Crankbaits are a proven lure for walleyes throughout the open-water season.
The type of crankbait you employ, however, varies depending on the season. In the cold water of spring and late fall, walleyes prefer a subtle, side-to-side wobble versus more animated action. As water temperatures increase and walleye metabolism gets a jumpstart, cranks with an energetic action start to get noticed.
When water temperatures peak during the summer months walleyes are in full-time gorge mode, so crankbaits that exhibit a dynamic shimmy and tight wobble at slightly faster speeds get the nod.
Walleye anglers who ply the waters in the fall until ice forces them off the water can leave the same lures on their rods for early spring fishing. Oversized, wide-wobbling crankbaits that excel in cold, cold water exhibit a slow, tantalizing wiggle at slow trolling speeds. Productive speeds range from 1.0 to 1.5 mph. Walleyes in cold water are not overly energetic and when they decide to eat they want to make it worth their while. The big lure/big fish theory definitely applies when the water is frigid.
The pool of lures that consistently catch walleyes in cold water is surprisingly small. Jumbo stickbaits that excel in frigid temps include Rapala’s Deep Husky Jerk 12, Bandit 5⁄8-ounce Deep Walleye, Smithwick’s Deep-Diving Perfect 10, Walleye Nation Creations’ Reaper, Live Target Smelt, and Yo-Zuri’s Crystal Minnow.
Consider removing the front hook from minnow-shaped baits that have three trebles and replacing the remaining hooks with slightly larger premium trebles. You’ll find that you’ll have to deal with fewer foul-hooked fish and your landing ratio will improve.
Hold these lures over the side of the boat at the preferred trolling speed and you’ll see they don’t do much. Ideally, you’ll see a lazy, exaggerated side-to-side roll that doesn’t seem like it would trigger strikes. Don’t be fooled. The slow, pathetic roll and elongated profile is exactly what rotund walleyes want when the water temperatures are flirting with 40 degrees. Because they are relatively inactive, cold, lethargic and close to frozen frigid walleyes aren’t going to spend too much energy to feed.
One thing that makes these lures unique is the exaggerated lip or bill. The long bill allows these lures to dive deep without the aid of additional weight even at super slow trolling speeds.
How deep? We can determine that by the amount of line you let out behind the board. Deep-diving cranks can easily reach depths of 25 feet or more, which make them perfect for targeting cold-water ’eyes in deeper water and covering the entire water column in most situations.
Crankbaits are commonly pulled behind in-line planer boards when targeting walleyes. Not only does the length of the bill on the lure determine how deep the lure dives, but also the length of lead. In spring when fish are shallow you may only need to have the lure 15 feet behind the board. Now, when fish are going deeper, length of lead may be 100 feet or more to achieve maximum depths. Add weights between the board and lure to reach even greater depths.
As water temperatures rise so does a walleye’s metabolism. When water tempers hit the 50s and low 60s walleyes are a little more inclined to chase. Lures that are a little more animated and exhibit more shimmy attract attention. Lures that really start to shine then are the Rapala Tail Dancers, the original Reef Runner 800 series, and Flicker minnows. There are plenty of others.
There’s no exact time when one class or type of walleye lure begins to produce better than the other. Some crankbaits will produce year-round no matter how fast you troll because they are very speed forgiving. Lures that exhibit great action at the 1.5 to 2.0 speeds are preferred during this post-spawn period.
One advantage of trolling in most states is you can use multiple lines (check your regulations). You can put a variety of baits out to experiment. One bite on a particular lure could be an accident. Two bites on the same lure is a pattern. It could be the color, but many times it’s that lure’s particular action.
To get the maximum action from a crankbait make sure you’re using the right snap. Snaps that feature a round bend allow lures to work more freely. There is no need to use snap swivels when trolling crankbaits because they don’t spin. If your crankbait is spinning, something’s wrong and you should take it off or try tuning it.
Always test crankbaits next to the boat before you let them out.
Make sure they exhibit the right action and are not tracking to one side or the other.
Rip the lure forward with a sharp pull to make sure the lure is doesn’t spin out.
With swivels that have a “V” the lure can get pulled into the notch of the swivel restricting its movement. Companies, like VMC’s Crankbait Snap and the Lindy Duo Lock, manufacture snaps specifically for use with crankbaits. An alternative to using a snap is to tie a loop knot, which will allow the lure to move freely.
Once water temperatures start approaching 60 to 70 degrees, walleye metabolism shifts into high gear and they are more inclined to chase. Anglers typically pull crankbaits at speeds between 2.0 and 2.5 miles per hour then, but you can go as fast as 3.5 mph and catch aggressive fish. Going faster allows you to cover more water and target walleyes that are actively feeding.
Lures that exhibit a more animated, tighter wiggle or shimmy excel during the summer months. Lures with a shad profile seem to produce better versus minnow-shaped cranks. That probably has to do to with the shift in walleye forage that time of year.
Alewives, shad, white perch and the like are better imitated by shorter, fatter profiles.
The Flicker Shad is a favorite in the summer when trolling and they are very reasonably priced. Classic Wiggle Warts and Hot-N-Tots still catch fish. Try Salmon Hornets, Mag Lips and Berkley’s Money Badger, too. There are dozens of other crankbaits that fill the niche.