Inveterate walleye pro Mark Martin, for instance, has Muskegon Lake, a drowned river mouth connecting to Lake Michigan. Here, he grew up row-trolling at night with his father and grandfather, refining a pattern over ensuing decades with #13 Original Rapalas accented with reflective tape — nowadays eased along with an electric motor for quiet, deliberate stealth. In my case, I have Long Lake, across the road from my home in Traverse City, Michigan, where I’ve scored with ice-fishing spoons in August, whacked the biggest fish of the season in a foot of water while casting suspending Smithwick Rogues at night in November’s sideways snowstorms, and discovered the effectiveness of trolling hot-pink cranks even in water clarity exceeding 15 feet. Yes, we tend to do things a bit differently here in the Wolverine state.
Todd Frank’s own private Oneida — that is, Lake Oneida, near “Frankenstein’s” home in upstate New York. That’s when and where I learned his well-refined prescription for trolling two planer boards and two magnum bottom bouncers for targeting (1) larger though fewer suspended walleyes, and (2) more plentiful but smaller deep dwellers — both at the same time.
Fact is, Oneida’s walleye fishing has recently been on fire. For one, Oneida’s in a boom cycle following a combination of cormorant control administered by the Feds and copious walleye stocking directed by the state. Then, too, there’s Frank’s proficiency in spotting not only bottom changes but also fish, with color electronics complemented by a two-board, two-bouncer system trolled on the fringe of the lake basin. Furthermore, as I later discovered, the program is anything but a one-lake wonder.
PANCAKES AND PING
True to summer patterns throughout walleye country, Oneida’s walleyes set up on the edge of the lake’s deep basin. An anomaly here, however, is the existence of iron-manganese formations called “pancakes” — patches of hard bottom that concentrate walleyes with their proximity to mud. You can see the difference between the two substrates on Lowrance’s color units: Harder is portrayed as a bottom display colored a hotter red; softer bottom is indicated by less pronounced oranges and yellows. “I’ve fished the pancakes all my life,” Frank says, “but the only way I found out for sure they were there was with the color graph.” At home on Long, unbeknownst to me until testing the X-104c last year, I found that most of my favorite spots from years past were endowed with the same thing, a transition from soft basin to harder bottom.
Likewise, detecting fish on high-powered electronics is a great technological leap forward, too. You can mark fish at trolling speeds, of course, and even with search mode at speeds in excess of 20 mph. (Turn ping speed and sensitivity to max, and the color-line setting to the 70-percent range: Fish show up in streaks of red despite the clutter that normally comes with the sensitivity cranked up high.) “Put the boat on plane and drive around till you find the fish,” Frank says.
Two Boards, Two Bouncers (cont.)
BOUNCERS, BOARDS & ‘CORE
When I fished with this resident expert of Oneida, he already had his trolling passes skirting the pancakes etched into his plot trail on his liquid crystal unit. That meant we could have a blast reeling and dealing, taking the time to delve into the finer points of Frank’s summertime pattern.
The pancakes peter out in 37 to 38 feet of water, and schools of walleyes are indeed focused on the changeover to mud. To get at them, we trolled 4-ounce Northland bottom bouncers (you have to special order them from the manufacturer) on 10-pound Berkley FireLine, plus a leader of 10-pound monofilament extending from the clip off the back of the wire arm to a 3 1/2-inch floating Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue with a black back, chrome sides, and a white belly. Because of Oneida’s greenish tinge well shy of crystal clarity, Frank says the rattles have long outdone baits rigged without them.
To get that Rogue running right at speeds of 1.5 to 1.8 mph, you want the bouncer trolled pretty much below the boat, maybe at a slight angle behind it. “Slight” is the operative word. Let out too much line and you’ll be dredging bottom, dragging and not catching fish. “If the bouncers are way behind the boat, they’re defeating the purpose of bouncers,” Frank says.
Let the weight clunk, then engage the reel and put the rod in a holder back toward the transom. You’re in business, and there’s no mistaking when a walleye rocks a Rogue behind a big weight on FireLine. On Oneida, it was mayhem when we marked ‘em, with the bouncer rods constantly firing.
The other two cranks Frank and I trolled were, indeed, behind boards. Trolling between 160 and 180 feet back on FireLine at the same speeds puts a Bomber 24A in the neighborhood of 24 feet deep, slightly above where we marked roving bait with occasional predators interspersed. True to Frank’s expectations, the bouncers caught the numbers with fish under 20 inches, while the board rods produced less common but larger walleyes in the mid-20-inch range and above.
One variation to round out the repertoire is to troll three colors of segmented leadcore line with the floating Rogue behind a board. Here’s the deal: 20-pound FireLine backing, three colors (30 yards) of 18-pound leadcore, and a 20-foot monofilament leader of 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene XT. “I’d rather run segmented leadcore, because you can troll it behind a board without overweighting and sinking it,” Frank says. Let out 100 feet of the FireLine backing, and Frank figures the extra line accomplishes a depth similar to running four colors of straight leadcore. Estimating running depth, Frank expects five feet of diving depth per color (10 yards) of leadcore) with cranks, and eight feet with spinners trolled at slower speeds in the 1.0-mph range.
With boards, bouncers, and lead, incorporating three kinds of line (monofilament, FireLine, leadcore) accomplishes variations not only in running depth but also in crankbait action, often leading to one combination outproducing the others because of wind and waves, water clarity, and other variables.
Frank’s pet methods do the trick on his own personal proving grounds of Oneida, so I got his program going when I returned to Long Lake. There, with the extra water clarity, minnowbaits without rattles were better than those with them, and I wound up catching bigger fish on the bouncers than on the boards, running FireLine in keeping with Frank’s lesson plan but with hot-pink, custom-painted cranks that you’d think would conflict with the greater water clarity, but didn’t.
Testing the applicability elsewhere, with my own variables in play and the Lowrance’s capabilities for deciphering bottom changes, I found the wizard of Oneida to be right. Two boards and two bouncers yielded the prescription for a consistent summertime pattern, regardless of state or lake.