If you didn’t know better, open-water trollers might look a little like drunken sailors. What could they possibly be doing… weaving this way and that, planer boards to the side, seemingly trolling to and from nowhere?
Actually, there is rhyme, and reason, to their movements.
The best open-water trollers on the Great Lakes (and other large waters) typically track subtle breaklines that walleyes follow during seasonal migrations. The trollers know that walleyes relate to certain areas of a body of water at certain times, for reasons that can be explained. Though operating in essentially ‘open’ water, the fish’s movements are not random.
Sometimes structure is defined by a mere drop of a foot or two over a half mile. But, if you could look down from high above, all the water drained from the lake, you’d see that those contours are actually structure on a macro scale. Walleyes use that structure. You can count on them relating to even subtle breaks, or suspending near them.
Understanding the importance of those tiny details and using them to your advantage can lead to more and bigger fish. Take, for example, Ted’s basket of five fish weighing 53.2 pounds on Lake Erie during the Professional Walleye Trail tournament in 2002.
The total stands as a PWT one-day record.
Let’s look at Lake Erie. What you learn there can be applied elsewhere.
Spring? Head west. Walleyes in Lake Erie congregate on reefs in the Western Basin or travel up feeder rivers to spawn in March and April. Look for hard bottom structure and incoming water or wave action that supplies oxygen to eggs.
Walleyes start to move east once spawning is done. They filter through passages between the Bass Islands during April and May. Try trolling in and around the islands until you determine the most productive channel.
The importance of pinpointing tiny points and turns along the breaklines becomes clear when years of GPS coordinates that produced fish in the past are overlaid on a map of the lake. Traditionally good spots are often on the breaks or close by. Knowing where they are will make finding walleyes predictable even in the biggest waters.
Big Water, Big Advantages
As overwhelming as it may seem at first, open-water trolling on large bodies of water has its advantages. Its biggest strength lies in states where anglers may use more than one rod each. Fishermen can spread several lines to the side with planer boards.
They can use a variety of lures or bottom bouncers and/or Snap Weights with spinner rigs and live bait at different depths. You are sifting large sections of water, from side-to-side and top-to-bottom, looking for active fish.
Jigging, meanwhile, covers only a tiny bit of water. Certainly, there are times even on the Great Lakes (or a vast inland lake or reservoir) when a jig is the right approach. Try jigging when walleyes are concentrated and relating to bottom structure. Even when you’re on a good trolling bite, in the aftermath of a serious cold front, it can