Which Shallow Running Crankbaits for Walleye?

It’s tough to beat a Shad Rap for multiple applications (trolling and casting) in both rivers and lakes.

It’s tough to beat a Shad Rap for multiple applications (trolling and casting) in both rivers and lakes.

Matt K. asks: Hey man, I was wondering if you have any recommendations for crankbaits being used for walleyes in shallow rocks (river dam)? Any help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for the question Matt.

Truth be told, there’s alot of crankbaits on the market that work well for running shallow in river (or lake) situations. Fall is the perfect time to start transitioning to more of those offerings as well. The trick is really how you’ll be running them, and where-from. I’ll break down below the two applications I see most commonly, and some recommendations for each.

Keep in mind too that fall is a great time to up-size your offerings, but that it can run in conflict with your mission to fish shallow. Most larger crankbaits will have a larger lip and will dive to a deeper depth, but there’s ways to get around that too.

Trolling - Fall is a great time to go hawg hunting, with pronounced trolling bites occurring on full-moon nights, as well as large wind events in the shallows. For these bites, it’s good to think larger stick-baits once waters drop into the low-mid 50’s. Above that, think shad-style baits. In cold water, there’s a number of great options for popular stick baits, from #12 and #14 Husky Jerks to Rattlin’ Rogues, there’s a bunch of great lures to choose from that have been staples for some time.

For the shad style baits, I’ve had great success with variations of the Rapala Shallow Shad Rap. Both Jointed and Non-Jointed options work well, and I’ll run the jointed versions (which rattle) in murkier water, and larger (#7) versions of the bait in clearer water. Both are trolling go-to’s when shallow water is the key.

Specifically in rivers, I’m a huge fan of the #4 Shad Rap. The thing is smaller than you think, dives only slightly more shallow, but seems to be about right for most of the rivers I’m pulling when targeting late-summer and fall walleyes. It seems to be a good size for eater fish as well, and you’ll catch all kinds of other species on this downsizer crankbait!

Casting - I grew up fishing shallow rivers, and whether you’re on shore or on a boat, you’ve got some great options. The venerable shad raps are a perfect choice, especially in #4 or #5. They can get hard to cast with much wind or a rod that’s too stiff. This rod launches those small balsa baits a long ways, as it loads slowly and throws it more like a dart than the dreaded end-over-end tumble that tangles your line and robs your distance.

You can also consider lipless cranks in the right situations, and just work them quickly with a high-rod to avoid snags. Stick to #5 Rippin’ Raps in lakes or rivers for shallow fishing, and you can be rewarded with some great fishing. These are definitely big-fish baits.

Along with larger minnow imitations, keep those craw patterns in the lineup as well to test against. They can continue to produce, even in the hot colors, well into late-fall. For that reason, especially on small rivers, a classic has always been the Wee Crawfish. It’s another staple that will see a ton of multi-species interest.

Don’t forget for any crank you’ll be throwing or trolling to use some good quality snaps. Larger sizes will give the bait more range of motion, which can make all the difference. I use these for their larger loop-end.

Good luck and tight-lines!

Joel

Best Walleye Rod for $100?

Here’s a question (paraphrased) from a Scheel’s Mankato Customer on April 27th this year:

Customer - I’ve got a few old walleye rods I’m looking to upgrade, but everything new I’m seeing is a few hundred bucks. Is there anything of quality I can get under $125, or even $100?

Me - What are you looking to do with them and how do you fish?

Customer - Mostly jigging, some vertical fishing but more casting than anything.

My answer was pretty simple in that especially at the $100 price point, there’s rather few options for a quality stick. Still, a few familiar lengths, powers, and actions lend themselves well to both walleye AND bass rods, meaning that the St. Croix Bass X rods were my pick for $100. Specifically, the 6’8” MXF and 6’10” MLXF Spinning for jig applications. Depending on the weights you’d be fishing, either the Medium or Medium Light Powers would be good choices.

It’s rare to see any rod in the $100 category with true X-tra Fast (XF) actions, which are so critical to proper jig fishing. It’s even more rare to see them as lightweight with quality components, another hallmark of any good walleye jigging rod. I promise that the “Bass-X” on the blank will work just fine for any walleye application, and the fish certainly won’t care!

Joel

Which Line Color?

Isaak W. asks:

When it comes to fishing line (more specifically braid) do you have a preference between low-vis and hi-vis colors?

