Weights, worms and other tricks for lock-jawed walleye from FishSens Pro Travis Hartman

By on November 24, 2014
Travis Hartman holds up a Lake Erie walleye, a fish that sometimes calls for out-of-the-box adjustments. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

There is nothing better than a day of trolling when walleye bite every crankbait that you put in front of them. Those days are easy. As long as you find a big school of walleye and put the crankbaits at the right depth you can’t do anything wrong. But the opposite is usually the case. What happens when your sonar says that the fish are there, but you can’t buy a bite? You’ve covered the right depths, you’ve changed colors too much already, and you’ve even fished some crankbaits that haven’t seen the water in a long time. They aren’t biting, and it’s time to make some changes.

Too many of us fall into a crankbait color trap. We listen to the marine radio and hope that someone broadcasts the hot color of the day because we might not have tried that one magic color yet. I would argue that you’re wasting time worrying about color when it is time to start trying some different modifications. I have a handful of go-to techniques that will usually increase the number of fish in my livewell. None of my tricks are magic, or I would use them all the time. This is a case of making small changes until you find the difference that triggers the inactive fish on your sonar.

Snap weights for walleye

By adding a snap weight ahead of a lure, the lure's depth will change with boat speed. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

By adding a snap weight ahead of a lure, the lure’s depth will change with boat speed.
(Credit: Travis Hartman)

I have two main plays for tough-days that I will always try before anything else. One of the first things I do when fish get stingy is add a snap weight ahead of the crankbait, but for a much different reason than you might assume. The weight makes the lure rise and fall when I speed up or slow down. I usually put the weight anywhere from 6 to 20 feet in front of the lure. If it’s flat calm, I will put it close to the lure and use my boat’s speed to either drop the weight by slowing down or pull it up higher by speeding up. With the weight close to the lure the crankbait will react as soon as I change speed. This can be deadly. When S-turns without weight don’t get hits from horizontal changes, it’s time to make some vertical changes with snap weights.

If it’s a rough day with more waves than I usually enjoy fishing in, it’s time to move the weight farther from the crankbait. You want the constant movement of the weight from the waves to be somewhat absorbed by a greater distance, and you need to draw out your pauses and accelerations to overcome the wave action. On calm days, 1-ounce snap weights usually do the trick, but I find myself using 2- or 3-ounce weights more often. Heavier weights allow you to shorten the amount of line out since they cause the crankbaits to run deeper. They also give you more action when you change your speed.

Add a worm

My second favorite trigger is to add a worm to my crankbait. Although it might look unconventional, I will put an entire nightrcrawler hooked once through the head on the back hook. It looks ridiculous in the water, but this modification has saved more days than I’d like to admit. If you use a full worm and still don’t get hits, try putting only a small piece of a worm on the front hook. Hold the crankbait vertical and make sure that the worm isn’t long enough to foul the back hook. On days when the fish are really lock-jawed, it seems like a small piece of worm tends to trigger bites more than a full worm.

Other tricks

Adding scents works especialy well when trolling extremely slowly in cold-water conditions.

Adding scents works especialy well when trolling extremely slowly in cold-water conditions.

A few other tricks that I don’t use as frequently include adding gel or spray scents, replacing the back treble with a dressed treble (bucktail, marabou, tinsel, etc.), or even using markers to add contrast to existing color patterns. Scent and dressed trebles both do well when trolling extremely slowly in cold-water conditions. I think the extra breathing action of the dressed treble can trigger them into hitting, just as the added scent draws them in just a little closer to take a look.

Keep in mind that none of these modifications matter if your crankbait isn’t tuned correctly. Make sure you have a lure tuner in the boat, and check every crankbait every time that you put it out. If it isn’t running correctly, you need to pull it back in and use your lure tuner to get it running straight.

The bottom line is that finicky fish need extra triggers to convince them to hit. There are certainly days that the right color can make all the difference, but on all those other days you need to experiment with modifications that change the action, look or smell of your crankbait. It’s very rewarding when you get immediate success from something that you’re doing a little differently than everyone else on the lake.

How to tune a crankbait

Keep a lure tuner in the boat, and know how to use it. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

Keep a lure tuner in the boat, and know how to use it. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

  1. Let the crankbait out at boatside at least 6 to 8 feet (more if water clarity allows).
  2. Drive as straight as you can and watch to see if the crankbait runs off to either side.
  3. Pull the crankbait back in and hold it with the bill pointing directly at you.
  4. Put the lure tuner directly over the top of the wire attachment loop on the bill.
  5. Very slightly push or pull the tuner to the side that you want the bait to run:
    • if the crankbait was running to its left, push the tuner to the crankbait’s right
    • if the crankbait was running to its right, push the tuner to the crankbait’s left
  6. You want to slightly bend the wire in the opposite direction that the bait was running.
  7. Do this in extremely small increments and keep re-testing until the bait runs dead-straight.
  8. If you feel the wire attachment bend, you’ve likely gone too far.
  9. Never twist at all, simply put the tuner straight on top of the wire and push or pull to either side.
  10. Always tune at your maximum trolling speed. It will continue to run straight at any lower speed.

 

Top image: Travis Hartman holds up a Lake Erie walleye, a fish that  sometimes calls for out-of-the-box adjustments. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

About Travis Hartman

FishSens pro Travis Hartman is a two-time WBSA Lake Erie Walleye Trail points champion and 2015 Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Championship qualifier. He has 21 top 10 finishes and is also a licensed charter captain.

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