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!


Best Wheelhouse Camera?

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

John W. asks:

Hey Joel - I saw you got a Yetti last year and am wondering what underwater camera you’d recommend for inside of a permanent. We mainly fish for walleyes on Mille Lacs but sometimes fish for panfish nearby.



Thanks for the question John. I’d consider two options, one mobile unit for panfish and another system for the house, but would lean most heavily towards what you do most. That sounds like fishing on Mille Lacs. Fair word of warning, walleyes are notoriously camera-shy, so always be ready to pull the camera if you see fish come near baits but get nervous.

That said, a quality camera for the house is an investment to better fishing no matter where you’re at, regardless of species. Perch aren’t usually worried about the camera, and I know you probably run into them a fair amount out there as well. Not to mention, so often the camera is used just to confirm the presence of fish or ID them, let alone observe the area you’re fishing for rocks, gravel, etc.

The big issue in past years has been camera quality of image, especially at depths like you fish in Mille Lacs. This problem is exacerbated, even in the shallows, when taking a non-HD image, and blowing it up to a big-screen TV as are so popular in todays wheelhouses. Marcum has a new camera called the Quest that I tested all last year and was very impressed by, especially when plugging into the big screen on my Yetti. It’s the first HD camera to my knowledge, that actually allows an HD image to be ported to your TV screen, via an HDMI cable. All of that means the clearest and cleanest image I’ve seen from an underwater camera, up on the TV screen - to date.

If you’re less concerned about porting the image to a TV, then I’d opt for mobility and pick from either the Recon 5 or Recon 5+. Both are extremely capable and portable units that will work for panfish outside of the house, just as well as they’ll work inside. The major difference in the 5+ is that it has on screen temp, depth, and direction display, which can be critical components for chasing big panfish, especially in weeds. It also has a DVR to record what you’re seeing if that’s of interest. If you plan on bringing it inside, I’d opt for a mount like this - which will keep it steady and pointed in the right direction for you at all times.

Whether you’re viewing the image on the big screen or natively, there’s some great options out there these days.


Which Croix Custom Ice (CCI) Rod?


Matt R. asks:

I saw St. Croix released their new CCI rods. I just had a couple of questions in regards to them.

First, as far as for panfish what rod would you recommend for fishing tungsten flys, jigs, smaller spoons, and number three rip n raps. I would also like to be able to see the bite.

The other rod would be for walleyes. This I would be fishing number 4 rip n raps, 1/8 spoons, jigging raps. Which one of the CCI’s would you suggest for this type of fishing. Thanks for your reccomendations! I look forward to hearing back from you! Thanks, Matt Rischette

Appreciate the questions Matt, and I know there’s lots of people that will want to know the same thing. You’ve highlighted a number of techniques for several species. I want to point out that there would likely be a few ways to address these needs, depending on what you want to spend and how much you do each of them.

You may be able to get away with 2-3 rods that are multi-faceted enough to satisfy many different roles, but keep in mind that these rods were designed to address specific situations, and the very best experience may involve getting a rod for each style or bait you’re fishing. I’ll break them up in that scenario to address strong suits for each rod/technique, but ultimately it’s up to you as to how much you fish each tactic and whether or not a rod-per-bait is the right approach for each person.

  • Panfish Tungsten flies and Jigs - You indicated you wanted to see the bite, and in that scenario, the Tungsten Tamer (CI28MLXF) is the far away best choice. This rod was crafted to deflect easily enough to detect both “up-hits” and standard bites, while standing up to the weight of today’s tungsten jigs and not overload. More importantly, the backbone of the rod and where in the hookset that power is felt, will make it one of the most popular panfish rods in the lineup.

  • Small Spoons - Tony spent alot of time with this rod, and without speaking for him I know he spends a good deal of his winter for perch and panfish with micro spoons. The Micro Spoon Rod (CI28LXF) addresses the popularity of tiny spoons being used for big gills and other panfish, that can often be lighter than the tungsten jigs we’re using. This rod’s power accounts for that and just like the Tungsten Tamer, properly handles the weight of the bait used for each technique.

