Diving planers and trolling sinkers have been around the Great Lakes almost as long as the walleyes these tools are used to catch. Over the decades, walleye trolling aids have taken many forms, with innovations for catching open-water species.
Some directional divers not only dive, but also provide horizontal lure coverage. Others, such as Luhr Jensen's Deep Six, dive straight down and are used as flatlines or incorporated with planer boards to increase lure coverage. The Slider Diver, for example, allows anglers to thread their line through the diver so the lead length can be readily adjusted. The Slider Light Bite is set to detect light bites.
The trip arm mechanisms on diving planers vary, too. Some have adjustable tension settings while others use magnets. Luhr Jensen Dipsy Divers accept snap-on rings, allowing an angler to adjust diving depth. Other types, such as the Walker Deeper Diver, come without add-on rings, but offer different sizes to match fishing depth.
Some of these devices float and dive like a crankbait, while others sink and gain their depth by virtue of a diving surface. Collectively these trolling aids come in many sizes, shapes, designs, and fish-attracting colors. With such an array of refined products on the market, one might wonder if open-water trolling technology can be further advanced. The answer is yes and the latest innovation is called the Tadpole, made by Off Shore Tackle Company.
The Tadpole gets its name from its shape, resembling a larval frog. This in-line diving device is changing the way anglers fish with trolling weights. Snapweights, keel sinkers, bead chain, Rubber-cor, and other trolling weights have one thing in common — trolling depth is primarily determined by the size or weight of the sinker. So anglers typically manipulate running depth by changing weights or adjusting trolling speed.
Tadpole forces anglers to rethink that logic. It's not only a weighted device, it also dives like a crankbait, a potential advance over traditional trolling weights. Anglers can fish deeper at a range of speeds and while using shorter leads — the length of line from rod to Tadpole.
The Tadpole's tow arm is built so a round snap lodges in an elbow and cause the Tadpole to assume a head-down orientation that enables it to dive rapidly. To set the Tadpole, make sure the snap is in the elbow position before deploying your desired lead length. As line is released, the Tadpole starts diving. The trailing lure's fished on a short leader attached to the back of the diver.
When a fish is hooked, resistance forces the snap to slide to the forward position on the tow arm. Now the Tadpole is no longer a diving device, but an in-line weight. Even better, the angler isn't fighting the resistance of the Tadpole, just the fish.
Its design also allows the Tadpole to be reset after it's deployed. Say you hook a fish and start fighting it. Suddenly it escapes. No problem. Feed slack line and the Tadpole resets itself.
Because the Tadpole is a sinking-diving device, it runs deeper than similar sized in-line weights. For example, a 1-ounce keel sinker runs about 16 feet deep when fished on 10-pound test, set 150 feet back, and trolled at 1.5 mph. A 1-ounce Tadpole fished 150 feet back at 1.5 mph runs at 25 feet. This makes the Tadpole a great option for most trolling applications because a greater range of depths can be achieved with moderate lead lengths.
The diving capability of the Tadpole helps anglers troll at a range of speeds. Keel sinkers are often used for trolling crawler harnesses or spinners that perform well at speeds of 1.5 mph and below. If trolling speed is bumped up to 2 mph or faster, these weights rise in the water column and sacrifice running depth. Friction increases when trolling speed is increased, reducing running depth.
Friction has less effect on the Tadpole. At increased speed, the diving surface of the Tadpole forces it to run deeper. Increased friction on the line negates some of this diving force. The net depth loss at speeds up to 2.5 mph is about 10 percent of the depth achieved at 1.5 mph.
The Tadpole runs deeper on shorter lead lengths, and it can be trolled faster, allowing it work with a range of lures. It's great for small spoons or stickbaits that excel at fast speeds, making it versatile for Great Lakes walleyes.
Rigging and Accessories
Rig the Tadpole by attaching the line to a snap that clips onto the tow arm. Next, tie a 4- to 6-foot leader to a snap swivel on the tail of the Tadpole. A 12- to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader is ideal for spinners, spoons, and stickbaits.
The Tadpole can be fished on a flat line or with an in-line planer board or a mast system. As with all trolling products, using a line-counter reel enables anglers to duplicate effective lead lengths and get the most from the Tadpole as well as other trolling devices.
