The Need for Speed
By: Ted Takasaki and Scott Richardson
Some brilliant marketing expert who never wet a line is probably to blame for fishing’s image as a calm, placid sport. ‘Patience’ probably became an angling buzz word about the same time.
From our point of view, patience is sometimes the last thing anglers need. There are few times on the water that call for sitting around on your hands doing nothing while waiting for a hungry walleye, musky or panfish to swim by.
Fishermen can approach the challenge of finding and catching fish as if they just spent three hours drinking espresso at Starbucks. The attitude of a NASCAR driver is better suited for success on the water more often than that of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Walden Pond.
Sometimes, there is a need for speed.
Just try telling FLW 2006 Angler of the Year, Tom Keenan, to slow down.
“I want to fish fast,” Keenan says. “I have a tendency to troll faster and faster, and I’m catching more fish.”
Choosing faster approaches over slower ones makes sense for good reason. A fast lure or spinner rig may be ignored by lethargic fish during tough bites, but all fish aren’t in the same mood at the same time. Active fish attack. Don’t waste time trying to convince one uncooperative fish to bite when a faster presentation will find the one in 10 fish that’s primed and ready to play.
Out of the corner of its eye, even a neutral fish may strike at something it sees moving by quickly. They are used to a ‘snooze you lose’ world. Fish have adapted to take advantage when opportunity knocks.
In addition, speedy tactics are great search tools. Move quickly, find an active fish, and maybe others can be plucked out of the school by using finesse approaches.
True, there are many times of the year when species like walleye are grouped up, and precision tactics may be the key. This is true when walleyes are tightly schooled to spawn in spring or later in fall when they begin to migrate back to spawning areas. But at other times, they spread out to reduce competition for food. In most situations, covering ground is critical.
Huge waters with vast basins, such as what you find in the Great Lakes, almost demand fast tactics that cover lots of ground in a hurry. On most days, using a jig in a place like that is like fishing in a space the size of a bathtub in the middle of an ocean.
The Hard Sell
Live bait limits speed options even with quicker presentations like spinner rigs and ‘crawlers. If there’s a choice, go with hard baits first. Slow down later if you must. Lures let you move fast and offer precise depth control.
“You always know where your lure is,” Keenan said.
An added plus: you can catch bonus species, like muskies, which is always fun – unless you’re in a walleye tournament.
“There are so many different styles, it’s confusing,” said Keenan. “How do you pick the right one?”
In general, stick with stickbaits for neutral fish in colder water. They have small, narrow lips and move with a tight wiggle. Rogues and Husky Jerks are an example. As water temperature rises, fish may prefer more active, deeper diving baits with a wider lip that is more active in the water. Bombers, Shad Raps, and Wally Divers are just a few that fit this bill.
The important thing to know is what depth each lure runs at. The book “Precision Trolling – The Troller’s Bible,” is the tool to use. Each lure runs at a predictable depth based on amount of line you let out. The authors have created specific dive curves for common crankbaits to take the guesswork out of the process. The curves are based on 10-pound-test monofilament line. Use thinner, braided line, like Power Pro, to go deeper. Try different depths until you find the one that works. Never overlook the possibility of shallow fish, even over deep water.
If over structure, set your lines to run just over the top of the highest point. Then you can speed along making S-turns over the top and the breaklines. When a structure is heavily pressured, move off to the sides where walleyes will move to avoid the boat traffic, but continue fishing at the same depth. Once other boats leave, gradually slide over the top again.
A guy can go broke trying to buy every color of crankbait made. Stick with naturals like perch and shad for clear water; chartreuse and firetiger for dingy water; and purple/pink, blue/silver, and gold for the Great Lakes. Vary them with other colors and metallics. After dark, try black/silver and blue/silver and up-size the bait. Keep changing colors and styles until something works, then change some more. If a bi-colored lure is catching fish, try using solid lures of one color or another to see which is triggering the action. If one color emerges as better than others, change up a couple of your other lines to match it, but always keep a line or two open for experimentation.
Notice how deep the crankbait is in a walleye’s mouth when you remove it. If the lure was T-boned or down in his throat, you’re getting close to the right color.
Move fast– 1.4 to 1.6 mph is a good place to start. Go faster if action continues. Even 3 mph is not too fast.
Precise trolling on breaks can be accomplished by using leadcore and/or braided lines. Use leadcore on the outside lines and braided on the inside to avoid tangles on sharp turns. Speeds of 1.4 to even 4 mph are doable. Faster is better.
“If you make a mistake,” says Kennan, “make it by going too fast.”
If targeting water less than 5 feet deep, cast moderately active baits like Shad Raps or Wally Divers that dive just deep enough to tick bottom every once in a while, not all the time. Keenan aims for that depth where the lure just disappears from sight.
Rigging with spinners and crawlers can be an alternative if hard baits don’t work. Slowing down a little is typically necessary. Usually 1 to 1.5 mph is fast enough to make a Colorado blade spin. Willowleaf and Indiana blades have to be trolled at faster speeds.
Use big blades like #4 or #6 for trophy waters, 3s and 4s for places were walleyes tend to be smaller. Vary your snell length from 36 to 42 inches. Fluorocarbon works great for spinner leaders.
Whatever you have on the end of the line, keep the pedal to the metal.
Keep in mind that, when it comes to consistently catching fish, often there is a need for speed.