There have been a million articles written about live bait rigging for summer walleyes. They all touch on the slow, methodical approach to this tactic, and to the absolute finesse that must be implemented in order to be successful. They focus on light line, small hooks, stealthy slip-sinker set-ups and patience. I’m here to tell you right here and now that this article will not be like that.
Subscribers to TheNextBite/Esox Angler magazine cruise these pages for the cutting edge of angling techniques and I think this new-age philosophy to live bait rigging qualifies. I’m talking about Extreme Rigging. Pushing the envelope of what a walleye will tolerate in a live bait presentation; Putting your offering in front of as many fish in a day as possible and still do it in a manner that will trigger bites from less-than-active walleyes. Make no mistake; we are breaking down barriers here. I honestly believe this will change the way you view live bait rigging forever. When I approach a summer time scenario where the walleye bite is leaning toward a live bait presentation, the first piece of gear I reach for is my bottom bouncer set-up. A six and a half to seven foot, medium action baitcasting outfit spooled with ten pound line. On to that I’ll have tied a bottom bouncer (depending on the depth of water I’m targeting this may be anywhere from one ounce to three ounces) rigged with a three to four foot snell and plain bait hook.
The snell is usually made of eight pound test mono, like Berkley Sensation, or ten pound test Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon. The hook size will depend on the bait I’m fishing with. For crawlers and leeches it will be a size 4 Mustad Ultra Point Octopus Beak-Fine Wire hook model 92604BLN (black nickel) or 92604R (red). For larger minnows I’ll go with the same hook in a size 1 or 1/0. A far cry from the ultra-finesse spinning outfit and light line most guys would use for live bait fishing. But then I’m not out to coax a few biters. I’m out to catch as many quality walleyes as I can.
That’s not to say that I hit the water at mach speed with this presentation, at least not to start off with. My plan, as always, is to first of all locate what I believe to be a fishable school of walleyes by utilizing my electronics. Summer time walleyes, ones that are typically good targets for live bait rigging, are usually set up on structure and in water deeper than fifteen feet. That makes them good candidates for spotting with electronics. Once I feel I’m on a good bunch of fish, I will work my bottom bouncer live bait rig slowly (typical speed with the bowmount trolling motor will be about .4 mph) through the area to try and trigger a bite. This will tell me a couple of things. It will tell me for sure whether or not I’m fishing walleyes, and if in fact they are in fact walleyes, then I have a good idea of the type of structure and depth to key in on in other areas of the lake.
Now is when the “plan” kicks into gear. For ever we’ve heard from accomplished “riggers” that you move slowly along structure until you contact fish and then you “hover” on the school to pick off the biters. That’s not the way this plan works … not at all.
Once I contact fish, I want to start pushing the envelope. I want to start increasing the speed of the presentation. Not by leaps and bounds, but in small increments. Where I first caught a fish going .4 mph, I now want to kick it up to .5 mph, then .6 mph, and then maybe even .7, .8 mph or faster! The object is to test the walleyes and see just how fast I can present my live bait rig and still get them to bite it. The advantage here is that by dialing in on that “presentation speed threshold” I can cover more water and put my bait in front of more fish over the course of a day than any other rigger on the water.
Will this approach work for every live bait rigging situation? No. There will always be a time and place for the ultra-slow and finesse type of rigging, particularly when you are faced with fishing very heavily pressured lakes, gin clear water, and severe cold-front scenarios. But those circumstances are really more the exception than the rule.
The second, and probably the most overlooked aspect to successful live bait rigging for walleyes is choosing the right quality, lively bait. Traditionally you would think of summer time walleye bait as being strictly crawlers and leeches. Those are still viable options under many circumstances, but more and more I find myself leaning toward using large minnows. I’m talking four to six inch Creek Chubs and Redtail Chubs; baits normally reserved for late fall fishing.
It never ceases to amaze me how finicky walleyes are very often more apt to chomp the big baits rather than nibble a smaller offering. This is especially true when fishing large western reservoirs, but I’ve seen it in many natural lakes as well. I think we as anglers are conditioned to under estimate the appetite of walleyes in a neutral or even a negative mood. There are lots of times though that crawlers and/or leeches will be the best bait choice. But the biggest mistake I see anglers make in the summer is to use inferior bait; bait that’s not lively or otherwise sub-standard. If you’re going to be serious about your walleye live bait fishing, you need to get serious about your bait. Learn how to pick out the best bait available and take good care of it out on the water.
With leeches for instance, I am very picky about the ones I use. I like them black (not brown), medium sized, healthy and lively. I want leeches that are going to fight back a little when I go to impale them on the hook, even to the point where they curl up in that “cobra head” fashion when you try to hook them up. A leech like that I’m confident will swim constantly as I’m working it, and trigger many more bites than a limp noodle. I’m just as picky about the crawlers I use. I want them plump and lively. Keeping your bait cool in the heat of summer is the key to having quality bait all day long.
The absolute best method I have ever found to ensure my crawlers are going to stay cool and healthy is choosing the right bedding. I realize this may sound a bit commercial here, but I honestly feel that the Frabill products, Fat & Sassy Worm Bedding is the key factor in maintaining quality bait. This stuff comes pre-mixed so there’s no guess work as to how much water to add, and it has all the right nutrients to keep the bait well fed and healthy. All I do is keep my worm containers in a cooler with ice, and the bedding does the rest.
We all have virtually the same goal; we want to catch as many walleyes as we can on every trip out. In the summer, that very often means we’re going to be reaching for the live bait rig in order to coax a few bites. However, that doesn’t mean that the approach always needs to be pain-stakingly slow. A bottom bouncer live bait rig system will allow you to push the limits of traditional rigging methods and deliver your offering to more fish in a given day. Be skeptical if you want. Stick with the typical slip sinker, light line rigging methods if it suits you. I’m sure you’ll still catch fish. Just don’t get annoyed at me as I cruise past you on my way to my Next Bite … and my next … and my next …