Anglers would be amazed if they knew how often walleyes follow their offerings without biting. For every strike, at least half a dozen half-interested fish follow. I know because I've spent countless hours watching walleyes react to trolled baits behind an Aqua-Vu camera. Using a backward-facing camera as a sinker or mini downrigger with the line in a planer-board release, it's easy and fascinating to monitor them.
Sometimes a walleye follows a spinner rig for five minutes or more. Two triggers prompt strikes from followers. When additional walleyes arrive on the scene, the original following fish usually darts in to take the bait. And whenever a bait abruptly changes speed, direction, or action, fish often respond. I've seen these behaviors hundreds of times on many different waters.
The camera also shows that whether impaled on a single hook or a two-hook harness, 'crawlers and leeches spin and twist, despite efforts to the contrary. Lately, anglers have embraced this aspect of spinner rigging. Mustad capitalized with the Slow-Death hook — a bent Aberdeen designed to maximize spinning. Lazer TroKar recently released the TK220 Re-Volve hook — a wickedly sharp, slightly more stout hook that holds its shape and point well.
Blades and Thumpertails
In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange believes vibration may be the most overlooked triggering element in fishing. When he looks at a lure or bait, whether it's a spinning portion of 'crawler, a thumping paddletail, or a crankbait, he evaluates its merits in terms of vibration.
"Beyond depth and speed control, vibration usually is the next most important component — often more so than color, profile, or flash," he says. "The fish's lateral-line sense is for detecting low-frequency vibrations, like those given off by a spinning 'crawler. "
He also adds to spinner-rig lore, suggesting anglers use a thumpertail softbait at times. The same vibration that makes a rapidly rotating bait enticing when rigged on a Slow Death or Re-Volve hook can be equaled or surpassed with a thumping softbait. He calls them "swim spins." His rig combines the vibration and flash of an in-line blade with the profile and vibration of a thumpertail, texposed on a weighted swimbait hook.
This rigging is perfect for fishing through heavy cover, including timber and weedgrowth. "Cast the rig up into cover areas, count it down, and then slow-grind it right on through," he says. Bump and grind, bump and grind. I usually use bass tackle like a medium-action 7-foot rod and a low-profile reel with 20-pound Sufix 832 or Trilene Braid.
"Away from heavy cover, spinning tackle works, and you can make longer casts. I use a 7-foot medium-action casting rod and a 35-class Pflueger Supreme reel and 14-pound Berkley NanoFil, with a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. I also use a 12-inch section of tieable wire at the terminal end when I'm in pike territory — 20-pound American Fishing Wire Surflon Micro Supreme."
He also creates a unique spinner rig with the combination of a Berkley Gulp! Alive! Spinner Crawler on a double-hook setup, with a loop in the worm to make it spin. Another of his concoctions combines a Lazer TroKar Re-Volve hook and a portion of Gulp! Spinner Crawler or a Gulp! Killer Crawler, running them behind spinner rigging. More on these later.
Meanwhile, Manitoba angler Roger Stearns bulks up his spinner rigs by using a 3-foot section of 15-pound fluorocarbon, a quick-change clevis, #4 to #6 Colorado blade, an array of larger (4- to 6-mm) beads, and a 5/0 straight-shank flippin'-style bass hook. A Mustad Denny Brauer Flippin' Hook keeps a bait arrow-straight with a keel-like influence.
Unlike Slow Death and Re-Volve rigs, this arrangement doesn't twist much when trolled. Stearns uses paddletails like Berkley's 4-inch Split Belly Swim Bait, the 3.5-inch Berkley Havoc Grass Pig, or the 4-inch Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad in this setup. He pulls it behind leadcore or a bottom-bouncer, moving at up to 1.8 mph.
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(Top Image) Huskey's triple-hook spinner rig with Matzuo Sickle Hooks (add a live 'crawler)
(Bottom Blade) She often substitutes a hammered gold willowleaf blade with serrated edges for faster trolling.
