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The Cold Hard Facts about Crankbaits

By: Mark Romanack

Paige Romanack holds two good reasons to bundle up and target walleye with crankbaits when the water is cold.

​The cold hard facts about crankbaits is that not every lure hanging on a peg hook represents a fish about the be caught. Of the hundreds and maybe thousands of different crankbaits on the market, only a select few routinely catch walleye. Early and late in the year when the water is icy cold, that list of productive crankbaits gets even smaller.


​ The reason so many crankbaits don’t catch walleye in cold water trolling situations is because they have “too much” action. The crankbait action that catches walleye in cold water could best be described as a subtle top-to-bottom rolling or rocking motion. Most baits on the market have a wide and aggressive side-to-side tail wobble.

​ The list of baits in my opinion that routinely catch walleye in cold water is a rather short list. Baits that I recommend and use often include the Rapala Deep Husky Jerk 12, the Bandit 5/8 Deep Walleye, the Smithwick Perfect 10, the Rapala Husky Jerk 14 and the recently released Bill Lewis Precise Walleye Crank or PWC. Each of these lures has that subtle top-to-bottom rolling action that produces best on walleye.

The author is all smiles over this cold water walleye that hit a Bill Lewis PWC. Only select crankbaits have the right top-to-bottom rolling action it takes to catch walleye in cold water.


​ Catching walleye in cold water requires using baits of the right action, but it also requires trolling at a relatively slow rate of speed. In water colder than 50 degrees, I recommend trolling from 1.2 to about 1.5 MPH. This slow speed is important as in cold water walleye are lethargic and reluctant to chase down fast moving prey.

The key to cold water trolling success is to troll slowly, use lures with the right “rolling” or “rocking” action and experiment with lure color.


​ Lure color is a means of refining a trolling presentation. Once you find fish and start catching a few, experimenting with different colors can help dial in the presentation even more.

​Some rules of the road when it comes to walleye lure colors can help anglers figure out the best colors on any given day. In general, when the air is clear and there is lots of sun, metallic chromes and golds will play well. On overcast days, painted baits will typically produce a little better than metallic lures.

​ The other thing to keep in mind when selecting lure colors is not to get overly biased in your choices. As fishermen we all have biases based on what has worked for us in the past. Sometimes these biases can be a real handicap. Try hard to experiment openly with lure colors and let the fish tell you on any given day what they prefer. Because water clarity and weather conditions are constantly changing, the colors that worked in the morning, might not be the best choices in the afternoon.


​ Cold water crankbait trolling for walleye has exploded in recent years. No matter how cold it gets, if you can get a boat to the water and there is open water to fish, chances are you can catch a pile of walleye. Troll the right baits, at the right speeds and experiment with color. If you follow these simple rules, the walleye God’s will shine on you.



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