Give Crawlers a Quick Whirl for Clearwater Walleyes

Category: article

 Apr 28th, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Apr 28th, 2011 at 12:00 AM

The Great Lakes and surrounding waterways are exceptionally clear during the late spring and early summer periods. In some cases, bottom can be seen as deep as 60 feet. During days when it’s so calm that it looks like there was a sheet of plastic-wrap pulled tight across the surface, you’d swear you’re silently floating over the bottom in a hovercraft rather than motoring in a boat. It’s aesthetically pleasing to the angler’s eye, for sure, but not conducive for convincing the walleyes to bite during daylight hours.

But offer them something that combines a realistic look, natural taste and smell, tantalizing flash and vibration, and pull it fast enough, sometimes walleyes don’t have time to judge whether or not it’s the real deal, and you can fool these picky predator fish into taking a poke.

What’s the spin? Add a whirling spinner blade ahead of a live nightcrawler and fish it fast and near the bottom. The result is often walleyes in the livewell when all else is failing.

Fast and furious
Enter Mark Martin, of Twin Lake, Michigan. He’s been a touring walleye tournament pro since the late 1980’s, and won the first ever Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) Championship in 1990. In numerous tournaments he’s finished near or at the top by pulling crawlers from within the gunwales of his Lund Boat. And almost every time there’s been a spinner blade at the head of an oversized wriggling worm.

Lund Pro Mark Martin

“Crawler harnesses work wonders when fishing reef complexes within the clearwater of the Great Lakes. However, you have to fish them fairly fast as there’s such a large area to cover, and, fish in clearwater often need speed to stimulate their strike instinct,” says Martin. “And when I add a blade as an attractor, I make sure it’s not too gaudy. Northland’s new Baitfish-Image willow leaf blades fit the bill.”

Unlike fish that reside in stained waters, walleyes that live in clearwater rely on their eyesight to zone in on forage. Because of this, Martin uses the Baitfish-Image blades to add just enough flicker. The flash blended with natural patterns that mimic baitfish make an effective team.

When fish are hugging bottom, one of Martin’s favorite tactics is to pull spinners behind leadcore line. The design of the willow leaf blade is perfect for this ploy because it has the least amount of water resistance due to the narrow and lightly cupped shape, thus they run deeper, and at higher speeds. Martin trolls from 1.3 to 2 MPH in his Lund. “But even though the blade design allows for a deep presentation, the faster you go when using leadcore, the higher up off bottom the rig will ride because of the thickness of the line. As soon as I speed up, I let out a little more line to compensate for the rise,” he adds.

Overall, Martin matches blade dimensions to the size of the baitfish in the waterway, thus preferring the larger number-4 blade when trolling the Great Lakes, and the smaller number-3 willow for inland lakes. Most of the time, 3 to 5 colors of leadcore out (with an 8-foot section of 15-pount-test monofilament as a leader) is enough to keep the harness up off the bottom when trolling over 20 to 35 feet of water. “I pay attention to the rod tip intensely, and reel in a color’s worth of lead core the moment I see the harness tap bottom,” he adds. He wants the crawler harness to run about 4 feet off bottom.

A quick note about nightcrawler welfare. Without argument, the chunkier and healthier the better the crawler performs. Frabill offers a wide assortment of crawler care products, too, from food to full-fledged-farms. Best models for in-boat-use are the organically sided Crawler Cabin and styrofoam, double-lidded Lil’ Fisherman.

Frabill Live Bait Management


Easy to see
Walleyes that wander in clearwater tend to hold tight to structure. But these fish are roamers and may be in a different location and within a dissimilar type of structure on a day-to-day basis. Walleyes will hold tight to weeds, wood, rock and manmade cribs in clearwater, and seeing the fish on sonar is not always an option.

“Clearwater is the perfect place to employ an underwater viewing system,” Martin says. I can see what species is swimming midst the structure, if any at all. From water as shallow as 12 feet, down to 50, Martin deploys the camera of his MarCum VS825SD for a full color view of what’s swimming below.

Once walleye are spotted, he engages his bow-mounted electric trolling motor and pulls crawler harnesses. “The norm is to troll harnesses at .08 to 1.1 MPH, but I find kicking the speed up to 1.3 to 1.5 MPH often triggers more strikes in clearwater,” he adds.

The biggest mistake Martin sees other anglers make when pulling crawler harnesses is they use too light of a bottom-bouncer, which causes it to drag the bottom, not bounce. “You never want your line at an angle over 45 degrees when bottom-bouncing,” he says. “And the only time you want to feel the sinker hit bottom is when you drop your rod tip back in order to let if fall and just feel a ‘tick,’ just to make sure your spinner is still in the strike zone. ”

As soon as he speeds up, Martin changes over to a heavier Northland Rock-Runner bottom bouncer, up to 2-1/2 ounces, to make sure his line stays under 45 degrees. If there’s two anglers in the boat, he’ll have the person in front use a bouncer at least 1/2 ounce heavier so their rig won’t swing back and tangle with the angler at the stern.

Give it a quick whirl
Does clearwater cause chaos with your catch ratio of walleye? Offer them a live crawler with a tantalizing spinner and pull it at speeds faster than normal above the lake floor. The compilation of sight, sound, taste, smell and speed is often more than a walleye can let go whirling by…

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