Crank a Flat, Catch a Walleye!
By Mike Frisch
Finding and catching summer walleye can be a challenge. Though walleye are typically feeding during summer, lakes are often full of “walleye food” at this time, meaning our baits have lots of competition when it comes to getting eaten by a fish.
For that reason, I often prefer to troll a crankbait at this time. Crankbaits typically shine during the warm water period of summer when the action, sound and vibration they deliver while trolled is good for triggering bites. Not only are they good for triggering these reaction bites, but they also fish quickly, meaning anglers can use them to cover lots of water trying to find the active fish.
Crankbait trolling for walleye can be a high-tech process using line counting reels, planer boards, lead-core line and the like. For me, however, I prefer to keep my trolling simpler by long-lining mid-depth diving baits across shallow to mid-depth flats in the 6- to 12-foot depth ranges. Large, expansive flats in these depths will often host active walleye, especially during windy, overcast conditions or during the low light periods of morning and evening.
Lots of anglers use line-counting reels for this style of fishing, choosing baits that dive to these depths with around 100 feet of line out behind the boat. I use some line counters, but have found that using a baitcasting reel and “counting the passes” when the line is let out, allows me to duplicate productive bait-diving depths as well. For example, if my bait ticks bottom with 16 reel passes of line let out, I can adjust by letting 15 passes out. Or, if I catch a fish with 15 passes of line out, I know to duplicate that presentation.
When summer walleye are my trolling targets, I often select perch-imitating crankbaits. Perch are a common summer forage for walleye in lots of lakes, and crankbaits that mimic them do a great job producing summer walleye.
Recently, I have been using the LiveTarget yellow perch for trolling flats. These baits have a very lifelike perch pattern, action, sound and vibration while moving through the water that walleye like!
These baits come in various sizes and diving depths, making it easy for me to pick the best bait for trolling a particular depth range. Long-line trolling often works well on 10-pound monofilament line. Baits reach close to their maximum diving depths on lines in that range, and this size line usually has the strength and abrasion resistance needed for trolling. My personal line choice for trolling is 10-pound Bionic Walleye fishing line.
A final concern when “crankin’ the flats,” is wise use of a sonar/GPS combination unit. Using the speed feature on my Humminbird 898c HD SI unit allows me to precisely monitor and match my fish-catching speed on a given day. Often 1.5 mph to 2.5 mph is a productive trolling speed, but honing in on the precise speed can be important. The only sure way to find that speed is by experimentation and careful monitoring of the unit’s speed feature.
Not only is my sonar/GPS unit important for finding the best fishing speed, but GPS and its mapping feature allows me to “see” and duplicate productive trolling passes across a flat. Additionally, the side imaging feature on my unit helps me “look” off the side of the boat for fish and subtle features like rocks or weed clumps which might be holding fish.
If finding and catching summer walleye is your goal, consider using a crankbait and trolling the flats of your favorite lake using the tips just offered. You might just find a bunch of cooperative walleye. Good luck on the water!
Mike Frisch is a western Minnesota fishing guide. Visit his website at www.fishinwithfrisch.com.