  • #3 Rippin Raps - This bait is a feel bait. Pull it through the water column at even a slight “rip” and you' know what I mean. It would stand to reason that you’d want a feel-rod to pair it with. If you fish the smaller #3 alot, or simply prefer feel over the visual for most of your fishing, the Pan Finesse (CI24LXF) is the right tool to use. Taking a cue from their open water sticks, no one does a true XF action like St. Croix. You’ll see that same lightning fast deflection in this feel-rod, and specifically for this bait, you want to know the nuance of this bait’s action at all times. Most people overwork these baits, as they strive to feel that vibration, leading to the bait tangling itself or just scaring too many fish away. Feeling the subtlety of a Rippin’ Rap in action leads to working it more properly, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the smaller Jigging Raps with this rod either.

  • 1/8 oz. Spoon Rod - Pat Smith of the old Thorne Bros. days really changed my line of thinking on these styles of rods maybe 15 years or so ago. Take a look at your ice tackle, and you might find that 60-75% of what you own for perch and eyes anyway, is of the 1/8 oz. size, which makes finding the perfect rod to fish that size paramount to your success for those species. The Perch/Eye Spoon rod (CI28MLF) was designed to be an 1/8 oz. staple, and swiss army knife rod for most walleye applications. If you own one walleye rod from this lineup, this is likely the one.

  • #4 Rippin’ Raps and Jigging Raps - Both baits will fish better on the Search Bait Rod (CI32MF) given the weight of them, the power of these rods (M) and action (F), with the action being a key component. Ultra fast actions are the rage for ice rods, and though they certainly have their time and place, too fast for crankbaits in open water is just the same as too fast with hard baits through the ice. Keep in mind, a St. Croix fast action is already a touch faster than most manufacturers, but too fast prevents maximum swing, action, and fish-landed. I’m of the opinion that a fast action keeps more fish buttoned all the way to the hole, which is a huge consideration with hard baits and hard walleye mouths.

  • Bigger Jigging Raps and #4 Rippin’ Raps - Certainly the largest baits, and even the #4 Rippin’ Rap work better on the open ice with a slightly longer rod. Think trophy scenarios, big head-shakes, and trolling the open ice. If a good portion of your fishing involves these baits on these waters, I’d have no hesitation in recommending the Outside Eye (CI36MF).

So there you have it, it’s what I’ve been fishing for the same baits in last winter’s testing phases, as well as what I’ll be stringing up this winter. Let me know if you have any followup questions, and kudos to you for doing your homework, as pairing the best rod to the job at hand will always lead to a better experience and more fish.


Which Fillet Knife, Why?

Erik V. asks:


On opener, you posted some pics of you cleaning some eyes. What kind of electric knife do you use and why? Do you ever use a "traditional" knife?

Great question Erik.  For those walleyes, I was using a Lithium Ion Cordless Fillet Knife.  I've got a few sets of blades for different sized fish, and for fish that are walleye sized and up, they're the best I've found.  They make quick work of knocking off the sides, and yet are able to cut out the rib cage portions from fillets easily as well.  I like a fixed blade traditional knife for eyes too, but feel I'm a bit faster on the electric for those species.

I own a number of smaller traditional knives for panfish and walleyes, and the upside to these are that they're relatively inexpensive, sharpen easily, and are better for detail work.  For $50, you can have a few of them everywhere, in the boat, at the cabin, in the truck, etc.  I like the simple rubber handled versions with a non-slip grip.  Wood handled versions are great, and that's what I started on, but much of that part is personal preference.  


Which Marcum? LX-7 or the New M5?


Josh K. asks:

Hey Joel. I'm switching to marcum this year and know you run them. I fish a lot in South Eastern ND for perch and walleye in usually less than 10' of water. I'm torn between the M5 and LX7. Van you give me some pros and cons of each. Always ran vex so looking for any info. Would be much appreciated. Thanks

Hi Josh - I think much of it depends on personal preference at that point, though I think there's a few ways to break them down. The LX-7 has the bigger screen, digital output, and nearly infinite levels of customization when looking at the graph as open-water scrolling mode, flasher display, and/or vertical display. There's alot of fish catching power in tuning in a unit to your own tendencies and preferences.  If you know you like a bigger screen, then for many people that's all it takes.  People have discussed the shallow water performance, and my experiences have been that when using proper depth range settings, you'll have no issues.    

In regards to the new Marcum M5, you've got something that looks much more similar to the Vexilar you're switching from, so that amount of familiarity is nice for a lot of anglers. If you really enjoy the circular style flasher display, have known and loved it for years, and don't see yourself using the other features of the LX-7, then I wouldn't hesitate to go M5.  It'll save you some money and you'll get an upgrade from your Vex.

