A few years ago, I purchased a video from In-Fisherman that claimed that the jig was the greatest walleye lure ever. Since then I have come to the conclusion that they might be right when it comes to the lakes of Minnesota, and around the Canadian shield. These fish hold to certain patterns, and even to structure to a certain degree. When it comes to the Great Lakes, and we are talking about the Bays de Noc, Saginaw Bay, Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, then the crawler harness rules supreme.
In so many ways the basic harness is just as versatile as the jig on bigger bodies of water where most of us in Michigan fish for walleye. You can cast it for suspended fish, drag it on the bottom, and by using a wide variety of methods, you can troll it. On larger bodies like the Great Lakes, the fish roam the massive flats that make up much of the terrain below the water. The harness gives the flash and thump (sound) to lure walleye in and strike at the bait.
Previously in another blog entry, I mentioned that I prefer to cast and drift for walleye out on Lake Erie. To me this is fishing, you are more in tune with what is going on, and actively taking a part in the catching of the fish. This method is best suited for early in the mornings, before the sun really starts to heat the water up. During this time is when the fish are most often suspended in the water column, anywhere from 8 to 20 ft down. For casting after suspended eyes, I make up several harnesses each year referred to as “weapons”. These are a single #4 size hook rig, made with a small blade, about 20 inches long with an egg sinker in the front for getting the bait out there. I like using two different weights, 1/4 and 3/4 oz. The 1/4 oz is used on spinning tackle, and really is more of a drifting through water column type of presentation. The light weight allows it to stay up. My favorite blade for this is a 1 inch “Smile Blade” It is a unique, lightweight blade that takes very little resistance to make it spin. These are available from Mack’s Lures, and you can purchase the blades separately or already tied up on their website, www.mackslures.com or shop around at your favorite outdoor store or well equipped tackle shop. The 3/4 oz sinker goes on a strictly cast and retrieve presentation. This employs a countdown once the bait hits the water, and you can estimate the depth by one foot, every second. If you are marking fish at 15 ft in the water column, then give it the old 15 mississippi count. On these rigs, a #2 colorado blade is used for flash and attraction.
Later in the morning, usually around 11 or 12 o’clock the water has started to warm. As this happens the walleye tend to head for the bottom and hug it for the rest of the warm period of the day. During this time, dragging the bottom can be the most productive method of catching fish. The rig itself changes slightly, from 24 to 30 inches, two #4 hooks instead of one, my metal blade is still a number 2, and when using the Smile blade, an 1 ½ inch size. Depending on your rod, and the waves, you can choose an egg sinker anywhere from 3/8 to 1 ounce for your weight. The method is simple, you cast
your rig out, wait for it to hit bottom, then as the boat is being pushed by the waves, sweep your rod tip back towards you. As the movement of the boat takes up the slack you created, allow the slack line to be taken up, and then repeat the process. During this time, keep tension on the line by allowing the rod tip to go away from the boat slowly. You can get bites during the drag, and as the line is being drawn tight again.
Trolling these blades is just as effective, if not more so. The angler covers more water and cuts a larger path along the boats heading. Trolling speeds should be from 3/4 to 1.5 miles an hour when trolling meat rigs. Colorado blade sizes range from #3, 4, 5 and 6. Yes, you can catch walleye on a
big blade like a #6, and often it will keep all but the most determined sheephead off your line. Most of your store bought harnesses are either sizes 4 or 5. On the rigs tied up with a #3 blade, I will still use two #4 hooks. The bigger blades get three #2 hooks evenly spaced apart. You can also play with treble hooks for your last hook on the rig. On the rigs with #4 hooks, I will tie on a red #10 treble from Mustad. The bigger rigs get a #8 “Triple Grip” Mustad treble hook.
The treble is a little trick I learned from Adam Marchbanks, a veteran angler on Saginaw Bay and has produced well for him over the years. If it works for someone else, why not make it your own? The biggest thing in fishing today is getting stuck in a rut. Do not find yourself presenting your baits the same
way year after year. The more you mix it up, the more interesting it becomes. There is no bigger thrill than catching a fish on something you have devised on your own. In future entries, I will bring up several different twists that you can use to present your baits.
You can buy your trolling rigs just about anywhere in the area; Cook’s Sportland, the State Park Party Store, Jeff’s Bait, Gander Mountain, Wal-Mart, Bottom Line Bait and Tackle, and Cabela’s all carry a good variety. Almost all of them come in a standard 36 inch length and you will catch fish with them.
A standard rule when making your own harnesses is at the very least match the length of the rod you are using, at the most make them 2 feet longer than your rod. For an example, most of my trolling rods are the 8′ Premier Glass Trolling Rods, from St. Croix ( www.stcroixrods.com ), so all my harnesses are roughly 10′ long. There are two main reasons for making them this long. The first is that the further away from your method of getting the rig down to where the fish are, the less apt they are at being
spooked by it. The second is being able to control the rig when you are retrieving a fish. When you stand near the side of the boat, and have your arms raised with the rod in your hands, that extra 2 ft in my case, just brings the fish to the surface, or just below, and allows your partner to net the fish with relative ease.
I briefly mentioned methods of getting your harnesses down to your target area, where the fish are. If the fish are hugging bottom, you should have a good selection of 2 and 4 ounce bottom bouncers. The 2 oz bouncers are well suited for running your rigs further behind your boat. Less weight equals more line let out to reach the bottom. The 4 oz models go straight down from your rod tip, just call them a poor man’s downrigger, except you don’t have to deal with the line releasing prematurely out of the clips. Why not have all the rods set up with the same weight? Its called a spread, and it allows you to have the maximum amount of lines in the water without getting tangled. Example would be three people in the boat, by Michigan law, that six lines maximum in the water. An easy spread would be two harnesses spread out away from the boat on planer boards, then two 4 oz bottom bouncers down right at the side of the boat, and you would run the two 2 oz bouncers behind the boat. It gives you the maximum spread and you normally will not tangle other lines while you bring your fish in.
Other methods of getting your baits down that are popular out on Lake Erie and the other big water walleye havens fall into the “diver” family. These are good presentations for finding suspended fish, as well as getting down near the bottom of the lake. You can use the following to get your baits down; Big Jon’s Mini Discs, smaller Dipsey Divers, Luhr Jensen Jet Divers (sizes 20, 30 and 40), and Pa’s Lures.
There are trolling guides available that you can purchase, that will tell you how deep these divers go, based on how many feet of line you let out from your reel. It is actually cheaper to buy the Pa’s lure with the hook attached, than the models available with the harness in the packaging. You just simply remove the hook, and attach your own harness to the bait.
There are weights you can attach to your line as well to get your rigs down to the desired depths. Snap weight systems that you attach to your line with a clip and allow you to change weights as you follow the fish. Inline beaded chain weights that work well too. One of the methods growing in popularity is a weight from Bass Pro Shops, called the “Fish Weight” inline weight. At 1 mph, with an 1 oz weight, you find the depth of the fish on your finder, then double the amount of line you let out to reach that depth. If the fish are suspended in 17 foot of water, you measure out 34 ft of line from your reel. BPS weight
All of these reasons and concepts add up to the harness as the most effective lure, overall, on big bodies of water. Its not to say I am going to trash all my Hot-n-Tots, Wiggle Warts, Rapalas, Reef Runners, Erie Dearies, Nuggets and spoons. Some baits just have their time and place.
Next up: “How to Make Your Own Meat Rigs”