Switch and Bait

When walleyes need coaxing, gear down.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Walleye fishermen commonly drag spinner rigs (with crawler harnesses) behind bottom bouncers, but flashing blades sometimes put the fish off. Accomplished Michigan walleye pro Mark Martin hooks those temperamental fish by making one simple switch: He exchanges the spinner for a single hook dressed with live bait. It's similar to a walking-sinker rig, but the bottom bouncer holds the bait above the bottom and avoids snags.

In water of less than 8 feet, Martin opts for 1/4- to 1-ounce bottom bouncers. To go deeper, he uses 1- to 2-ounce sizes. He then ties on an 18- to 24-inch leader (extending from the bottom bouncer to the hook) and often adds a small float to keep the bait above the bottom. "I also put a small orange bead in front of a red No. 2 Daiichi Bleeding Bait hook," he says. "That little bit of color can make a big difference."

When tying on the hook, Martin leaves a 1/4-inch tag end at the knot, which serves as a barb to hold the nightcrawler in place. He inserts the hook's point at the fifth ring below the crawler's head, then threads the crawler up the shank and past the eye, until it covers the knot. Finally, he pushes the point out near the worm's collar. This method cocks its head to one side, which makes it spin as it's pulled through the water. When using minnows, Martin nose-hooks them. Leeches get hooked through the sucker so that they'll remain lively.

To fish the rig, he trolls with an electric motor at whatever speed keeps the line at a 45-degree angle. The heavier the bottom bouncer, the faster he can go. "If I see a walleye on my depthfinder, I slow down and twitch the bottom bouncer to make the bait dart around," he says. "Usually, the next thing I feel is a walleye on my line."