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Alternative Walleye Trolling Tactics

By Mark Romanack

Captain Jake Romanack captains on both Lake Erie and
Lake Michigan. On Lake Erie his “go to” method for trolling
 up walleye are small spoons like the Wolverine Jr. Streak
fished on a floating Lurk Rundown Diver.
Most of the time when anglers are talking walleye trolling, they are talking crankbaits. The crankbait is king at certain times of year. Early in the spring and again later in the fall the diving minnow crankbait bite dominates the fishing scene on many walleye fisheries. Outside of these time frames, some alternative trolling methods are often required to get the job done.

Across the Great Lakes region, spoon trolling for walleye has come of age. In part this phenomena makes sense because the smaller spoons designed for walleye trolling do a nice job of matching the hatch and imitating the emerald shiner that is so abundant in places like Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, Green Bay, Bay of Quinte and other fisheries.

Spoon trolling also makes sense because this fast paced presentation covers lots of water and enables anglers to literally flood the water column with lures. Spoon trolling speeds start at about 2.0 MPH, but often a faster 3.0-3.5 MPH approach produces the most fish. Faster trolling speeds not only cover more water and contacts more fish, moving a little quicker also helps to reduce the amount of non-target catches from species like white bass, white perch and drum.

Not every spoon is a walleye spoon. Because spoons have a lot of wobble, flash and action, they look bigger in the water than they really are.                 A modest sized trolling spoon in the 2-3 inch range performs best on walleye. The Wolverine Tackle Jr. Streak, is an example of a spoon designed especially for open water walleye trolling.

Larger spoons designed for trout and salmon trolling don’t seem to trigger the number of walleye bites as smaller spoons. Weighted style casting spoons also don’t seem to have the added action needed to trigger walleye bites.

This Lurk Disco Diver in the 45mm size is ideal
 for spoon trolling Great Lakes walleye.
Because trolling spoons designed for walleye are fairly small and lightweight, trolling them at depth requires the help of a diving planer. A number of products do an excellent job of presenting spoons at the depths walleye frequent. The list includes floating divers like the Luhr Jensen Jet Diver,, Lurk’s Rundown Diver and Disco Diver, mini disks including the Mini-Dipsy and Big Jon Mini Disk. and sinking divers like the Off Shore Tackle Tadpole,

All of these divers can be used to reach the depths walleye frequent. Each of these trolling devices also requires that the angler rigs a leader connecting the diver to the spoon. A six foot leader of 15# test fluorocarbon line is the ideal leader material. Vicious, produces outstanding fluorocarbon lines for both leader and main line fishing applications.

At the terminal end a small ball bearing swivel is also mandatory hardware for maximizing the action of small spoons. Brass swivels simply don’t provide small spoons enough freedom of movement to generate strikes on a regular basis.

Small divers and spoons like those pictured here can be fished on a
 soil/mast system or with in-line boards like the popular
 Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer shown here.
Diving planers do a great job of getting the spoon to depth, but a planer board is required to present these lures out to the side of the boat. Both in-line boards and mast system planer board set ups can be used effectively to present diving planer/spoon combinations.

Ultimately it’s the size of the boat and number of lines being fished that determines if in-line boards or a mast system makes more sense. For fishing one, two or even three lines per side, the in-line board, is an effective and inexpensive way to troll spoon rigs. With in-line boards, the board is attached to the line after the lead length is set. When a fish strikes and becomes hooked, the in-line board telegraphs the strike by pulling backwards in the water.

The angler in turn reels in both the fish and in-line board together until the board comes close enough to the boat to be removed from the line. At that point the angler continues fighting the fish to net.

Mast systems,  allow anglers to fish four, five or as many as six lines per side of the boat. This option is most commonly seen on larger charter style boats, but any fishing boat can be rigged with a mast style planer board system.

With a mast system each fishing line connects to a tether that runs from the mast to the planer board. Pinch pad style line releases are attached to the fishing line and in turn clipped over the tether. When line is played off the fishing reel, the line release slides down the tether enabling the angler to stagger several lines per side of the boat.

Trolling with a mast system makes it possible to saturate the water column with lures and often amounts to a fish harvesting system!

No matter what type of diving planer or planer board option an angler chooses, trolling for walleye requires the use of a line counter reel. A line counter reel,  is the only practical way of monitoring lead lengths and then duplicating the leads that produce fish.

Reels in the 20 or 30 size are the most practical choices for walleye applications. Smaller reels don’t have adequate line capacity and larger reels are unnecessarily large and heavy for walleye trolling.

Like all fishing reels, line counter style trolling reels are available in various models with different features and price point options. For the casual troller reels in the $40-$50 range are adequate. For anglers that fish a lot, a reel in the $80-$120 range makes more sense. Charter captains and professional anglers often opt for professional grade line counter reels that cost up to $200.00 each.

Spoon trolling is an excellent alternative to crankbaits. It’s amazing how well spoons work on Great Lakes walleye and also on other bodies of water where walleye often suspend in the water column. The spoon strategy is simple: Troll fast, fish at multiple depths and fish as many lines as possible.

Don’t forget refinements like using fluorocarbon leaders and ball bearing swivels. Line counter reels are a must as are planer boards. The rest as they say is history.