Late Summer into fall is when I break out my walleye trolling gear in earnest!
Some of the lakes that I fish have walleye populations that leave classic structure at this time and spend time in the lake basins. These fish feed on bugs and insects hatching off the lake bottoms and also feed on the smaller baitfish like perch and other panfish drawn to the hatches.
Basin walleyes are often scattered about in pods of two or three fish and seem to roam somewhat aimlessly. Because of their wandering nature and lack of schooling behavior, a great way to catch these fish is by trolling with crankbaits.
Shad-style crankbaits are top walleye producers, but a limitation they have is that they don’t typically dive deep enough to get to where summer basin walleyes live. For that reason, leadcore line, which takes shallower running baits deeper than they normally dive, is utilized effectively at this time.
Leadcore line is segmented by color with, depending on the particular leadcore used, one color of line often taking a bait around 5-7 feet down in the water column at around 1.8 – 2.2 mph, an often productive trolling speed. By monitoring how many colors are let out and when bottom or weeds are contacted or, better yet, when a fish is caught, an angler can determine through a bit of trial and error how much line to let out to keep baits in the fish zone.
Many of the days that I troll, the fish seem to be within a few feet of bottom, but I have had several days where more fish were seen on my depth finder holding high in the water column. Those days, adjusting the running depths of baits accordingly has been the key to success.
Regardless of where in the water column the walleyes are, my favorite walleye producing crankbaits the last couple years have far and away been Lucky Shads from the Walleye Elite series. These baits have actions walleyes love, and they are available in a variety of colors that mimic the baits walleyes feed on and are also productive in various water colors.
My favorite color patterns are yellow perch and crystal shad with pink belly. As always it pays to experiment from day to day on any given body of water.
In addition to choosing the right bait and color and getting it to run in the appropriate depth zones, another key for me has been the use of planer boards. Planer boards allow anglers to spread lines to cover a much wider section of the lake basin. They help get baits out away from the boat to avoid spooking walleyes in clear water. Off Shore’s OR12 boards run flawlessly even in rough water and, when equipped with optional Tattle Flags, the angler knows when a light biting fish hits or alerts the angler when a weed has fouled the bait.
As always, good luck on the water and remember to include a youngster in your outdoors adventures!
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series and is a co-founder of the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s School of Fish. Visit fishingthemidwest.com to learn more.