Crawlers and walleyes go together like cookies and milk, but crawler rigging a worm right isn't as intuitive as you might guess. What you've been doing with crawlers may be timeless and proven, maybe a spinner harness on a bottom bouncer or as part of a trolling spread. Or maybe you prefer nose-hooking a fat crawler behind a slipsinker and letting it dance across complex structure. How about a Slow Death Hook and half a crawler.
Like the wheel, nightcrawlers are still performing their fundamental function — catching fish. But like the wheel, we continue to improve the basic concept. This rigging system involves a bit of re-engineering and polishing to make it even more efficient and size-selective.
The Slow Death method involves a purposely kinked Aberdeen hook that makes a half crawler spin seductively. It's as ingenious and as efficient as it is simple, born on the windswept Missouri River reservoirs, the same waters where the bottom bouncer was conceived and perfected.
I'm a tinkerer, always asking myself why something works and whether improvements can be made, particularly in regards to targeting larger walleyes. I offer a bit of history.
After seeing how deadly the Slow Death method has been in recent years, I began trying to make it even better and more selective for large walleyes. I wanted a larger profile to deter small fish while making the package worthy of the efforts of those calorie-conscious female walleyes.
I believe that mature fish can be discerning feeders that conduct cost:benefit analyses as they hunt. Seldom do they consider expending more calories than can be obtained in return. They don't go chasing every morsel that swims by.
I needed a new twist on a proven concept, literally and figuratively. I wanted a rig that offered a larger and more attractive profile to interest big walleyes, while retaining the irresistible rolling action of the original Slow Death method.
I recalled a system taught to me years ago by a couple of farmer-fishermen that had potential. The basic rig was a #1 or #2 hook on one end of a 2- or 3-foot leader of stiff mono, with a #4 hook about 3 inches up. An entire crawler was threaded onto the rig to keep it from being torn off.
The threaded crawler and larger trailing hook gave the rig a distinct rolling action. Its attraction to walleyes was undeniable. The farmers would grab some egg sinkers, snap swivels, a half dozen leaders wrapped on a piece of cardboard, a pail of crawlers plucked from the yard, and they were set. Man, did that rig catch fish, in all sorts of conditions.
Yet I saw room for improvement. I downsized it, using limp 8-pound line and a #6 hook on the lead end and #4 or #2 on the trailing end. I soon learned that by impaling the crawler just in front of the collar, the free section would twirl on its own. This rig served me well for years and was relegated to occasional tough bite duty as I worked with other rigging options.
I soon realized that the Slow Death combined with farmer-style leaders might become the most versatile and deadly crawler system yet. That's how the best innovations come about, ingenious yet mind blowingly uncomplicated. The Slow Death Hook itself is simply two kinks to an Aberdeen hook with a needle-nose and Voila, a near magical fish catching system anyone with a bottom bouncer can excel with.
I have two versions of this rig. One involves threading the crawler and the other hooks it in a conventional manner. Each achieves a similar, though slightly different look. At times, walleyes show a preference for one or the other. I always have both options ready and let the fish decide. I prefer the threaded version for a hand-held rod and the non-threaded version for use in a rod holder.
An important element to both is light, limber line. I've had a large spool of 8-pound Ande Backcountry for many years that has served me well. The line should not impede the unique rolling action we've built into this leader. You also need a line strong enough to avoid breakoffs from the big walleyes this rig attracts. As for leader length, 6 feet is a good starting point. It provides not only a bit of distance behind the weight, but also lets the rig achieve its full potential, action-wise.
Threaded Rig: For the threaded version, I snell a #4 Mustad Slow Death hook (any color), then a #6 premium octopus hook about 4 inches up from it. Larger hooks dampen the action. Make sure both hook shanks lie in identical position on the line. This spacing is important to stretch the crawler to full length, to rotate properly. Believe me, this results from lots of experimentation. This rig works as is, but is vastly improved by adding color in the form of a-5mm bead directly above the lead hook and a moving attractor such as a Smile Blade from Mack's Lure. Metal spinners subdue the action of the worm and also limit speed options.
