Trolling for Weed Walleyes!

It was a strange spring across the Walleye Belt with late ice-outs and generally cool temperatures. This has kept walleyes shallow after a similarly late spawn, but the reports are water temperatures are up and fish are moving past those first post-spawn staging areas and heading for slightly deeper water; on most waters, areas of emerging cabbage and coontail, the jungle which holds forage for the ravenous ‘eyes.

So, what’s the best way to target walleyes that are cruising flats of emergent vegetation and weedline breaks? Sure, you can pitch a jig and plastic or plunk slip bobbers and live bait, but oftentimes, covering more water leads to success—and to those ends, pulling baits like the Rumble ShadRumble Shiner, and Rumble Bug to filter through vast areas that typically hold fish in specific areas.

Longtime North Dakota guide and Northland Team Pro Jason Mitchell comments: “As fish pull out onto the flats with good emergent weed growth—and it can depend on the lake—but let’s say areas of 6- to 14-feet and the breaks where the flats terminate into deeper water, you can get ready for a classic post-spawn bite that happens all over the Walleye Belt. As water temperatures increase and the weeds grow taller, an effective tactic is trolling shallow-running crankbaits right over the tops of the weeds. Let’s say we’ve got a 10-foot flat and the weeds are coming up 2- to 3-feet, I’ll reach for a shallower-running crankbait like the Rumble Shiner. The 2 ¾ inch #7 dives 4- to 6-feet and the 3 ¼” #8 dives 5- to 8-feet, perfect for those shallower flats. If the weeds are slightly deeper, like on clear water bodies, I’ll go up to the #10, which is slightly longer at 4-inches and dives 6- to 10-feet. It’s simple—run the cranks right over the top of the weed stalks on long-lines with the rod in hand.”

Besides weed flats, the other common post-spawn scenario is walleyes holding on the bends, points, and curves of a weedline break. These areas typically have deeper water nearby, but the weeds yield comfort for walleyes to cruise and duck in to feed on available minnows, young-of-the-year perch, and even small bluegills. For Mitchell, that’s another proven tactic—working the weedline breaks with the slightly deeper-running Rumble Shad and snack-sized Rumble Bug.

Mitchell notes: “On a lot of the lakes in the Dakotas we have stained water, so weed growth stops in 7- or 8-feet. I’ll run deeper-diving crankbait like a Rumble Shad right behind the boat. I like to keep the crankbait as close to the boat as the fish will let me get away with so I can reel in and clean weeds off quicker.”

When it comes to rod, reel, and line set up to effectively fish these cranks, Mitchell keeps it simple. “For shallower water crankbait trolling—where I’m in less than 10-feet of water—I’ve started using a spinning rod. At least for this application, I feel like people get hung up on longer rods, line counter reels, and everything. With a spinning rod I can get in and out of the water quicker. It’s a hands-on deal. I can feel if the bait is fouled up. It takes a while to learn each spot and you can spend a lot of time cleaning lures off. Most times I’m using a 10-pound braid, but if the water’s clear, I’ll run a 4-foot piece of 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon. If there are a lot of pike or muskies in the area, I’ll even step up to a piece of 20-pound fluorocarbon. While some guys use a moderate action rod for trolling, I like a faster action graphite rod so I can feel every shake of the bait. Honestly, you can get by with just about any kind of rod if you know what to do with it. You’re not setting the hook and not reefing on them, so it comes down to working your drag.”

With Northland’s vast array of colors, there’s an option for every walleye angler no matter the water clarity or forage situation. From spot-on, match-the-hatch colors mimicking shiners, shad, perch, and bluegills, to outrageous walleye attention grabbers like the Great Lakes-proven Sneeze and Wonderbread, Mitchell recommends an angler keep a selection of differently-colored baits—and let the walleyes tell you their preference.

Mitchell continues: “You can really match-the-hatch with Rumble cranks. And for me in the Dakotas—with our stained water—any of the pink, green, and chartreuse firetiger patterns are proven and effective. Color selection is simple. I like bright colors in dirty water and ones with a dark back and light belly after dark in clear water. I prefer more natural, subdued colors in clear water, like silver, blue, and gold and black – or gold and orange when the sun is out. (Laughs) But you can catch a lot of walleyes on the wrong color if you’re in the right place at the right time. And if you’re using the right color in the wrong place at the wrong time, you don’t catch jack…”

Looking back to the Lindner’s historically-proven formula for angling success, Fish + Location + Presentation equals Success, Mitchell is a big advocate of determining location before all other angling variables. After all, you’ve got to find the walleyes—and hopefully in a feeding posture—to catch fish.

“Sometimes, I just don’t know why fish are in a certain spot. You might have worked 15 other textbook locations and blanked. That’s the beauty of Rumble cranks—you tie one on, toss it behind the boat, and just start covering weed flats or edges.”

