Speed Trolling Weededge Walleyes
July 31, 2012
An old proverb says that treble hooks and weeds don't go hand in hand; or, more likely, that treble hooks that penetrate either hooks or hands don't want to come back out again. The second is definitely true; the first, well, you be the judge. When it comes to weededge walleyes, we prefer hooking the fish over the foliage.
Back in the 1950s, angling pioneer E. L. Buck Perry of Hickory, North Carolina, pioneered a contour trolling system that incorporated speed trolling metal-bodied Spoonplugs to map structure by sense of feel while catching fish like crazy. Occasionally bumping bottom with different sizes of lipped diving lures that ran within specific depth ranges -- 6 to 9 feet, 9 to 12 feet -- telegraphed depth and bottom content to the savvy troller.
Tapping brush and timber revealed its existence with surprisingly few hang-ups; those darned Spoonplugs struck the wood nose-first, their wide bodies and wider wobbles protecting the hooks, and they magically flipped over the obstruction, most of the time. Trolling enthusiasts were impressed, until they trolled headlong into their first weedbed and buried the lure amidst the aquatic salad. Thus the philosophy of, "Don't go near the weeds."
Yet even that wasn't true. Perry preached the concept of trolling roughly parallel to weededges just as he trolled parallel to the edges of channel breaks, clean drop-offs, and timberlines, occasionally fading shallower to barely begin brushing the bottom or cover before moving the boat deeper again before the lure snagged or banged bottom too aggressively. Free-running lures caught fish, but a little skip, rustle, and bump created by brief contact with the bottom or cover really caught fish.
So the bottom bumpers and brush brushers caught fish. But few anglers had the patience or developed the skills to tickle weed fringes, due to the occasional snags inherent with frequently ripping rooted weedgrowth out of the bottom, fouling the lure. Thus the system never really achieved its due credit, even to this day, although a diehard group of devotees, usually fishing for species other than walleyes, use it effectively. There's something fitting about jerking bass, pike, or muskies off a weedline; but there's still that age-old stigma against catching walleyes in weeds, because they're allegedly not supposed to be there in the first place. But they are, particularly during the warm water of summer.
You wanna speed troll weededges for walleyes? Anyone can do it with a little attitude adjustment and the right tackle. First, adopt the mental stance that you're multispecies trolling, that all those other fish species you'll catch are just fine, and that the walleyes will come -- sometimes in bunches. Second, to greatly reduce the hassle while increasing your effectiveness around greenery, switch to floating-diving crankbaits, rather than to metal-bodied lures that sink at rest. And third, hang on tight. Strikes are savage and will spin you around in your chair -- even with walleyes.
THE SPEED-TROLLING SYSTEM
Pick out some favorite crankbaits; everyone has a confidence brand or two. We recommend fairly stout-bodied, wide-wobbling plastic or balsa diving lures. Wide bodies telegraph more vibration up the line to indicate that your bait is running properly and not trailing an offending strand of greenery; and their wider wobble helps protect the hooks, trailing below the body away from weeds. Your lure selection should cover diving depths from a few feet down to perhaps 16 to 18 feet -- about as deep as most rooted weeds grow.
A stout long-handled trolling rod is next up, preferably spooled with a no-stretch superline like FireLine or Power Pro, likely around 20-pound test. In Perry's day, short, stiff 5-footers with low-stretch No-Bo monofilament (superlines hadn't been invented yet) were used. Today, however, longer, stiffer 61â„2- to 7-foot casting rods help take the strain off your wrist while trolling and help you rip the lure free of weeds more effectively.
Attach cranks with a snap to facilitate easy lure changes and to avoid stifling lure action with a tight knot. Cranks dive surprisingly deep on short lengths of superline; 60 or 80 feet of line, sometimes less, should be more than enough to reach target depths. If you can't reach the desired depth, switch to a deeper-diving lure. Short lengths of line let you weave in and out along pockets and turns in a weedline better; longer lengths reduce your maneuverability, result in more snags, and miss many nooks and crannies along the edge where fish hide.
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Begin in deep water outside the weeds. Let out enough line to reach down to or near the depth where rooted weeds stop growing -- the depth of the weedline. Begin trolling shallower, angling toward the weeds, quickly enough to get the lure hummin'. Watch your depthfinder. As you start seeing the outer weed fringe, turn parallel to the edge, positioning your boat just outside it. Ideally the inside rod tip closest to the weeds should occasionally brush near the weededge, but not bury the trailing lure in it. Tickling the fringe is your goal.
The system is achieved more by sense of feel and boat control than with electronics. If you're not feeling anything, slightly angle the boat shallower. As you begin feeling something, slightly angle it back out deeper again. Done properly, you'll occasionally brush weeds without fouling. If you're late on the retreat, begin to dig too much and feel resistance, give the rod a quick, powerful surge forward to rip the lure cleanly through the weeds, breaking the strands rather than uprooting the stalks. This is why you should always hold the rod rather than placing it in a holder. Quick, powerful reactions bring lures through cleanly. Brittle cabbage weeds break more cleanly than softer coontail, which tends to uproot rather than break. Yet a skilled hand can speed troll a coontail fringe, too.
Speed trolling weedlines is best done with a small transom outboard rather than a console motor. Once again, quick reactions in steering direction and motor speed will help you escape from trouble before burying the lure. Yet even the best will foul occasionally. An unexpected turn in the weededge traps you; you have nowhere to escape. If you're about to plow, just slow the motor to a crawl and let the lure float back to the surface; thus the use of floating-diving baits. Once the lure rises above the weed tops, creep back out to deeper water, and begin trolling again.
It's best for the driver to forward troll with his rod tip closest to the weededge to permit instant interpretation of changes in the depth and growth and to facilitate quick direction changes. Obviously, you can't troll in only one direction all the time, but it helps. Communicate with your partner when you sense any change.
As you learn contours of prime structures and variations in the weedgrowth, you'll be able to anticipate turns better, weave your trolled lures into and out of pockets with less snagging, position your lures barely inches outside tall standing weeds, and most importantly, catch more fish. In the warm water of summer, the additional speed you're able to impart to lures can at times trigger strikes far better than other systems, particularly if fish are surrounded by hordes of food. Remember, you're triggering impulse strikes, rather than tempting bites. At times, speed is exactly what you need, plus a clean trolling pass that barely tickles the fringe without fouling.
Always visualize the position of the lure in relation to the weededge, acknowledging that the path of the lure and the path of the boat do not necessarily coincide, particularly on turns. When you get good at it, you can literally anticipate the strike as the lure comes off the tip of a point or passes as far into a pocket as is daringly possible. "Five . . . four . . . there's the drop-off . . . three . . . two . . . get ready . . . one . . . BAM! There he is." Right on cue.
Speed the weeds. Tickle the walleyes' fancies. Trigger their interest. Jerk 'em up and outta there. Add a short wire leader if necessary to deflect the teeth of pike and muskies. Mostly, just hang onto your rod, set your drag to slip a bit on heavy impact, and buckle your seat belt. You're goin' for a spin.