To catch really big walleye it’s important to learn to troll crank baits. I’ve caught more big fish – 8 to 13 pound plus – using crank baits than with all my other techniques combined.
Every fisherman knows there are many variables involved including speed, water temperature, fishing pressure, water clarity and location; but one thing remains consistent no matter what – trolling hard plastic produces!
Most good walleye crank baits have a roll to them. Watch the baits’ eyes as it moves through the water; they should move up and down. Crank baits that consistently catch walleye have a rolling side to side movement. Color combinations change, but in clear water I’ll use more natural colors such as black-silvers, blues, and green fluorescent.
Studies have shown that in dingy water chartreuse and orange are two colors that walleye see best. Fire tiger is good almost any time and lures with some sort of orange on the underbelly are preferred. Natural colors also still work.
Every crankbait puts out a vibration and sound while moving through the water, and some feel this is more important than shape and color. Every crankbait is different when moving through the water and that is why it’s important to find the right one that fish want on that particular day.
If you’re not catching fish, it is good to experiment with different baits until you’re confident in a certain one. When you put certain crankbaits in the water, you’re looking for a pronounced whipping action in the tail that almost all predatory fish find hard to resist.
When water temperatures are below 55 degrees, I like stickbaits with small diving bills and a longer thinner body such as Rapalas, Thundersticks, Bombers, Smithwicks, Husky Jerks, and Reef Runners.
When water temperatures are above 55 degrees and you are fishing deeper water, crank baits with moderate action and larger diving baits will produce more flash and vibration. Storm Deep Jr. Thundersticks, Deep Diving Little Ripper Reef Runners and Rapala Shad Raps all produce, just to name a few.
Nearly all lure manufacturers have added some sort of rattle system to make distinctive sounds to help produce strikes. Everyone knows that sometimes we buy lures because they look good to us. With all the technology in the high definition scales, gills, fins, holographic finishes, detailed 3D eyes and colors, it’s easy to see why even the wariest of predators are fooled.
Speed is certainly as important as anything. Some days we have trolled 1.3 to 1.6 knots while other days 1.8 to 2.0 and yet some days at 2.0 to 2.4. Sometimes a giant oval pattern of steering instead of a straight line will give you two different speeds. If the slow side gets hits, it will give you an idea of what your speed should be going in a straight line. The same is true if the fast side produces hits.
We love to fish structure and all of us know trophy walleye and browns love structure. Baitfish also like structure, so it stands to reason that is the place to fish.
We are very fortunate in the Henderson Harbor area to be where there is plenty of structure, baitfish, and trophy walleye. There is also a variety of other species which helps in producing fishing action.
Other methods of fishing including jigging, casting or trolling with worm harnesses all produce; but our production of trophy walleye along with other charter captains and pro walleye anglers tend to agree that the big ones really like a well presented noise-making hard bait. When fishing for these giants you definitely need to be persistent and patient!
What is nice about the stickbaits that we use for walleye is that they can also be used to catch brown trout, lake trout, northern pike, catfish and bass.
Early in the brown trout season we like using non-diving smaller sticks in shallow water and also Michigan Stinger spoons.
When fishing derbies in the spring, some of our biggest football browns are taken using stickbaits. So have fun this spring experimenting with a variety of hard baits, and hopefully you can land that trophy of a lifetime walleye or brown.
Oneida Lake, long revered for its walleye fishery, can at times frustrate novices as well as seasoned anglers. Let’s not forget the basics. Here is my version of an Oneida Lake walleye starter kit.
First and foremost item is the black/purple bucktail jig dressed with a nightcrawler! Throughout the months of May and June, jigging accounts for the lion’s share of the walleye catch. Whether it be shallow or deep, the presentation of a jig slithering and hopping across the bottom for whatever reasons is deadly to foraging walleyes.
To some, jigging is an art, to others it is a dedication, and to the beginner it can be an enigma. My advice: “Maintain contact with the bottom and be relentless until that first strike.” Of course, all this is predicated on the presence of bottom oriented “eyes.” Good fish detection equipment is a must. I use a “Lowrance HDS-10.”
The second item in the kit is a blade bait. This is a metal, vibrating lure fished similar to a jig, but more vigorously. Popular brands are the “XPS Lazer Blade,” “Heddon Sonar” and “Mad River Sports” Jigging Blade. You will need the 1/4, 1/2, 5/8, and 3/4 oz. models depending on the depth and mood of the fish.
The smaller models have a higher frequency to the vibration and vice-versa. Sometimes walleye need motivation to strike. I classify this lure as a strike instigator. Gold is my primary color. This is a must addition to your kit! Sometimes bottom oriented eyes need that little extra trigger to get active. “Mad River Sports” is now inserting the E-Chip in the blade for extra appeal.
The third item would be the spinner/worm combo. Spinners and worms whether trolled, drifted or casted, also account for significant catches of walleye, particularly during July.
In the open water where schooled, walleye suspend in the summertime, the spinner/worm is best used in a trolling mode. Inshore, along weed lines and on structure, the spinner/worm combo used casting, will keep you busy with not only walleye, but every other creature that has tails, scales and fins.
Fourth on my list are the hardbaits or walleye crankbaits. These space age plastics in the shape of minnows with shallow bills, deep diving bills, holographic designs, floating models, jerking models and suspending models, are great to retrieve over structure or troll in the deep environment.
Standard colors are: chrome/silver, blue/silver, chartreuse, firetiger and shad. I like the Bass Pro XPS series, the Rapala divers, and the Cotton Cordell deep divers.
On any given day, one of these weapons in this walleye starter kit will out fish the others. It’s up to you to find out. Not a bad assignment! Have a safe and successful fishing season on Oneida.