Meat Leeches and Crawlers, from Uncle Josh, are another artificial option to use to dress spinner rigs. New age pork baits are punched from pork fat — no hide attached. The result is a pliable, soft product with a realistic look in and out of the water. Meat is biodegradable, yet durable enough to catch multiple walleyes and resist pecking from panfish. The snells are Berkley Flicker Snells, which are tied with either monofilament or fluorocarbon.
(Top Rig)Doug Stange's single-hook spinner rig with 1/0 Lazer TroKar Re-Volve hook and a portion of Berkley Gulp! Alive! Spinner Crawler.
(Bottom Rig) His double-hook rig with a Berkley Gulp! Alive! Spinner Crawler. Change the location of the trailing hook in the crawler to add more or less spin to the crawler.
To construct Swim Spins, Doug Stange deconstructs a Terminator Inline Spinner with a #4 blade, by removing the hook and adding in its place a 3/0 Lazer Sharp L111 Weighted Swimbait Hook weighing 1/4 ounce. Rigged texposed, as shown, the rigs can be run through the kind of heavy weed and timber cover walleyes sometime hold in. Away from cover, pull the body of the softbait down to expose the hook point. Pliable swimbait bodies like the Berkley PowerBait Hollow Belly (rigged flat) and the Berkley Havoc Grass Pig work best. If you need more weight, add a tungsten worm weight on the line or wire leader in front of the spinner.
Minnesota guide Tony Roach prefers spinner rigging with a couple tweaks. While quickly trolling big bouncers and blades gives walleyes ample incentive to eat, he often adds a third dimension of movement. "When it gets challenging to trigger walleyes in mid- and late summer, the first thing a lot of anglers do is switch colors," he says. "On pressured lakes like Mille Lacs, color can be important, though it's rarely as critical as other factors.
"When the bite's tough, I take the rod from the holder and start pumping it. I also alter speed and make abrupt turns, which can trigger following fish."
Armed with the 8-foot Power Bouncer rod he designed for Wright-McGill, it's a marvel to watch him dial into fish. Spooled with 10-pound Sufix 832 or Northland Tackle Bionic Braid with 10- or 12-pound fluorocarbon snells, he can read signals through the rod tip, detecting bottom transitions with the bouncer, but more importantly, sensing when a fish nudges the bait.
"When I get nipped or nudged, I snap the rod tip forward 2 or 3 inches, give it a twitch-twitch, then drop back. Do it again, each time changing cadence slightly. It's a teasing, cat-and-mouse thing. Usually, after a few twitches, when you drop back they whack it." Roach, who helped design the Re-Volve hook, says its surgically sharpened point penetrates and pins fish with a slight sweep of the rod.
He also emphasizes the importance of vibration. "It's what Stange's been saying for so long about vibration," he says. "Re-Volve rigging gets the bait churning and thumping. It's the overall visual and vibration package produced by the blade and bait combination.
Roach rigs with pinched 'crawlers or leeches, but he dabbles with softbaits. Berkley's Gulp! Alive! Killer Crawler was designed for Re-Volve rigging and it's a terrific option in many cases, as is Northland Tackle's Impulse Riggin' Leech. Roach also has had good results Re-Volve rigging with ringworms.
For Re-Volve rigging, 4-inch ringworms work best. Rig the worm so no more than 1½ inches of tail extend past the bend of the hook.
To rig a portion of live 'crawler, thread the head onto the hook like you'd rig a plastic worm. Thread it all the way up the shank just past the eye, and over the knot. Leave a 1/8-inch tag end, which acts as a bait-keeper, pinning the 'crawler's head in place. Then measure the worm and pinch it off about an inch from the hook bend.
For ringworms, use a #1 or #2 Re-Volve hook. Thread the worm onto the shank like a 'crawler, sliding it just over the hookeye and knot. Drop the rig over the side to make sure it spins at the speed you plan to troll.
