Tips for Better Trolling Success

By Steve Weisman

One of the favorite presentations for walleyes is trolling. Whether it’s pulling Lindy rigs, spinners or crankbaits, all three are fish catchers. However, it’s more that simply throwing out the bait and taking off. This kind of trolling is a “by guess/by gosh game plan”. No, to be successful with these trolling presentations, anglers need to treat trolling as a science. A lot of pre-planning and understanding of weather and water conditions go into becoming a skilled troller.

Although I enjoy trolling for walleyes, I am pretty much a novice, but there are anglers out there who thrive on this presentation. One of those is Shane Akin, who has over 40 years on the water and for the past several years has successfully run the Great Lakes Guide Service. “Spring, summer and fall are all great times to troll for walleyes. What I like about trolling is that it helps me cover ground. However, each type of trolling requires a good game plan.” Let’s take a look at how this can work on a variety of lakes.

All about confidence
Yes, confidence is a huge part of the process. Plus, planning is so important. “I keep detailed diaries for each day I fish and compile that year after year. I note the time of year, the water conditions and the weather conditions, the water temperature, the speed, the color and types of baits…everything. That diary makes a huge difference and helps build confidence about what will work and not work. I know it’s difficult to begin with until you begin to have success. Once that happens, though, you know what to look for and can anticipate what will happen.”

For instance, when it comes to trolling crankbaits, Akin suggests learning all you can about crankbaits: how far to let them back, how fast to troll, etc. At one time, a series of books were printed called the “The Trollers Bible.” However, updating and reprinting these books became difficult, so a company called Precision Trolling Data (PTD), an independent company, documents the diving depth of fishing lures such as crankbaits and also common trolling hardware such as diving planers and also sinking lines such as lead core. Through much scuba diving observations, PDT shares data for each bait based on line size, how deep lures will dive, how far back to put the bait, trolling speed. For simplicity sake, PDT now sells this information in digital form that can be used on mobile devices such as I-Phones and Androids.

It’s all about setting standards for these baits, so that they can be duplicated by any angler. In simple terms, this speeds up the learning curve that Akin has developed himself over years and years of trolling. Members of the PTD team include Mark and Mari Romanack, Keith Kavajecz and Gary Parsons.

How things have changed over the years
At one time, early spring meant trolling with a Lindy rig and a minnow or a leech. However, Akin finds trolling crankbaits work very well early in the year. “Here on Big Spirit and the Okobojis, walleye season is closed until the first weekend of May. However, there are several lakes within an hour or so that you can keep walleyes year around: Silver Lake (Lake Park), Tuttle Lake, Lost Island Lake, Five Island Lake and Storm Lake. Plus, there are several southern Minnesota lakes that are good for early spring walleye fishing.”

For the most part, Akin targets pre-spawn or post-spawn walleyes that are out on big flats of either sand, gravel or small rocks, usually in 6-10 feet of water. These walleyes are either getting ready to spawn or have just finished spawning and holding in these areas. “My go-to baits are the bigger stick baits like #11 or #13 Rapalas. My best colors are usually hot steel, original perch or the black and silver. I will also work Shad Raps, Shallow Running Shad Raps and Flicker Shads. Two of the rods will be spinning rods with eight-pound Fireline and a four-foot Fluorocarbon eight-pound leader. I use an 1/8-ounce keel weight to tie the Fireline and the Fluorocarbon together. These will be handheld lines and every 10-15 seconds my partner and I will pull the bait forward a foot or so, let it catch up and then drop it back. Look for the bite to be on the surge forward or when you let the lure go back.”

The other rods will be 9-10 foot baitcasters with linecounters spooled with 30-pound Fireline and then a four-foot Fluorocarbon leader. These will be put out to the side of the boat with planer boards with the rods placed in rod holders. The ebb and surge of the planer boards will add additional action to the stick baits. “When I troll, I always make sure NOT to go in a straight line. Zig zag throughout your trolling run. As you zig and zag, the baits on each side of the boat will act differently. The outside one will speed up (surge), while the inside bait will slow down. On one day, it might be the outside that gets the most bites, while on another day, it might be the inside bait.”

Love that night bite
The bigger and deeper lakes are traditionally extremely clear in the spring. For Akin, that means a night bite. “Some of our largest fish will come at night. As darkness approaches, the big walleyes are coming into the shallows to feed. We’re trolling the same baits, again moving about 2 to 2.4 mph in the shallows, using planer boards to get the baits out and away from the boat. It all begins about dusk, and each night can be different. Usually about midnight to three in the morning is really slow, and then the bite can get really good that hour or two before daylight.”

A lot of anglers will run their kicker to pull these baits, but Akin chooses to use his electric if at all possible. “I really believe that the outboard motor can spook those walleyes away. I’ve had much better luck using m electric motor.”
Yes, fishing at night is a different game. Nothing ever looks the same, and you have to have good lights inside the boat to get hooks out of the net, take tangles out of the line and put on a different bait. The more you do this type of fishing, however, the easier it gets.

Heading into summer
By the end of May, submerged vegetation is beginning to grow. It may only be a foot or so, but the walleyes begin to move to these areas. “At this time, the day bite gets better on those clear water lakes as the water begins to get some color. This is a great time to work a Lindy rig (plain hook) with a leech or ½ nightcrawler. The length of the leader might be anywhere from 4-6 feet, depending on the clarity of the water or the spookiness of the fish. As the water warms, working spinners will work. The key here is to match the baitfish that the walleyes are feeding on. Again, follow the contour of the weedline – don’t go in a straight line!

As the vegetation goes up in the water column, don’t be afraid to go with a light weight, like a bullet weight, and pull the spinners right over the weeds at three miles per hour or faster. Tip the spinners with nightcrawlers or leeches. It becomes a true reactionary bite. Either put the rods in the rod holders or hold on to them, because these bites can send an unattended rod out the back of the boat!

During this time, Akin wants to cover water. “I cover water to find the fish. I also like to fish the windy side of the lake if possible. The baitfish get pushed there, and the predator fish are going to follow.”

Akin still continues to work his crankbaits. The bigger fish are moving deeper, and speed becomes more important. The goal is to trigger the bite, so Akin will go 3 to 3.5 mph. Baits now include Flicker Minnows, Rapala Tail Dancers, Reef Runners, Shad Raps, Flicker Shads and Salmos. However, “I still believe that the smaller baits will catch more smaller fish. I like to put planer boards for the deeper diving crankbaits.” Don’t think you have to have the baits right on the bottom. Instead, Akin will put his baits at different depths, often anywhere from two to five feet off the bottom. Here again, let the fish tell you want they want. Mix and match lures and colors. Once you get a couple of hits, then put more lines to that size and color.

Yes, trolling is fun, easy and complicated all at the same time! Do your homework, develop your game plan and you’ll be on your way to becoming a trolling pro!