January 24, 2017
By Jeff Simpson
A hop, a skip and a bounce. A ground ball to shortstop? Nope! A bottom bouncer propelled across the bottom of a reservoir, trailing a flashing, wobbling walleye spinner harness and usually dressed with livebait. Perhaps the ultimate combination of coverage, triggering and temptation for walleyes, the undisputed favorite with many reservoir anglers coast to coast.
Why are bottom-bouncer presentations so popular? Because they're both effective and easy to use. You don't even have to hold the rod. Just pop it in a rod holder, and wait for it to bend. Fish on.
The intriguing bent-wire design of the bouncer incorporates a weight to get the sinker down, a wire leg to let it crawl over obstructions without snagging, and the ability to self-adjust to depth changes without your changing line length every frustrating five minutes. As long as you keep the line tight and the rig moving ahead, it doesn't fall over and snag.
Bouncers in the 1- to 2-ounce range are most popular among walleye anglers, allowing them to troll 5- to 20-foot depths at modest speeds of 1 to 2 mph, ideal for walleye spinners dressed with livebait. Fish much deeper, and you can beef up to 3 ounces; in the extreme shallows, 1/2 ounce may be enough.
Experts play with bouncer design and color: Stiffer wire transmits changes in bottom content up the line, either to a handheld presentation or a sensitive rod tip that betrays these subtle changes. Longer legs hold spinners a few additional inches above bottom, helping to minimize snags. In any case, avoid spinner snells longer than 36 to 40 inches when fishing bouncers: they drag on the bottom.
Do bright yellow or orange bouncers attract fish in dingy water and along mudlines -- and plain lead finishes better match clear-water conditions, where fish might be spooked by excessive brightness? You make the call, yourself -- as always, by experimenting to see what works best.
If you took a nationwide survey of the most popular spinner rig for average conditions, it would surely be size 3 or 4 Colorado blades in orange or yellow color patterns. Why? This combo attracts midsize walleyes in average conditions, at average trolling speed, and in the colors the walleye is best adapted to see. But that's not to say this is always the best combo. Clearer water may call for a smaller blade, a 1 or 2, in a silver smooth or hammered finish to imitate flashing minnows without overdoing it. Or, you could try a forage pattern like perch, to imitate the local walleye diet. Where fish may be larger or where more flag-waving is necessary, a size 5 or 6 blade might be the better choice. If you find yourself in darker waters, though, a brighter color like firetiger is undoubtedly more what you want, to catch an 'eye in the murk.
When adding speed seems necessary to your presentation, narrower Indiana blades rotate better at higher speeds, making the switch a logical one. Sometimes you might even choose a willow-leaf blade, although these require almost excessive, uncomfortable speeds to keep them turning. Fact is, however, that the blade doesn't always have to whirl like a dervish. Sometimes, a simple side-to-side flop is adequate to attract a walleye; but remember to adjust your electric trolling motor speed accordingly.
Two-hook harnesses are most common on spinner rigs, designed to be dressed with nightcrawlers, with the nose nicked on the front hook and the second hook inserted midway down the crawler, trailing a floppy tail. If pesky panfish try to peck your live crawler off the hooks, substitute a more durable, artificial tail, like a Power Worm. This is a great substitute when livebait isn't available, such as on Canadian fly-ins.
If you're fishing with either leeches or live minnows, single-hook rigs excel. Hook the leech through the suction-cup end; the minnow, either up through the lips -- or, insert the hook into the mouth, out one side of the gill opening and then nick the point just barely beneath the minnow's back. In all cases, choose the right-sized hook. It needs to be properly sized, to provide sufficient hooking ability without overwhelming the size and natural action of the livebait.
Most bouncer enthusiasts fish spinner-bouncer combos on light- or medium-light casting tackle. Rods should have a long handle. When hand-holding the rod, position the handle under your wrist to take the strain off your arm while occasionally pumping-and-dropping the rod tip, causing the spinner to surge and then pause. Longer handles also function best when inserting the rod handle in a rod holder.
Small flippin' (casting) reels spooled with 10-poundmonofilament are ideal for this application. They're not only lightweight to hold, but you can pop the button to let out line and then simply lift your thumb to have the reel re-engage. No need to reach around with the other hand and rotate the reel handle to re-engage the gears.
For bouncer fishing, avoid using a rod that's too stiff. A high-graphite rod placed in a holder won't bend enough on the strike; a spooky walleye will feel resistance and spit the bait out. Instead, use a rod with a softer rod tip or a lower-grade composite rod. Either one bend more easily, allowing an extra second or two for the fish to work its way up the bait, hooking itself before feeling any resistance. So, don't grab the rod out of the holder, when you see a strike -- wait till the rod bends over. Your fish has just hooked itself.
When trolling spinners, typically let enough line out for the rig to trail at perhaps a 45-degree angle behind the boat. This guarantees frequent bottom contact. You don't need your line to be vertical; in fact, you don't want it to be. This angle and your line length provide enough distance for the fish not to be spooked. It also allows bouncers to crawl over contours without your needing to change the line length; provides enough stretch (cushion) in the line to avoid spooking fish on the strike; spreads lines without tangling, and just plain maximizes the effectiveness of spinner presentations while covering water at modest trolling speeds. What more could you want?
Bouncers, however, can be used in slow, vertical drifting applications, too. When the wind is up, spinners usually excel at drifting speeds. But when it's calm and you need to creep along in deep water with your electric trolling motor, sometimes a plain livebait snell (no spinner) is a more effective way to go. To do this, you need to let out just enough line for the bouncer's leg to scratch bottom. Any more, and it's likely to flop over and snag. When you get a bite, just lean the rod tip back slightly toward the fish, then sweepset forward. A great combo for snag resistance when fishing boulders, along with slow subtlety to tempt bites rather than triggering strikes, per se.
Bouncers offer loads of ways to fish 'em right and few ways to fish 'em wrong. Adapt to conditions by fine-tuning your presentations, and you'll be well on your way to catching walleyes.