Now here's the important part! - Whatever you do, go Lithium.  You can get either model on the new Lithium platform for not that much more money.  The increase in run-time, speedy charging, and more than 30% weight savings makes it a no-brainer for the serious hole hopper and ice-angler like yourself.  

It's been more than a decade since I've switched out for good on my electronics, but I'm looking to use the Lithium M5 as my primary unit this year instead of the trusty LX-5 I've always used.  

Get the Lithium LX-7, or the Lithium M5 and don't look back!


Are Big Walleyes Sterile, and Does Putting Them Back Help or Hurt the Population?

Bill W. Asks:

Just got back from a great trip to Lake of the Woods. Subject came up with lots of discussion. Are big walleyes sterile and does putting them back help or hurt the general population. One said a MN DNR conservation officer told them to take them home, as they don't breed and they compete with smaller walleyes.  What is the right choice?

Thanks for the question Bill – there’s a lot to chew on there.  We can start with a couple of fisheries-related truths, but the devil’s in the details and interpretations of these facts and what it means for you as an individual out there fishing is the key.

I think a graphic showing typical walleye size distribution in lakes would be a good start.  As you can see, a chart of male and female walleye size distribution for the Winnebago, WI system reveals few surprises.  Females are generally larger, and for both sexes, the number of larger individuals becomes fewer and fewer.  This is due to a host of factors like angling pressure and desire to catch and keep larger fish, but even in completely un-fished systems the number and biomass of larger fish is far smaller than that of fish in any other class.   

2013 Lake Winnebago, WI walleye size (length) vs. amount distribution.

2013 Lake Winnebago, WI walleye size (length) vs. amount distribution.

As for spawning, big walleyes are far from sterile.  In fact, they produce more eggs than their smaller female counterparts by far.  However, in some systems, most notably Lake Erie, these larger walleye’s eggs have been studied for viability (number that hatch vs. number that are actually laid).  There and in other select systems with rapid growth rates, 20-24” or so fish have better egg viability, meaning that more of them hatch and go on to survive. 

Large fish (24”+) contain obviously successful genetics, many more eggs, and still produce an incredible number of walleye fry.  Therein lies the rub.  To fisheries managers considering that size distribution graph, mid-range fish as a group can be considered more valuable to the overall health of the fishery, so they aim to regulate take among this class of fish.  That’s not primarily because of their spawning success, it’s because this range of fish size represents the bulk of the spawning biomass for the entire system being that there are more 20-24” fish in the lake than any other size class.  In northern systems where walleyes grow much more slowly, those sizes are slid down the ruler a bit more.

In my opinion, anglers and even some fisheries managers have perverted these principles to arrive at the false notion that big walleyes are sterile, "dried-up", or that they simply don't contribute to the system in a meaningful way so you'd be well advised to keep them.  Some have even penned thoughts regarding walleyes that die of old age as “lost opportunities to anglers.”  I have read their arguments, done the scientific literature reviews from across the United States and Canada, and have seen the aftermath play out both personally and from afar.  Suffice to say, I disagree, and feel that the implications of selling this story only exacerbates several problems for both anglers AND fisheries managers.

First and foremost, the most unflinching facts are that no matter the system:

1.       Large walleyes are highly sought after

2.       Large walleyes are more rare than their smaller counterparts

3.       A walleye caught and killed cannot be caught again

4.       A walleye caught and killed cannot spawn, no matter how viable their eggs may be  

Which to me, supports the conclusion that ALL spawners should enjoy some form of protection beyond the ability of nature or stocking programs to completely and consistently replace fish removed from a population through natural or angler-driven mortality.  

I’m not a fish-worshiper either, in that I love taking fish for the pan, especially walleyes.  In most systems I fish in the Midwest, walleyes are the most intensively managed species, are regularly stocked, and present one of the most responsible species choices for harvesting some fillets from.  It's simply a matter of expectations and maintaining good fishing where it is already.  The larger point that’s missed here however is the last one in that no matter the system, spawners represent a future made not-so-certain by weather, bait, depredation, and a host of other environmental factors.  

The message relating to the thought of large fish don't matter or contribute to the overall health of the fishery is a dangerous one.  Large walleyes that die due to old age or natural causes are not a loss to the fishery, only in a small way are they a loss to those anglers that keep all fish.  Even with reduced fertility, they do produce offspring, and to toss them out and say they don't contribute is inaccurate.