To thread the crawler (the bigger and juicier the better) onto the leader, you can use a commercial threader or make your own. Slide the threader tube into the crawler just ahead of its collar and run it through to the tail in one continuous motion. I've found it helps to place the crawler on my thigh to steady it.
Then place the threader and crawler between your legs, using them as a vice, and insert the trailing Slow Death hook into the threader while keeping tension on the line. Then slide the entire crawler, securing the tail with the lead hook. This leaves the fattest part of the crawler, beyond the collar, to twist freely behind the Slow Death Hook. Leave the hook gap completely exposed for proper action and easy hook-sets. If no bites occur in about 10 minutes, rig up a new crawler.
Smile Blades works with many presentations but truly excel here. They spin whether you're barely moving or running several miles per hour. Moreover, they add an unpredictable flip-flop wobble to the slowly spinning presentation that seems to indicate vulnerability.
I use the .8-inch Smile Blade most of the time, going to the 1.1-incher at times. This combination of components offers a tasteful attraction, not a gaudy distraction. Use color combinations that work on the waters you fish. Contrast is good and I've had consistent success with white beads and dark Smile Blades.
Non-Threaded Rig: The second method involves a hook reversal, using the Slow Death hook as lead hook and the octopus bait hook as trailer. Thread the head of a crawler onto the Slow Death Hook just short of the snell, then stretch the rest of the worm and hook the trailing hook into the tail. With extremely large crawlers, you may want to pinch off a bit, shortening it closer to the end hook and letting worm juice leak out.
Since we don't thread the crawler on the line, the lead Slow Death Hook gives it the right amount of roll. When fish show a preference for this option, you're in luck since it's easier to rig, as you don't have to thread a crawler after each fish.
This setup works well on a dead rod. I typically use a St. Croix LTWS80MLF2 for the task. Its limber tip lets the fish take the bait without feeling the rod. Once it loads, no-stretch braid (I use 10-pound FireLine) lets you merely turn the handle quickly to set the hook, just before you lift it from the holder. If that sounds odd, it works. Once you get the hang of it, you won't go back.
These rigs represent a long history of tweaking components and modifying approaches. Feel free to add your own wrinkles to this deadly system.
Both rigging options work extremely well with bottom bouncers. For the threaded version, I like to use a slip-style bouncer so you can feed line in Lindy-rig fashion to light biting walleyes. Should they prove aggressive, just drop the rod back to them a bit and sweep-set the hook.
A light and sensitive rod that allows you to sense the lightest pickups is in order. I use the St. Croix TWS70MLF. Traditional bouncers work well with the non-threaded version, set in a rod holder. A system like this excels anywhere, from ultra slow on up to more than 2 mph. It's equally effective for picking apart structural elements and for quickly covering water on broad flats.
Another option is to pitch it out well behind the boat with a split shot above a snap swivel, and fish it dead-rod style. This rig excels in the middle of the water column. It provides enough profile and movement that walleyes become aware of its presence and rise to take it. As in ice fishing or pulling cranks, a rising fish is generally a biting fish.
You should also consider using these rigs as an alternative to spinners in trolling spreads over expansive open water or even tight to shore on planer boards while contour-trolling. Other weighting systems lend themselves to this presentation — Dispsys, leadcore, and snap or keel weights. I believe Great Lakes trollers would find success with these setups. I have yet to find a circumstance where I couldn't get bit using these leaders.
In limited tests, scented plastic worms, such as Berkley Power Worms, work too. As you don't have to rerig as often, softbaits let you capitalize on a hot bite. And bait checking is all but eliminated when trolling.
*Dennis Foster, Mellette, South Dakota, is a walleye guide and contributor to In-Fisherman. Contact him at -eyetimepromotions.com.