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Fishing Articles by Bob Riege
Open Water Trolling
By Mark Brumbaugh and Bob Riege
Schooled walleyes roaming open water, either suspending or lying over open basins, are the reason an angler would switch from a jigging approach to a bait delivery system that would include planer boards, snap weights, and crankbaits or spinners. Trolling boards arose out of the Great Lakes where they were used for lake trout and salmon. Walleye anglers were quick to use this application for big water walleyes as well. Boards spread multiple lines wide to the sides of the boat, to minimize spooking and to present a spread of lures at multiple depths. No longer are you limited to trolling a narrow path behind the boat. Instead you can now troll a path 150 feet wide, simultaneously experimenting with depth, lure size and action, color patterns, speed and more.
This presentation is effective for eliminating unproductive water and zeroing in on walleyes, particularly at the 1 to 3 mph quick trolling range, which is productive in cool to cold water, and during summer as well. Itís simple in principle, complex in execution, in order to minimize tangles, maximize catches, and achieve desired results. But a properly run set of lines proceeds through open water like a giant rake, showing fish suspended at the target depth.
Board presentations evolved from traditional mast and ski systems popular on large Great Lakes boats, to small in-line planers easy to use in smaller craft. Planer boards clip onto line via simple friction releases, sending lines out to the sides of the boat while trolling. When a fish strikes, bobbing or dragging the board backward, reel in, detach the board release with a quick twist of thumb and forefinger, drop the board in the boat, and fight the fish unhindered by excess hardware.
Planer boards are small and light enough to use on traditional walleye gear. Typically that would mean that you could use line as light as 10 pound test monofilament which maintains good lure action and diving depth, and promotes a good fight on light tackle. Anglers generally use long trolling rods about 7 to 8 footers to hold lines off the surface of the water while trolling, reducing drag and maximizing the spread. Long handled rods fit in rod holders until a fish strikes. A well placed spread of four lines effectively covers open water options.
Crankbaits run at specific depths depending on size, diving lip, line length and trolling speed. Within the natural diving range of each lure, depth is fine tuned by adjusting line length. Trolling reels with line length indicators have become popular for exact replication of productive depth and pinpoint control. Many manufacturers offer line counting reels now so anglers donít have to count the number of throws a reel goes through to set a specific depth.
Few crankbaits dive deeper than 25 feet, even on a long line. To reach depths exceeding the natural diving ability of crankbaits, weight must be added to the line to drop lures down into the fish zone. This is just as true for presenting spinner-crawler combos. Walleye anglers have several solutions for increasing running depth while maintaining control.
Traditional deep water trolling was once accomplished with leadcore line. This leadcore line is braided dacron with a thin lead core, creating a sinker running the entire length of the line. Leadcore was used to toll deep water for walleyes or trout. The answer to the solution of depth was to simply let more line out and the lure went deeper. A monofilament leader between the lure and leadcore minimized spooking. When a fish hit, you simply reeled the leadcore up into a large capacity trolling reel.
When leadcore was first used with planer boards, it was to heavy; anything more than about 30 yards of leadcore sunk a typical board. This was remedied by tying a 10, 20, or 30 yard segment of leadcore into the main line, 50 feet a head of the lure. The segmented leadcore approach took lures down to about 35 feet, but was somewhat confusing to most anglers. Multiple reels with different lengths of segmented leadcore were needed to effectively cover a variety of depths.
The answer was attaching weights to the main line. Trouble was, a sinker placed too near the lure spooked fish, and too far up the line it interfered with netting. The solution came from tackle companies, that offered detachable snap weights. Simply let out some line, then with the same release clip used on planer boards, snap a weight onto a line 50 feet ahead of the lure.
Now let out as much additional line as necessary to reach a targeted trolling depth. Need more depth? Switch to a heavier sinker. Got a bite? Reel in until the sinker is within reach, then pinch it off your line and drop it in the boat. Experiment with weights from 1/4 up to 3 ounces with boards, heavier sinkers without boards.
Open water trolling for suspended fish taught anglers that walleyes could be caught tight to the bottom. Run snap weights near bottom, or switch to three-way rigs or bottom bouncers to make lures or baits run just above bottom. Bouncers run the closest, while three-ways are adjustable by varying dropper length. Remember, anything more than 3 ounces can sink a planer board, though heavier weights can be used without boards for fishing on or near bottom with vertical lines, to cover many productive zones.
Trolling large open water expanses has recently been applied to some
areas that previously would not have been attempted with amazing
results. This summer donít keep pounding the shoreline in hopes of
catching a few fish when you have all of that open water to troll.
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Since August 1, 1998