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I’m currently running alot of braid with some mono for most of my setups, and admittedly I’m pretty boring when it comes to line color. For most reels, I’m filling Sufix 832 in low-vis green. Hard lines really stick out underwater because they’re outlined so well, with little to no opacity. I fight that effect with a good fluouro leader, but I still prefer to blend in with turbid or stained environments when it can. With the low-vis green, I’m able to direct-tie in select bodies of water with good color to them.

I’m also running the new Sufix Advance, also in low-viz green for panfish situations this year, as it fishes so much like braid while being more translucent. I used some last year and lost less jigs because of it, while still being able to pitch into brush.

I do fish hi-viz however for river jigging and slip-bobber setups (also with fluoro leader). For the braid I’m using 832 again in neon lime, and Sufix Elite in Hi-Viz Yellow. In current situations, I’m often relying on line-jump to detect bites, along with feel, and current can do funny things to your jig. That hi-viz line helps you keep better track of what’s going on overall. The same is true with slip bobber fishing as so often you’re resting bobbers on slack line. Hi-Viz helps you determine how much slack you have, and where, giving me a better hookset when it’s time to drill them.

Joel

Where to Find Perch and Walleyes on Featureless Lakes

J. Miller asks:

I live in Eastern North Dakota, and have a full time job that doesn’t involve fishing. Although I wish it did!! So I am limited to where I can go for lakes. (Usually a 2 hr radius. is about as far as I will drive) The lakes I go to have mainly perch, walleye, and Pike, and not alot of structure. Flat bottoms, very few rock piles that seem like they get surrounded by the crowds. Where do we go on a lake that doesn’t have all the rock piles, or structure that we are so use to seeing you talk about. The lakes aren’t small, there’s just very little structure.

Thank you Joel. And right lines!

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In Depth Media Productions  Featured -  Marcum LX-7

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In Depth Media Productions

Featured - Marcum LX-7

I think the key to finding locations away from the crowds is to know that even small, rather featureless lakes have some structure. For the ones that are completely void of good breaks, substrate changes, and/or offshore structure, small variations in depth, shoreline features, and bottom content can be a big deal.

For walleyes, you’re right, people certainly target the hard turns, points, and offshore defined structure.  Secondary spots that most anglers overlook shine in the scenario you speak of.  More gradual breaks, long edges with a feeding bench, or even secondary points away from main ones.  For perch, those guys roam off-structure, and on a good slough, you should spread out and push away from structure to the mud.  That’s where invertebrates will be teeming and the perch won’t be far behind.  For both species, spend some time exploring near whatever structure is available, but just off of it.  That goes for community holes and hidden gems as well.  We’ve gotten good as anglers at finding the obvious spots, and completely miss the rest.  I’m just as guilty, and am continually amazed when I find fish stacked in locations I consider poor.  They obviously don’t think so!

Hope some of this helped, and have a great new years.  Thanks for the questions.

Joel

Ice Fishing Dilemma - Should You Stay, or Should You Go?

Even on a good bite, it’s almost always a good bet to do some local roaming around the shelter.  Photo Credit -  Matt Addington    Gear Used:   Marcum Lithium M5    Otter XT Hideout    St. Croix CCI - Tungsten Tamer    Striker Predator Bibs

Even on a good bite, it’s almost always a good bet to do some local roaming around the shelter.

Photo Credit - Matt Addington

Gear Used:

Marcum Lithium M5

Otter XT Hideout

St. Croix CCI - Tungsten Tamer

Striker Predator Bibs

Jon M. asks:

I was at the Fargo ice show and attended your seminar. I thought you did a awesome job, and gave great insight as to what it takes as a person, and the gear it takes to be a successful angler. You were limited on time, and you are a busy man so I didn’t want to bother you.... my question for you is this... I’m talking mainly perch and walleye now.... Do we wait it out on the spot we’re at? Or are we better off driving to another lake or slough that doesn’t have all the pressure from other anglers?

Hey Jon – my apologies for the late reply, and thanks so much for attending that seminar.  I appreciate the kind words and am glad you made it.

