The Quick and Dirty on Chasing Suspended Summer Walleye With Harnesses
Summer in Madison means a lot of things to different people. To me, summer means chasing suspended walleyes with my favorite technique. For those who have never trolled crawler harnesses with planer boards, the technique may seem somewhat intimidating. With a little know how and the right tools, it can be a fun and very productive way to put the hurt on summer walleyes.
They key to being successful with trolling suspended fish is to understand where these fish congregate and why they do so. Generally speaking these fish are following schools of pelagic baitfish that are roaming the open water. Locating these schools of bait will greatly increase your chances of encountering walleye. Good electronics are key. In the pontoon I am able to drive around at 15mph and mark fish and schools of bait. Once I find a good concentration of bait I will then set up a trolling pass through them.
As far as my equipment is concerned I like to keep things simple. My trolling set ups are 8'6" medium Fenwick Eagle trolling rods paired with Abu Garcia Alphamar LC (line counter) reels, spooled with 12lb Berkley Big Game monofillament. On the business end of these combos I run 1oz inline weights, which I then connect my crawler harnesses to. The harnesses themselves can vary, and with so many blade and bead configurations the sky is the limit. My go to harness is a double hooked snell with a size 4 Colorado blade and enough beads to space the blade from the top hook. Check out my video linked HERE to see how I build harnesses. Feel free to get creative with colors, too. My go-to patterns in the Madison lakes are anything perch, gold, or chartreuse.
One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is about the amount of line to let out to get a harness to a certain depth. The general rule of thumb is that you let out twice the amount of line as the depth you want the harness to run (based at 1mph and a 1oz inline weight). An example of this would be letting out 30 feet of line in order to get the harness down to 15 feet, or letting out 50 feet to get down to 25 feet.
One thing to consider while letting out line is that there may be fish hanging out higher in the water column than you were marking (since you were driving over the top of them and spooking them). I like to run my outside lines a little higher up than the rest since they are farthest away from the boat and less likely to encounter spooked fish. This brings me to the next point: planer boards. To some people the thought of planer boards causes a lot of anxiety and fear. Truth be told they are super useful and very easy to use with a little practice. I exclusively use Offshore Tackle OR12 planer boards for my trolling applications as they are the most durable and most dependable boards I've ever used. Here is a quick tutorial video of running planer boards (with crankbaits) to give you a better visual and to show how simple it really is.
Once your lines are out to their desired depth, clip on the boards and let the fun begin. When a fish hits the boards will fall back due to the increase in weight on the line. Occasionally fish will hit and miss the harness, in which case you can actually free spool the reel to drop the lure back to the fish and tempt them into biting again. More times than not that fish will bite again, so its almost always worth a shot. Don't be afraid to vary your speeds from 0.8 to 2 mph. Let the fish tell you what they want. Whether it be color, speed, depth, what have you; it is important to always be experimenting until you find a pattern that works. If you want to learn more about trolling for walleyes, get in contact with us and come out on the boat for an evening guide trip for a few hours of hands on learning.