Snagless: Tipping The Treetops
July 24, 2012
The unpleasant thought of getting snagged may cause some anglers to cringe at the proposition of targeting walleyes in submerged timber. But in waters that have submerged trees as habitat, a population of walleyes can be found in the trees nearly year-round and catching them is completely feasible.
Submerged trees are often found in reservoirs and lakes where the water level fluctuates. In larger reservoirs, thousands of trees that lined the river before a dam was built may still remain rooted in the lake bottom, providing excellent cover for baitfish and walleyes. During periods of low water, trees, brush, and other vegetation grow along the shoreline. When above average precipitation brings the lake back to a normal or above normal pool, trees and brush are submerged and become underwater habitat for fish.
Trolling crankbaits just over the top of trees or brush is a great way to tempt walleyes to rise up and take the bait. The challenge is getting crankbaits close enough to the cover to trigger strikes, but not so close that the baits continuously snag.
Using leadcore is a great method of depth control. It allows for positioning baits at a precise depth and location. Leadcore line features a thin lead filament running throughout the core of a braided Dacron line. It spreads the weight out over a long distance and allows for precise trolling depth that can be easily altered by varying boat speed. Leadcore also closely follows the path of the boat, which allows anglers to use electronics in conjunction with boat control to position baits precisely along key spots -- like just over the treetops.
Once you learn how to use leadcore and where it positions your bait, based on how much line you let out, it's easy to control where your bait is tracking in the water column. At 2 to 2.2 mph, for instance, letting out five colors of leadcore positions the bait down around the 30-foot mark, so if the trees top out at 29 to 30 feet, your crankbaits are right in the zone, occasionally ticking the tops of the trees.
To raise your baits, increase your boat speed until they are no longer ticking the tops of trees. Then slow your speed until the baits again start ticking the cover. After you get a feel for how leadcore responds to boat speed, it's easy to speed up to raise your baits over the trees, or slow down to let them settle and work deeper.
Crankbaits will eventually snag if you let them dive deep into the cover. Even if a walleye strikes before your bait gets hung up, it's extremely difficult while trolling crankbaits to pull a walleye from cover -- particularly in deep water. Walleyes instinctively fight their way back to the cover, often swimming in and around branches until you have little chance of catching the fish or salvaging your bait.
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Consider underwater current, especially when you're trying to position crankbaits at a specific depth. When trolling against current or into waves, the increased water resistance on the line raises the baits. When trolling downstream or with the waves, crankbaits tend to dive deeper. To keep them tracking at the same depth in either direction, simply let out less line going downstream and more while going upstream.
When a walleye strikes close to cover, horsing the fish up and out of the cover is the best option. Simply raise your rod tip and start cranking fairly fast and hard until you feel the fish is up and away from the trees, then start fighting the fish with a little more finesse. Horsing fish may cause the hooks to pull free from a fish's mouth, or possibly even cause the line to break, but it's worth the risk. If you give a walleye the chance to swim back down into the cover, you'll rarely land the fish.
A section of monofilament, fluorocarbon, or superline spliced to the end of the leadcore provides a low-visibility leader (compared to the relatively thick diameter of leadcore line). Use a snap for attaching crankbaits and a snap-swivel for connecting big-bladed spinners that might twist the line. John Butts, a PWT pro who has had success trolling crankbaits near the tops of trees without losing many crankbaits, prefers using a long superline leader.
"Snagging the trees is just something I accept as part of the gig. However, I rarely lose my expensive crankbaits," Butts claims. "I use a 50-foot, 20-pound Berkley FireLine leader, which allows me to back my boat over the spot where the bait is snagged, reel the FireLine back on the reel, and tug the crankbait free. Reeling the FireLine back onto the reel prevents the line from breaking at the knot, or worse yet, the leadcore breaking. Some anglers are concerned with attaching the bait directly to the FireLine, but in most cases, it doesn't seem to matter, except in ultra-clear water."
Skinny, no-stretch superlines allow crankbaits to achieve 20- to 30-percent additional depth (compared to monofilament). Superlines also increase the amount of lure vibration transmitted back up the line, which telegraphs if a lure is running properly. While hookups excel due to a lack of stretch, the downside is that it's necessary to fight fish in slowly and subtly, using a loose drag, to prevent ripping the hooks out of the fish's mouth.
Fishing submerged wood requires an altered understanding of the time you'll spend snagged and the amount of tackle you can expect to lose. In reality, you will get snagged and you may lose some tackle, possibly lots of tackle. Northern pike like submerged timber, too, and their line-cutting teeth may add to your tackle losses.
But if you can accept those variables, you're well on your way to learning how to extract walleyes from wood. Once you become proficient at using leadcore line to precisely position your crankbaits, you may not get snagged at all, or lose much tackle. Your only regret may be that you waited so long to muster up the courage to tick the tops of trees with your $5.99 crankbaits.