Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Nightcrawler presentations for walleyes

By Jason Haberstroh
Contributing Writer

Nightcrawlers hold a special place for many a fisherman. For me and many others, they are a part of the story that connects them to their first fish, a player in the initiation to the world as anglers. 

They maintain an important role for walleye fishermen. Even the big boys and girls who fish on the weekends and guide clients and compete in tournaments routinely employ worms as bait.

I went through a phase when I was too cool for nightcrawlers, or else used them reluctantly when the rest of the boat was crushing walleyes even as I held a skunk. 

Now, when I make a trip to Pymatuning, or any other lake to target walleyes, at least a couple dozen nightcrawlers for each angler get stowed away in a cooler. 

I still like throwing swimbaits and crankbaits for walleyes. Some days I do pretty well. Other times, that bite just ain’t happening.  

From late spring into summer, nightcrawlers may be the premier bait for catching walleyes, at least they tend to be the most consistent. Several basic crawler rigs work for me, dependent mainly on wind conditions and water clarity.

Generally, I drift when walleye fishing with crawlers. Walleyes follow bait, move on and off and up and down structure, into and out of cover. Often, they are not easy to pinpoint, and if schooling fish are found, the hot catching may not last long. 

Drifting efficiently covers water to find walleyes scattered on weed flats or multiple zones of an extended reef, or edge, not uncommon on large reservoirs like Pymatuning.

Except for leadhead jigs, my drifting rigs are stripped down versions of popular crawler harnesses used trolling. Much simpler, I branch out from a foundational Carolina-style setup: slip sinker, barrel swivel, leader, hook. 

When the drift is slow, especially in clear water, the rig is a simple one. I like threading a whole nightcrawler on a No. 1 light wire hook. There is lots of tail below the hook bend, but the worm maintains an authentic look. 

Weights are typically ⅛-ounce or 1⁄16-ounce if lazily dragging a presentation through shallow flats. This makes a very natural, unobtrusive offering to walleyes in a neutral mood or following to study a bait before biting.

 I sometimes slip one or two BB-sized orange, red or chartreuse beads above the hook when in weeds or during lowlight hours. 

More and bigger beads are added as the breeze strengthens. Seasonal and light conditions equal, walleyes tend to have a proportional aggression to wind speed. 

Up to pre-whitecap stage, I move to a straightforward bead arrangement above a nightcrawler, same hook, heavier sinker. However, upping to pea-sized beads better catches the eye of feeding walleyes. 

I set at least one bead up to a couple-inch stack of assorted beads leading the crawler. Sometimes uniform color arrangements of beads produce, sometimes alternating colors. If walleyes do not give a solid preference of pattern and little perch do, I’ll stick with what does not attract the latter. 

When wind reaches whitecap stage, spinner rigs, akin to the classic Bear Paw spinners, and painted lead jigheads get the call to action. 

When waves are rolling, though a bit uncomfortable, walleye fishing can be at its peak. Pymatuning’s offshore reefs and humps attract fish en masse during these times, even at midday, full sunshine.  

Roller-speed drifting grants a thump and flash to even larger blades on spinner rigs, which are basically bead-rigs with an added clevis and spinner. 

Because walleyes can be wildly aggressive at these times, baits are flaunted, flared at the bounds of the brightest dyes and paints. Actually, they may go beyond that limit in the sun’s rays. 

A jillion lumens causing sparks and reflections emitted by a spinner rig calls sharp-eyed fish from a distance, then upon closing, their lateral line tickles from blade thump. A crawler seals the deal.

My standard blades are little Colorados about the size of a fingernail, in reflective silver and gold. Beads do the coloring.

Brightly colored lead jigheads also stand out as options in stout wind. The brisk drift speed coinciding with the boat’s rocking from trough to crest provides leadheads with movement enticing to feeding walleyes. 

An angler can manually work a jig, but when the wind eliminates that task, no one complains. A pinched crawler pushed up a ¼- to 3⁄8-ounce jighead usually gets applied here. 

The shortened crawler promotes a rhythmical motion of the presentation and affects slashing walleyes to chomp above the hook bend. Feel a hit, set the hook and most of the time a walleye comes attached.  

As mentioned, leadheads may be manually worked. I actually do this in an anchored position in Green Lick Lake’s small coves and points. The lake has a decent walleye density, but not much acreage, so if fish are located, the drift is over soon after it begins. 

I like to find a productive zone, anchor, then fan cast and bop a ¼-ounce jighead and half-worm back to the boat.    

As spring moves into summer, a chartreuse floating jighead guiding a crawler in deep weeds is my usual choice. 

During dusky hours, Reefer’s Cove within Keystone Power Dam and the main basin’s submerged islands’ edges, where weedlines set up 18- to 20-feet deep, are prime locations to intercept incoming walleyes. I’ll also drop-shot with a plain crawler here. 

Weeds do not grow so deep or sharp-edged in Pymatuning, but scatter around 7 to 9 feet. I drift these bands using a long, at least 2-foot leader with a floater and nipped nightcrawler. 

The rig does not necessarily cruise along two feet above the bottom, but I think the buoyancy keeps it from grinding into the lake floor, which is all it takes to stay noticeable and fairly debris-free for walleyes roaming weed edges.   

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