Fishing & Boating News

Troll, troll, troll your boat? Contour crankbaiting for walleyes.

by: Babe Winkelman, Babe Winkelman Productions

(Jun. 18, 2010 - ) While I've been out on the road filming fishing shows, the guys in the office have gone trolling crazy for walleyes after work. The fishing reports have been great, so I must admit that I'm a little jealous that I'm not back in Brainerd, MN joining them. "Fun fishing" and "film fishing" are two different animals, and fun fishing is, well, just more fun. There's no pressure, no cameras, no deadlines... just plain fun.

So since I can't get in a boat back home at the moment, I thought I'd write about how the guys are getting their early-summer walleyes by trolling weedline edges. First, let's talk about what a weedline is. In any lake, aquatic vegetation will have what's commonly referred to as a "weedline depth." A typical weed depth in freshwater lakes is 15 feet. That's the depth where available sunlight gets filtered so much that it can no longer provide plants with the light they need for survival. Naturally, water clarity affects weedline depth considerably. A stained-water lake might have a weedline depth of 7-8 feet, whereas a crystal clear lake that allows deeper light penetration can support 20+ foot weedline depths.

The outside edge of a weedline represents a transition point between cover and open water, and fish relate to this "edge" like clockwork. One reason is because it's an ambush area. Predator fish can hide in the weedy cover and quickly emerge to strike an unsuspecting baitfish (or lure) as it cruises past the edge. The outside edge, particularly if it relates to a steep drop-off, also gives fish an easy escape route to deep water if they're pressured or if weather conditions change dramatically.

When investigating a particular weedline for walleyes, the types of vegetation can definitely have a bearing on whether the spot will be productive. A lilly-pad edge, for example, will be a poor walleye spot since pads typically grow in shallow muddier environments. You'll catch a lot of bass and bluegills there, but few walleyes. Edges of reeds (pencil grass) can be good since the bottom is typically hard/sandy. For daytime walleyes, it's often necessary for the reed edge to be close to a steep break. But for my money, the vegetation species that's #1 for weedline walleyes is what we call "cabbage." This vertical, broad-leafed aquatic plant provides the ideal cover for walleyes and all species, and under the right depth conditions it can produce a crisp, definitive outside edge for effective trolling.

After locating a fishy-looking weedline, use available lake maps or your Lowrance GPS [with a good lake map chip] to identify key points and turns on that weedline. These spots will usually concentrate the best numbers of fish. The next step is to choose a crankbait, and depth with dictate which bait to use. If the boat will be traveling at a depth of, say, 12 feet - then you want a crankbait that will dive anywhere between 8-10 feet to avoid digging into the bottom and hanging up. Lure manufacturers will tell you the dive depth of their baits [either on the package or on the bait itself]. This is a "general" dive depth, which will vary depending on the trolling speed and choice in fishing line. I highly recommend thin, braided line for crankbait trolling. It cuts through the water better than thicker monofilament and delivers unmatched sensitivity. The sensitivity is important for two reasons. Obviously, it helps you detect strikes. And furthermore, it tells you if your bait is running properly. You can feel the vibration of the crankbait. If you pick up even a small weed, you'll feel that the lure isn't swimming correctly. Since braided line is no-stretch, you can give the bait a good "rip" and usually shake those clinging weeds loose.

When you've determined a suitable make/model of crankbait for running at the right depth, you'll have to use good old-fashioned trial and error to determine the ideal troll speed and lure colors that trigger strikes on that particular day. A good starting point is a basic crankbait that's silver & black, running at a speeds between 1.5-2.5 MPH.

Anglers will argue forever about how far behind the boat to run the bait. Some guys use line-counter reels to put the crankbait out at precise, long distances. Others give the bait a flip-cast and basically run it just beyond the prop wash. Again, trial and error will dictate the optimum distance. As an easy rule-of-thumb: make a good long cast behind the boat and free-spool out another cast's distance of line.

Contour trolling the weedline edge takes a lot of focus. Your eyes will be on your depth finder/GPS more than they'll be on the water ahead, because you're literally following the undulating "contour" of that depth. You want to keep your boat as close to that weedline edge as possible - without running in too shallow and not veering out into deeper, less productive water. Be mindful of the distance your bait is running behind the boat - to keep it in the strike zone. For example, if you're coming up to a pronounced weedline point, when the boat is at the tip of that point [which is a productive spot], the bait is still way back there. If you turn the boat around the tip of the point too quickly, the crankbait will end up cutting diagonally through the weedy middle of the point instead of rounding around the tip. So hold your line in boat direction until the lure gets to the point, then turn the boat and allow that bait to sweep around through the most productive water.

Once you get the hang of contour trolling, it becomes second nature. And when the crankbait bite is on, like it is on my home waters right now, it's one of the most enjoyable and rewarding ways to hook into a lot of walleyes.

Good Fishing!

Babe Winkelman is a nationally-known outdoorsman who has taught people to fish and hunt for nearly 30 years. Watch his award-winning "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets" television shows on Versus (VS.), Fox Sports Net, Wild TV and many local networks. Visit the winklelman for air times where you live.