First and foremost, where it ain’t happening, it ain’t happening.  That’s usually from the perspective of a location on a specific lake.  It’s rare that I stay put and wait for them to show up unless:

1.      I’ve got good intel to suggest that they’ll be moving to cover or structure at a certain time

2.      I can’t find those same fish during the day, or they’re too spread out and inactive to target them

3.      I’m parked on historically good key feeding areas for a prime-time bite window

To leave the lake altogether, that’s a tougher question to answer.  Much depends on your lake research, what locals are saying, or more importantly aren’t.  In your neck of the woods, I’d rather fish a slough that nobody is on or few people are targeting, than get after a likely diminishing bite on its way down that everyone is hitting.  Realize however, that even in the “found” systems where word is out, there’s usually parts of the lake that contain the same fish and people just aren’t finding.  Similarly, there’s “unfound” lakes where fish are crushing that no one is at.  The rub lies in that even if you check out a lake and don’t find them, they might still be there.  For that reason, give likely looking water bodies another chance.  Of course, this process takes time, and you need to be willing to not catch fish as much as catch them.  For most anglers, that’s the difficult and unacceptable part.  In some respects it’s easier to go where you “know” they are, but you’ll never become a better angler and find more fish without constantly searching out new bites.    

I hope that helps, and good luck out there!

Joel

Flasher and Shelter for the Southern Half of the Ice Fishing Belt

David P. asks:

Now that my children are grown and off to college, I am thinking about getting back into ice fishing. That is if we ever get enough ice here where I live in northern Illinois. I would like to know if you have a recommendation for a flasher and a shanty. I like what I have read so far about the Marcum M series flashers. Maybe the M3. I see you use Otter shelters. I will likely be fishing alone and I like a dark or blackout shelter. Is the Otter Pro X Cottage shelter a dark or blackout shelter? It is difficult to find these items around here as there isn’t much ice for very long and very few ice fisherman. So any insight you can provide would be very helpful. Thanks, and have a great day! Dave

Hi David – thanks for the question, and I can appreciate where you’re coming from. In some years, even southern MN doesn’t get the ice that the rest of the state does. That leaves you wondering how far you really need to go in terms of an ice purchase you may only get a few weeks of use from. Still, as I think you’ve identified, it’s great to go with quality equipment that’ll best serve your needs. 

In your neck of the woods, I think you’d be very happy with either a Marcum M1 or M3.  Major differences between them being a bit more power/target-separation and adjustable zoom anywhere in the water column with the M3.  The M1 will still have bottom zoom and is a great unit that should not be overlooked! Pound for pound, it does the work of sonar that was cutting edge only a few years ago, and for a fraction of the price.  

As for the Otters, I’d recommend either the Hideout or the Cottage.  The XT Hideout is a stealth option, and both will be nearly full dark with the Cottage being the darkest.  It has a complete seal all the way around to prevent light from entering the back edges.  Both do not allow light through the canvas, which is a major benefit to the Otter shelters in general. 

Hope this helps, and good luck out there!

 Joel

Ice Fishing - To Swivel or Not to Swivel?

Photo Credit -  Matt Addington Photography    Products Featured:  St. Croix - Croix Custom Ice Perch/Eye Spoon Rod -  CI28MLF    Shimano Sienna 500  with drag upgrade

Photo Credit - Matt Addington Photography

Products Featured:

St. Croix - Croix Custom Ice Perch/Eye Spoon Rod - CI28MLF

Shimano Sienna 500 with drag upgrade

Darren B. asks:

There seems to be an ongoing debate on whether or not a fisherman should use a barrel swivel above a fluorocarbon leader or if one should tie a uni knot. Are there certain times that one should be used over the other? What is your preferred presentation?

The long and short of the matter is that I prefer a swivel when I can.  Especially for flutter type spoons as they really swing, tumble, and roll around. Your average lead spoons still will impart some line twist, but not nearly that of a flatter spoon design.

That said, when the bite is hot and something breaks, I choose time and efficiency over tying in another swivel.  I’ve never used a uni-knot to connect on ice, but would do so in the event I needed braid.  Whitefishing in deep water would be a prime example of that, but I might take the opportunity to use a swivel there as well, unless my leader needed to be long.  Green Bay Walleyes and Whitefish again would come to mind given the clarity of water you’re fishing them in.  Hope this makes sense, and hopefully it answered your question. 

Thanks!

Joel

How Do You Organize Your Ice Tackle?

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Mike F. asks:

Hey Joel - I was wondering what your preferred method of ice tackle organization is when you are fishing out of a portable? Do you find a tackle bag is the way to go or some other method? I can't seem to find anything that I'm satisfied with when it comes to having what I need easily accessible and transportable.

Thanks!

Mike

Great question Mike, and it’s a doozy.  I think I’ll qualify everything first by saying that I don’t think anyone has found the “perfect” storage solution for all baits, tackle, and accessories.  There’s a lot of ways to skin that fish, and what works for some will be horrible for others.  In my situation, I’m fishing for constantly changing species in a variety of environments, so I need to have literally everything ready, then be able to pick and choose just a few items as needed to carry on my person and out onto the ice. 

