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Applying Snag Reduction Therapy to Walleye Fishing

By: Mark Romanack

Crankbaits like this obviously “fishy” Yakima Mag lip can be made to fish more efficiently in snags by removing the belly hook. In most instances when  crankbait snags on bottom it is the belly hook that catches. A pair of split ring pliers is all it takes to remove the treble and fish among debris that would otherwise end up resulting in costly tackle loses.
Mark Romanack

            Who among us hasn’t snagged a valuable lure, lost it and cussed the situation? Snagging is a fact of fishing for critters like walleye that love to hang out near bottom and around cover. In many fishing situations, if you’re not snagging you’re not doing it right.
            Snagging may be a part of the game, but an equal part is developing fishing methods that help reduce snagging. After all, every lost lure is not only money wasted, it also represents fishing opportunity and time lost.
            The people who work the hardest at developing “snag free” fishing methods are those who have the most to lose. Tournament pros and guides are a couple of prime examples of individuals who can’t afford to lose lures, time or fishing opportunities. Every fish matters to these guys and their inventive ways of fishing among heavy cover and potential snags is something every walleye angler can benefit from.
            Jason Mitchell is a walleye guide from the Devils Lake region who commonly finds himself fishing flooded timber by trolling crankbaits. At Devils Lake and a number of other fisheries in the region, rising water levels during the 90’s flooded stands of timber that have since become walleye fishing hot spots. Jason targets the edges of standing timber, but to consistently catch fish requires close quarters fishing in snag ridden waters.
            “Walleye move up and down the edges of the flooded timber like wolf packs,” says Mitchell. “If you stray too far from the timber edges fishing success drops right off. The key is to stick as tight to the timber edge and bottom as possible and that means putting your crankbaits in harms way.”
            Mitchell uses a couple of unique methods to keep his crankbaits near bottom, tight to the timber edges and as snag free as possible. To start with Mitchell favors small shad style crankbaits.
            “Shad baits run with a defined nose down orientation in the water,” says Mitchell. This means that the bill takes most of the abuse when the lure comes in contact with the bottom or wood and also helps to deflect snags.”
            Secondly, Mitchell removes the treble hooks on his lures and replaces the back hook with one that’s two sizes larger. “Using just one hook on the back of a crankbait does a great job of reducing snags,” adds Mitchell. “Because these lures have small factory supplied hooks, I opt to upgrade to a larger thin wire round bend style hook on the back of the bait.”
            Mitchell goes a step further. He rigs up with an unique three way swivel system. His main line is a 20# test fused line with a three-way swivel attached to a six foot leader of 15 pound test fluorocarbon tied to a small snap. A 2-3 inch dropper is added to the three-way swivel with a pencil style weight. Depending on the depth a two or three ounce weight is needed to keep contact with bottom.
            This weight forward style trolling system accomplishes a lot of things. The weight allows a smaller than normal crankbait to be used in fairly deep water. The weight itself also rebounds off brush and wood in the water deflecting the presentation, triggering strikes and significantly reducing snags. The single treble hook helps to reduce snags as well and the 20 pound test super line enables snagged lures to be recovered in most instances. A slick system for trolling among timber, Mitchell says that mid summer to early fall is the best time to apply this unorthodox weighted crankbait presentation.
When fishing spinners in snag ridden areas it often helps to rig them on a three-way swivel set up instead of the traditional bottom bouncer. The three-way can be rigged with a lighter dropper line that allows the weight to be broken off if it snags without losing the spinner itself.
            Bill Ortiz is one of the most successful anglers on the walleye tournament trail and a large part of his success is attributed to his ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions.
            A few years ago while fishing a tournament on Bull Shoals Ortiz was catching fish on crankbaits during practice. “The weather report was for a stiff cold front and I knew the crankbait bite would die,” recalls Ortiz. “On the first day of the tournament I switched to trolling spinners on three way rigs and was able to pull fish out of the flooded timber with amazingly few snags.”
            Ortiz modified his spinner set up to fish in timber by switching to a single No. 1 hook. “I tied up some 48 inch spinner rigs using 10# test monofilament line,” explains Ortiz. “Next I used an eight pound test dropper about two foot long connected to a three ounce sinker. The lighter dropper line allowed me to break off the weight if it hung up in the trees.”
            On the main line Ortiz fished 12# test using a 12 foot soft action dead rod positioned in a rod holder. He also fished using a second rod held in his hand with a similar rig, except that the rod was seven feet long and the weight used was two ounces.
            “The long and soft action dead rod proved to be the most important part of the presentation,” adds Ortiz. “When the sinker made contact with branches, the rod would slowly load up until the pressure eventually popped the weight and trailing spinner over the branch. A lot of the strikes came immediately after the weight and spinner popped loose and started free falling in the branches.”
            Ortiz added, “It took me a while to learn that you were better off not to jerk on the rod when the sinker would catch a branch.”  “Most times if you pulled on the rod, both the weight and spinner would snag. When I left the rod in the rod holder or just held onto the rod as it started loading up, about 90% of the time the weight popped free on its own and the trailing spinner didn’t snag.” 
            Ortiz went on to win the tournament using this unusual but effective means of fishing spinners in wood.
            Aquatic weeds attract walleye, but they can also make for a frustrating experience when it comes to keeping lures working correctly and  debris free.
            “Lots of times when I’m fishing weeds it’s impossible to avoid snagging,” says walleye pro Keith Kavajecz. “For me fishing weeds isn’t so much about avoiding snags, but rather monitoring my presentation and working extra hard to insure my baits are fishing clean as much as possible.”
            For example, Kavajecz suggests using a no stretch fused fishing line  when trolling crankbaits over the tops of weeds or along weed edges. “A no stretch line causes the rod tip to vibrate violently when the crankbait is working,” says Kavajecz. “The second a weed catches on the lure, the lure’s action is tempered and the rod tip telegraphs this by not vibrating as violently. By fishing without boards and watching the rod tips closely, I can tell the instant a lure is fouled.”
            To compensate for not using boards to spread out lines, Kavajecz suggests using longer than normal trolling rods.
            Another option is to fish with boards equipped with after market flag kits. The Off Shore Tackle Tattle Flag kit is a spring loaded flag that is designed to fold down when a fish strikes. This same spring loaded flag mechanism can tip off an angler when weeds or other debris fouls a trailing crankbait, spinner or other lure.
            “Often the Tattle Flag doesn’t fold completely down when the lure is fouled with a small chunk of weed, but rather just tips over an inch or two,” warns Kavajecz. “Set the spring tension on the Tattle Flag to the lightest possible setting and monitor the board closely for signs a lure is fouled.”
            Another trick Kavajecz suggests for keeping weeds away from lures is to place a Speed Bead on the line about four feet ahead of a crankbait. “The Speed Bead simply threads onto the line and is about the size of a cold capsule,” describes Kavajecz. “Once installed, pieces of weeds that would slide down the line and eventually foul the lure are stopped by the bead.”
            Kavajecz had one more piece of advice. “Tread lightly in regards to modifying your lures to make them weedless,” warns Kavajecz. “In most cases weedless hooks and weed guards designed to keep hooks clean make it more difficult to actually hook walleye. It’s best to fish traditional lures and rigs and simply work harder at monitoring them.”
            It might be impossible to avoid snagging completely, but thankfully there are some inventive ways to keep annoying hang ups to a minimum. Avoiding snag-ridden areas isn’t the answer to catching more walleye. The answer is to work a little harder, fish a little smarter and cuss a lot less.