Crawler harnesses work best when trolling speed is maintained at .08 to 1.5 mph. I can determine speed easily via the screen of my Lowrance HDS-10 GEN2 (10-inch-screen second-generation high-definition sonar) and keep it constant, no matter the wind, with my MotorGuide electric trolling motor mounted at the bow of my Lund Pro-V or my 9.9-hp, four-stroke Mercury outboard on its transom.
When pulling a harness behind a bouncer, I make sure to use the proper amount of weight so that my line goes back at an angle from my rod tip no more than 45 degrees, which will vary depending on depth, speed and line diameter. This ensures I have just the right amount of line out to do the following: Drop the rod’s tip towards the water’s surface so that I feel the weight just “poke” the bottom, then lift it back up so it then rides up off the floor. I do this about every 30 seconds to make certain my bouncer is near bottom, not on it. If I don’t feel the bottom when I lower my tip, I’ll press the thumb bar of my ABU Garcia baitcasting reel and let out just enough line so that the bouncer once again prods bottom and then reel it in a foot or two.
Dragging the weight not only pulls the crawler harness to the bottom, but also makes an unnatural ruckus that frightens fish. Keeping the weight up off bottom too far, on the other hand, might keep the harness up and out of the strike zone.
Tip: To help keep tangles at bay when more than one angler is in the boat, I have the person in the back use lighter bouncers than those in the front; thus they will swing back farther and out of the path of the leading weight. A half-ounce difference is all that’s needed to accomplish snarl-free fishing.
Beside the high-quality “classic” Rock-Runner bottom-bouncer Northland Tackle is known for, they now produce the Slick-Stick—a 12-inch rolled stainless steel “bouncer” that slides freely up and down your main line. The Slick-Stick’s unique shape keeps it from snagging up, and the alloy it’s made of makes it the most sensitive weight on the market. The vibration of the weight ticking bottom resonates like a tuning fork, telegraphing through the device, up the line, through my medium-action Fenwick Elite Tech Walleye series rod and into my hand.
I use 10-pound-test Berkley FireLine when “bouncing” for walleye. The superline’s thin diameter slices through the water with very little resistance, and the no-stretch properties of FireLine make it super sensitive for detecting light bites.
Make Your ‘Eyes Spin
Another overlooked component to pulling crawler harnesses behind bouncers is the lures blades. While choosing the right color can be crucial, so too is picking out the right size and shape, as well nipping on only the highest-quality bait.
Before agonizing over color schemes, I’ll first change the size of my harness blades, as well as vary shapes. Colorado, Indiana and willow leaf blades, even in the same size, differ from one another enough that it will change the position of where the harness rides in the water column. The deep cup and round shape of a Colorado gives off the most “thump” in the water, while the Indiana spins easiest at slow speeds. The thin shape of a willow leaf blade has very little water resistance and allows the lure a deeper run through the water.
For the most part, I use a variety of Northland Tackle’s crawler harnesses right out of their package. If I snag up or damage the hooks or line, I’ll re-tie the components using 12-pound-test Berkley Trilene XT (Extra Tough) monofilament and razor-sharp Daiichi hooks.
To keep my nightcrawlers as fresh as possible (because the smell of dying worms repels fish, not attracts), I keep them cool and moist (not wet) in a foam-lined Plano Leech and Worm Container. It will hold several dozen large worms and bedding, yet is small enough to fit in a cooler when the summer sun’s beating down on the boat.
Tip: When panfish are being pesky and nipping the tails off my ‘crawlers, I’ll thread on a Berkley Gulp! Nightcrawler. The scent wafting from these soft baits attracts walleye from afar, and although they feel like the real thing, they are tough enough to withstand the constant pecking from perch, bluegill, rock bass and the like.
A Little Particular
In my mind, more walleye are targeted by anglers with crawler harnesses and bottom bouncers within the natural lakes and reservoirs of the United States than any other rig. But pulling them properly is crucial. It’s the little particulars that matter.
Keep your bouncer at bottom, not on bottom; change blade sizes and shapes until you find the one that set off strikes; use only healthy live bait.
Mark Martin is a touring walleye pro with AIM Pro Walleye Series ( www.aimfishing.com
) and an instructor with the Fishing Vacation/Schools (www.fishingvacationschool.com)
who lives in southwest Lower Michigan. For more information, check out his website at