Most of us fishin' fools with walleyes both in our blood and on the brain have home waters -- or favorites, at least -- for testing purposes. Our own personal proving grounds, if you will.
Inveterate walleye pro Mark Martin, for instance, has Muskegon Lake, a drowned river mouth connecting to Lake Michigan. Here, he grew up row-trolling at night with his father and grandfather, refining a pattern over ensuing decades with #13 Original Rapalas accented with reflective tape -- nowadays eased along with an electric motor for quiet, deliberate stealth. In my case, I have Long Lake, across the road from my home in Traverse City, Michigan, where I've scored with ice-fishing spoons in August, whacked the biggest fish of the season in a foot of water while casting suspending Smithwick Rogues at night in November's sideways snowstorms, and discovered the effectiveness of trolling hot-pink cranks even in water clarity exceeding 15 feet. Yes, we tend to do things a bit differently here in the Wolverine state.
Todd Frank's own private Oneida -- that is, Lake Oneida, near "Frankenstein's" home in upstate New York. That's when and where I learned his well-refined prescription for trolling two planer boards and two magnum bottom bouncers for targeting (1) larger though fewer suspended walleyes, and (2) more plentiful but smaller deep dwellers -- both at the same time.
Fact is, Oneida's walleye fishing has recently been on fire. For one, Oneida's in a boom cycle following a combination of cormorant control administered by the Feds and copious walleye stocking directed by the state. Then, too, there's Frank's proficiency in spotting not only bottom changes but also fish, with color electronics complemented by a two-board, two-bouncer system trolled on the fringe of the lake basin. Furthermore, as I later discovered, the program is anything but a one-lake wonder.
PANCAKES AND PING
True to summer patterns throughout walleye country, Oneida's walleyes set up on the edge of the lake's deep basin. An anomaly here, however, is the existence of iron-manganese formations called "pancakes" -- patches of hard bottom that concentrate walleyes with their proximity to mud. You can see the difference between the two substrates on Lowrance's color units: Harder is portrayed as a bottom display colored a hotter red; softer bottom is indicated by less pronounced oranges and yellows. "I've fished the pancakes all my life," Frank says, "but the only way I found out for sure they were there was with the color graph." At home on Long, unbeknownst to me until testing the X-104c last year, I found that most of my favorite spots from years past were endowed with the same thing, a transition from soft basin to harder bottom.
Likewise, detecting fish on high-powered electronics is a great technological leap forward, too. You can mark fish at trolling speeds, of course, and even with search mode at speeds in excess of 20 mph. (Turn ping speed and sensitivity to max, and the color-line setting to the 70-percent range: Fish show up in streaks of red despite the clutter that normally comes with the sensitivity cranked up high.) "Put the boat on plane and drive around till you find the fish," Frank says.
Two Boards, Two Bouncers (cont.)
BOUNCERS, BOARDS & 'CORE
When I fished with this resident expert of Oneida, he already had his trolling passes skirting the pancakes etched into his plot trail on his liquid crystal unit. That meant we could have a blast reeling and dealing, taking the time to delve into the finer points of Frank's summertime pattern.
The pancakes peter out in 37 to 38 feet of water, and schools of walleyes are indeed focused on the changeover to mud. To get at them, we trolled 4-ounce Northland bottom bouncers (you have to special order them from the manufacturer) on 10-pound Berkley FireLine, plus a leader of 10-pound monofilament extending from the clip off the back of the wire arm to a 3 1/2-inch floating Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue with a black back, chrome sides, and a white belly. Because of Oneida's greenish tinge well shy of crystal clarity, Frank says the rattles have long outdone baits rigged without them.
To get that Rogue running right at speeds of 1.5 to 1.8 mph, you want the bouncer trolled pretty much below the boat, maybe at a slight angle behind it. "Slight" is the operative word. Let out too much line and you'll be dredging bottom, dragging and not catching fish. "If the bouncers are way behind the boat, they're defeating the purpose of bouncers," Frank says.
Let the weight clunk, then engage the reel and put the rod in a holder back toward the transom. You're in business, and there's no mistaking when a walleye rocks a Rogue behind a big weight on FireLine. On Oneida, it was mayhem when we marked 'em, with the bouncer rods constantly firing.
The other two cranks Frank and I trolled were, indeed, behind boards. Trolling between 160 and 180 feet back on FireLine at the same speeds puts a Bomber 24A in the neighborhood of 24 feet deep, slightly above where we marked roving bait with occasional predators interspersed. True to Frank's expectations, the bouncers caught the numbers with fish under 20 inches, while the board rods produced less common but larger walleyes in the mid-20-inch range and above.
