Fishing & Boating News

High and Slow Amongst the Flows

Lure selection, speed and positon in-the-water-column dictate early-spring walleye results

by: Mitch Eeagan,

Bodybaits and spoons with flat sides, like this Fin-Wing spoon, produce a lot of flash when trolled at slow speeds.
Photo by courtesy of Fin-Wing
Walleye Pro Mark Brumbaugh trolls big water after ice-out. Water temperatures are slower to rise than the air temperatures, so even if it’s warm and sunny, bear in mind that cooler lake temps call for slower presentations.
Photo by courtesy of Lund Boats
(Mar 24, 2015 - Michigan) Post thaw... It’s unquestionably the most epic time of transformation among the Ice Belt states and provinces. Water temperatures are on the rise, but not nearly as rapidly as the air. Luckily, it only takes a one degree increase in water temp to wake up lethargic walleyes.
 
So why do some anglers motor back to the launch with a livewell full of fish while others return empty netted? Oftentimes, it boils down to trolling speed; using lures that can achieve peak performance at low speeds; and holding those baits in a relatively shallow strike zone.
 

Bodybaits and spoons with flat sides, like this Fin-Wing spoon, produce a lot of flash when trolled at slow speeds. Photo courtesy of Fin-Wing
 
Pro Troller
 
Few on God’s green earth are more adept at trolling for walleyes than Mark Brumbaugh. Since his budding teenage years, the Arcanum, Ohio angler has called the vastness of Lake Erie home. An accredited professional competitor, Brumbaugh has taken top honors in tournaments on some of the biggest bodies of water in North America. And trolling has been his top technique for nearly every one.
 
The moment the boat landings are free of ice, you can bet Brumbaugh will be launching his Lund Pro-V and plying big water for ‘eyes. “The mistakes I see people making most? They troll too fast, and their baits are swimming below the fish,” Brumbaugh asserts.
 
“As long as you use lures that have a wide-wobble when trolled slowly, and keep them within the top ten feet of the water column, you’ll catch fish.”
 
Brumbaugh’s favorite ploy is pulling floating bodybaits with deep-diving lips, like Reef Runner’s 300 Series Skinnysticks, at .06 to .09 MPH. Lures with flat sides, like the Skinnystick, produce mega flash as they flip flank to flank. And rarely does Brumbaugh let out more than 30 feet of 10-pound-test Trilene XT behind his inline planer boards, keeping his lures within ten feet of the surface.
 
If planer board aren’t in play, switch to shallower-running versions of similar bodybaits. Look for lures like Rapala Shad Raps, Smithwick Suspending Super Rogues or Strike King Lucky Shad cited to run from 4 to 10-feet.
 
“The bigget walleyes are almost always in the upper few feet of the surface,” asserts Brumbaugh. “This is where the water is the warmest, and, where the forage is.”
 
In Lake Erie’s Western Basin, for example, he’ll target walleyes suspended in 20 to 30 feet deep adjacent to reefs known to host spawning rituals.  “No matter where you’re fishing, it’s the deep water nearest where walleyes spawn that are best,” he adds. Such basics are transferrable to natural lakes, reservoirs as well as large river systems: search for pre-spawn walleyes in 20 to 30-feet of water; specific fish elevation within the water column varies by location.
 
 
Walleye Pro Mark Brumbaugh trolls big water after ice-out from his Lund fiberglass Pro-V. Water temperatures are slower to rise than the air temperatures, so even if it’s warm and sunny, bear in mind that cooler lake temps call for slower presentations. Photo courtesy of Lund Boats
 
Spoony Tunes
 
Although they are known to excel later in the season, one lure that doesn’t get fished enough in early-spring is the spoon; this is because most spoons have to be trolled faster than 1 MPH to achieve the proper wobble.
 
One spoon, however, that excels at slow speeds is Keweenaw Tackle Company’s Fin-Wing. Like a flat-sided bodybait, the Fin-Wing has, well, “wings,” which keep it riding high in the water column at slow speeds, not to mention igniting amazing flash.  
 
One old-school tip for getting any spoon down just under the surface is to attach a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce rubber-core sinker about 8 to 10 feet in front of the lure. The weight will not damage light line like split-shot or snap weights, either.
 
Protection and Ease
 
“It can feel colder in the early spring than during the deadest of winter,” Brumbaugh says. “The air is damp, and the cold goes right to your bones if you’re not dressed for it.”
 
Tucked into one of Brumbaugh’s cavernous storage compartments is his Frabill F-Series bib and jacket set. “After all, if you’re not comfortable, you’re not going to stay out as long. And what little time you are out there your concentration won’t be on catching walleyes, but staying warm instead,” he adds.  
 
Another piece of equipment Brumbaugh is adamant about having in his boat is a heavy-duty, long-handled net with large hoop, such as a Frabill’s Capture Net. Brumbaugh warns that this is definitely not the time of year to be reaching to scoop a fish by hand as a slip and fall in these freezing waters could be your last.
 
Slow, Slow, Slow Your Boat
 
Looking to land more walleyes than ever at ice out? Just slow it down.
 
Trolling is the best way to cover a lot of water in a short period of time, and when you do, fish near walleye spawning grounds. Be sure to troll at less than one mile-per-hour and use lures that wobble-well
Premium, fishing-specific raingear like Frabill's new F-1 are as important as freshly spooled reels and sharp hooks when it comes to overall success.
Photo by courtesy