By: Mark Martin
Follow a few simple rules when pulling cranks’ and spinners and you’ll catch more fish than ever.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that trolling, no matter what species one is targeting, is the technique employed by more anglers than any other. The fact is, out of all the professional walleye tournaments I participate in throughout the United States and Canada, trolling is practiced more than any other method; always has been, and, always will be, more than likely.
That’s because trolling, by far, allows an angler to cover more water in a shorter amount of time than any other; thus lures and bait are seen by more fish in a shorter amount of time. And even if the bite is off, a lure being trolled will often trip whatever trigger it is in a lackadaisical fish that’ll make them strike when nothing else will.
But when you get right down to it, trolling is more than just letting a line out and motoring around until you get a strike.
First is locating where in the water column the fish are, and then making sure you get a lure in the same zone while using the right equipment. After that, it’s all about speed and direction. Ignore any of these and you won’t catch nearly the number of fish you would have had you made sure all were in proper order.
There are two ways to figure out the location of fish in the water column: by trial and error or with sonar. Personally, I prefer the latter of the two.
A lot has changed in electronics over the past few years, and all to the angler’s advantage. My Lowrance HDS-12 Carbon — one mounted to the dash board of my Lund Pro-V and another at its bow — is proof perfect.
Of course Lowrance’s ultra-sensitive traditional sonar will show me fish if they are under the boat, whether they are on bottom, near bottom or high in the water column. And the unit is so responsive that I can see minnows, aquatic insects and even zooplankton, which will help me determine where the fish are even when I’m not marking them.
You know that “clutter” you often see on at the top of the screen? That’s all the aforementioned aquatic life, as well dust and pollen, mixed within the warm water at the surface. The area where the clutter stops and a clean screen starts is where the thermocline is – that is, where the warm and cold water meet. This is where most any fish that swims suspended in the water column will be, no matter the species. And this is the level you want to get your bait to.
Another key feature of many Lowrance sonars is StructureScan HD, as well StructureScan 3D, which allows me to see out to the sides of my boat in two-dimensional form. With StructureScan on I can see baitfish as well the game fish themselves near the surface. And with just a couple swipes of the touch-screen I can move the cursor over the marks on the screen and then place a waypoint over the fish, without ever having to motor over and potentially spooking them.
When spotting fish on the sonar, I like to look at the GPS portion of the screen as well — with a Navionics mapping program showing in the back ground — and take note of the structure the suspended fish are holding near. Once determined, I can scan the Navionics map and figure out similar areas where more fish may be, and check those areas out for signs of game fish.
In Your Face
I admit there is what seems to be a million different lures made that will catch fish when trolling. My two best bets for catching more fish, however, are Rapala crankbaits and Northland spinners (aka: crawler harnesses).
Getting crankbaits to the same level the fish are at when trolling is the easier of the two. Rapala, for example, make it easy by listing the dive curves of all their lures on their website at Rapala.com. And while nothing beats a Rapala Shad Rap or Down Deep Husky Jerk for trolling, you really need to check out the Scatter Rap series in both of these lures. The ultra-erratic action of all the Scatter Rap series really tips a fish’s trigger, especially when the bite is slow.
Spinners, on the other hand, take a little more effort on an angler’s part to get into the strike zone, but it’s not hard to do with the right weight system. An in-line weight, such as Church Tackle’s 5/8-ounce K-1 In-Line Bead Weight, tied on about six feet in front of the spinner, will be enough to get the spinner down. To get it deeper, just let out a little more line, or, slow down.
Berkley 12-pound-test Trilene XT, spooled onto an ABU Garcia 5500 LC (line counter) reel and Fenwick trolling rod is my choice for trolling both cranks’ and spinners. The combination is light enough for walleyes yet sturdy enough to handle in-line and stern planer boards.
I also use this same rod and reel combo when pulling Sufix 832 Advanced Leadcore – a thinner-than-normal leadcore that gets down deeper with less line out due to its narrow diameter, and great for getting crankbaits and spinners deeper.
Church Tackle makes an array of different sizes of planer boards for every need, from their most popular Walleye Board (don’t let the name fool you… even salmon anglers dig this one), up to the TX-24 Super Planer Board (built to handle hard-pulling rigs such as Dipsy Divers and the like) and down to the TX-12 Mini Planer Board and TX-6 Magnum Mini Planer Board (both perfect for smaller lures).
Also, the TX-007 Stern Planer is a device that allows you to let the perfect amount of line out so as to get your lures running at just the right depth, all the while you’re able to let out more line directly behind the boat to get your offering father away and keep from tangling with your in-line boards.
Get With It
The two problems I see more anglers making when trolling is they motor up wind and don’t pay enough attention to their speed. Not good. Always (I repeat: always) troll with the wind.
Although my 9.9-HP Mercury kicker motor is powerful enough to push me into the wind, I can have better control of my speed when trolling with the wind. And with the aid of my Lowrance GPS, I can easily speed up or slow down to 1/10-MPH when the waves are at my transom.
Over all, crankbaits run best at speeds of 1.5 to 2.5 miles per hour, while spinners get bite more at a slower .7 to 1.5. Always troll with either crankbaits or spinners, not a combination of both.
More Than Meets the ‘Eye
When you get right down to it, trolling is more than just letting a line out and motoring around until you get a strike. First, locate where in the water column the fish are, and then making sure you get a lure in the same zone while using the right equipment. After that, go the right direction and pay attention to your speed.
Ignore any of these and you won’t catch nearly the number of fish you would have had you made sure all were in proper order.
Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament angler and instructor with the Fishing/Vacation Schools, who lives in southwest Lower Michigan. Check out his website at markmartins.net of more information.