One variation to round out the repertoire is to troll three colors of segmented leadcore line with the floating Rogue behind a board. Here's the deal: 20-pound FireLine backing, three colors (30 yards) of 18-pound leadcore, and a 20-foot monofilament leader of 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene XT. "I'd rather run segmented leadcore, because you can troll it behind a board without overweighting and sinking it," Frank says. Let out 100 feet of the FireLine backing, and Frank figures the extra line accomplishes a depth similar to running four colors of straight leadcore. Estimating running depth, Frank expects five feet of diving depth per color (10 yards) of leadcore) with cranks, and eight feet with spinners trolled at slower speeds in the 1.0-mph range.
With boards, bouncers, and lead, incorporating three kinds of line (monofilament, FireLine, leadcore) accomplishes variations not only in running depth but also in crankbait action, often leading to one combination outproducing the others because of wind and waves, water clarity, and other variables.
Frank's pet methods do the trick on his own personal proving grounds of Oneida, so I got his program going when I returned to Long Lake. There, with the extra water clarity, minnowbaits without rattles were better than those with them, and I wound up catching bigger fish on the bouncers than on the boards, running FireLine in keeping with Frank's lesson plan but with hot-pink, custom-painted cranks that you'd think would conflict with the greater water clarity, but didn't.
Testing the applicability elsewhere, with my own variables in play and the Lowrance's capabilities for deciphering bottom changes, I found the wizard of Oneida to be right. Two boards and two bouncers yielded the prescription for a consistent summertime pattern, regardless of state or lake.
Add a Night Light
Trolling for walleyes at night with planerboards is very popular across the Midwest. Guides and serious anglers have come up with some creative ways to light a planerboard. The light is required in order to detect strikes, keep tangles to a minimum and realistically keep other boats from driving over them. Flashing Halloween lights that are meant to pinned to your kids costumes are popular, but they can be expensive and short out easily due to not being completely sealed. Cyalume light sticks work, but they are expensive and once activated can't be reused. Attaching Cyalume sticks can be difficult, their weight can actually change the way the board runs. A simple solution is to drill a 5/32'' hole down approximately 3/8'' from the top of the planerboard. This will allow you to insert a bobber light. These relatively inexpensive bobber lights are sealed, can be reused and are so light they don't affect the way the board runs. An added benefit is that you don't need to worry about having any extra gear if you do decide to night fish last minute.
Eliminate Line Getting Caught
Murphy's law in fishing usually means that if your fishing line can get caught in something, it will. The small screw eyes that typically holds the rear clip of a planerboard are very susceptible to getting line caught in the small gap of the closed eye. A simple solution is to cut a 1/16'' to 1/8'' long piece of heat shrink tubing that is slightly larger in diameter than that of the screw eye. Using an adhesive heat shrink tubing will ensure it will stay in place better than traditional heat shrink tubing.
Adjust the Weight
Chances are what is perfect for a salmon fisherman isn't going to be ideal for a walleye angler. Experienced planerboard fisherman often move the weights when switching from crankbaits to spinners as a way of fine tuning. Church walleye board are the only board that features an external weight that is meant to be moved. This can be very helpful when switching from a light pulling stickbait to a hard pulling deep diver.
On a Church TX-22 cutting a ½'' off of each end of the lead ballast weight allows it to run much better in rough water or with hard pulling lures and large fish. Simply remove the screw holding the weight in place and cut the weight at each end with a hacksaw. In areas where strike detection is critical due to small fish, trash fish or lingering weeds try moving the weight all the way back to the rear of the board. This will allow the board to run higher in the nose and make detection of anything out of the normal much easier. This will make the board more susceptible to going under. In areas that have larger fish this may not be the best adjustment, since boards going under can spell disaster. A way of combating this is to lighten the pressure on the front clip. Church Super Clips have a Phillips head for quick tension adjustment. Loosening the tension on the front clip will allow it to 'break free ' on a strike and you will not have to fight a circling board that will have you thinking a shark is attached. If the front clip is set to release, look to use a rear clip with an internal pin to make sure that the board doesn't come completely off due to a wave or hard pulling fish.
Add a Swivel
Anyone that has ever used a planerboard has had it tangled in the line. This typically takes place when the line slips between the clips. Getting this untangled isn't difficult in the garage, but when bouncing around in the boat with the weight of a fish it can spell disaster. An easy fix is to install a swivel between the flag wire and the rear clip. Much like the screw eye, this connection is susceptible to line being caught, so a piece of heat shrink over all but just the last piece of the swivel will eliminate future problems. Use a razor blade to trim the heat shrink so the swivel rotates freely.
Flag Wire Upgrade
A majority of anglers add an aftermarket 'flag kit ' in order to detect light bites, weeds, or junk fish easier. The problem is that the wire included in these kits from the major manufactures easily becomes bent or broken. A bent wire means the flag won't run upright and can make strike detection more difficult. A simple solution is to replace this wire with a closed loop bucktail leader designed for musky with a diameter of approximately .051. You can buy wire and bend your own, but it is likely easier and less expensive to purchase a few musky wire bucktail shafts. The only modification that is required is a pair of pliers to bend the open end around the flag. Make sure to not bend the wire short or the flag will not stand up straight. Use the manufacture supplied wire as a model.