Why Erie Walleye Love Fat Plugs
By: Mark Romanack
If you want to catch more and bigger walleye this summer on Lake Erie, consider using a different family of crankbaits known as the “wide wobblers” or “high action” baits.
In recent years a lot of recreational anglers who fish the Western Basin of Lake Erie have discovered that high action crankbaits are especially effective in the late spring and summer. While this tidbit of information might be new to some, charter captains on Erie have known this and keep it pretty closed mouth for decades.
High action or what some might describe as “bass style” crankbaits are very effective on walleye in certain situations. Back when Storm Lure Company was family owned they produced both the Hot n Tot and the Wiggle Wart crankbaits, both of these lures were routinely the “go to” baits on Lake Erie in May, June and July when water temperatures start to climb and non-target fish such as white perch, white bass and sheepshead make getting a limit of walleye challenging.
The secret of using these aggressively wobbling crankbaits is they typically can be trolled at high speeds without the bait blowing out. That means they are ideal for anglers who run planer boards and typically stack multiple lines on each side of the boat. Charter captains know that the best way to avoid handling countless white perch, white bass and drum is to crank up trolling speeds and switch over to baits that have a need for speed.
The other reason why high action baits are gaining in popularity on Lake Erie is the forage base is gradually changing. With so many walleye in the system, emerald shiners the primary forage species historically are taking a pounding. Hungry walleye are forced to seek out other forages including yellow perch, young of the year drum, young white perch, round goby and also young white bass are commonly found in the stomach of walleye these days. Baits that feature a wider side-to-side wobble do a better job of imitating these forage species than the traditional diving minnow crankbait.
Unfortunately, when Rapala purchased Storm Lure Company they redesigned both the Wiggle Wart and the Hot n Tot series of lures. Many anglers felt then and also now that the new generation of these lures aren’t as “fishy” as the originals. Because so many anglers feel the Wiggle Wart and Hot n Tot that were made by Storm in Norman Oklahoma are superior baits, they go for about $15 to $20 dollars each these days on the internet among those who are willing to part with any. Good luck trying to find these baits in the most fish catching colors.
Thankfully the Wiggle Wart and Hot n Tot aren’t the only high action style crankbaits that will catch fish on Erie. A new lure produced by Yakima Bait Company called the Mag Lip is taking over where the Wiggle Wart left off.
Originally designed as a river steelhead bait for back trolling, the Mag Lip features a wide wobble and has an aggressive action that can be trolled slow or fast without fear of the bait blowing out. Mag Lip also comes with a very loud rattle which seems to really agitate fish and stimulate reactionary strikes.
The Mag Lip family of baits features seven different sizes, but overwhelmingly walleye anglers are lining up to buy the 3.5 version. This bait has become so popular in recent years that Yakima Bait Company recently introduced some “walleye specific” colors to further enhance this fish catching machines.
The staff of Fishing 411 has been using the Mag Lip since 2011 and catching walleye everywhere they take it. “It’s amazing how well the Mag Lip works on walleye, considering the bait was designed for cold water species,” says Jake Romanack. “The secret to catching walleye on this bait is to wait until the water warms up to about 60 degrees and then to troll them 2.5 to 3.0 MPH. The Mag Lip loves speed and runs perfectly true straight out of the package.”
To get the widest wobble from the Mag Lip try rigging a round cross lok style snap at the end of your trolling line and hook that snap to the cross lok that comes factory supplied on the bait. Hooking a snap to a snap may seem unnecessary, but it works wonders to help the bait enjoy more freedom of movement and fish catching action.
Like any crankbait the best colors are going to vary from day to day depending on water clarity and lighting conditions. When the water is stained a beautiful green color, the brighter colors such as Firetiger Silver Head, Keeper, Metallic Gold Green Pirate, Silver Florescent Head Chartreuse and Metallic Gold Flame are top picks. When the water is clear, more subtle patterns like Rosemary, Metallic Perch, Double Trouble and Grinch are outstanding choices.
In case you’re skeptical about the effectiveness of fat body lures like the Wiggle Wart, Fat Wiggler, Mag Lip and Hot n Tot take a look at this pic. Walleye literally inhale these wide action baits without hesitation.
“The Mag Lip bite kicks in on the Western Basin usually in late May or early June,” says Captain Eric Hirzel of Erie Gold Fishing Adventures. “Not only does trolling fast and using the Mag Lip help limit the amount of non-target fish we catch while trolling, it also does a good job of avoiding those sub-legal size walleye that are so abundant on Erie these days. When a board goes back while trolling Mag Lip it’s going to be a good fish and the boards go back often.”
Because the Mag Lip is a relatively new bait, only a handful of “custom painted” versions are on the market currently. “I recommend using Witch Craft tape to add a splash of color to the Mag Lip says, Jake Romanack. “I like to buy the die cut ladder-back tape and put a strip down the belly of the bait. Orange is my favorite color when it comes to the bottom of any crankbait and the Witch Craft tape makes it easy to add a touch of color in seconds.”
Wide action plugs like this Mag Lip fill an important niche in the Lake Erie trolling scene. When the water warms to 60 degrees, the lake becomes alive with all sorts of non-target fish that can drive a walleye troller crazy. Speeding up trolling speeds and switching to wide wobbling baits that can handle the speed is one of the best ways to avoid catching non-target species and zero in on more and bigger walleye.
For those who would prefer to have a custom lure painter create their own versions of the Mag Lip, Yakima Bait Company offers this bait in a solid metallic chrome, metallic copper and also metallic gold finish, that are the perfect canvas for custom painters to do their work.
Those anglers who would like to expand their crankbait collection should also consider some other wide wobble baits that do a great job of catching walleye. The Yakima Bait Company Fat Wiggler looks a lot like the iconic Wiggle Wart and comes in three sizes including a 1/4, 1/2 and one ounce version. The 1/2 ounce size is lights out for walleye on Erie.
The Luhr Jensen KwikFish and the Brad’s Wiggler are a couple more baits that fit into this wide wobble category.
When it comes to catching walleye on Lake Erie the crankbait is king. No doubt the traditional “minnow divers” are great baits and they catch a ton of walleye early and late in the year when the water is cold. However, during the warm water months of the year, higher action baits trolled at brisk speeds are what’s going to fill the live-well day in and day out.
Spring and summer are a long ways off, but now is a good time to start stocking up on the baits that will make a difference once that water temperature hits the magic 60 degree mark.