reels. I like the balance of the T500F with shorter rod and the T100F for the longer rod. Remember when live bait fishing the bite is going to be very subtle, a Quality Fenwick rod will help to make the difference. As far as the technique for fishing a Roach/Lindy rig it's pretty simple. You choose a sinker of the correct weight for the depth of water you are in. A general rule would be 1/8-ounce in 10 feet for less, 1/4-ounce in 10 to 20 feet, and a 3/8-ounce to 3/4-ounce in 20 feet of water or deeper. Most fishermen will troll with the boat moving the bait. They will have the bail on the reel open, and if a bite is detected they will feed line. Once they feel that the fish has the taken the bait, they will tighten the line and set the hook.
I have a little different way of doing things. First off, I hate to feed line. As soon as you do, you have lost control of the situation. You have no idea what is going on with your bait once you release your line. I will usually drop my rod tip to the bite and just pull back and start reeling. Mike McClelland taught me many years ago that you can pull all you want and it makes no difference. When your hook is going to get set into the fish is when he tries to get rid of it. The analogy is this -if I hold a hook and let 30 feet of line out and have someone pull on the rod, I will not get hooked. As soon as I try to let go of the hook is when I would be in trouble.
All of us have felt the head shake of a fish as it is being brought in. The walleye is flaring its gills and shaking its head back and forth. This forces water through the gills and washes anything undesirable out of its mouth. It is when you feel this head shake that you are going to get the hook into the fish. By just pulling back and reeling at a steady pace until you feel this head shake, you will increase your percentage of hookups.
Bottom bouncers and spinners are one of the most productive methods used in walleye angling. It allows you to move at faster speeds, up to 3 mph and cover more ground. This allows you to get your bait in front of more fish which increases your odds. This method is one that is pretty simple and very effective. You tie on a 1- to 3-ounce Northland Rock Runner bottom bouncer attach a Northland spinner, drop it to the bottom and hang on. This method is used on every body of water that I have fished and more times than not will come into play during a tournament. A couple of tips will help you to be more productive using this rig. Much the same as with the Roach/Lindy rig, shorter snells in rocky structure will help you to stay out of the snags. Also reading your electronics and looking for fish first will help.
One day while pre-fishing for a Cabela's NAWA tournament in North Dakota, Mike McClelland and I were fishing together. I was running my Pinpoint trolling motor from the front of the boat and was watching fish on my Pinpoint trolling motor. Mike was fishing in the back of the boat and was putting a clinic on for me. Not being bashful, I started to watch him work so I could see what was going on. What I noticed was that when Mike saw fish 2- to 3-feet off of the bottom, he was lifting his bottom bouncer up to the fish. Now I was always taught to fish bottom bouncers on the bottom. Once I started to do the same thing, my success rate went up.
For equipment when fishing bottom bouncers, I use a 7' medium action rod like the Fenwick GTC845. This gives me the backbone I need to set the hook and the feel that I need to detect the fish. I couple that rod with an ABU Garcia Eminence EC300C. This reel is actually a Bass reel but works great for Walleye fishing. It has a flipping button on it. What this allows a person to do is let line out release the button and not have to re-engage the reel. This saves a lot of time during a long day of going up and down break lines looking for fish. I couple this with 8 to 10-pound test Berkley XT line.
Once again speed is something that needs to be constantly changed to find out what the fish want. Too many times we try and force the fish to bite. Listen to what they have to say, and your success will increase. One point that I believe people miss out on is being versatile and willing to change. Most people change when things are not working. While this is a good time to change, the more important time is when things are going well. You will learn much more about what works and works better when the fish are biting. You may be able to upgrade from catching 2- to 3-pound walleye into the 4- to 6-pound class with a simple change. Next time the fish are biting try changing to see what happens.
Here is a little trick that I figured out in states that allow fishing with two lines. Many times you will see fisherman with a rod out on one side of the boat and hanging onto one on the other side. All day long they are looking to the other side to see if a fish has hit the rod in the rod holder. We call this rod the dead rod. After years of getting a sore neck and back from looking over my shoulder, and missing way to many fish to count, I have refined the process. Purchase a long, 9- to 10-foot rod, and put that rod in a rod holder on the same side of the boat that you want to fish. With your shorter rod, you fish inside of the dead rod. This allows you to watch both rods at the same time, and the longer rod will keep you from getting snagged up with the rod you are holding. This is also where the two Cabela's 360HT rod holders on each side in the front come in handy.
Some of these techniques that I have presented have been learned from other pros; however, many were garnered the hard way, from countless hours on the water, trying different approaches and thinking about how to improve upon my ability to catch walleye. The more time you spend on the water, the more opportunity you will have to try some of them. When you have a day to go fishing, you won't remember all of the things that I've suggested, but I hope that you remember one of the most important aspects of presenting live bait. Trying something different is the key to broadening your knowledge about walleye. When you find the right combination, make a mental note of the conditions that existed when you triggered the bite, and eventually you will be able to draw from that database of knowledge and be able to put fish in the boat quicker and more consistently.
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