Keel sinkers and other traditional trolling weights continue to be useful for targeting open-water walleyes. They work best at slow to moderate trolling speeds, which allow them to achieve significant depth with normal lead lengths.
The Tadpole diver brings something new to the party as it can be trolled at slow, moderate, and fast speeds without sacrificing depth. That's versatile. Note that all sinking divers are best used on fish suspended in the water column. Trying to fish these speed-dependant devices too close to bottom structure begs for trouble.
The Great Lakes harbor some of the biggest walleyes in North America. The key to approaching these daunting waters is dicing them into a handful of slam-dunk fishing destinations. Better yet, these outstanding fisheries are within reach of millions of anglers from major metropolitan areas including Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
Despite substantial walleye fishing by sport and commercial entities, Great Lakes walleyes continue to thrive. Many ports offer great fishing from April through November.
This appendage of Lake Huron has seen major changes in recent years, most benefitting the walleye population. For reasons biologists don't fully understand, Huron's alewife population collapsed a few years ago. No one predicted that the absence of this key forage species would benefit walleye anglers. It turns out that adult alewives prey on walleye eggs and fry. Without alewife predation, Saginaw Bay walleyes have enjoyed unprecedented spawning success in recent years. Limit catches have become common.
Top times to visit are May and June, but fishing remains good all summer. Trolling crankbaits, spoons, and spinner rigs tipped with 'crawlers produces most fish. A good weed bite also provides jig fisherman fast action and bonus pike and largemouth bass.
LAKE ERIE WESTERN BASIN
Until the spring of 2011, Erie's Western Basin hadn't seen a productive spawning season since 2003. Biologists know that strong year-classes like the one of 2003 are rare. Weather conditions were ideal and the spring of 2011 appears to have produced another banner year-class to buoy the fishery for years to come. That's great news for anglers who target walleye at ports including Monroe, Luna Pier, and Toledo.
The most popular methods in the Western Basin continue to be trolling and drifting spinners in spring, and trolling crankbaits or spoons during summer.
LAKE ERIE CENTRAL BASIN
What's good for the Western Basin of Lake Erie is also good for the Central Basin. The huge 2011 year-class also occurred in many parts of the Central Basin. Biologists estimate it could be the largest in Lake Erie history.
Walleyes that spawn in the Western Basin travel through the Central Basin during spring and fall. These transient and resident fish make for easy pickings at popular ports including Port Clinton, Huron, and Lorain.
In April, jigging is the most popular method on spawning reefs or in deeper adjacent waters. After the spawn in May, drifting or trolling nightcrawler harnesses continues to dominate the scene. By early summer, trolling 'crawler harnesses, crankbaits, and spoons work well. During fall, trolling with deep-diving cranks is the most successful tactic for Central Basin walleyes.
The Eastern Basin has become best known for yielding adult-size walleyes many miles offshore. Good numbers of walleye spawn and live in the Eastern Basin year around. In addition, many fish from the Western and Central basins spend most of the summer feeding on smelt that are abundant in the Eastern Basin.
Fishing peaks in summer, with open-water trolling tactics including downriggers, diving planers, lead core, and wire-line trolling critical for fish found 30, 40, 50, or even 60 feet below the surface.
Top ports in the Eastern Basin include Erie, Dunkirk, and Buffalo. Willowleaf spinner harnesses, spoons, and deep-diving crankbaits are productive. Bonus fish like steelhead also entertain anglers who venture offshore and fish the deep basins in the middle of the lake.
Green Bay, an appendage of Lake Michigan, is one of the richest walleye fisheries in North America. Fueled by an almost unlimited forage base of emerald shiners, alewives, and gizzard shad, Green Bay has become a top walleye destination in recent years.
Anglers score by trolling 'crawler harnesses with spinners on bottom bouncers or with in-line weights for suspended fish. Green Bay contains all the year-classes and a better average size walleye than Saginaw Bay or the Western Basin of Lake Erie. Fish over 25 inches are common. The bite is good in May, peaking in June and July, making it a slam dunk for vacationing anglers.
Green Bay is supported by great spawning waters in the northern parts of the Bay known as the Garden Peninsula, as well as waters where the Fox River enters at the south end near the Packers' playground.