Speaking to walleye anglers in urban lakes or other areas with invasive species, Mitchell has found walleyes relating to Eurasian milfoil, not only native cabbage and coontail.

“I’ve found with milfoil is it really depends on the lake. How the walleyes relate to this form of vegetation depends on the density of bass. If you’re fishing a lake with milfoil that has hardly any bass, you’ll find walleyes doing bass-ish things, like relating to milfoil mat edges. But if you have a lot of bass in the lake, the walleyes will probably be abiding by more traditional walleye-like behaviors. That’s been my observation. The other thing I’ve noticed with walleyes and weeds is they prefer areas with a lot of openings and lanes. They’ll be around thick weeds, but there better be an open lane nearby. Walleyes like openings and edges, whereas bass will hold right in the thick stuff. When walleyes are eating, they’re cruising—like those open lanes, edges, and transitions that they can run up and down on.”

Legendary Mille Lacs lake fishing guide and Northland Fishing Tackle Pro Brad Hawthorne is another big fan of Rumble crankbaits for targeting weedy walleyes and uses the entire family depending on the day, time, and location to put his clients on fish.

Hawthorne notes: “Right now on Mille Lacs, we’re in this period where jigging, rigging, and trolling cranks are all working. Because of the late spring, both jig and minnow and trolling or pitching cranks worked right out of the gate. The walleyes have been minnow-centric—that’s all they’re really eating. But as a rule of thumb, once the water gets up around 60 degrees, fish are going to have more real estate to play with moving off those rock and shallow sand transition areas and heading toward emerging weed flats and weedline breaks to deeper water. These are the areas we’re working now.”

To work these zones—contingent on depth—Hawthorne uses the Rumble ShinerRumble ShadRumble Bug, and Rumble B.

“I really like the three sizes in the Rumble Shiner series for working over the tops of our emerging cabbage flats. It has more of a perch profile, which mimics the young-of-the-year perch moving into these areas. The Shiner pattern also works well trolling at slow speeds, which is often the ticket while the water is still on the cooler side.”

But when it comes to working the weed flat edges and breaks, Hawthorne says it’s a “Rumble Shad game”.

Hawthorne continues: “Basically, with the lip design of the Rumble Shad at a 45-degree angle, it runs perfect on the edges. Depending on depth, you’ll pick up a piece of weed occasionally, but you can tell from your rod tip what’s happening with the bait. It will run 10-feet down with 30-feet of line out. The #5 dives 5- to 12-feet; the #7 dives 8- to 16-feet; and the #8 dives 14- to 21-feet. So, there are lots of options for working the correct depth on a weedline break. In terms of trolling speed, the nice thing about the Rumble Shad is you can really dial back and keep it moving. If you need to slow roll, you can troll down to .8 mph to 1.2 mph and the bait still gets down there and has a great action.”

Besides the Rumble Shad, Rumble Shiner, and Rumble B, Hawthorne has also been fishing the Rumble Bug to great success.

“I love that lure,” exclaims Hawthorne. “Last year I had five or six prototypes and it was lights out from the get-go. I love it on long line, I love it on leadcore, and you can pitch it, too. At the time there wasn’t a dive curve set yet, so I had to figure it out as I went. Now we know it dives 4-to 7-feet, so it makes a great bait for trolling over the weed tops. It’s got a buggy action—hence the name—but what people aren’t talking about yet because it’s so new is that it has a great young-of-the-year bluegill profile. The Rumble Bug is the perfect bite-sized snack for walleyes feeding on small ‘gills. I’ve been running it on long-line in 10- to 12- feet of water over weeds and crushing fish. And you can slow it down to 1.1 or 1.2 mph and it still works its magic. Both perch colors—Perch and Gold Perch—have been great for me. Just plain Perch is my favorite.”

Hawthorne keeps his trolling set-up simple for long-lining behind the boat. While you can use just about any baitcaster or spinning rod like Mitchell notes, with longer line leads out on the clear waters of Mille Lacs Hawthorne does prefer a small- to medium-sized line counter reel to monitor exactly how much line he has out. Speaking of line, also because of the clear waters in his fishery, Hawthorne runs 10-pound fluorocarbon on all his trolling sticks. In terms of rod choice, he likes a 7 and half foot graphite baitcasting rod with faster action to feel every vibration of the lure.

With water temperatures rising and fish transitioning from post-spawn staging areas toward emerging vegetation, now is the time to get on the crankbait program. Our recommendation? Experiment with the entire Northland Rumble Series. Find out what works for your waters. After all, from the Dakotas to Minnesota through the rest of the Walleye Belt the feedback has been great from everyday anglers to guides and pros—Rumble cranks are crushing eyes no matter what body of water…