Walleye fishing can sometimes feel like just as much of a gamble as a high-stakes poker game. Fish inhabit only about one-tenth of the water body, and factors like weather and water color, fish behavior and seasonal movements, make finding them a tremendous challenge.
Even if you do locate fish, you must dial in the best tactic to get them into the net.
With cards stacked against them, you’d think fishermen would use every trick in the book. But many overlook some of the most obvious ways to put the odds in their favor.
Over the years, however, ingenious anglers have devised ways to take advantage of state and provincial laws that allow more than one bait on a line at the same time. The multiple-lure rigs these innovators pioneered present fish with different profiles, lure actions, colors or live bait to test what they prefer on any given day. And if nothing else, they maximize their odds simply by having more baits in the water. It’s the equivalent of having an ace up your sleeve.
In states that allow both multiple lines as well as multiple rigs, well, that’s like rolling a “7” on the first toss of the dice.
Ante up, and read on.
We all know how to troll a single crank or ’crawler harness. Tie a snap to 10-pound mono, add the bait and let out enough line to take it down to the depth you want to fish, according to what the book “Precision Trolling” suggests. Add a planer board if you want to move baits away from boat noise and cover more water.
In states that allow you two lines per angler, you and your partner can easily spread four lines and run four lures at different depths to sift the water column from top-to-bottom and side-to-side. Try different kinds of crankbaits to test fish preference on action, profile and color. Make “S” turns to vary lure speed to see if slower inside lures or faster outside ones make a difference.
It’s a proven and effective system, but it’s only scratching the surface of what’s possible. You can multiply your spread by using slider rigs to double the number of lures in the water.
A horizontal slider (see photo), for example, starts with a crankbait snap tied to one end of a piece of 16- to 20-pound fluorocarbon long enough to get the bait down to where you want it. Tie the opposite end to the large split ring on an Off Shore OR-16 Snap Weight Clip; attach the snap to the lure.
To fish both your main line and the slider simultaneously, let out the main line with a crankbait or spinner rig, just as you would at any other time. Attach the planer board when you’ve reached the necessary letback, then let it begin tracking to the side. When the board is approximately halfway to where you'd like it, clip the Snap Wight Clip to the main line and let out the slider lure behind the boat. When the slider bait is tracking, clip another crankbait snap around both the main line and the Snap Weight Clip split ring, then let the planer board travel out the full distance.
The Off Shore clip is usually strong enough to hold the slider rig in place on the main line, even when a big walleye hits, just as the clip does on a planer board. The crankbait snap joining the main line and split ring is just an added line of defense to ensure you won’t lose your slider line (and any fish that might be on it) should the clip come unbuttoned.
To make the setup even more effective, tie a small dropper line to the split ring and attach a float. Next, let the planer pull the main line out far enough so the float guides across the surface. It works like a strike indicator for the slider line, and is especially valuable for indicating when the lure has fouled on weeds or is dragging a small fish.
When a walleye hits the slider, reel up to the snap, release it and land the fish hand-over-hand, just as you would if you were hand-lining. If a fish hits the main line, simply begin reeling until you can reach and unsnap the slider, then get it out of the way. Continue reeling up to the planer board, remove it and reel in the fish. It’s easy once you do it a time or two.
The same slider rig can also be used to vertically troll ’crawler harnesses with bottom bouncers or Snap Weights (see photo). With bouncers, rig a ’crawler harness as you normally would to fish the bottom, then let out line and clip on the slider to target high-riding walleyes.
The distance between the bouncer and slider depends on the fish. Keep in mind that the main line will be at a 45-degree angle from the bottom, so if you mark fish seven feet off bottom, attach the slider about 15 feet up from the bouncer.
When running Snap Weights, a good option when walleyes are suspended, let the first harness out on about 20 feet of line, add the weight, then let out more line and add the slider. Again, remember the 45-degree rule when attaching the slider.
Be sure to note how much line you let out with each rig so you can duplicate the presentation that works.
DOUBLE DROP SHOT
Single jigs or plain hooks often produce big fish from boats anchored over submerged timber or rock piles on waters like North Dakota's Devil's Lake or Manitoba's Lake Winnipeg, just above the Winnipeg River.
But I’ve found that adding a second hook a foot or two above the jig can easily increase your catch by 40 percent. It’s the walleye angler’s answer to the bassman’s dropshot rig—and it’s just as deadly.
To rig it, use a palomar knot to tie a StandOut hook onto an 8-pound monofilament main line, leaving an 8-inch to 2-foot tag end (go longer in clearer water, or in areas with lots of snags). I prefer a StandOut to a standard octopus-style hook for this presentation because its bend and offset line tie hold the bait about an inch from the line, plus the bend imparts a lever action when you twitch your rodtip.
DROP SHOT VARIATIONS
Tie a jig heavy enough to maintain bottom contact to the tag end.
Tip both the jig and the drop-shot hook with live bait or plastics like the Munchies Thumpin’ Grub. The two-hook setup, however, works to its full potential when you fish different live baits simultaneously, letting you dial in the bait type, color, shape, size and action that work best.
