There was a time when slipsinker livebait rigs ruled the waves and excess hardware had plummeted out of fashion, relegated to the rusty bottoms of old tackle boxes on the back shelf in the garage. But like a phoenix, heavy lead combos began rising from the ashes. It began along the Missouri River, where reservoir anglers started trolling a newfangled contraption resembling a section of bent coat hanger poked through a lead weight. Actually, it was lead molded onto a wire frame, likely in a Frankenstein-like experiment spawned in some enterprising angler’s basement. As walleye catches spread and the numbers of subterranean manufacturers grew, bottom bouncing crawled out of the abyss and evolved into a significant tactic among the walleye crowd. From humble beginnings, a legendary presentation was born.
The Basic Bouncer
The standard bottom bouncer has perhaps a 10-inch wire leg with a weight molded to the stem at about the midpoint, sometimes higher, sometimes lower. Higher is more snag-resistant, lower (or at the base of the wire) perhaps offers better bottom feel. At the top of the leg, the wire is bent at about 90 degrees to form a shorter arm, generally with a snap swivel at the end, to which you attach the looped end of a snell—livebait rig, spinner rig, whatever. In essence, it’s an easy on-off snell-changing skip-along fixed sinker.
Because the wire leg protrudes below the weight, it fends off rocks and usually avoids wedging into crevices between boulders, as it crawls over and between them. As long as you maintain tension and motion, the sinker stands up, although it rocks as it crawls up and over an object or touches bottom, with the foot momentarily lodging in place as the assembly tilts forward, then backward once bottom contact is broken.
This rocking motion imparts movement to your snell, and thus your livebait, making it surge, then pause. If a spinner’s attached to the snell, the spinner pulses, then slackens rotation. Change triggers strikes, and bouncers continually impart change, just by their basic design and function.
Most bouncers come with either a twist or an open R-bend at the junction of the wire leg and arm, to which you tie your main line extending up to your rod. R-bends tend to minimize tangles, since the knot can rotate around the bent wire as the bouncer drops to the bottom on the initial descent. Twist bends are inherently less self-correcting and more tangle prone. Your best bet when dropping a bouncer assembly to bottom is to lower the rig into the water and then let it descend under light tension, extending the rig behind the bouncer rather than letting the sinker plunge and risk wrapping the trailing snell around your main line.
Any snell of about 3 1⁄2 to 4 feet or less is fair game to be trailed behind bouncers. Any longer, and the snell will likely tend to droop below horizontal and snag bottom or cover. In light cover or where snags are sparse, simply drift or troll the rig along, skipping across bottom. In heavier cover or amongst frequent snags, consider holding the rod and suspending the bouncer slightly off bottom most of the time, occasionally letting it drop back down, touching bottom momentarily before raising the rod tip again.
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