Trolling for Lake Erie Walleye: The Basics

So, your scrolling through your Facebook news feed and you see your friends constantly posting photos of some beautiful Lake Erie walleyes.  You think to yourself, “I’ve got a boat and I want to give this a try…but where do I start?”  If you start searching Google for some answers, you might get overwhelmed very quickly.  There are numerous tactics out there that are being used to catch walleye on Lake Erie and some are better than others, but we are here to help you get started the way we did: trolling dipsy divers.  This is a simple technique that will consistently put fish in the cooler.  We want to share this with you because we would hate to have a fellow Western New Yorker miss out on the unforgettable summer walleye bite that exists in our own backyards.

Before we get started, let’s discuss some of the basic facts about walleye:

  • Walleyes are schooling fish.  They hang out together in large groups when they are feeding and migrating.  This is very important on Lake Erie because the Eastern Basin of lake holds some of the deepest waters where the migrating schools end up in the month of July.
  • Walleyes school around large pockets of bait fish.  If you can find these pockets, there are usually walleyes around.
  • Walleyes will often suspend at various depths in the water column, often depending on water temperature and where the bait schools are located.
  • Walleyes are predatory fish.  They actively seek out prey and will chase down their meals.  This is why trolling works so well.
  • In the Spring, walleyes can be found in much shallower water than in mid-summer due to the spawn.

Now that you have some background information about walleye, let’s start with the basics on how to troll dipsy divers to put fish in the boat.

Setting up your boat

Since trolling for walleye requires some heavier-duty equipment than normal, you need to give yourself some ample space in the back of the boat.  Most of the work you are doing is going to take place back here and you don’t want to be tripping over things.  Make sure the floor is clear and you have enough space to work in.

Rod Holders

One of the most important pieces of equipment you need on your boat is a good set of rod holders.  Trolling Dipsy Divers and inline planer boards creates a significant amount of tension on your rods.  You want to invest in some rod holders that will be stable and can handle the constant strain.  When you are shopping around for some, be sure to ask questions and read lots of reviews to ensure that you are getting a quality product.  You also want to make sure that you mount the rod holders on a flat, stable surface on your boat; sometimes this requires some reinforcements.  Although many of the top walleye anglers in the area use several rods while trolling, we only use four and we still pull in our fair share of eyes; don’t be intimidated, it only takes one line in the water to catch a fish!

trolling

Trolling Speed

Next, you need to have a way to slow the boat down to an efficient trolling speed.  We like to stay between 1.5-2.5mph.  If you don’t have a smaller kicker motor, you can get a trolling plate to attach to your main motor or attach a rope to a couple of buckets and hang them over the side of the boat.  Again, do some research and see what works best for you.  We use buckets and they work just fine.

Rods and Reels

Now that you have your boat ready to troll, let’s talk about the rods and reels that are required.  If you are using divers, you need to get a rod that is made for them.  These rods truly take a beating and if you are not equipped with the correct type of rod, you might end up breaking them.  We started with the Cabela’s Depthmaster Trolling Combos and they have been working great for the past several years.  You want to be sure to have line counters on your reels so you know how deep your lures are running at all times.  This is critical in catching walleyes on Lake Erie.  Furthermore, it is important to have a long enough rod that will flex when under tension and to make it easy to net the fish when it approaches the boat.  We use rods that are 9′ or 10′ long.

depthmasterreel

Dipsy Divers

Dipsy Divers are a brand of diving devices that bring your lure to deeper depths when trolling.  They have a release mechanism on them that disengages when a fish bites the lure at the end of the line to allow you to fight the fish more efficiently.  See the diagram below to see how to use them:

Dipsy Diver

As you can see, several divers can be run at the same time because of the angle that you set the dipsy at.  You set this angle by using the indicator with the numbers that are on the bottom of the dipsy.  On the bottom of the dipsy, you will see L or R.  If you are running the dipsy on the RIGHT side of the boat (while facing the bow), you want to set the dipsy to the numbers on the side listed as R.  If you set the number at “1” the dipsy will not plane very far away from the boat and will dive deeper; the “3” setting will plane the diver away from the boat more, but it will not dive as deep.  A “0” setting will make the diver run straight down, which is good when running rods straight off the stern of the boat.  The more line you let out, the deeper it will dive.  When you purchase a Dipsy Diver, there will be a chart that explains this so you know what depth you are running your baits.  We use a variety of sizes depending on where the fish are.

