In the past decade, trolling open water for suspended walleyes has risen from obscurity to prominence on large bodies of water, notably the Great Lakes. Never before has catching so many oversized fish in a few hours been possible. Experienced trollers almost make it look easy; it isn’t. The principles are straightforward, but so many interrelated factors come into play that a lot of practice is necessary to put it into practice.
To be successful, you must apply your set of multiple lines and lures as simply, effectively, and tangle-free as possible. That means applying a few basic guidelines. Once in progress, then you can begin fine-tuning speed, lure choice, and depth range. First, however, you have to get those lines in the water, running true, on target for suspended or basin-hugging walleyes.
The first principle is to locate midlake areas with suspended or basin fish activity. Do this by noticing the activity of other boats, listening to a marine band radio, proceeding to areas of recent fish activity, or trying known seasonal hot spots. Once you’re in the area, slow down enough to look for the presence and depth of suspended fish on electronics. Scan parallel paths across the basin until something good shows up on your screen. Now you have a target area and depth range. Punch in GPS coordinates to establish a starting point.
Next, proceed about a quarter mile upwind of the school or target area, slow down to trolling speed (or less), and begin heading downwind toward your target. Trolling downwind is always easiest. Should you ever need to slow the boat or shift into neutral, such as to net a fish, the wind and waves will continue pushing your boat and lines downwind, maintaining the spread between lines, planer boards, and Dipsey Divers. Should you ever troll crosswind or upwind, and for some reason have to reduce speed or shift out of gear, the wind will immediately turn your boat downwind, eventually crossing and tangling your multiline setup, putting you out of action for an extended time. You’ll only do this once before learning to avoid spiral trolling.
While trolling downwind, let out your first line and lure behind the boat, adding a clip-on sinker (OffShore Snap Weight or equivalent) if necessary to take your lure into the target depth. When enough line is out behind the boat for the lure to reach the desired depth, engage the reel, clip a planer board onto the line, and then let out enough additional line (under tension) to swing the board far out to one side of the boat. When the board’s running a sufficient distance out to the side, engage the reel and set the rod in a holder. One line up and running.
Repeat the same process off the other side of the boat, for a total of two outside (farthest out) lines. Veteran anglers sometimes prefer to run an unweighted line high in the water column, often just a few feet below the surface, to check for the presence of “high” or exceptionally active fish. Consider it. In any case, run your outside lines shallowest, to encounter fish pushed to the side by the approach and passing of your boat. Reach out to shallower fish sliding to the sides. Deeper fish (more than 25 to 30 feet) are less affected by the boat’s presence.
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