If you think walleyes won’t hit something so close to the vertical line, guess again. I’ve had ’eyes hit the dropshot hook so hard that it’s forced out through the gills and the fish is actually hooked by the lower jig!
Fish right below the boat with a weedless jig on the bottom to avoid snags, or drift over points or along weedlines.
You can also cast the rig, or better yet, suspend it under a slip float. Use 15-pound braid on the main line, then add a thread-style bobber stop and slip float above a barrel swivel. Add a 2-foot, 10-pound fluorocarbon leader, and use the same drop-shot hook and jig combination outlined above.
Target pockets within cover, or use wind or current to float the rig across points and along inside turns. You can also fish the float downstream in current if you use a bottom jig heavy enough to stay vertical below the boat.
DOUBLE RIGS FOR RIVERS
Double-lure rigs are also ideal for targeting big-river walleyes
To troll upstream, use a doublejig rig, a variation of the popular “Wolf River rig,” which uses a three-way swivel system, a weighted dropper and a 2-to 4-foot leader with a hook, and snell float or floating minnowbait. The double-jig rig, however, trades a big jig for the Wolf River rig’s sinker on the 12-to 18-inch dropper line (see photo).
Depending on current strength, the jig should weigh 5/8 to 1 1/2 ounces—whatever weight maintains a 45-degree angle between the main line (10-pound mono or braid) and the surface. Use a live minnow or a curlytail-, shad- or even lizard-style soft plastic bait on the bottom jig. Keep in mind that walleyes and saugers have no problem inhaling a big offering—I’ve found that my biggest fish often come on the big jig when fishing this setup.
I’ve also learned that it’s also a good idea to trade the threeway swivel for two small barrel swivels when fish are biting light—something I figured out in one of those moments when a light bulb suddenly goes on.
It was years ago, and I was fishing on the Illinois River with longtime friend John Campbell. We had just started fishing the Masters Walleye Circuit, where we both began our professional fishing careers.
At the time, the modified Wolf River rig I just explained was beginning to really catch on. Although it was absolutely effective, John and I were finding that fish that bit the top trailing bait often avoided the hook. We reasoned the problem centered on the three-way swivel—since it wouldn’t give when a sauger hit, the fish would feel resistance and drop the bait.
To adapt, we replaced the three-way with two small barrel swivels. We threaded one eye of one swivel onto the main line and tied the dropper (which led to the big jig) to the other eye. We tied the second swivel to the end of the main line, below the dropper swivel, and attached it to the leader for the top bait or lure.
The result was a flexible setup that let us lower the rodtip to give slack to a biting fish, pause a moment to let the fish inhale the minnow and then set the hook. Our hooking percentage soared.
To fish the rig in rivers, slow-troll upstream, making “S” turns to cover different depths. Focus on the breaks in the main channel. When fishing lakes and reservoirs, drift the rig over points.
The Dubuque Rig (see photo) is a similar and highly effective way to troll upstream with two crankbaits. In this case, the dropper line goes from a threeway swivel to a pencil weight or a No-Snagg sinker, and the leader is assembled from two 2-foot pieces of mono. Tie one piece to the open loop of the threeway and a shallow-running, floating minnowbait (with the rear treble removed) to the other.
Tie the other 2-foot leader to the rear eye of the first lure, tie a crankbait snap to the opposite end, and attach it to a second shallow-running, floating crank.
The rig excels because it allows you to really dial in which action fish prefer, because the front bait wobbles more subtly than the rear one, a difference that can be critical. Plus, you can easily experiment with lure color and size. In states like Illinois that allow two rods per angler and multi-lure rigs, setups like this let you easily run and manage up to eight lures simultaneously, while keeping all your baits in the strike zone.
Of course, multi-lure rigs don't just shine for walleyes and saugers. North American Fisherman's longtime Field Editor Spence Petros also relies on multi-rigs to beat big bluegills and slab crappies.
Petros uses a specialized double-jig setup similar to a downsized Wolf River rig to troll outside weedlines or cover water quickly when fish are suspended over basins.
To assemble the rig, tie the end of the main line to the top eye of a three-way swivel, then attach a dropper line approximately 3 feet long, tipped with a small jig like a 1/16-ounce Fuzz-E-Grub to the bottom eye.
To the remaining swivel eye tie a 2-foot monofiliament leader and tip it with a smaller, lighter jig.
You can vary the weight of both jigs—and the length of the dropper and leader—to adapt to what the fish seem to prefer, and to where they’re positioned in the water column.
Remember, however, to follow two important caveats: Never exceed a total weight of 3/16 ounce for the two jigs, and always use a smaller jig for the upper bait. If you don’t, the rig won’t troll properly and the lines will tangle.
For fishing deeper water, add a small bell sinker above the three-way swivel to bring the rig into the strike zone and keep the presentation more vertical.
Add a spike or waxworm to both jigs and troll slowly. Once you locate fish, switch to a scaleddown version of the walleye/sauger dropshot rig explained earlier. Go with a smaller upper hook tied in 18 inches to 2 feet above a 1/
32-ounce jig. Add a split shot above the rig if more weight is needed.