When the calendar changes to June my favorite method for catching walleyes switches to trolling crankbaits. I would characterize this as the “early summer” pattern and I focus on shad style crankbaits for their subtle wobble action and I only use two sizes #5 and #7. While many people continue to focus their time with live bait rigging, jigging or bobber fishing, I have found trolling to be much more productive and it keeps me in contact with active fish. In many lakes and rivers across the Midwest, this pattern has proven to be very effective for catching both numbers and quality of fish.
Where to start
In early June, walleyes are starting to transition to their summer patterns. In lakes, this means they have started to move away from the shallow spawning areas and are now starting to stage on mid lake structures ranging from 15-25 feet of water. This holds true for the smaller slot fish as well as the bigger post-spawn females.In rivers, walleyes will start to move deeper but will still utilize the current breaks, eddies and key bends in the river. This year is different as the heavy spring rains have many of our rivers running high as fast. That’s even better as the water is dirtier and the fish are really zoning in on the current breaks. Locating fish is very specific to these key areas.
When looking to find these fish, watch you locator. Early in the morning they will likely be holding close to the structure and near the bottom. As the day warms and the sun starts to rise in the sky, look for these fish to start to suspend off the bottom and really get active. If the fish are shallower, I will start using a #5 Lindy Shadling. Simply cast the lure out as far as you can and either put the rod in a rod holder or hold it in your hand. I like to start trolling at 1 to 1.2 mph. I will also troll in an S-shaped pattern. This helps me find out quickly what speed the fish want the lure at. If they hit on the rod on the inside turn side of the boat, that tells me they want the lure slower. It they hit the rod on the outside turn side of the boat, that lure is moving faster. I can then adjust my speed and try trolling straight. If this does not catch fish, then I revert back to trolling with S-turns. When the walleye strikes, do not set the hook, just lift your rod tip in the air and start reeling keeping constant pressure on the fish. If it starts to run and take drag, just hold on and when it stops resume reeling.
If the fish are holding in deeper water, you can either use some splitshot weights to help get the lure running deeper. Buy a box of weights with a variety of sizes. Start by pinching a ‘pea-sized’ splitshot on your line about 4 feet in front of the crankbait. I like to do this when using the #5 Shadling. Another option is to switch to the larger #7 Lindy Shadling. If you are fishing with several people, use a mix of both #5 and #7 baits and let the fish tell you which size they prefer.
Tackle- Keep It Simple
Tackle used for trolling for these fish can be as simple as 7 foot medium action spinning rod, 10 lb. test mono line or a 10/4 braid line, crosslock snaps for connecting the crankbait to your line and some splitshot weights if you need to get the baits running deeper. For those of you looking to add more rods to your fishing arsenal, you can use trolling rods, line counter reels and planner boards as well. The planer boards are helpful to if you plan to be fishing with 3 or more people and will help spread your lines out to prevent from getting tangled.
I love to carry a lot of crankbaits with me when I’m going trolling. Like other fishing periods of the year, all the rules still hold true. Look to “match the hatch” with the primary forage of the lake or river you are planning to fish. Whether it’s lake shiners, smelt, perch, young of the year sheephead, young of the year bluegill, fathead minnows or a host of others, you should start by trolling a crankbait that matches this primary forage. A second rule relates to water clarity and cloudy days. In these situations, focus on brighter colors like chartreuse, fluorescent orange, or hot pink. The last situation you should plan for is bright, sunny, calm days. In this case, I like to use crankbaits with metallic finishes like a chrome silver or plated gold. The Lindy Shadings’ come in a beautiful, lifelike, holographic finish that really mimics the forage in the lake and can be purchased at any major outdoor sporting goods chain or local baitshops across the Midwest.
Trolling is a productive, simple and fun way for you and your family and friends to enjoy a day on the water because walleyes love a well-trolled crankbait. If you have not had a chance to try it, get to the store and purchase a few crankbaits and try it for yourself. I know you won’t be disappointed. Good luck and I’ll see you on the water!
Paul Fournier has fished the Minnesota Tournament Trail and MWC for 10 years. Paul is also a member of the Lindy Pro Staff.