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 with leadcore 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.
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.
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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.
The baitfish gurus at Koppers unveiled a radical design in hardbait technology with the new LiveTarget BaitBall lineup. Comprised of a 2 3/8-inch floating squarebill and 3½- and 4½-inch suspending jerkbaits, all of which dive to four feet — along with a 2½-inch diving crankbait that reaches depths of 10 feet — the series mimics a tight school of frightened baitfish. So, rather than seeing one large preyfish, predators see a cluster of smaller, bite-sized minnows instead. If it proves half as deadly as the umbrella rig concept, it's going to be a game-changer on the cranking scene. livetargetlures.com
Jackall Jockie 120 Topwater Minnow
Designed by Kazuto Yamaki, the Jockie 120 blends topwater theatrics with top-shelf jerkbait performance. It dives straight with a spin of your reel handle — thanks to its unique, diamond-shaped lip. Plus, the bottom cup produces a popping sound on splashdown. Other features include a flashy inner scale molding, and aft-oriented, moving weighting system for long casts and a funky pop, dive, head-stand, and rolling action. Available in six colors. jackall-lures.com
Lucky Craft S.K.T. Magnum
Designed by Bassmaster Classic champ Skeet Reese, this beefy, tight-wobbling crank matches the supersize meals of behemoth bass. It should also shine for other large fish-eaters. Available in 11 colors, in four sizes from 1 to 3¾ ounces, in MR and DR versions. The 105MR is the shallowest runner, targeting depths of 6½ feet, while the 120DR is the depth-dredger of the family, capable of reaching 25 feet. luckycraft.com
Matzuo Kinchou Shad
Brandishing flared, blood-red gills, these shad-bodied additions to Matzuo's Kinchou series are wide-wobbling floaters featuring chambered bodies with stainless-steel rattle bearings. Available in eight colors, in 3- and 3 ½-inch sizes that dive from eight to 12 feet, respectively. matzuo.com
Smithwick Perfect 10 Rogue
Building on the stellar attributes of the original Rogue — an all-around jerkbaiting icon for more than 35 years — Smithwick created the Perfect 10 Rogue. Upgrades include a flash-enhancing new material and lip design that takes the suspending bait deeper, faster, plus a tungsten rattle that produces a unique, strike-triggering thump. Best of all, the weighting system allows the 5½-inch bait to be more responsive and regain its horizontal posture quicker after a twitch than its predecessor, all while retaining the iconic Rogue roll that has fooled countless bass. As a bonus, the translucent body intensifies the bait's reflective scales, and accentuates the eight available color patterns. smithwicklures.com
Rapala Scatter Rap
A groundbreaking 'scatter ' lip gives Rapala's newest lure series — which includes the Scatter Rap Crank, Minnow, Shad, and Countdown — an aggressive sweeping action that mimics the maneuvers of fleeing forage. The baits are easy to fish — just crank or troll, and they do the rest — but the more you get a feel for their intricacies, the more tricks they'll perform. Running depths range from five to nine feet. Available in a variety of hot color patterns. rapala.com
SPRO Baby Fat John 50
If you're looking for a shallow-running hardbait with a wild side-to-side hunting action, the new Baby Fat John 50 is a serious contender. Weighing in at 3/8 ounce, the bait dives to two feet, max. And, thanks to its fiberglass 'computer chip ' lip, it darts from to the side, then returns to center for an erratic fish-attracting action. Available in eight catchy color patterns. spro.com
Storm Arashi Silent Squares
Part of the hot new Arashi (ah-rash-ee) family from Storm, the Silent Square 3 and 5 sport 'circuit-board ' bills that enable true tracking at slow speeds, while still reaching maximum running depth. Another slick feature is a self-tuning line tie that keeps the bait tracking true, while producing a tantalizing roll, accentuated by a pronounced tail kick. The size 3 is 2 1/8 inches long, weighs ½ ounce, and runs to three feet, while the size 5 stretches 2 3/8 inches, weighs in at just over 5/8 ounce, and dives to five feet. Available in 12 alluring colorations, ranging from Mossy Chartreuse Craw to Black Silver Shad. stormlures.com
Named with the Japanese word for sky, this ultra-responsive jerkbait from iconic bassman Gary Yamamoto glides or walks underwater, depending on your wishes and retrieves. Available in 76-, 100-, and 110-mm sizes that dive to four, eight, and 10 feet, respectively, in a broad palette of colors. yamamoto.baits.com
Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait
Built with big bass in mind, but perfect for other predators such as pike and walleyes, this 3½-inch suspending jerkbait is part of the brand-new 3DB family. Features include lifelike detail on gills, fins, and scales, flat sides, flashy 3D Internal Prism, and Wave-Motion Vibration Ribs that create wave-like fish-attracting vibes. Comes in five core colors, all accentuated with oversized red eyes and Mylar tail treble dressing. yo-zuri.com