Walleye pro Kevin Kraft has this philosophy about fishing: try something new at least two hours every time you're on the water. "It makes you more versatile," he said.
Pro Glenn Rengo remembers the lesson his dad taught him about fishing: challenge the norm. While others rigged with live bait, Rengo's father trolled fast along weedlines with homemade spinners.
What are the morals to these stories? Don't be afraid to try something new. That wisdom was the key to a $100,000 check Rengo and Kraft cashed last year at the "Wave Wackers 2000" walleye tournament on Mille Lacs. Rather than stick with traditional presentations on the big lake they tried something different and won.
Mention Mille Lacs to a walleye fisherman in years past and the Lindy rig immediately came to mind. Over 30 years ago Al and Ron Linder used Mille Lacs as an on-the-water laboratory to test their legendary rig, which presents live bait in the most natural way possible.
A slip sinker, swivel and long leader snelled to a hook with a minnow, leech or 'crawler was all it took. Sometimes a snell float was added, or perhaps a colored bead. Simple but deadly. People who heard of it stopped in Brainerd-area bait shops and asked for the "Lindy rig," and the rest is angling history.
Live-bait rigs remain a potent tactic after all these years. Recent innovations, though, have made them even better. Ron Lindner's latest invention, the NO-SNAGG sinker, and Greg Bohn's NO-SNAGG hook allow anglers to fish in snag-infested rocks and other cover with ease.
Yet Kraft and Rengo split last year's first place Wave Wacker cash by trading live bait rigs for spinners. If you recall, last year's opener was cold and windy. Kraft and Rengo caught fish after fish on spinner rigs and nightcrawlers. The windier the better, Kraft said.
"I believe that blades often out-produce rigging," Rengo said. "You can go through more fish to find the aggressive feeders. It's just a numbers game."
In Rengo's father's day spinner rigs were tied mostly at home. They didn't have bottom bouncers so they used rubber-core sinkers until bass fishermen devised the bullet sinker. Today's anglers use advanced bottom bouncers that adjust quickly to suit conditions.
When Rengo and Kraft took to the water at Mille Lacs during pre-fishing they used standard Colorado blades. These produced when trolled along transition areas between gravel and mud on bars in the southeastern portion of the lake. "We had fish, but they were scattered," Kraft said. "We just had to move around to find the active ones."
Nature worked against them when Day One of the tournament arrived. The wind dropped to nothing and their bite died with it. They trolled Colorado blades until 10 a.m. With no fish in the livewell, Rengo decided to try a hammered metallic Hatchet blade. "We were looking for something that would make noise in the dead, flat calm," Kraft said.
The result? Ka-bang! Rengo had a fish. Soon he boated another. They added a second hatchet blade and started catching even more fish. They kept their boat on transition areas between hard and soft bottoms. The bars topped out near 22 feet. The deepest water was 34 feet. They focused on the 28- to 32-foot mark while watching the line at the bottom of their sonar go from the thick and dark that signals a rocky bottom to thin and gray, indicating mud.
The key to using bottom bouncers with spinner blades is to use enough weight to stay in contact with the bottom while keeping a 45-degree angle between your line and the water surface. As a rule of thumb, use an ounce of weight for every 10 feet down. X-Change bottom bouncers allow you to change weights easily and quickly. Kraft and Rengo used 1- to 1-1/2-ounce bottom bouncers on the calm first day and went to 2-1/2 ouncers on the windy Day Two.
Change blades often. Start with metallic blades on sunny days and in clearer water. Use colored blades on cloudy days or when the water is dingy. Try different sizes and styles, too. An X-Change clevis lets you change blades with ease.
Check your bait every 10 to 15 minutes. Try a new blade or color if your nightcrawler, leech or minnow shows no signs that a walleye tried to snatch it. Vary trolling speed. Use S-turns along the breaks. Outside blades will turn faster while inside blades turn slower. Use 7- to 10-foot rods and 10-pound monofilament. Set the rod in a rod holder and leave it until the rod tip signals "Fish on!"
Don't be afraid "take a spin" around Mille Lacs when the Wave Wacker 2001 arrives June 7-8. The tactic just may be the key to walleye action that will leave you dizzy.
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