Fishing live bait for walleyes is a rite of passage. Practically everyone learns to catch these often-tricky fish with worms on spinners, minnows on jig heads, or leeches under floats. But, if you stick with the walleye game long enough, you’ll learn that you also better become comfortable using crankbaits. Many tournament anglers and guides will tell you that cranks catch bigger fish, let you cover water faster, and are just a lot less messy. Regardless of the reason, here are six factors to consider the next time you use crankbaits for walleyes.
Tuning Crankbaits Hands down the number one thing you need to do before you fish a crankbait is make sure it is in tune. The small wire eye coming out of the bill determines if the bait will run to the left or right, but ideally you want it to run perfectly straight. While different crankbaits seem to come out of the package better than others, you really do need to frequently check each one. Something as simple as hoisting a fish over the side or snagging up on bottom can be enough to tweak these small delicate eyes.
To tune a new or battle-worn plug, use a tuning tool or a small pair of needle-nose pliers to avoid stressing or breaking the delicate eye piece. Take note of which direction the lure is running astray and simply tweak the eye in the opposite direction. Less is more and just slightly adjusting a little at a time is usually all that is needed.
Best Line for Crankbaits Different fishing line types will cause lures to run not only deeper but will actually create a different action. Braided line can be used to get lures deeper than they were originally intended because the thinner diameter causes less resistance in the water and a deeper dive, while still providing enough strength to avoid breaking off. The downside is that braid has very little stretch and is more prone to ripping hooks out of mouths. This is why many anglers use a softer or more moderate rod action to serve as a shock absorber. Braided line is often preferred by anglers fishing in heavy cover such as weeds or trees because you can rip out of the cover and lose fewer lures.
When fishing in big open water, many anglers prefer monofilament because the added stretch improves landing ratios and doesn’t cause an erratic action from the waves and boat surging. Regardless of the line type you choose for your given application, make sure to be selective with line diameter. Most anglers use a monofilament line of approximately .014 inches in order to match the dive charts provided by lure manufacturers. This allows you to know how deep your lures are running with no depth conversion necessary.
Best Speed for Crankbaits Small speed changes are critical to success with walleye cranks. A short pause or little bit of throttle can cause strikes and show you what the fish want. Trolling in a lazy S pattern will speed up lures on one side of the boat and slow down lures on the other side simultaneously. If a fish strikes on the fast side of the turn, it’s a good indication to speed up. Inversely, when a slow-side strike occurs, look to slow down your overall speed.
When casting crankbaits, reeling faster or pausing just like a bass fisherman would do can allow you to notice the same things. It’s important to know that slight changes in speed not only cause strikes, but a minor change in the overall speed can make a world of difference in the number of strikes you get.
Best Hooks for Crankbaits A number of the best walleye crankbaits feature less-than-amazing hook quality out of the package. Don’t skimp on hooks because they are the only thing that comes in direct contact with the fish. Even some of the best quality hooks will need to be replaced at some point, however, and this is also where you can get yourself into a bind.
Make sure to replace junky, rusted, or damaged crankbait hooks with the exact same size and type. In almost all cases, using a larger-sized hook will cause a bait to run differently or even make the hooks tangle on themselves. In the case of balsa or neutrally buoyant lures, any extra weight can make the plug sink. Moral of the story, use good hooks and don’t just replace them with any old treble.
Delivery Systems Trolling with crankbaits is arguably the most productive method on the walleye tournament trail. However, oftentimes just using monofilament or braided line will not allow a crankbait to get deep enough on its own. When this is the case, look to use methods such as snap weights to get additional depth. Simply clipping a weight ahead of your lure anywhere from 20 to 50 feet can get you as deep as you need. Charts are available to give you an idea of where the lead weight will take your lure based on the weight and speed at which you are trolling. A three-way sinker or bottom bouncer setup is another very easy way to fish near bottom with a shallow diving crankbait.
In addition to the aforementioned methods, slightly more advanced tactics such as lead core line or Dipsy Divers can be used to get lures where you need them to be. With the options available to us today, you can fish just about any crankbait from top to bottom.
Best Crankbait Colors Color selection for lures is like adult trick-or-treating. Yes, color absolutely can make a difference, but it’s last on this list for a reason. Make sure to have all of the other factors covered before deciding if the lure color is really the determining factor of your success or failure. Walleyes seem to react more to speed, depth, and action more than color. Either way, here is how I generally approach lure color selection.
White—Fall or in off-colored water
Antifreeze (chartreuse)—Clean water
Gold—Coffee-colored water or lakes with lots of perch
Transparent—Extremely clear water
Again, you don’t need 100 different color combinations to catch walleyes. It’s far more important to experiment with other factors and simply find the fish. If you play with these six elements enough, you’re going to start catching more and bigger ‘eyes.