Counting on Consistency: Line Counter Reels and Walleye Fishing

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Have you ever tried to hammer a nail with a screwdriver, or cut a 2x4 with a pocket knife? Probably not, because it’s just common sense that to do a job the right way takes the right tools. Same thing goes for fishing really. If you’re jigging or rigging for walleyes, you’re going to be better off using open-faced spinning reels. These types of reels simply handle the “light line-finesse” presentations much better than level-wind casting style reels. Likewise, trolling for walleyes takes the right tools too. Now opinions vary from angler to angler as to rod lengths and actions for trolling, but ask most any experienced walleye angler about reels for trolling, and most will agree that line counter reels are the absolute best way to go.

Is it possible to troll for walleyes without using line counter reels? Sure; and it’s possible to hammer a nail with a screwdriver if you work at it long enough. But it’s all about using the right tools for the job. A line counter reel is basically a medium to large sized level-wind reel fitted with a device for measuring the amount of line let out. What this does is allow you to more precisely set out lures in pre-determined patterns (amount of line behind the boat allowing lure to reach desired depths) and duplicate successful set-ups to more effectively fine tune a productive trolling pattern for the day. To better explain, let’s look at an example. You and a buddy head out for some trolling on a lake where you are allowed two lines per angler. In order to simplify our example we’ll say that you’re running the same crankbait on all your lines. To start off the day, you set out two lines with the crankbaits 120 feet out which puts them at about 28 feet deep and two more lines with the lures 75 feet back which puts them running at about 20 feet deep. Shortly into the first trolling pass one of the 20 foot baits catches a nice walleye. Soon after that, another good fish comes on the other 20 foot bait. Now you decide to run all your baits at 20 feet. By using line counter reels all set-up with matching line, it’s a simple task to set them all with 75 feet of line out putting them all in the active zone. It’s a simple matter of duplication. Find the right lure and the right depth to run it at and then duplicate the pattern to more effectively produce bites. Of course that’s a very simplified example, but it illustrates the point pretty well. Line counter reels are tools that allow you to consistently duplicate productive trolling patterns.
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Taking things a step further, we like to use different sized line counter reels for different trolling applications … again it’s a matter of the right tool for the job. Some reel companies only make one size of line counter reels, most make at least two sizes. Bass Pro how has the StrataMaxx series of line counters. The bread-and-butter model is the “20” size STMX-20. We spool these reels for 10 pound test Berkley Trilene XT. This gives us a plenty of line capacity to troll baits as far back as we need to get them to desired depths and to run them out on trolling boards like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers.


Trolling with lead core line is a presentation that has proven itself very effective in a number of trolling scenarios over the past few years and is growing in popularity all the time. Lead core line typically comes in spools of 100 yards, metered so that the line’s color changes every 10 yards. Although lead core line is a much thicker diameter line than regular lines used for trolling, the StrataMaxx STMX-30 does a good job holding an entire spool (10 colors) of 18 pound test lead core line (the most popular size used for walleye fishing). Now since lead core line is metered, one could argue that a line counter reel would not be necessary to duplicate successful set-ups. That’s true to a point, but we find the line counter is very helpful for adjusting for line break offs and using partial colors, and is just less error prone. It’s simply easier to rely on the counter than to count colors out all the time.

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Line counter reels not only let you know how much line you are letting out, but also let you see how much line is left out when you’re reeling in a fish. That’s a really nice feature so you can easily let your fishing partner know when to be ready so he won’t botch the net-job on your trophy of a lifetime!

The advantages to using these types of reels in trolling presentations makes the process so much more efficient and effective that it makes line counter reels an integral part of today’s trolling game. If you are a walleye angler that does any amount of trolling over the course of the season, you owe it to yourself to rig up with the right tools for the job to help you get your Next Bite.

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