While Lake Erie may very well be able to produce more overall fish per year, the vast majority of fisheries cannot once you account for both fishing and natural mortality.  It's inevitable that these theories spread and become applied to non-like fisheries, including the jump into other species like gills and pike where we know that large individuals are incredibly important to the overall population.  

In viewing the graph above you see that taking fish less than 20”es dramatically reduces the amount of females taken in general, though admittedly, targeting such a large percentage of males-only has created problems in some notable fisheries where both hook-and-line anglers and gill-netting takes place simultaneously.  Erie may present some additional challenges, in that fish less than 20”es can be difficult to come by because of how quickly those fish grow, but as discussed, the vast majority of the walleye world does not enjoy similar productivity.

Anecdotally, the fall-out becomes similar to what you heard Bill, and what I’ve seen purported in person and online.  Facts get twisted, statements are revised, and studies are used to endorse behavior that while at times legal, certainly doesn’t promote the future of good numbers of larger fish in all systems.  In today’s age of social media angling, large piles of bloodied fish on the ice or stringer shots of pale, warm walleyes not only fly in the face of the value of catch and release angling, it provides detriment to future generations of anglers that see these practices as generally acceptable.

So what's a walleye angler to do?  My boat rule for almost all of the waters I fish throughout the Midwest is that 20” and larger eyes go back, and most times that drops down to 18” fish if we have other species or an abundance of smaller fish.  Reasonable exceptions are legal in most states, including a trophy fish or two being allowed per angler.  However, this is a far cry from “we should be taking only larger fish, or all larger fish.”

We value them because of their size and because they are rare, and many of us are willing to spend much larger amounts of money to target walleyes in areas where large fish are less rare.  To preserve those opportunities and with luck even foster or promote them, I see little reason (scientific or otherwise) to harvest increasing numbers of large walleyes outside of the occasional trophy.  


Reverse Spooling for Leadcore

Nate H. asks:

I just bought a few walleye rods/reels for leadcore, how should I spool them up?

Pulling leadcore is really painless as long as you get the rigging right from the start.  For that reason, I recommend buying your leadcore setups in pairs, with the same reels that will hold the same amount of line.  Linecounter values differ depending on how full the spools are, so it's best to do two in tandem.

Backing of some sort is usually preferred, should you get snagged or hook into a big fish, you'll have some extra line on the spool to handle it.  I like to use high-visibility Sufix Elite in 17-20# test to fill up bigger leadcore spools.  The problem is knowing how much to put on!  

A little trick I learned a few years ago was to start with two empty baitcasting line-counter reels, and start spooling up the first one BACKWARDS.  Crank on the number of colors of leadcore you're going to run (I recommend a full-core, or 10-colors) if you're trying this for the first time, then attach your backing line via a braid-to-mono knot like the Uni-to-Uni or Albright Special.  Then crank on as much backing as is necessary to fill the reel about 1/8" from the lip of the spool.

Now, take your other empty reel, ZERO-OUT THE LINECOUNTER, and tie the tag end of the backing from the full-reel onto the empty one.   Begin cranking line onto the empty reel until you reach the leadcore.  Note the line-counter value at the knot where your backing meets your leadcore, and you've got the amount of backing to put on the next reel before tying on your leadcore to that spool.  This reverse spooling technique ensures the same amount of backing on each spool, and that you can compare line-counter values when referring to what distance (and resultant depth) the fish are preferring.

If you're really intimidated by this step, don't be afraid to let store associates from any reputable tackle shop or big-box do this part for you.  Don't let it scare you away from running leadcore, as it's a really valuable technique from now heading into the mid-late summer.


Big Gills - What Should I Keep?

I was fishing with friends over opener, and got a few questions about keeping panfish during the spawn:

I thought you said that fish were vulnerable during this time period, and we shouldn't keep any?  What's OK to keep then and what's not?

It's a great question, and I'll admit that there's plenty of grey-area in assigning a subjective "this is good" or "this is bad" when talking about keeping fish.  It's also true that panfish can be vulnerable this time of the year as they congregate in large number around shallow bullrushes, docks, or other spawning areas.  Keep in mind however, that when I say "vulnerable," I mean vulnerable to overharvest, meaning that you can still enjoy fishing for them and even take a few for the pan.    

