Trolling for Walleye with Crankbaits

Reef Runner
Reef Runner

A Guide to Cranking Up Your Walleye Catch

Trolling for walleye with crankbaits is one of the most productive ways to catch a limit of fish. By slowly trolling crankbaits behind your boat, you can cover a lot of water and trigger reaction strikes from actively feeding walleyes. Once you mark walleye on your fish finder, you can then set up your crankbait trolling spread and dial in the bite.

Having the right gear and techniques is key to catching walleye while trolling. This guide will show you how to troll for walleyes like a pro using crankbaits.

Crankbait Trolling Gear Essentials

To be successful crankbait trolling for walleyes, you’ll need the proper rods, reels, line, planer boards, and of course – crankbaits. However, different fishing conditions and the time of year can dictate which tackle is best for your fishing trip. Many fishermen who troll for walleye carry different gear for different situations. Here’s the essential gear for each unique situation:

Rods

Opt for 7′ – 8′ medium power fast action rods for crankbait trolling. The backbone loads up nicely to drive hooks into the walleye’s mouth. The medium power helps with headshakes close to the boat, often this leads to a lost fish. There are different rods at different price points and quality. To better break down each trolling rod, read our article on trolling rods.

Reels

You’ll want a smooth retrieving trolling reel. This will aid in fish hookups because the walleye can see the braided line. Having a line counter reel is an essential tool for trolling for walleye with crankbaits. Choose a reel with a smooth drag because walleye like to head shake and run when close to the boat. A Smooth drag will minimize lost fish while trolling for walleye with crankbaits.

Line

10-14 lb monofilament like Berkley Big Game or braid in the same range works well for walleye trolling. Braid has less stretch to better transmit strikes. For crankbaits, a mono line with some stretch is best. If you opt for a braided line, make sure you have a long enough fluorocarbon leader attached to the braid.

Planer Boards

Planer boards allow you to troll crankbaits away from the boat and cover more water. Get at least 2-3 high-quality planer boards per side of the boat, depending on how many people you fish with regularly. There are two main manufacturers of planer boards, Offshore and Church tackle. Both manufacturers offer upgrades to the boards. For Church Tackle boards we recommend getting the stainless pins for the back of the boards. These help with not letting the line dig into the pin.

Crankbaits

You’ll need an assortment of crankbaits that dive 8-30 feet and wobble enticingly. Opt for sizes from 4-8 inches in natural baitfish colors. Crankbaits come in all shapes, sizes, and diving depths. If you are fishing open water, a crankbait that dives deeper will be more effective at staying in the target zone. If you fish in shallow rocky or weedy areas, something smaller like a flickershad might be in order. Below we go into more detail on each type of crankbait for walleye trolling.

ColorDescriptionWhen to Use
Fire TigerBlend of greens, oranges, blacksA blend of greens, oranges, blacks
Glass Purple ShadA blend of greens, oranges, blacksTranslucent blue/purple hues
ClownTranslucent blue/purple huesBright orange belly, greenback
Purple HazePurple sides, black backStained or dark water to silhouette against lit areas
Crankbait Depth RangeTypical Uses
5-10 feetGreat for shallow flats, shoreline cover, early/late season
10-15 feetEffective for shallow to mid-depth structure like points, bars, underwater islands
15-20 feetIdeal for suspending walleyes relating to offshore structure and deeper flats
20-25 feetUse when walleyes are really hugging bottom on deeper bars, humps, shelves
25+ feetUse when walleyes are hugging bottom on deeper bars, humps, shelves

Having an assortment of crankbaits that dive to different depth ranges allows you to effectively target walleyes no matter where they are positioned in the water column. Match the crankbait’s diving depth to where you are marking the largest concentrations of walleyes on your electronics.

In general, opt for shallower diving crankbaits earlier and later in the season when walleyes are related more to shallow, warming areas. Then upsize to deeper diving crankbaits as walleyes move out to deeper haunts during the hotter summer periods. Having this depth versatility gives you a major advantage for putting crankbaits right in the strike zone.

How to: Trolling for Walleye with Crankbaits

With the right gear on board, you’re ready to start cranking up those walleye catches by properly presenting your crankbaits. Following these steps on trolling crankbaits will put more fish in your boat on the Great Lakes and inland lakes.

1. Locate Walleye Zones

Look for areas where walleye are likely to be – points, flats, rock piles, underwater islands, etc. Walleye will be in different areas during different weather patterns and seasons. For example, in the springtime walleye will be in shallow spawning areas and nearby structure. In the summertime, they relate to weeds on an inland lake, or the open basins on the Great Lakes. Knowing where the bait fish are is key to finding walleye, locate bait using your electronics and the walleye will not be far from there.

2. Set Planer Boards

Planer boards are used for trolling for walleye with crankbaits. They are an effective tool for setting multiple rods and getting your baits away from the boat. Ever notice walleye are usually marking lower on your electronics than they are? That is because walleye shy away from your boat and the noise. Planer boards are a must to get your baits out and away from the boat. They also help keep multiple lines organized so they do not get tangled. Using a rod holder tree or multiple rod holders in a row on your gunnel is a must.

3. Control Crankbait Depth

Let out enough lines so crankbaits are running in the top portion of the water column walleyes are suspending in based on your electronics. This is done by using the line counter reels as mentioned above along with an accurate dive chart for the crankbait you are using. It is good practice to set your crankbaits at different depths until you figure out the sweet spot. Once you figure out which depth is working the best, set all your lines to that depth and you will catch walleye.

4. Troll at .8 – 2.5 MPH

The season has a lot to do with trolling speed on the Great Lakes and inland lakes. During the fall, winter, and spring troll crankbaits slower. Your speed over the ground should be in the .8-1.2 MPH range. As the water warms up going into the summer you can pick up the speed. In the summer it’s not uncommon to run at 2.0 MPH. Sometimes weather patterns such as a cold front will slow down the walleye, in this case it may be best to run at a slower speed, even in the summertime.

5. Be Erratic

Don’t make straight, monotonous passes. Use S-curves, zig-zags, and speed changes to trigger more strikes from inactive walleyes. Turns will cause your inside and outside planer boards to react and go slower or faster than normal. In the spring, its good practice to stall your boat while at a slow trolling speed. This will stop your lures and trigger a walleye strike.

6. Cover Water Thoroughly

Make multiple passes over an area while trolling for walleye with crankbaits. Walleyes could be in just a small zone that takes time to locate precisely. Walleye schools will also move faster than you are trolling. If you don’t catch walleye on the second pass, move slightly in another direction, the school of fish probably moved.

Bonus Trolling for Walleye with Crankbaits Tips

Keep these pro tips in mind to up your walleye trolling game further:

  • Stop your troll periodically and let bait yo-yo up and down slightly in the strike zone
  • Speed up trolling passes once walleyes are hooked to make the next fish react
  • Swap out worn or chipped crankbaits – beat-up baits are less effective
  • Use bright, loud crankbait colors in darker/stained waters, natural ones in clear conditions
  • Be patient and troll an area thoroughly – walleyes can be in small zones once located

With some time on the water utilizing the tips above, you’ll be slaying buckets of walleyes in no time by crankbait trolling! Good luck out there.