Fishermen from Minnesota have taught anglers in other regions of the walleye range an important tactic for taking fish from rivers. It’s a tactic that works very good in the fall.
While fishermen elsewhere resort to jigs, leadcore line is often the only way Minnesotans fish stretches of the Mississippi River during cooler times of the year.
The technique is becoming more common in Wisconsin, Illinois and other states thanks to a mixing of regional techniques that are used at tournaments. For example, leadcore trollers from the Red Wing area have won or placed high among top finishers at recent Masters Walleye Circuit tournaments on the Illinois River. It didn’t take long for the flatlanders to start experimenting with the potent weapon.
Never discount the importance of a jig and livebait. There are times when fish seem to prefer a tasty minnow or nightcrawler presented while controlled drifting downstream.
But, leadcore trolling offers the advantage of presenting bait to a large numbers of walleyes, and that increases the odds of locating the most active fish fast. There are some fishermen that feel there are times when bigger fish tend to be taken on crankbaits over livebait.
There was a time few would troll for river walleyes in cold water. But, pro Harry Stiles and others have proved walleyes can be caught trolling in water at 35 degrees. Try both livebait on a jig or trolling lures. Let the fish tell you what they want.
For leadcore, use fairly limber rods such as a 7-foot to 7-1/2-footer made of fiberglass or graphite composite. Leadcore offers no stretch, so the rod must serve as the shock absorber. Line-counter reels also help to return lures precisely to the same depth. But, the color of the leadcore line changes every 30 feet so you can be accurate even without a line counter.
Stiles spools 100 yards of 27-pound leadcore on a big baitcaster. He then attaches a barrel swivel and an 8-foot to 10-foot leader of 20-pound mono and a crankbait clip. At 2 mph, he lets out 6 feet of leadcore for every foot of depth he wants to run. Do you want to fish 25 feet deep? Twenty-five times six equals 150 feet of leadcore. The same formula holds true for every crankbait whether it’s a floater or deep-diver with one exception — very aggressive big-lipped ones. Crankbaits ride higher if you go faster than 2 mph and deeper if you run slower.
Run crankbaits just off the bottom. Concentrate on places where structure creates slower-moving water where walleyes can wait for prey near current without burning energy. Key spots are river bends and areas with harder bottoms, such as clam beds and riprap. Locations often overlooked are “wash-board bottoms” created by current action or the prop wash of barges.
Match the style of crankbait to the shape of the forage base in the river. Copy the size and shape of what walleyes are feeding upon.
The best color of crankbait to use depends on the water clarity. Stick to natural-looking baits in clear water and switch to brighter colors like chartreuse, firetiger or orange when the water is dirty.
Be patient and practice with leadcore. Give yourself time to become proficient. But whatever you do, get the lead out.
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