Cold Water Crankin’
By: Mark Romanack
Bryan Darland of Jay’s Sporting Goods was one of the first anglers to have an opportunity to use the PWC on Saginaw Bay back in January. No matter how cold the water might be, crankbaits with the right action can trigger strikes from walleye.
Historically the crankbait is considered to be a lure that shines best in warm weather. The truth is, crankbaits are deadly effective for cold water trolling applications, but not every crankbait has the right action or is up for the task.
In cold water (water temperatures under 50 degrees) the most successful crankbaits are lures that feature a moderate to subtle action. Most of the lures that fall into this category are shallow diving stickbaits or what bass anglers commonly refer to as jerkbaits. A few deep diving minnow style cranks also produce the subtle action required to trigger walleye strikes in cold water.
The action of these crankbaits is best described as a “rolling” or “rocking” motion. The term “roll” in a crankbait refers to a subtle, but distinctive top-to-bottom pitching motion. Most jerkbaits like the Rapala Floating series of minnows, the Rapala Husky Jerk series, the Smithwick Perfect 10 and the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow are all good examples of crankbaits that feature this rolling or rocking action.
Only a handful of deep diving minnow baits offer the “roll” that walleye anglers are looking for. Baits including the Rapala Deep Husky Jerk 12 and 14, the Bandit Deep Walleye 5/8 and the recently released Bill Lewis Precise Walleye Crank are among the few deep diving baits that also offer this subtle action. Most minnow divers feature too much wobble or side-to-side movement to trigger strikes in cold water and at slow trolling speeds.
The advantage of using deep diving minnow baits that feature the necessary “rolling” action is these lures can be manipulated to a wide variety of diving depths by simply changing lead length. Stickbaits are all shallow diving lures and must be fished in combination with Snap Weights or other trolling sinkers to achieve any significant depth.
SLOW, SLOWER AND SLOWER YET
When targeting walleye in cold water it’s also necessary to troll at very slow speeds. The upper threshold of trolling speed is typically 1.5 MPH and the lowest threshold would come in at about 1.0 MPH. The colder the water, typically the slower the baits must be trolled to produce consistent results.
Jake and Mark Romanack worked with Bill Lewis Company to produce the new Precise Walleye Crank (PWC for short) in an effort to produce a deep diving minnow bait with a subtle rolling action.
BOARDS ARE ESSENTIAL
Using in-line planer boards such as the popular Off Shore Tackle OR12 Side-Planer is essential. Boards not only help spread out gear to cover more water, they work to make contact with fish that have not detected the presence of the boat.
Boards are also useful in that they help anglers detect subtle strikes. After market articulating flag kits such as the “Tattle Flag” produced by Off Shore Tackle tip off anglers when a fish has been hooked even before the weight of the fish causes the board to sag or begin pulling backwards in the water. The spring loaded flag folds down when a fish is hooked.
“When slow trolling in cold water it’s common to see the Tattle Flag tip down and then pop right back up,” says Jake Romanack of Fishing 411. “This is caused by a fish that strikes at the bait, but doesn’t get hooked solidly. Often this fish can be tricked into biting again by simply opening the reel bail and free spooling out line for a few seconds before re-engaging the reel. This trick stalls the crankbait for a few seconds, then when the reel is re-engaged, the board and trailing bait pulls forward again. It’s amazing how often this simple trick will trigger a fish into biting again and usually with more enthusiasm!”
In cold water trolling situations adding fishing scent to crankbaits can make a huge difference. Because cold water walleye are lethargic, scent can stimulate a strike response that might not otherwise occur without using scent.
Overwhelmingly the most productive scent products are those made from natural ingredients. Pro Cure’s Super Gel are made by dehydrating common forage species then grinding and adding a stabilizing agent to prevent spoilage. Because Super Gel is sticky it adheres well to crankbaits and delivers a natural scent stream in the water for about 30-40 minutes before it must be re-applied.
Most fishing scents are water soluble and the scent washes off quickly, making it more difficult to keep a natural scent stream in the water.
Here in the Great Lakes region some of the most common forage species targeted by walleye include gizzard shad, emerald shiner, goby, smelt and alewife. All of these scent formulas are available from Pro Cure in the Super Gel product line.
SUMMING IT UP
Catching walleye on crankbaits in cold water is a game best played at slow trolling speeds and with baits that feature a subtle rolling action. Using boards to spread out trolling lines and also adding natural scent products helps to put more fish in the boat. While the number of bites an angler can expect when trolling in cold water may not equal that of trolling at warmer times or year, chances are the fish taken will among the biggest of the year.