When it comes to presenting lures and baits near bottom in quick fashion, two choices come to mind: bottom bouncers and three-way rigs. Each has its strengths and inherent weaknesses; used correctly, however, they’re deadly effective.
Bottom bouncers are the solution to presenting livebait at a steady pace a scant few inches above snaggy bottoms, flats, or open basins. A wire feeler arm on most bouncers minimizes hang-ups while scratching upright across rocks and rubble. They also can be fished vertically on a short line, even hovered in place, so long as you avoid slack and don’t let ‘em topple over and snag. Different designs offer presentation options for fine-tuning livebait delivery.
Tackle–Rod: 6- to 7-foot medium-power casting rod. Reel: medium-capacity baitcasting reel. Line: 10-pound-test mono.
Rigging–Most bouncers are designed to present spinner rigs at modest speeds, though they also work well at slow speeds with livebait snells and floater snells, and at higher speeds with flutter spoons. Weight selection, therefore, depends on a combination of depth and speed. Use 1/2- to 1-ounce models for water shallower than 15 feet, 1 1/2- to 2-ouncers for 15 to 20 feet, and 2 1/2- to 3-ounce weights in 30- to 40-foot depths. On most bouncers, a lead weight is molded onto a bent wire shaft, with the wire protruding below the sinker to deflect snags. The other end has a snap for attaching snells or tying leaders. Tie the line to the eye at the intersection of the two wire arms.
The standard spinner rig is about 30 inches long, with a #3 or #4 Colorado blade. Switch to a larger #5 for more vibration, or to Indiana blades for less thump. Popular colors include hot orange, yellow, or chartreuse for darker water; nickel, silver, or nonfluorescent colors for clear water; and copper, gold, or neutral colors for conditions in between.
Use a 2-hook harness tied with #6 hooks for nightcrawlers. Insert the forward hook lightly through the crawler’s nose, the second partway down and into but not out of the body so the crawler trails naturally behind the spinner. Use a single hook for sucker-hooked leeches and lip-hooked minnows.
Three-way rigs once were considered a simplistic alternative to more refined slip-sinker rigs. But past misconceptions regarding their limited adaptability and use have been washed away on a tide of productivity. They catch walleyes in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs; along structure and across open basins; and now more than ever before, at different depths. Livebait, plastics, crankbaits, floating jigheads, spinners, flutter spoons, and combinations thereof follow the three-way lead. Take advantage of this versatile rigging system, or you’re missing fish.
Tackle–Rod: 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-foot medium-heavy-power casting rod. Reel: medium-capacity baitcasting reel. Line: 8- to 12-pound-test abrasion-resistant mono.
Rigging–A three-way swivel provides separate attachment points for the main line, dropper line, and leader. Varying the length of the dropper line positions the lure or bait closer to or farther from the bottom. Changing leader length positions a lure or bait farther or closer to the hardware, which to some degree affects how far off bottom a presentation runs. In general, the longer the leader, the farther an offering will droop toward bottom, unless a float is added to the leader to increase buoyancy.
Another versatile three-way rig can be constructed without a three-way swivel. Tie a standard barrel swivel between your main line and leader. Next, thread a long dropper line up through one of the loops of the swivel, and clamp a lead shot somewhere on the dropper line opposite the sinker and swivel. The shot acts like a bobber stop. Where you set it determines the distance the swivel rides above bottom, and thus the depth the lure or bait runs. If you snag, a firm pull slides the shot off your dropper line and allows the rig to pull free of the snagged weight.
To feed more line to soft-biting fish, try a double-barreled rig. First tie a standard dropper line and weight to one loop of a barrel swivel. Next, thread your main line through the opposite loop of the swivel, and then tie it to a second swivel connected to your leader. Substitute a bobber stop and bead for the second swivel, and you can easily adjust leader length as well.
So which is best? Both are great under the right circumstances. In general, however, rugged rock bottoms or areas with frequent changes in depth tend to favor bottom bouncers, because bouncers excel at crawling up and over objects and following variations in contour. Three-way rigs, on the other hand, work great in river current or when trolling relatively flat basins with softer bottom or little in the way of snags. In fact, you can fish three-ways from an anchored position in rivers, or when casting from shore into current, because tension on the line will prevent a three-way from collapsing. A bouncer, by comparison, must be kept moving, or dangled immediately below the boat, to prevent it from tipping over.