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Don't get bored with summer trolling


Always Options To Explore...



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August 01, 2009
Hot weather and hot fishing action go hand in hand. I've often read that during the dog days of summer fishing action slows up. I wonder who coined this common belief about fishing, because my experience suggests that fishing heats up as the weather warms.

It's widely accepted among successful anglers that the longer the weather stays about the same, the better fish are going to bite! Stable weather is a fisherman's best friend and during the middle of summer Michigan benefits from some of the most stable weather of the year. During July and August, cold fronts are far and few between and only the occasional thunderstorm seems to shuffle the fishing cards a little.

Even when summer cold fronts associated with thunderstorms do occur, they are usually mild compared to those experienced in the spring and fall. The impact on fishing is modest compared to the average weather conditions endured during April or May.

The weather during the summer plays well for anglers who are after consistent fishing action. Summer is also the time of year that all game fish feed actively and often. The metabolism level of fish rises in the summer, forcing all types of fish to travel more and feed often.

Not surprisingly, trolling becomes the dominate force in both finding and boxing popular species at this time of year. In part this is because during the summer fish tend to be scattered more than in the spring as they are constantly in search of abundant food sources and not concentrated on spawning areas.

Across the Great Lakes species like walleye, king salmon and steelhead are most easily caught by trolling tactics. Trolling is also an efficient presentation when targeting fish living in rivers or inland lakes.

Walleye & Crankbaits

It's hard to beat crankbaits for fast action and consistent success when targeting summer walleye. In addition to doing a good job of imitating baitfish, anglers who fish with crankbaits enjoy the luxury of being able to accurately predict the diving depth of these baits. Most everyone agrees that the secret to catching walleye on crankbaits boils down to the skill of presenting these lures so close to waiting fish they can't ignore them.

Just two simple variables control the diving depth of any floating/diving style crankbait. Lead length (distance the lure is set behind the boat) is the primary factor that controls how deep a crankbait will dive. The longer the lead length, the deeper the lure will dive.

Manipulating this variable allows the insightful angler to literally aim a crankbait at specific depths or even fish marks on the sonar screen. The book Precision Trolling documents the trolling depths of all popular crankbaits and trolling leads. The angler only needs to select a favorite lure and consult the "Dive Curve" charts to determine how much line is required to reach a target depth.

Line diameter is the second variable that influences the diving depth of crankbaits. Thin lines experience less friction as they pass through the water, allowing crankbaits to in turn dive deeper. For most walleye trolling applications, 10# test is considered a standard because it is thin enough to allow lures to dive deeply, yet strong enough to handle and trolling situation.

The most productive crankbaits for summer walleye trolling tend to be moderate to high action lures. Most of crankbaits fall into three distinctive body profiles I'll describe as minnows, shad shaped and fat body lures.

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Great Lakes kings like this are abundant and easily caught during the months of July and August. Trolling is the only practical way to target these fish.

A minnow shaped crankbait can be either a small lipped shallow diver or a larger lipped deep diving model. Because the lip on these lures is usually longer than it is wide, the action of minnow baits tends to be subtle to moderate in movement. Looking at the bait coming toward you, these lures tend to show an obvious top to bottom roll or rocking motion.

Some of the top minnow cranks for walleye include the Reef Runner Deep Little Ripper, Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick, Rapala Deep Husky Jerk and Salmo Sting.

Shad shaped lures have a little more action than the typical minnow bait. Good examples of shad shaped crankbaits proven to catch walleye include the famous Rapala Shad Rap, Reef Runners Rip Shad, Salmo Executor and the Berkley Flicker Shad series.

Most shad shaped crankbaits have a rather long and narrow diving lip and the best actions are enjoyed at trolling speeds from 1.5 to 2.5 MPH. A close observation of the action these lures produces is best described as a top to bottom rocking motion mixed with a little side to side wobble. This family of crankbait shapes has more action than minnow lures and a little less action than fat body baits.

Fat body lures are the third grouping of crankbaits that look more like the typical bass lure than a bait designed for walleye fishing. The round or fat body profile of these lures is most commonly combined with a wide diving lip that delivers an obvious side to side wobbling action and less top to bottom roll than shad shaped lures.

The more obvious action of the fat body lures makes them a favorite of anglers who prefer to faster trolling speeds. Most fat body lures perform best when trolled from 2-3 MPH. Slower trolling speeds simply don't bring out the aggressive side to side wobble in these lures.

The list of high action crankbaits that routinely catch walleye is a short one. The red hot Salmo Hornet series tops the list, followed closely by the Storm Hot n Tot series and the Bagley Killer B series. Each of these lures are must have crankbaits for summer walleye trolling.

Walleye & Spoons

A growing number of anglers are trolling summer walleye using spoons instead of crankbaits. In recent years spoon manufacturers have developed spoons that meet the specific needs of the walleye troller. In general, these spoons are smaller in size (about 2" long on average) and designed to imitate minnows like emerald shiners that are abundant in most Great Lakes waters.

Currently there are three Great Lakes based manufacturers of spoons that are building walleye specific models. The Wolverine Tackle Jr. Streak, Michigan Stinger Scorpion and the Yeck Y11 Mini are all ideally sized to target open water walleye.

Because these small trolling spoons don't dive on their own, using them requires combining the spoon with a diving device like Luhr Jensen's Jet Diver, the Walker Deeper Diver or Big Jon Mini Disk. Each of these diving planers requires that the spoon be attached to the back of the diver using a six foot length of monofilament and or fluorocarbon line.

For walleye trolling 10-15 pound test fluorocarbon makes the ideal spoon fishing leader. The main fishing line can be either monofilament or super braid.

All spoon fishing applications require the use of quality ball bearing swivels designed to reduce line twist and maximize lure action. Sampo is the leading manufacturer of ball bearing swivels. While good swivels aren't cheap, they are the cheapest insurance against line twist and literally guarantee your spoons will deliver the maximum action.

Salmon & Spoons

Spoons are as essential to summer salmon trolling as watermelon is to a successful picnic. The overall shapes of most Great Lakes trolling spoons are similar. The plating/painted finishes of these spoons also follow a similar direction. It's also true that every major brand of trolling spoons are produced in distinctively different sizes, ranging from lures in the two inch length to magnum models that average five inches long.

One might surmise that smaller spoons are designed to catch smaller species, while larger spoons are used to target bigger fish. This logic is sound, but only goes so far in the trolling world. The most successful Great Lakes salmon trollers carry at least three different spoon sizes with them and experiment on any given day to see which spoon size is most productive.

Personally my favorite summer trolling spoons are magnum sizes, but often I find that smaller standard or even mini sized spoons work better occasionally. I have no explanation for this phenomenon, but I've witnessed it enough times that I don't ask why anymore, I just respond by mixing up spoon sizes in my salmon trolling presentation. Whatever spoon size the fish seem to prefer on any given day, I simply offer more of that option.

Final Comments

Commonly I hear anglers complaining that trolling is a monotonous and boring method of fishing. I disagree. Anglers who get bored with trolling aren't exercising all the available options and ways to trigger strikes.

One of the unique things about trolling is there are always options to explore. Experimenting with variables like trolling speed, lure type, lure color and trolling accessories are just the tip of the iceberg. Once an angler fully adopts the popular methods of trolling, they quickly find themselves on track to fishing success.

During July and August the fastest route to a limit of fish is almost always a trolled line!

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