Tuning Up for Summer Walleye – Part 1

Lure control, line control and depth control – an Evolution

Finding the fish is only half the battle, now you need to catch them, AND you need to catch the biggest fish to win if you are in a contest. How to do that is part of this series.

Provoking fish to strike even when they are not hungry, that is what wins tournaments.  Veteran anglers that catch their fill of fish on each trip know that finding hungry fish is one approach, but provoking fish to strike will catch fish almost anytime.  Lure control, line control and depth control will help you get there.

The “good lure – bad lure trail” starts a long time ago, in the 70’s.  Crankbait lure manufacturers learned how to mold plastics, imbed hook-holding points, add colors and modify actions to control wobble, wiggle, shake-frequency and other features yet to be defined at the time.

There were also the old cedar, balsa and other wooden lures, which at the time were often not as reliable to keep hooks from pulling out.  The old balsa Rapala’s were the exception and were always a front row seller.  The old lures were all beautiful and traditional, but they didn’t hold up like the plastic lures.

The plastic lures didn’t need to be repainted either, because they had built-in color and internal fish-like markings.  If you remember the term “plastics” from the movie “The Graduate”, it changed the world of the movie actor in the movie, it also really forever changed the world of fishing too.  That’s progress.

In 1973 in Elma, New York, I met master angler, Russ Johnson.  He had learned how to catch fish with plastic lures like no other man alive – that I knew, no other man except, maybe, Buck Perry, the king of controlled depth fishing lures.  A humble man through all of his fish-catching success, Johnson was willing and able to share what he had learned, or I should say, what he invented – because he was the Eastern Basin Lake Erie leading edge fishing technologist back then, with anyone that would venture to ask “how do you do it?”

Even during the hottest of summer seasons, this guy always his limit of walleye or bass, whichever species he was fishing for.

About that same time, the Lowrance “green box” depth sounder brought electronics into the fishing world and “hi tech” had started that new journey for many of us.  It would be a journey into the once very placid world of fishing secrets and hand-me-down traditions for “secret spots”, to another trail, a process for finding fish every time you fish with gadgets that help you see them.  That trail for learning was set!  Except, even if you found the fish, you might find like anglers do today quite often, they just would not bite! You still need to provoke fish to strike to catch them ALL THE TIME.

Finding the right lures to use is based on YOUR EXPERIENCE to understand HOW-TO-TUNE those lures so they deliver their MAXIMUM APPEAL where you place them for fish to see, or for fish to be provoked by, those lures when they are performing during your fishing time on the water. A lure in the right color, but not performing well is ineffective!

Johnson learned to use the new electronics and incorporate it with his fine points of controlling lure action, lure depth and how to eliminate fishless water way before anyone ever wrote about it.  His fish coolers were always open because the fish he caught were so big and so many in count, the coolers were too small!  No joke!

Today, he is in his 80’s and spends much of his time with a similarly aged angler, Bob Carlson, teaching youngsters how to tie proper fishing knots.  When he fishes, he is so good today that catch and release is his common practice because we know better now – you can deplete the fishery.

His favorite lure for catching walleye and bass back then was a Rebel Deep Wee-R, but there was more to it than just using that lure model.  Johnson also controlled his fishing line (diameter size), the lure color, rod length and rod action (resonating parabolics matched with lure type and boat trolling speed), his fishing reel (calibrated for distance deployed by cross-feed revolutions – feet per cross-feed, today we have line counters…much easier), and the boat speed.

There was also the not-so-small matter of his fishing knot and the size of the snap-swivel he attached between the line and the lure.  While Johnson is slowing down a bit today, he uses – to this day, a Palomar knot with a size-2 ball-bearing snap-swivel.  Johnson had fishing down to a science before anyone else called it “the science of fishing”.

The real trick?  First, tuning the lure.  He advised me from the first day, “Never tune any lure from the boat.  Too much swish from the boat that affects the lure action and it will be tuned improperly.  Get to a swimming pool, turn off the filter, cast it out to the other side and then tune it there.”  Of course, you had to first add the snap-swivel and proper knot, trimmed to the shank – so no overlap of the end loop, then after the cast, using a Garcia Mitchell Ambassador 6000, a level wind reel with a cross-feed line pickup, cast it to the other side of the pool and reel it back starting at about 2 miles per hour.

Johnson would say, “Get it running about straight down first, then turn up the speed to 5 miles per hour, that’s about as fast as you can crank with a 6.3 to 1 ratio bait casting reel.  Fine tune the front eye of the lure, but also tune the underside wire hook holders molded right into the plastic – they matter! ”

When you got this technique all set up right, a lure advertised to run 10 to 12 feet down would hit the bottom in 25 feet of water when it was trolled at 2.5 miles per hour and run 125 feet behind the boat with 8-pound Trilene XT monofilament fishing line.  Add thinner 10-pound Fireline today and they go much deeper!

Adjust the line length or the boat speed to modify depth and distance down.  Johnson had a little green book where he kept all his “speed trolling notes”.  Johnson proved that in virtually any body of water, he could devastate any big fish population in a matter of hours, catching mostly the biggest fish.  He controlled all the variables before us modern day anglers called them “variables”.

What Johnson learned all by himself and what he shared with a few lucky angler fishing folks, including me, is more or less common knowledge today.  One thing I know for sure, many anglers don’t heed what they have learned even on their own time within their own domain of fishing experience.  Especially true during tournament time.  He kept a logbook, great advice for every angler – keep a logbook!

Next week starting on June 11, 2016, the biggest amateur walleye association in North America – the Southtowns Walleye Association, will take to Lake Erie to fish for nine straight days looking for the single biggest fish to bring to the scales.  More than 1,000 anglers will seek to find the biggest tournament fish in eastern basin Lake Erie for the largest cash prize – This is a $35,000 tournament!  To check in or sign up, visit: http://www.southtownswalleye.com/tournament.

Getting to the winners circle is never easy, but it is possible for anglers who do learn how to control their variables best. Luck still matters, improving your luck depends more on you.

During the spring to summer transition, when colder water lingers into June, the biggest fish seem to come from the Dunkirk and Barcelona sector.  Then again, the Buffalo to Sturgeon Point fishing zone has yielded many 14 pound monster walleye too.  Finding that big fish and getting it (her) to strike your lure is the challenge.  That’s where the skill of anglers that understand how to search for schooling walleye and that singular local big walleye will play into finding the winners circle.

Use modern tackle, including planer boards, to get the lure away from the noise of your boat will help.  Don’t be afraid to start experimenting.  Change one thing at a time until you find the winning combination; add weight, change lures, colors, troll speed and line trail distances until a fish is caught.  Then switch all lines to that combination and prepare to get sore arms.  It works that way on the good days!

Pray for some good fishing days!  If you happen to be on VHF Channel 68, give a shout to “Baby Bear”, that would be me.  If I’m catching, I’ll share information on where I’m not!

Tune your lures first, keep track of the important things you discover in your logbook.

Wishing everyone who drops a line fishing anywhere in North America the best of good days out there and the best of good luck.