They’re the pride and joy of NAFC walleye hunters. They go toe-to-toe with not only each other, but with the hard-fished ’eyes of a variety of top trophy waters from North Dakota to New York. And they excel, catching world-class fish in often brutal conditions on fisheries that might be 1,000 miles from their familiar home waters—sometimes while local anglers go fishless.
They’re the top guns on the Cabela’s Masters Walleye Circuit.
Lucky for the rest of us NAFC members, they’re as willing to share their secrets as they are skilled. We at Club Headquarters scoured the MWC ranks; following are some of the most interesting techniques our most competitive pros are using across the walleye belt.
Slip Float Trolling
One of this team’s favorite tricks is trolling slip float rigs. The technique works just the way it sounds—dragging floats while using your electric motor to move along the emerging weedlines. The team ties up standard slip float rigs—stopper, then bead, float and second bead, but mixes it up from there south.
“We slide on a 1¼4- to 1¼8-ounce egg sinker below the lower bead, then tie on a barrel swivel,” Aydelotte says. “Then we tie on a 6- to 8-foot Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon leader and pinch on a split shot about 18 inches up from a plain size 4 hook, tipped with a small leech.”
Suspend the bait 6 to 12 inches above the weedtops, and be sure to weight the rig so the float is as close to neutrally buoyant as possible. Bump up the weight if you increase trolling speed.
Calling it “speed,” however, is a bit misleading, as Aydelotte says the ideal tempo is usually a mere crawl that barely registers on the GPS. The movement is enough, though, to cover more water than stationary float fishing and trigger strikes.
“It’s a lot easier than Lindy rigging these spots and it helps locate fish along deep weedlines,” he says.
A final touch: the duo keeps the rigs dragging 20 to 30 feet behind the transom, and usually backs the boat toward them when a fish hits. To ensure solid hooksets, they use 81¼2-foot rods.
Anglers who know when and how to break the rules are the ones who create the next hot pattern. Such is the case with Wisconsinites Dean Nathe and Paul Thompson—their spinner rigs might change the way you think about stealth.
“We’ve been experimenting with line color, and it is absolutely amazing how high-vis green line tied into a spinner rig often produces more fish than a fluorocarbon or a natural green mono,” Nathe says. “We have noticed this to be especially true on windy and overcast days.”
The duo believes it serves as an attention-getter and actually helps walleyes track the bait. “Our human eyes have a tendency to follow a bright line until they see what’s on either end,” Nathe says. “We believe walleyes do the same.”
The team says the line works in the same way as a spinner blade. “The fish sees the flash of the blade before the ’crawler gets to it, and that grabs the walleye’s attention and draws it toward the incoming nightcrawler,” Nathe says. “Same principle for the line—the fish sees it and looks toward the bait.”
Pennsylvania teammates Keith Eshbaugh and Jeff Behr credit much of their success to a well-known but usually underused presentation—trolling lead-core. They say many anglers are needlessly intimidated by it because the tactic is far less complicated and much more efficient than the usual suspects anglers rely on to get baits running along bottom.
“It’s so much easier,” Eshbaugh says. “Say you’re trolling cranks; all you do is let out line until the lure is hitting bottom, then reel it up slightly. In general, you’ll need about one “color” of lead core for every five feet you want to go down. And just like that, you’re in the zone.”
He says it really shines when fishing an area with varying depths—places that force most other trollers to either settle for having their baits temporarily running too shallow or deep, or constantly change weights, baits or letbacks to maintain bottom contact.
“If the bottom goes up and down a lot, all you have to do keep your baits on the structure is speed up or slow down, respectively,” Eshbaugh says. “You can troll all the depths along a point and keep your lure in the strike zone 90 to 100 percent of the time without even touching your rods.”
Eshbaugh and Behr fish cranks on a 5- to 6-foot FireLine leader in muddy water, and a 20- to 50-foot Vanish Transition fluoro leader in clear conditions. Eshbaugh prefers deep-diving baits when dealing with ’core.
“It’s a preference thing, but we can feel the deep-divers better, and they get down and stay down,” he says.
They minimize rigging difficulties by joining leader to ’core by pulling the lead out of the last three inches of their 18-pound Cabela’s lead-core, threading the end of the leader into the sheath and then tying the conjoined section into an overhand knot. The junction slides easily through the guides and won’t come unbuttoned. If the length of fluoro leader becomes unwieldy to tie in this manner, they’ll use a nail knot instead.
One final word of advice: Don’t run lead-core alongside mono while trolling. When you turn, the lead-core will respond almost immediately and follow the boat; the mono will lag slightly behind and the lines will cross, resulting in a day-delaying tangle.
Become A Pitching Machine
About 600 miles stretch from this team’s Leavenworth, Kansas, home to Wiscon-sin’s Lake Winnebago, but that didn’t stop them from beating the rest of the largely Wisconsinite field at the MWC tournament there in July of 2005. In a word, Steve Stein and Kenny Ludwig are versatile. Fine-tuned pitching is one of their go-to presentations.
Although it wasn’t a factor in their Winnebago upset, they feel it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. “In Kansas, we catch most of our walleyes pitchin’, but we’ve found that most other guys don’t do it elsewhere,” Stein says. “It’s one of the best ways to catch fish, though, especially during the month after the spawn and before the shad hatch.”
Stein uses as light a jig as possible and makes short pitches to shoreline mud and wood in as little as three feet of water. Tip the jig with a half or full nightcrawler. “It’s a lift-bounce presentation—pull the jig in 10- to 12-inch-high hops,” he says. “Feel for bites on the drop.”
The team pitches mostly on reservoirs, but they say it’s also under-used on natural lakes. “Weedlines offer the same pitching opportunities—pitch into the pockets. You’ll go through some jigs, but the walleyes will be there,” says Stein.