First there were colorado and indiana blades, then came willow blades and after that came the whiptails. Throw into the mix some hatchets and choppers and you get a wide selection of spinner blades for crawler harnesses that do a great job of putting walleye in the box. The question is if they catch fish, how can you possibly make them better? The answer would be where do you run them in the water column while targeting walleye. When targeting bigger fish, another key component would be when or what time of the year it is.
Early in the spring, the big fish are up higher in the water column due to the cooler water temps and food sources. This is the time of the year when there are 1,000’s of walleye anglers in the Detroit River or further south jigging the dumping grounds and reefs in Michigan and Ohio. Meanwhile there are lots of big walleye in the three bays hugging the coastline along Michigan’s shores. These spots should not be over looked when you want to target big eyes on this side of the state line.
Big baits equal big fish or so the story goes and this philosophy is more true during the spring that most used to believe. The old belief was that you ran smaller baits in the spring, but some of the spinner rigs being run on my rods start with blades being three inches or greater in length. There is a method to my madness and a lot of experience that went into creating my philosophy on what blades to run in specific sections in the water column.
Let’s start out with the dirty water scenario because let’s face it, how often in the spring is the water really that clear with all the rain and runoff flowing out into the lake. I have caught plenty of 10 pound plus walleye in the spring and some will be shocked to find out just how high in the water column they were caught. No matter how filthy the water is, keep in mind its going to be cleaner up high, since most of the sediment will be falling through the water column and settling on the bottom.
Considering all this, I still want some flash on my presentation to attract the walleye below, but because of the dirty water I still need some thump to attract the fish that are swimming roughly at the same depth so I can attract that lateral bite. This can be accomplished by running two of my favorite blades for this approach, a large #8 indiana blade and an unique shaped blade called the whiptail. These blades are long and lean much like a willow blade, but with their slight bend in the blade, they produce a little more noise and that will pull fish from both below and side to side of the bait.
When setting this bait up, as most of you already know, I want the baits that ride higher up in the water column to be the greatest distance from the boat. The proven theory is simple, if they can see the bait that high in the column, then they can see the boat and they will be easy to be spooked away. I always make my big water harness leads between five and 8 foot in length, not so worried about the exact length as some may be, but I do want the presentation to be away from the weight. I am more concerned with the length of my trolling rod and how easy it will be to net the fish. That said, I will run a quarter to half ounce weight, and then let out 10 to 25 foot of line before attaching one of my Church Tackle planer boards and letting it out into position. Then I start switching it up to cover the rest of the water column.
Now if the water is clear of debris and floating sediment then I will break out the willow blades and either run them as a single blade rig or if I want a bigger presentation I will pull them as a tandem blade harness. The next blades down would be the indiana’s and whiptails because I want that bit of thump down in the water column. Then depending on the depth or time of the year I will employ some heavier weights with one and two ounce weights. These will be on the second board out in the trolling program, or in the middle of the presentation.
On the last board out, or the one closest to the boat, will be my deeper presentation. This provides fewer chances of the fish being spooked by the boat this way. Then depending on the depth of the water I will use 2 or three ounce weights. Now here is a good tip for running big weights with planer boards. To avoid sinking your board with the heavier presentation, adjust your spool tension knob on your trolling reel, this a different adjustment than your drag and is located near the star drag. Clockwise is tighter and will slow down how fast your board drops back. Translation, the greater the tension, the greater the resistance while dropping back and will not allow the board to sink. I could get technical and throw in some water and resistance equations, but why get lost in the weeds so to speak.
One more side note with your choice of boards, I love my TX-22’s for pulling cranks and lighter weights. If I wanted to pull leadcore, heavy weights, say three to six ounces or big discs or divers then my choice of boards would be Church’s Walleye Board, also known as the TX-24. I could still do a lot of things with the TX-22, specially in deeper water, but I have a philosophy about the amount of line running behind the board. The least amount possible is ideal. Now this doesn’t mean I will be using leadcore or any type of diver, but I will be using the heaviest amount of lead as I can possible get away with. Prime example would be I have 31 foot of water at 1.3 miles per hour dialed in at 42 foot back to be on the bottom while running 2 ounces. If I wanted to attempt to do this with a smaller weight, it would be a lot more line running behind the board. More line equals more opportunities for a catastrophe to occur. Meaning, increased chances for losing a big fish.
Down below towards the bottom third of the water column is when it’s time to bust out the masters of thump. Colorado blades and hatchet blades are idea for drawing fish from side to side for that lateral attack, while still allowing you to attract fish from directly below. I know I said that the other blades were optimal for drawing up fish through the water column and its true, but then we were talking about drawing fish from the top 2/3 rds of the lake, while the thumper style blades work the best the bottom third.
Now if you want to really create havoc down below, try running colorado blades in semi connection. Sometimes called cowbells, this method is easy to do yourself by interlocking two #2 or #3 folded clevises.
When you do this the double spinning blades keep a continuous flash n thump presentation that the walleye have a hard time ignoring. This type of offering shines with a lot of fish on the screen, early or late in the day. Walleye have excellent eyesight compared to other fish in Lake Erie and while they don’t exactly stand up and take notice, they certainly do get called in by the combination of noise and flash provided by twin blades spinning.
As the months lead into summer many of these guidelines will still run true with a slight tweaking that will be needed by you the angler. As the water warms up, consider shrinking the water column. What I mean by this is that as the water heats up, start shrinking the amount of water that you target with baits. Where you might have targeted walleye hanging out in the top five foot of the water column early in the spring, you can now almost consistently eliminate that section of the water column. You will still be able to pull a big fish right around daybreak up high, but to be certain those bigger fish will head down towards the bottom of the lake as the day progresses when the sun rises and water temperatures heat up.
People will consistently ask, why do I pull meat exclusively after the water temps hit roughly 47 degrees? I know the guideline is that magical 50′ mark, but honestly if you don’t try harnesses earlier than that, you will be missing out on some really great fishing. Meat always catches fish, think about it.
My philosophy is that no matter what you drop down, a harness will always catch fish where a spoon or crank may not. Because even though the fish in the area may be actively feeding, and this is true specially for the bigger fish, they may not want to chase a bait moving that fast. This is key, something I have noticed consistently throughout the decades, the bigger the fish, the lazier they get.
They find that comfort zone where they can feed on a regular basis without too much effort. If you find yourself second guessing this, go back to the spring techniques and think about how slow you pull your baits through the water. Sure the water is colder and the fish tend to be sort of sluggish because of that, but the concept holds true. Look at the size of the fish most get in the warmer months while pulling spoons and cranks, they tend to run on the smaller side. That’s not to say you won’t get a good fish, but if you are getting a 4 lb walleye, you just might have missed your chance at a 6 or 7 lb fish. Then if you mix in the where to run different types of blades, you optimize your chances of getting that big fish no matter what the season is.