Line and Leaders

When choosing line, we like to use PowerPro 30Lb. Braid.  Compared to monofilament, braided line reduces line stretch and allows for the dipsys to easily disengage when a fish hits.  Since this line is not cheap, it is a good idea to fill some of your spool with some inexpensive mono and then fill the remainder of the reel spool with the PowerPro.  We also use the Palomar knot when tying swivels on to ensure we do not lose our expensive equipment.

powerpro

It is very necessary to use a leader that runs from the back of your dipsy diver to your lure of choice.  We use 15-20lb monofilament and keep our leaders about as long as the rod we are using.  The monofilament actually allows for a margin of stretching which assists in preventing the hook from pulling out of the walleye’s mouth.  The leader also helps to keep the lure away from the large dipsy diver.

Lures

Worm Harnesses

Worm harnesses are very productive for walleye on Lake Erie.  We like to employ a wide variety of colors until we find a color that is working best on that particular day.  Our worm harnesses are homemade by our uncles and have been proven to work since they showed us how to catch walleyes when we were young boys.  You can either make them yourself or purchase them at any WNY bait shop or outdoor store.

harness

Stick Baits

We also use a wide variety of stickbaits.  There are many different brands on the market with new colors, different actions, and different diving depths.  Most them work very well.  We usually stick with the shallow runners because the dipsy diver does the work in getting the lure to the depth you need it.

renoski

 

There are many other lures like spoons and plugs that will catch some walleye, but we usually stick to the harnesses and sticks.

Electronics

Fish Finder

Having a fish finder on board is a necessity when trolling for walleye on Lake Erie for many reasons.  You might think the first reason is so you can see where the fish are…that’s important, but I think paying attention to the depth is even more crucial. You aren’t going to see every fish that you troll over on the graph.  There have been many times where we have marked nothing on the screen and still caught fish.  Depth is important because there are some days when you only catch fish at one very specific depth.  Either way, a fish finder can help you significantly and it doesn’t have to be a fancy unit with all the bells and whistles.  While using your fish finder, look for schools of bait suspended in the water column.  They will look like big blobs on your screen.  Next, see if there are fish either mixed in or below those bait schools.  Walleyes will look like thin hooks and will sometimes be stacked on top of one another.  Use your GPS to continue trolling over these areas and try some different baits until you find a pattern that works.

lowrance

 

GPS

If you have a GPS on board that can track the route of your troll you will significantly increase your chances of catching more fish.  Like we stated earlier, walleye sometimes group together in very tight schools.  Once you find those schools, your GPS can help you target that area over and over again.  Having a GPS on board is also a great safety measure that can direct you back to shore if you happen to get disoriented on the lake.

Other Helpful Accessories

Net

A quality net is essential to finishing the job when you’ve done all that work to bring the walleye to the boat.  Many walleyes are lost right at the back of the boat because the angler doesn’t have a long enough net or doesn’t have enough practice using it. Be sure that your net is long to make up for the extended leaders you are using with your divers.

net

Forceps/Pliers

Walleyes have teeth, treble hooks are sharp, and you need your hands; so make sure you have something to remove the hooks from the fish you bring in.  Removing hooks seems easy, but on Lake Erie, the waves can increase very quickly which makes it a bit trickier.

Scissors/Shears

Clipping the gills of the walleye you plan to harvest is a great idea.  This allows the fish to bleed out and provides cleaner meat and a tidy filleting area.   Cut the gills and hang the fish off the side of the boat for a few minutes.

Cooler

A cooler allows you to put your bled out walleye on ice right away which keeps your meat fresh.

Gas

This seems like a no brainer, but seriously, make sure you bring a sufficient amount of gas with you.  Check your fuel levels often to ensure you don’t troll through all of it and short yourself when heading back to the docks.

And lastly, make sure you have all of the required safety equipment on your vessel.  You can find that on the New York State DEC website.

Putting it all together

Trolling for walleye on Lake Erie is always an exciting adventure.  It is something that we have done since I can remember and is something I would never give up.  Yes, it is hard work, tiring, and challenging at times, but that’s what makes it worthwhile.

This article is only a brief description of how to get started with walleye fishing on Lake Erie and there are many other tactics being used to haul in these delicious fillets.  We presented what we think is a very simple way to get you started.  As you get further into the sport, you will end up gaining more and more information about how to increase your skills and knowledge.  We provided you with a solid first step, but now it is up to you to take it and troll with it.

Good Luck and let us know how you do!

 

Written by Chris Postle of Postletown Woods and Water 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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