One common thread I’ve noticed fishing the Great Lakes year after year, is that if I want to find big fish in the fall, I have to troll deeper and deeper. Some anglers blame zebra mussels or global warming for the trend, but whatever the reason, some of the largest Great Lakes walleyes continually seek out the bottom layers of the water column in the fall. The sad part is fishing deep intimidates some anglers and keeps them from targeting fish that are less pressured, if not overlooked all together. Yes, a jig and minnow works just about anywhere there are walleyes, but if you’re a fan of quality over quantity, these five deep-water setups will help you cover more water, and locate and catch larger fish before it’s time to store the boat and tune up the ice auger.
Many anglers associate Dipsy Divers with salmon and the warm waters of summer, but it’s a big mistake to overlook them in the fall. Dipsy’s can easily deliver spoons or shallow-running stick baits, which by themselves only get a few feet deep, to depths of 50 feet or more, and you can adjust them to plane away from the boat at different angles. This way you can cover more water and run more lines without tangling. An adjustable trip release detaches the line when a fish hits, so you’re only fighting the fish and not the diver.
While Dipsy divers are easy to use, they do require specific equipment. For starters, braided line is a must. Monofilament stretches too much and makes tripping the release difficult at best. A thin line makes it easier to reach a greater depth and it easily releases the tripping mechanism. Attach a 5- to 10-foot leader off the back of the diver and knot your lure on the other end.
Other anglers might not counter the opinion that braided lines work best with divers, but conversations about rod choice could lead to a heated discussion. I recommend a rod that is slightly heavier than what most anglers use for planer board trolling, yet not what’s labeled or sold as a traditional Dipsy Diver rod. Most rods marketed as a Dipsy rod are intended for salmon fishing and are too stiff to see light bites that might not trip the release or even load the rod at slow trolling speeds of 1.5 to 2.5 mph.
A jet diver is not a terribly popular tool for targeting deep walleyes. It was originally created to catch salmon, but it works for open water walleyes. Unlike a Dipsy Diver, Jet’s float at rest, making them a perfect delivery system when paired with planer boards. Tie a short 5- to 7-foot leader off the back and then attach flutter spoons, stick baits, or any other lure that doesn’t dive deep. Diving lures want to swim deeper than the jet diver, which counteracts the dynamics of the jet so it wants to rise to the surface instead of submerging.
Jet Divers are available in four models, though the most popular are the two largest, the 30 and 40. A good rule of thumb is too use the 30 model on inline planer boards, and the 40 on big mast-style planer boards because the pull is too much for most inline planer boards to handle. The manufacturer, Luhr Jensen, created depth charts that show how much line out is required to reach a given depth. Also, you can use monofilament with Jet Divers, but the same braid used for Dipsy Divers makes it easier to detect strikes and get deep because of less drag.
A simple, no frills piece of tackle you’ll likely find in all of the cup holders on my boat is a snap weight. The snap weight system is simple; however using one to reach precise depths is not nearly as exact as the other methods mentioned.
To use one, simply clip it directly on your line 20- to 50-feet in front of a deep- or shallow-diving crankbait. You’ll be able to fish at nearly any desired depth depending on the size of the weight, speed, and amount of line you let out. There are dive charts online to help you dial in to a specific setup, but they’re loose (very loose) recommendations. For example, a slight turn of the boat can cause one weight to ride high while the other sinks straight to the bottom on slack line.
Snap weights work best with monofilament line, but regardless of your line preference, look for weights with an internal pin to keep it from slingshotting off with a hard strike or hang up.
Leadcore lines are a staple for walleye anglers across the country, though many seem to forget they exist after summer ends. Leadcore lines have a thin lead core wrapped in a Dacron or synthetic sheath and they work well for getting shallow spoons, stick baits, and deep-diving lures even deeper because it’s the line itself, not added weight, that takes lures to a desired depth. The line changes color every ten yards so you can easily estimate the length of line you have out, though some anglers simply refer to how many colors they have out—5 colors, 6 colors, and so on.
Measuring the length of your line is simple, controlling the depth requires a little bit of trial and error because it depends so much on your trolling speed. A good rule of thumb is your lure gains approximately five feet of depth, per color, trolling at 2.2 mph. For example, six color lengths in the water mean your lure is roughly 30-feet deep—but it’s only an approximation. Variables like water current, lure choice, and the boat’s speed don’t make leadcore fishing an exact science.
The two ways to fish leadcore are segmented or a full core. Fishing full core requires a large reel like a Shimano Tekota 700 spooled with 10 continuous colors and some backing underneath. This rod is typically fished as a flat lined boat rod on the back corner of your boat. Simply let out or reel in the lead line when you want to move a lure shallower or deeper.
Fishing segmented leadcore requires a traditional size trolling reel like a Shimano TRN200G spooled with a large amount of backing before splicing it with the length of leadcore you want in the water. Then attach a leader to the tag end of the leadcore, and then a lure. In the end you can let out the entire length of leadcore and as much backing as you need, or attach the backing to a planerboard to keep the line and lure away from the boat.
This setup allows you to fish at precise depths, but it can get expensive and bulky if you have several reels spooled with varying lengths of leadcore, but it will allow you to fish lures on inline planer boards. Just remember to attach the planerboard to the backing. Attaching it directly to leadcore breaks the line down and causes the leadcore to drag towards the boat.
One of the biggest advantages of leadcore is it doesn’t lump weight at one given point. It’s evenly distributed along the line’s entire length. That’s important because making changes to your depth are subtler than what you experience with snap weights. At times this alone is what makes leadcore so valuable. The fact leadcore stays away from the boat more than other lines and it seems to tire fish out faster, increasing the percentage of fish landed, is another big plus.
Ironically, despite how much I talk and write about braided line, I’m not a big fan of it. The reality is it offers big advantages in certain circumstances. But as line materials and manufacturing technology advances, more and more anglers are relying on it. A good example is the number of the professional tournament bass anglers that can be found using it for a majority of their finesse fishing.
Using a super thin line while walleye trolling means less drag so lures can dive significantly deeper. A line diameter of approximately .008 inches can run five-feet deeper than a traditional line diameter of .014 inches. I vividly recall a fall trip to Lake Ontario when a Rapala Husky Jerk trolled on braided line caught every fish. Adding a snap weight to the line changed the action just enough that it simply would not get a bite. Without the added depth we gained by using braided line (approximately 5 feet) we would have been fishless.
Lastly, remember you make some sacrifices when it comes to stretch when using braid instead of monofilament. In most cases, monofilament has as much as 25 percent stretch to it, whereas braid has less than 5 percent. When it comes to braid hooksets, a soft rod and loose drag paired with a good dose of patience can help act as a shock absorber you won’t otherwise have.
Read Next: How to Catch Monster Walleyes
You don’t always have to fish deep in the fall, but the reality is that’s where you’ll find a healthy population of fish. Take the time to learn and become comfortable with a few of these delivery systems so you can become a more successful angler, year round.