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Pamps Outboard
Crankbaits and River Walleye
By Sheldon Meidinger

On many river systems, the best cranking locations might not be the best places to vertical jig and vice versa. We can talk about crankbaits having a place as far as vibration in the water, color, easy to find profile and all the other reasons walleye will hit a crankbait early in the year…. The fact remains that there are obviously stretches of river that is ideal for trolling crankbaits and places where crankbaits are less effective.
Trolling for Walleye When I am looking for good locations to troll crankbaits early in the season on the Missouri River near Bismarck North Dakota, there are a few things that can make stretches ideal for trolling crankbaits. First off, most of the fish we catch early in the season are shallow. The biggest fish often come off planer boards run up into a few feet of water. Every river system is different however in the sense that in some places, all of the action might take place in the main channel with heavy three way rigs where sauger might be the hottest game around. Regardless of whether or not the patterns are up shallow or in the channel, crankbaits excel whenever you get that water that is just basically too fast to slip a jig downstream. Year in and year out, the best locations for our crankbait trolling generally involve long sandbars and shorelines where we have time to let line out and the general "roll" of the contour stays consistent enough where we can troll a significant distance effectively. Obviously the larger this area is the better for trolling crankbaits but large spots can sometimes turn into community spots.
Across the country, I would be willing to bet that most of the trolling applications on rivers right now are using some kind of super line like Fireline. The reason is simple. Besides walleye runs and moving water, one shared element all rivers have right now is debris in the water that can foul your hooks or line. If a no stretch line is being used, choosing the right action on a rod is paramount in my opinion. Early in the year, fish often get just enough of the lure to get nicked by a single hook. When bringing these fish back to the boat that aren’t hooked exceptionally well through the current, there can be some serious tension on that tiny piece of flesh on a walleye’s gaping jaw.
We like a somewhat moderate action blank with a soft enough tip to offer some cushion yet enough backbone to handle larger deep diving baits or quickly ski in smaller fish when we have to. Rods that fit this bill are the Jason Mitchell Guide Series Trolling Rods. These rods have an interesting feature in the fact that the handle behind the reel seat is much shorter than traditional trolling rods. The reason is that we often have the rods pointed in angles that are horizontal to the water when using rod holders. The shorter handles eliminate a long piece of cork or foam jabbing you in the ribs every time you move around in the boat or worst yet, rubbing against seats. From a fish catching standpoint when fish are just starting to hit crankbaits and are just "barely" hanging on, much less goes wrong while bringing the rod out of the rod holder with this particular design of rod.
When trolling along contours where we take advantage of planer boards to put lures in shallow water right up next to shore, we are often using a stick bait with a small bill. These baits however can be hard to read on boards when fouled up. One trick we often do when dealing with a lot of floating debris in the water is using a small piece of rubber band tied in a knot on the line ahead of the lure to pick up debris on the line. Something else we do from time to time is simply speed up to see if the lure will come to the surface fouled up. Since this is a shallow water affair where we don’t have a lot of line out in many cases, there isn’t much pull on the planer board. One thing we sometimes do with the Offshore Boards we use is put two clips on the front bracket and just clip the line on the two clips in front, skipping the back. This will cause the board to run more directly to the side of the boat even at extremely slow speeds. This advantage can really fine tune boat control in the sense that it seems like we can put the boat where we have to and visualize where the lure is behind the board much more easily when the boards are next to the boat versus behind the boat.
The myth that crankbaits don’t work for walleye when the water is cold or early in the season has come to pass in that most walleye anglers know or have heard that trolling will work early in the season. There are two scenarios where they seem to work more so, the expanses of the Great Lakes and the current of river systems. When targeting walleye on river systems, just remember that the best places for jigging and anchoring for example might be terrible locations for trolling a crankbait. Use crankbaits in locations and situations where they will likely be more effective and you will have success with walleye this spring.
Editors Note: The author, Sheldon Meidinger is a very accomplished angler on the Professional Walleye Trail with several top finishes. This article has been brought to you by Yar-Craft Boats, www.yarcraft.com and Jason Mitchell Guide Series Rods, www.jasonmitchellrods.com.

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