UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart FLW Tour - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

Walleyes in depth

Click on this image, and then again in the next window, for maximum detail.

Trolling specialist Todd Frank puts a premium on pulling his baits through exactly the right depths, and he uses several specialized techniques to achieve precise depth control.

"Watch that rod," Todd Frank said with a knowing smile, pointing toward one of four rods in his trolling spread. As if it had read a script, a walleye buried the rod Frank had indicated almost at the moment the words left his mouth.

A few minutes later, as Frank was dip-netting a 3-pound fish, I queried him about how he knew which of the four offerings the walleye would hit. "I had spotted a good group of fish just a little bit shallower than most we have been catching," Frank explained. "I turned the boat just slightly so the lure on that line would slow and run just a bit shallower. The same turn made the lures on the other side dig deeper - away from the fish. The other line on the same side is rigged with a bottom -bouncer, so it, too, stayed too deep, even when we turned."

A Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour pro and walleye guide from Pulaski, NY, Frank has earned a reputation as one of the nation's finest crankbait trollers. He placed third on the FLW Walleye Tour in 2002, largely through trolling crankbaits, which he believes produces bigger fish overall than other popular techniques. "I always look for the crankbait bite," he said.

Asked what sets top trollers apart from the pack, Frank answered without hesitation, "Depth control."

Open-water walleyes commonly hold in precise depths, often based on depths of baitfish schools. Fishing the wrong depth is no more productive than fishing in the wrong part of the lake. "I'd rather have the wrong bait at the right depth than the right bait at the wrong depth," Frank said, "and the difference might be only a foot or two."

Frank uses a handful of tools to help him reach specific depths with various baits - key among them are leadcore lines, snap weights, bottom bouncers and reels with line counters for measuring out line. Line size, the number of leadcore colors, leader length, lure type and trolling speed are some of the variables Frank has to account for when he puts out trolling baits.

The type of line also makes a difference. Frank trolls mostly with Fireline, and the small diameter of the fused line allows baits to run deeper than they would on monofilament. Fluorocarbon, which sinks naturally, also affords anglers extra depth, with all other factors being equal.

Frank's tackle boxes all have charts taped to them - charts that look like science project results, which, in a sense, they are. They are the product of dozens of hours of research and tell how deep the baits in any given box run with various setups. If Frank wants to troll two colors of Smithwick Spoonbill Super Rogues, a Mr. Walleye Rattlin' Rogue and a Deep Long A, all at 24 feet, his charts, combined with his knowledge of other variables, tell him exactly how to achieve that.

Using multiple trolling techniques to control depth allows Frank to vary the actions of the baits in his spread and to adjust for conditions. For example, he might want to vary the wobble of the bait he is using but maintain the bait's size and profile as well as his trolling speed. To accomplish that he might switch from a Deep Long A to a regular Long A, which has a tighter wobble than the deep-diving version, and then use leadcore line to get that bait to the same depth.

Often, perfecting the spread comes only through experimentation, either with depths or with presentations. If the baitfish and/or the walleyes are using a broad range of depths, Frank wants to explore that entire zone and pay attention to which lines draw strikes. If the zone is obviously narrow, he'll mix up his offerings and presentations as much as possible within that zone. Sometimes walleyes favor a bait fished with snap weights over the same bait fished at the same depth with leadcore line - or vice versa - for no obvious reason.

"Walleye trollers must be ready to make changes until they find what the fish want and how they want it," Frank said. "If I'm marking fish and not getting bit, I'm going to be changing something, whether that's my lure, a color, the presentation, the speed or something else."

Generally speaking, Frank likes to use leadcore line to pull baits deeper if the water is rough, as is often the case on the Great Lakes and other major walleye-trolling destinations. The long loop of the line between the boat and the bait takes the shock out of up-and-down motion. When conditions allow it, and the fish cooperate, he likes snap weights best - especially for tournament fishing - because he fishes with far less line out, thus improving the chances of getting every hooked fish into the boat.

For relatively shallow fish - less than 25 feet - Frank will use some deep-diving lures and troll with baits tied directly to his main line or fished behind planer boards. Varying line lengths, line size and trolling speed allows him to vary the depth a deep-diver runs by several feet and to control that depth with precision.

Sometimes walleyes will all be close to the bottom, but over a range of bottom depths. Often this occurs over hilly bottoms that have a lot of slopes but few defined drops. When Frank marks a lot of fish close to the bottom and at a range of depths, he trolls with bottom -bouncers, which are weights that bounce along the bottom, just as the name suggests, allowing shallow-running crankbaits pulled behind them to swim just off the bottom.

Figuring out the depths to pull baits through is a science in itself, and it calls for careful use of electronics. Frank often crisscrosses over an area several times before he puts the first bait out, using his graph to study the range of bottom depths, the depth of the baitfish and walleyes, and the configuration of the structure. He'll commonly troll parallel to a ridge, with the baits on one side set several feet deeper than the baits on the other side. To work that kind of structure effectively, he must gain a very good picture of where the edge runs, depths above and below the drop, and the pitch of the slope.

Frank rarely takes his eyes off his graph screen, and he almost never looks away for long. He wants to track his location in relation to the structure, spot every high place that he might be able to get his baits to bump and watch for groups of fish in different depths than what he has been seeing. Often walleyes will begin a morning high on a hump or along a channel edge, but will move deeper through the day. As they do, Frank wants to adjust.

When walleyes - especially big walleyes - do strike, Frank wants to know exactly what he has been going over. That allows him to duplicate the situation, sometimes with one or two additional lures set to run through the key depth in the same manner. Often, that helps him put more large walleyes in the livewell.

