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Don’t get locked in

Fishing the Midwest

— Submitted photo Be creative with your lure presentation and you’ll catch more fish.

A new fishing season is under way. Now is a good time to remember what fishing techniques have worked in the past, but we should also remind ourselves to revise those techniques when the fish aren’t responding to them. Here’s what I mean.

Trolling with crankbaits has become a popular and effective way to catch walleyes. Much of the time it’s a matter of attaching a crankbait of the appropriate size to a rod/reel combo spooled with 10 pound test line, put the bait in the water, let out enough line so that the bait is running near the bottom, put the rod in the rod holder, and start trolling. When the rod bends over, reel the fish in. That method works much of the time, but there are conditions when you want to tweak the system for better catches.

I encountered one of those situations many years ago when crankbaiting for walleyes was just becoming popular. We were fishing a walleye tournament in Ontario. It was mid-August. Our fish-finding electronics were crude by today’s standards, but they revealed to us that there were lots of fish suspended 20 feet below the surface in water that was 100 feet deep. We thought that many of the fish were baitfish, but we saw enough big fish marks to make us think there might be some walleyes mixed in with the baitfish. But in those days, we didn’t have a good way to present a bait to them. We needed to get creative. The only bait I had that would run close to that depth was a #9 Shad Rap. This was so long ago that there were only about five colors of Shad Raps.

I knew that I needed a thin diameter line to get the bait close to the fish. Thin diameter lines have less water resistance and allow a bait to run a bit deeper. I tied the bait onto a 6 foot medium-heavy jigging rod and started trolling. It wasn’t long and the rod bent over. A second or two later, the line broke. I started over and it happened again. Broken line. I realized that the rod was too stiff and the line too light for the hard strikes. I looked through my rod box and found a slip-bobber rod. It had 6 pound line on it, but the rod was 8 feet long and had a much softer action. Another bait was tied on and run down to the fish zone. When the next fish hit, the entire length of the rod bent which prevented the line from breaking. A couple minutes later a 6 pound walleye was netted. This occurrence happened repeatedly over the next 2 days. No more lines were broken and every fish that hit was landed, allowing me to finish in the Top 10 of the tournament. Sometimes doing things out of the ordinary will help us catch more fish. Today we don’t need to go to such extremes. Baits such as the Banana Shad will get down to the fish on heavier lines, but a softer rod is still a good idea.

Another out-of-the-ordinary crankbait tweaking incident: Again back in the day there was a crankbait designed for walleyes that came with 2 diving lips, 1 for running deep, 1 for running shallow. By unscrewing the front hook, the lip could be removed and replaced with the other. This innovative design allowed us to essentially have 2 crankbaits in 1: A deep-diver and a shallow-diver. They worked pretty good. Then we got an idea: What if we put the lip in upside down? That change should make the bait a topwater bait. It did! We put the lips in upside down on a couple of the baits and started throwing them around for largemouth bass. The bass liked them. They really liked them. In fact, these baits ended up being better bass baits than walleye baits, although they caught walleyes pretty good also. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell very well and were discontinued after a couple of years.

This year when you’re on the water, if the fish aren’t responding to standard techniques, try something not-so-standard. You might find more than your standard fishing success.

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