For that reason, I’m about diversification and nested storage when it comes to my ice gear.  In a way, I run my program like those little Russian dolls that fit into one another.  I break my storage into 3 categories:

  1. Home/Truck/Camp

  2. On-Ice

  3. On-Person

I’ve got totes, tackle bags, small hard-boxes, line boxes, and a Ziploc bags even come into play.  The big totes never hit the ice, and I use what’s in them to stock the tackle storage solutions that make their way out there with me.  Looking at it from the surface, it would seem a hodge-podge of whatever I have laying around and thrown into the back of the truck.  That said, these solutions have evolved over time to serve all kinds of needs from fun family trips, to filming forays, and everything in between. 

I’ve also learned to keep items in their original packaging as long as possible.  While it’s a space-waster, and it sure is fun to tear open packages to fill tackle boxes, the cardboard and plastic these baits come in can be the best way to keep them looking great.  It’s the basis for my system, and also the reason I have nested storage that I keep dipping into from time to time.  My entire philosophy is about taking a good variety but low volume of what you’ll need out on the ice, then keeping backups extremely handy for re-stocking.  Here’s how I stay on top of everything: 

Home, Truck, or At Camp:

  • Basecamp Tote – This one’s big, and rarely makes it onto the ice with me.  It’s designed to be my rescue kit that lives in the back of a truck or at a lodge, but not something that I carry around full-time.  I can dip into it as needed on a long trip, and depending on the transport situation, I may take a handful of items from it and put onto the next solution.  Here’s just a few of the items it holds:

    • Hitch Pins

    • Auger kit, including replacement blades

    • Extra transducer/replacement Marcum battery

    • Extra Gloves

    • Extra Hoodies and Hats

    • Bait Pucks, pliers, and snips

    • Heater accessories and a lighter

  • Line Box – I’ve got a Plano 3700 series deep box that’s full of nothing but line.  I respool each late fall, then re-order to fill.

  • Lure Tote – This is a smaller tote that has nothing but lures in it.  Again, I keep this one at camp, and only use it to replenish lost items or hot baits I might need.  It’ll come with on a long trip, but most often it lives in my garage and is used as a buffer inventory from which to fill tackle boxes when needed.  When I use up a popular color or lure in the tote, I know it’s time to buy more.

On-Ice:

  • On-Ice Soft Goods Bag – This bag is filled with ziplocs of tackle and some odds/ends:

    • Soft Plastics – I keep these in their original baggies and keep like sizes, shapes, and colors in a quart sized Ziploc freezer bag – these are tougher and stand up for a few years.

    • Panfish Tackle – I have select baits, tungsten and lead both, separated into bait type in original packaging, stuffed into Ziploc quart bags

    • Walleye Tackle – I have select baits, one bag per size, multiple colors per bag in Ziploc quart bagsJigging Raps in the package are a big part of the selection here, as Jigging Raps are easily damaged on long transport trips.

    • Bobbers, Sinkers, bare hooks and anything else needed to rig a tip-up or dead-line have their own mini tackle box that lives in the soft goods back.

  •  On-Ice Hard Goods Bag – This can be any small tackle bag that holds the Plano 3500 or 3600 sized small boxes – as well as a few snips, pliers, and other small accessories

    • Box 1 – Rippin Raps of various shapes and colors – these hold up well to travel as they’re not as heavy.

    • Box 2 – Slab Raps and UL Rippin Raps.

    • Box 3 – Spoons of various shapes and sizes – These will get beat up, you’ll lose chips and chunks of paint, and you’ll have to be OK with it.  These are high use, constantly replenished items.

    • Box 4 – Swiss Army Box – Jigging Raps are the number one bait that gets damaged while in transport, but I do have a few out of the package and ready to rock in this box.  Oddballs also go in here, along with extra baits the didn’t fit in the first three boxes!

On-Person:

  • Small Utility Box – Panfish – I’ve got one side of this filled with vertical panfish jigs, the other side, a mix of horizontal lead and tungsten baits.

  • Medium Utility Box – Walleyes/Perch/Crappies – This box has some plastics and bare hooks in the clear plastic flip lids, along with spoons in the memory foam.  I do have a few Teardrop jigs in the clips, but this is a minimalist walleye box that has the very best of the best only inside.

Like I said, it’s far from perfect, but it works great for how I fish.  Every year I refine it and get a bit better!

Joel