Trolling Perimeter Flats at Night

Back when our crew of cronies started night-fishing, years went by before we sharpened up. We trolled with original Rapalas, without fail, before we learned to return to areas that concentrated fish, and started casting suspending jerkbaits. Brilliant! It took even longer to learn another important lesson: Spring is not summer, which is not fall. Genius!

Which is to say, the way we stroked walleyes with Rapalas in cold water didn't translate to summer. Since we were stuck in a rut, sneaking with our Raps at slow speeds at all times, summertime night-fishing often sucked. Autumn with its cold water brought deliverance -- the full-force return of the minnowbaits, and of our pride. Sure, the concept of using lures with greater action in warmer water, and lesser action in cooler water, was not entirely foreign. Capt. Cranium, here in Traverse City, Michigan, had read about it in In-Fisherman and heard about it from walleye impresarios Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz.

If a mind is a terrible thing to waste, I'm not letting it happen anymore. Making up for the error of our ways, we not only used common sense but also emptied tackle boxes to find lures that matched the season, without the midsummer night's comedy of errors. No more lingering in our same shallow-water spring stretches, no more delicate baits, no more exceedingly slow trolling speeds with the electric motor. No m'¢s, no m'¢s!


If the flats are where it's at to start the season, with depths of 5 to 10 feet prevalent, summer walleyes tend to trend a touch deeper in clear-water systems where night-fishing excels. If fishing shallow was once the ticket, move out to the next tier, beyond the break. But when weeds such as cabbage grow on the flats, trolling above the weedtops is often a dynamite pattern (more on that in a moment).

On top of or off the edge, if trolling speeds in excess of 1.0 mph, using a gas outboard motor presents baits in the productive zone with greater control than with a bowmount electric set on full-tilt boogie (which, when I've tried it, has had me doing the whirling dervish). Besides, the kicker motor doesn't seem to disturb the fish. The gas motor also has the gumption to correct your path in a flash if you start to run up too shallow on a sandbar, or if you want to follow a serpentine weededge. Making up for lost time in the trial-and-error department, I've tuned in my Mercury 9.9-hp kicker motor to experiment with speed variations of 0.1 mph. Where I fish, 1.6 to 1.7 produces better than do 1.4 mph and 1.8 mph. (Do as I do, not as I did: Try changing lures and speeds until you dial in a program.)

Continued - click on page link below.

Trolling Perimeter Flats at Night (cont.)


Speed alone is not the be-all and end-all of summer night trolling. More important is the union of speed and crankbait body style, which go together like hand in, um, fish-cleaning glove. Speed and body style also go part and parcel with the crank's material and, for my money, plastic cranks are the best summer bets -- with one notable exception, the Rapala Tail Dancer, which has sufficient action at the speeds typical of summer nights. Okay, one more exception is the Jointed Rapala, which boogies for the extra action that delivers with warmer water.

The lure I've dialed-in more than any other is the CD5 Cotton Cordell Wally Diver. I fish it on 10-pound Berkley FireLine, and the lure reaches 11 feet deep when trolled on 80 feet of line, perfect for the 12- to 18-foot depths. My lake has a lot of perch, and the perch pattern is excellent. So, too, is a gold-bellied hodge-podge of other colors, including maroon and a touch of purplish blue called Kryptonite. With the Wally Divers, I like to replace the front hook with a red treble and the tail hook with a Mustad Triple Grip, which holds walleyes that swipe at the bait's caboose.

Another trick, if you can stand it at night in states where multiple rods are allowed, is to put a Reef Runner Deep Little Ripper 40 to 60 feet behind a planer board. (My preference is to set the reel on clicker mode so it goes off with an audible z-i-n-g! when a fish strikes, rather than having to deal with visually detecting strikes by means of a light stick attached to the board.) So, at times, I run the board over relatively open water beyond the break, and pick up additional fish.

Another choice, for the moderate depths, is the new Berkley Frenzy FireStick. It's a bait with more action than absolute subtlety, a reason it works in summertime water temps complemented by faster-than-spring trolling speeds.


For all the talk of going off the edge to deeper water than during spring and fall's respective flings, weeds and even rocks are notable exceptions for holding walleyes. Here again, you need baits that match the season, with greater action than needed early and late. The minnow shape is still the pick because it stays above weeds and rocks without fouling nonstop, the tendency of a squatter bait with a deep-diving lip. One way to keep a bait even cleaner, running it at a higher depth, is with thicker monofilament for both buoyancy and increased water resistance than you get with skinny FireLine. That's how, with 14-pound mono, you can troll a summer stickbait over weedtops.

Enter the utility of Bomber Long A's (the jointeds, too, I discovered, when my buddy whupped me on an oldie but goodie); shallow ThunderSticks; and Reef Runner Little Rippers (around bigger fish, boost up to the Ripstick) -- all of which have ample action in summer, don't spin out (when tuned) if trolled at 1.6 mph, and have enough lift on heavy line to stay above weeds or other obstructions.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em? For sure, dude! Right about now, it's way better than creeping and sneaking with subtlety, using coldwater trolling tricks that just don't translate to summer. Just say no m'¢s, since spring is not summer, which is not fall. Stroke of genius, don't you think?

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