For some, this is a question simply of legality, in that if it's permissible by law to catch 10 fish from a lake per person, and no one is exceeding daily or possession limits, then we shouldn't concern ourselves with further details.  That's certainly the simplest interpretation, and one that can't get you into any trouble, but often falls short of protecting the resource in a manner consistent with what we'd hope to see there in the future.  

Still, rather than thinking about this in terms of the law, or even good vs. bad, I like to look at it as what's sustainable - so as to promote the same or better fishing quality in immediate and further years.  While the dangers of playing armchair fisheries biologist abound, simple facts and heaping piles of documented fisheries (and anecdotal) evidence suggest that in small waters, highly pressured areas, and lakes with small panfish populations to begin with, one-size-fits-all limits can't begin to arrive at a take that's sustainable.  Numerous published findings suggest that the failure to adhere to such goals result in the removal of the largest individuals in the system, thus reducing the genetic ability of bluegills especially to continue to produce large individuals in these waters.  Plainly spoken, take the majority of the big ones out, and you'll never see big ones there again.  It's not a matter of allowing future generations of gills the time it takes to grow large after severe over-harvest, it simply means that there's no more genetic large-fish stock left then to ever get there again.    

Here's a 10" plus gill that's also a male.  Note the dark colors, large ear tab, with blue accents around his gill plates.  This fish not only presents a giant of his species that would be great for any angler to catch again, his release during the bluegill spawn is vital to keeping big bluegills present in this lake.   

Here's a 10" plus gill that's also a male.  Note the dark colors, large ear tab, with blue accents around his gill plates.  This fish not only presents a giant of his species that would be great for any angler to catch again, his release during the bluegill spawn is vital to keeping big bluegills present in this lake.


While the research is clear, and my years of chasing big gills across the map have seen countless gems abused and now a shadow of their former glory, what's not clear is how best to carry yourself as an angler that likes to eat fish!

Here's a great eater.  It's a female just shy of 9"es.

Here's a great eater.  It's a female just shy of 9"es.

Make no mistake about it, I'm not one for fish-worship, though my panfish-preaching tends to be loud and proud.  It may seem to the contrary, but I love meals of fish and often take the chance to eat panfish fresh when I can.  We can have our fish and eat them too, but it's a matter of self-restraint and knowing what to keep, when.

I've written frequently about limiting constant catch and kill return trips to the same body of water, having a plan going into it so you know when to start releasing fish, and teaching kids along the way so as to promote generational changes from angler to angler.  Still, one of the more important things you can do is measure your fish, and know what sex they are.  

9" plus gills in most waters are rare no matter where they are caught, with true 10" fish being a trophy bluegill.  It's hard, even for pros to "eyeball" the size of a gill, so use a bump board and release fish over that 9" mark.  Gills are notoriously over-judged in terms of their size, so take the time to learn what a true-10 looks like, you'll be surprised how big a fish needs to be in order to get to this mark.  If 8" fish are abundant, consider releasing everything larger than that, as even 8" fish in many lakes are a rarity.  

Here's a big pre-spawn female still full of eggs.  Consider releasing due to her size above anything else.

Here's a big pre-spawn female still full of eggs.  Consider releasing due to her size above anything else.

As far as which sex to release, male fish especially during this time of year are crucial to nesting success and continuation of larger individuals in the species.  These are the painted-up, dark blue, red, and brilliant purple gills we see up shallow in stacked, tire-sized depressions they are protecting.  They have large ear tabs, a brutish looking appearance, and truly represent the term "bulls" when you see the larger ones.  Their presence prevents smaller cuckold males from invading nests, and promoting inferior genetics among bluegills in that particular body of water.  Females are often bright yellow or more pale in appearance, and will contain large egg sacs before spawning.  Especially females smaller than 8-9"es present an opportunity to keep a few for a meal, and release the rest.

As of last year, 5 gills at 7"es each fed my young family of 4 a great meal of fish tacos with sides.  That was a surprise even to myself, as fish can go a long way when paired with other items.  Appreciate the fishing, and by no means let this detract from you keeping fish to eat.  It's one of the great joys of fishing!  Just do your part to impose a more responsible self-limit when the current regulations may not adequately protect the resource.  This is especially true during the spawn where all the biggest and most vulnerable males in the lake are concentrated on beds.