By Jason Mitchell
In the past, I’ve written about effective trolling tactics that involve the use of a bow-mount trolling motor. Particularly early in the open-water fishing season, creeping along with a bow-mount trolling motor while pulling crankbaits is deadly, particularly in shallow water or when slow speeds are critical.
But as summer moves along, something else begins to happen.
I’ve found that mid- to late-summer walleyes often respond to different types of triggers. Fish react and respond much differently in early August than they do in early June. Early in the summer for example, fish might get spooked if you drive over the top of them in 6 feet of water. In mid- to late summer, however, you can often catch fish directly below the boat.
Faster trolling speeds also become a trigger. Amazingly, big (non-trolling) motors rumbling and big props turning can also sometimes become an important part of a fishing presentation.
When surface water temperatures climb into the low 80s, the heat often coincides with more algae in the water, which often gives the water an additional stain. I believe a couple of things happen: The stain or color in the water lets you get away with more, including driving the boat over the top of fish. But also, the heightened level of fish metabolism that coincides with hot water seems to put walleyes over an edge where they become so aggressive they almost seem fearless.
The “dog days of summer” phrase often creates an image of deep fish, and there’s no doubt that some if not many walleyes can be deep in many waters. But there can be some tremendous bites occurring in shallow water on some of the hottest days of the summer.
I believe there’s a reversed feeding window during which fish slide deep over open water to eat and then move up shallow to warm and speed up their metabolism. It happens when the water begins to layer and set up with thermoclines or at least it concentrates baitfish that require either cool water or highly oxygenated water.
Regardless of why some walleyes decide to swim in 6 feet of water when surface temps are baking come the hottest days of summer, “prop wash trolling” can often trigger these fish.
What I find amazing are some of the nuances for this type of fishing. Typically, you can throw any type of finesse fishing right out the window. Cast to these fish? Nope. Slide by the fish with the electric trolling motor? Nope, again. Boat over the top of the fish, however, with a big motor rumbling while a 14-inch stainless steel prop turns about 3 feet over the top of the fish at a clip of 3 miles per hour and bang! You’ll get some of the most violent strikes you will ever feel from a walleye.
Why and how? I can only guess that there are times when the fish are so cranked up that a prop actually attracts them, and the turbulence created by the big propeller is a trigger. I’ve seen this shallow-water phenomenon over and over. Putting a deep-diving crankbait on a short leash right behind the prop at a blazing speed in less than 8 feet of water has produced a lot of big walleyes for me over the years.
Here’s another crazy thing. Try revving a long with a kicker motor at 3 mph and catch a few fish. Rumble along with a big outboard at 3 mph and catch even more. I know no one wants to rack up hundreds of hours on a big primary motor while trolling, but there are times when the big prop turning right over the top of fish just lights them up. The prop obviously has flash just turning in the water in neutral so the turbulence created by the prop must also be a factor.
I have caught walleyes as close as 10 feet behind the boat, and have also caught fish while letting out line. But the sweet spot seems to be 15 to 20 feet behind the boat. Deep-diving cranks have been deadly with this tactic. This isn’t a situation for shallow-billed jerkbaits or subtle-vibration lures. The basics are to put a deep-diving bait on a short amount of line right behind the boat. Burn that lure fast through 5 to 8 feet of water and hang on. When walleyes hit the crank in this situation, you’ll often think that the strike and initial fight is too violent for the fish to be a walleye. These walleyes will impress you.
As this pattern develops, you’ll notice algal blooms. What ultimately happens is the algae will start to collect at the surface of the water and can almost develop a crust that has an unpleasant odor. As this algal bloom gets really bad, trolling crankbaits can become impossible because the slime simply slides down the line and onto the bill of the crank, fouling it. A few things I do to combat the algae fouling is to angle the rod tips down into the water so the algae collects on the rod tip instead of sliding down the line.
What can also help is using a fluorocarbon leader that’s twice as heavy as the braid you’re using for your primary line. Connect the two lines with a big, ugly surgeon’s knot or leave the tag ends long on an knot and the knot will collect some of the algae.
There comes a point, however, at which the algae can get so bad that you can no longer troll crankbaits effectively. When algae slides down the line so much and fouls the lure, I have had success running a big, 3-ounce bottom bouncer at fast speeds right behind the boat with a crawler harness.
The key to getting the harness to run without twisting is to tie the harness with heavy, 20-pound mono and use a plastic quick-change clevis, as it seems to turn better on the heavier line. Up-size the rig’s beads and use a deep-cup blade for faster speeds. Both crawlers and Gulp! work well as bait.
When trolling harnesses at fast speeds right behind the prop, I find that curving the bait with the two-hook crawler harness often triggers bigger fish. The curved worm swims and zig-zags through the water, and small fish just seem to have a harder time getting their mouths around it.
There are a lot of reasons why walleyes can be in shallow water during the dog days of summer, and what I find on many lakes when algae begins to crust on the surface is a tale of two extremes. It seems as if fish are really deep over classic rock structure or surprisingly shallow, right under the crud.
What amazes me about speed-trolling tactics in shallow water is their effectiveness. By simply using the big prop and fishing fast, the results can be dramatic. This tactic hasn’t worked for me in shallow water that was really clear, but in dirty water, prop-wash fishing can be effective in the summer heat.
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