Trolling Crankbaits for Walleye: Spring to Summer

Blayne Kasper asks:

I am just wondering if you have any quick tips to trolling crankbaits for spring walleye (speed, amount of line out/depth, equipment) that sort of thing. I usually fish smaller to mid sized lakes in Central Minnesota, and I am relatively new to this method and wanted to try it out more this summer.

Hi Blayne, this is a big topic, but I’ll do my best to boil it down for your specific area.  Walleye season opens in mid-May where you’re fishing, so spring trolling there is a somewhat relative term to that time period. 

As a general rule in lakes, most early season trolling works well with a big wind, as fish locations tend to be shallower during this time of year and overhead boat traffic can spook fish.  That said, you do run the full gamut, with some clear lakes that will likely never have a good crankbait bite with the exception of maybe dusk or after dark, and some lakes that are murky and turbid enough to enjoy a good shallow crankbait bite no matter what the wind does.  Still, wind will concentrate fish on shorelines and make for a prime trolling run.  For this type of fishing, I start with #5 Shad Raps  or #5 Smash Shads (for rattle) long-lined on #10-20 Sufix 832 or mono between 75-150 feet behind the boat depending on depth I’m trying to achieve.  As a general rule, be as close to the bottom as you can, often “ticking” it occasionally” without rolling or fouling. 

In clearer systems, consider planer boards to run your baits away from the boat towards shore, as you hover over deeper water and avoid driving over fish.  Some well-known systems like Upper Red Lake, Leech, and others allow you to pull shallow diving crankbaits on boards in as shallow as 4FOW and catch walleyes like crazy.  Planer boards or no, speeds should range from 2 – 3mph traditionally, with big winds often kicking up the preferred speed over 4mph. 

As fish move into summer patterns from near shore breaklines to off-shore structure, lead-core trolling really comes into play.  Don’t be scared by the specialization, as it’s a really effective tactic.  Make an investment into two St. Croix Eyecon trolling rod setups of equal length; longer if you’re going to try to troll other rods with them, or mid-lengths if they’ll be the only two rods being used.  The moderate actions on these rods really put more fish in the boat, especially with braid, as they give a bit while allowing the fish to get the bait all the way into its mouth. 

Get a linecounter reel and spool it with backing as needed to fill the entire spool with #18 leadcore line.  If you’re uncomfortable with this step, any reputable sporting goods store can do it for you.  Remove lead from the last few inches of line, then tie your favorite braid/mono knot to connect a length of #10 fluourocarbon leader and snap for the lure.  You can adjust the length of your leader from 30 feet in extremely clear bodies of water like Mille lacs, down to 3 feet in turbid systems like the Mississippi River. 

Find fish with your electronics that you’d like to target and start a tenth of a mile or more away to get your trolling run figured out.  Select baits, reset your line-counter, and let out line a few “colors” (10 yard segments) until you start to detect bottom.  Reel up until you’re just making contact occasionally and hold depth even while going 2.2 – 3.0mph.  Let out line to cover deeper water, and reel it in to effectively fish shallower while covering your bases in proven color patterns.  For me, that’s a mix of basic colors like perch, red craw, firetiger, purpledescent, etc.

This is a big topic, but hopefully I’ve covered a few key points that will help put more fish in the boat this summer.