Roach prefers 2-ounce and heavier bouncers, which let him troll at 1 to 1.5 mph. He favors blades ranging from #2 to #6. As Mille Lacs has cleared due to an invasion of zebra mussels, he's been most successful with Indiana blades. He also uses a double Indiana blade configuration — two identical blades rigged back-to-back on separate clevises. A single Indiana offers less thump than a Colorado, but the double Indianas put out more flash, and offer a vibration frequency that walleyes sometimes prefer.
Many anglers miss fish because they won't increase hook size to a #2, #1, or 1/0 with bulky baits and blades. At times, Roach separates his hook from the rest of the rig by a few inches, which encourages fish to bite toward the head of the rig, rather than nipping the tail. He uses an in-line neoprene snubber from Northland Tackle on the snell above his hook to achieve a 1- to 2-inch separation.
As mentioned earlier, Stange ties unique Spinner-Crawler rigs and Re-Volve rigs. Due in part to the line twist created by the rotating baits, he ties in a swivel that rides below the normal bead and blade setup. A second swivel is tied on a 12-inch leader above the beads and blade, so the rigs are easy to add to a leader line behind a bottom bouncer or leadcore. Changing the position of the trailing hook in the 'crawler adds more or less spin to the Berkley Gulp! Alive! Spinner Crawler he prefers. Changing how the portion of Berkley Gulp! Killer Crawler rides on a Re-Volve hook also allows more or less spin and vibration.
Blade Tricks for Big Water
On the Great Lakes and other big waters, professional angler and guide Marianne Huskey faces a dilemma of a different sort for vibrating walleye lures. She was the AIM Angler of the Year in 2012, and she fishes the waters of Green Bay of Lake Michigan, as well as Lake Erie. On these large, clear waters, big walleyes sometimes target the blade, rather than the 'crawler. When this happens, the Tattle Flags on her Offshore Planer boards begin flipping down and instantly back up. When she retrieves rigs, she often finds that the blade has been pulled off the quick-change clevis.
"Adding a hook near the blade increases hookups of trophy-class fish," she says. "I use larger than normal hooks — #2, #1, and even 1/0 Matzuo Sickle Hooks snelled on 17-pound-test Berkley Trilene or fluorocarbon. In clear water I use 36- to 48-inch rigs, but might go as short as 12 inches in dirty water."
She never uses pre-tied rigs that have a loop knot instead of a ball-bearing swivel. Moreover, she uses Offshore Tackle snap-on Guppy Weights instead of leadcore or other in-line systems.
When harnessing a 'crawler she snells two Sickle Hooks, then adds a third hook above the blade, where it's positioned to snag those blade-eaters. "When big fish are targeting the blade, more than half are pinned to the top hook," she says.
A third hook is legal in Great Lakes states, but in Minnesota, where only two-hook harnesses are allowed, she often switches to a single Mustad Slow Death hook for the 'crawler, which allows for a second hook above the blade.
On Lake Erie she commonly runs a single #5 or #6 blade with #1 or 1/0 hooks, while in smaller waters it might be #2 and #3 blades with #2 hooks. This pattern shines for suspended walleyes. Larger blades put out a lot of vibration and their flash is visible at a distance. "Walleyes feed by vision and are trigged by vibration when they get in close," she says.
Blade color is dependent on water clarity and weather conditions. Forage is secondary. Bright days call for silver blades, while muted patterns work best in cloudy conditions. Her favorite is a hammered gold willowleaf blade with serrated edges. The willowleaf allows faster trolling speeds, from 1.5 to just over 1.7 mph. It tracks well at high speed and flashes like a strobe, while the serrated edges perhaps add vibration.
She frequently encounters following fish that don't immediately bite. "When my flags start popping down and up — signaling missed strikes — I open the bail and drop back on the fish. They often come back to bite."
Likewise, she often cycles through her rod holders, picking each rod up and giving a fast sweep before placing it back in the holder.
Speed changes can make the difference between a fair or a fantastic day on the water. The fundamental working equation remains the same, however. Depth control first, followed by speed control and how you're working the rigging. Then it's a matter of determining just how to thump, bump, and grind your way to big catches.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt, Brainerd, Minnesota, is an avid multispecies angler and long-standing In-Fisherman magazine contributor.