Tags: jeff-samsel  magazine-features 

/tips/2016-02-05-an-ill-wind-at-okeechobee-

An Ill Wind at Okeechobee?

The wind can be a bass fisherman’s best friend or worst enemy. On its best behavior, it creates a temporary current, positions baitfish and helps an angler move around more stealthily in shallow water. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-02-04-aquatic-plant-id

Aquatic Plant ID

Val Osinski, the owner of Gambler Lures and winner of the 2015 Costa FLW Series event on the lake, knows as much about the Big O as anyone and is an expert on finding and targeting bass in its various grasses. When we had the opportunity to ride along with him for a tour of the lake and to learn to identify some of the grasses, it was a no-brainer to accept. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-02-02-poche-services-set

Poche Services Set

Funeral services for Dylan Poche, the 18-year-old Bass Fishing League angler who was stabbed to death Saturday night, are scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. at Freedom Life Church in Natchitoches, La. Visitation will take place at Freedom Life beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-02-02-time-to-shine-for-setzer

Time to Shine for Setzer

With three years on Tour and a Co-angler of the Year (COY) award under his belt, Braxton Setzer believes now is his time to start casting from the front. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-02-01-ambassador

Ambassador

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-29-glenn-browne-s-timeout-is-over-

Glenn Browne’s Timeout is Over

By his own admission, Glenn Browne isn’t the most organized guy. After the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division opener on Lake Okeechobee, he spent hours returning stuff to its proper place and tossing out the usual flotsam and jetsam that accumulates in a bass boat during a tournament. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-28-flw-podcast-109-mike-surman

FLW Podcast 109 - Mike Surman

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-28-john-cox-gives-himself-a-makeover

John Cox Gives Himself a Makeover

Last fall there was a rumor going around that John Cox was entering the electronics age and souping up his boat with sonar gear. Just to clear the air, the Florida pro reports that though he did flirt with the notion of incorporating an offshore strategy centered on depth finders into his act, he eventually abandoned the idea. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-27-austin-felix-is-ready-for-the-big-time

Austin Felix is Ready for the Big Time

Back in the spring of 2014, Austin Felix and his University of Minnesota teammate Chris Burgan were on the top of the FLW College Fishing world. With a win in the National Championship on Lake Keowee, Felix was headed to the Forrest Wood Cup as a pro. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-27-flw-canada-sets-tournament-sites-dates

FLW Canada Sets Tournament Sites, Dates

FLW Canada, one of four partners in FLW’s International Division of the Costa FLW Series, recently released its 2016 tournament schedule. The season includes three two-day regular-season qualifying events and a three-day championship. Anglers fish as two-person teams. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-26-jigging-spoons-for-winter-bass

Jigging Spoons for Winter Bass

Of course, the application of the spoon hinges on finding bass in the first place, which is the biggest challenge. Walmart FLW Tour pros Jason Johnson and Clark Reehm are experts at finding winter bass in their respective regions of the country and offer FLW readers some advice on where to look and how to get them to bite the spoon. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-24-how-bryan-thrift-got-to-be-so-good

How Bryan Thrift Got to be so Good

My No. 1 focus out here is to support my family and make a living. Whatever I have to do to make that happen, I’m going to make a valiant effort. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-22-high-school-fishing-makes-the-grade

High School Fishing Makes the Grade

Jacob Smith and Daniel Clark are typical teenagers, at least in everything except bass fishing. In that, they are above average, as the two juniors from Travelers Rest High School in South Carolina proved in the TBF/FLW High School Fishing Florida Open held Jan. 17 on Lake Okeechobee. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-22-flw-mexico-at-the-starting-gate

FLW Mexico at the Starting Gate

Our excitement is so great that we wanted to share this important news with all of you. Believe me, fishermen in Mexico are talking it up as if it were dock talk surrounding the Forrest Wood Cup. What really matters at the end of the line is knowing that FLW is showing its true devotion to promoting bass fishing and making it a truly international sport. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-22-making-the-case-for-haynes-as-aoy

Making the Case for Haynes as AOY

As many have noted, the Walmart FLW Tour schedule for this season looks a lot like it did in 2014. Back then, in his sophomore year on Tour, Randy Haynes had one of the strangest seasons you’ll ever see. He finished 104th at Okeechobee, 149th at Sam Rayburn (ouch) and cranked out top-30 finishes everywhere else. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-21-flw-podcast-108-jason-lambert

FLW Podcast 108 - Jason Lambert

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-20-bfl-choo-choo-division-postponed

BFL Choo Choo Division Postponed

The FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) Choo Choo Division tournament on Lake Guntersville originally scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 23 has been postponed due to impending inclement weather. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-20-tigerodz-aligns-with-auburn-team

TIGERODZ Aligns With Auburn Team

Custom fishing rod manufacturer TIGERODZ of Scottsboro, Ala., has signed an agreement to become the official rod brand for the Auburn University Bass Sports Club. Scott Dobbins, president of TIGERODZ, is an Auburn alum, and he says the pairing involved a natural progression of involvement. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-20-becoming-aware-of-your-angler-strengths

Becoming Aware of Your Angler Strengths

The ongoing sentiment among fishermen is that versatility is the key to becoming a successful professional angler. While I’m certain that statement holds some weight, I think there is an alternate perspective that is worth entertaining. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-01-18-pundits-picks-for-aoy

Pundits Picks for AOY

Winning the Angler of the Year title is a tremendous feat. It can solidify a budding career or affirm a veteran’s status among the best. It also comes with a hefty reward – $100,000 and early entry into the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup. READ MORE »