Tips for Trolling Crankbaits for Walleye

Man holds large fish caught while trolling crankbaits for walleye on Lake Ontario.
Trolling crankbaits for walleye is the number one tactic for trophy walleye on Lake Ontraio.

Trolling Crankbaits For Walleye in Lake Ontario

Trolling crankbaits for walleye is a skill all aspiring anglers should learn.  I’ve caught more big fish – 8 to 13 pound plus – using crankbaits than with all my other fishing techniques for walleye combined.  Many anglers already know there are many variables involved including speed, water temperature, fishing pressure, water clarity and location; but one thing remains consistent no matter what – trolling hard plastic produces! Trolling crankbaits for walleye is one of the most effective ways to secure a trophy fish.

The Best Colors for Crankbaits

Most good walleye crankbaits have a roll to them.  Watch the baits’ eyes as it moves through the water; they should move up and down.  Trolling crankbaits that consistently catch walleye have a rolling side to side movement.  Color combinations change, but in clear water the best walleye crankbaits have more natural colors such as black-silvers, blues, and green fluorescent.

fisherman holding large brown trout caught while trolling crankbaits on Lake Ontario.
Choosing the right color lure for trolling crankbaits for walleye based on water conditions pays dividends.

Studies have shown that in dingy water chartreuse and orange are two colors that walleye see best.  Fire tiger is good almost any time and lures with some sort of orange on the underbelly are preferred for trolling crankbaits.  Natural colors also still work.

Walleye Crankbaits on the Move

Every crankbait puts out a vibration and sound while moving through the water, and some feel this is more important than shape and color.  Every trolling crankbait is different when moving through the water and that is why it’s important to find the right one that fish want on that particular day.  If you’re not catching fish, it is good to experiment with different baits until you’re confident in a certain one. When you put certain walleye crankbaits in the water, you’re looking for a pronounced whipping action in the tail that almost all predatory fish find hard to resist.

Water Temperatures Determine Crankbaits to Use

When water temperatures are below 55 degrees, I like stickbaits with small diving bills and a longer thinner body such as Rapalas, Thundersticks, Bombers, Smithwicks, Husky Jerks, and Reef Runners.  When water temperatures are above 55 degrees and you are fishing in a deeper water column, crankbaits with moderate action and larger diving baits will produce more flash and vibration.  Storm Deep Jr. Thundersticks, Deep Diving Little Ripper Reef Runners and Rapala Shad Raps all produce, just to name a few.

Even Wary Fish Can’t Resist

Nearly all lure manufacturers have added some sort of rattle system to make distinctive sounds to help produce strikes.  Everyone knows that sometimes we buy lures because they look good to us.  With all the technology in the high definition scales, gills, fins, holographic finishes, detailed 3D eyes and colors, it’s easy to see why even the wariest of predators are fooled.

Trolling Speed

man in large hat on a boat holding big brown trout caught while trolling crankbaits.
The proper walleye crankbait trolling speed is important to giving the action big browns and walleyes can’t resist.

Speed is certainly as important as anything.  Some days we have trolled 1.3 to 1.6 knots while other days 1.8 to 2.0 and yet some days at 2.0 to 2.4.  Sometimes a giant oval pattern of steering instead of a straight line will give you two different speeds when you are trolling crankbaits for walleye.  If the slow side gets hits, it will give you an idea of what your walleye crankbait trolling speed should be going in a straight line while trolling crankbaits. The same is true if the fast side produces hits.

Follow the Bait Fish

We love to fish structure and all of us know trophy walleye and browns love structure.  Baitfish also like structure, so it stands to reason that is the place to fish.  We are very fortunate in the Henderson Harbor area to be where there is plenty of structure, baitfish, and trophy walleye.  There is also a variety of other species, which helps in producing fishing action while trolling crankbaits .

Other Fishing Techniques

Other than trolling crankbaits for walleye, there are a few other fishing techniques for walleye including jigging, casting or trolling with worm harnesses that will produce. However, our production of trophy walleye along with other charter captains and pro walleye anglers tend to agree that the big ones really like a well presented noise-making hard bait.  When fishing for these giants you definitely need to be persistent and patient while you’re trolling crankbaits!

Trolling for Other Species

Girl holding large brown trout caught while trolling crankbaits on Lake Ontario.
The same crankbaits used for walleye are effective at taking brown trout.

What is nice about the stickbaits that we use for walleye is that they can also be used to catch brown trout, lake trout, northern pike, catfish and bass.  Early in the brown trout season we like using non-diving smaller sticks in shallow water and also Michigan 

Trolling Crankbaits and Stickbaits

Stinger spoons.  When fishing derbies in the spring, some of our biggest football browns are taken using stickbaits.  So have fun this spring experimenting with a variety of hard baits, and hopefully you can land that trophy of a lifetime when you try your hand at trolling crankbaits for walleye. 

Original Article By Captain Bob Dick

About The Author

Captain Bob Dick owns and operates Moby Dick Charters out of Henderson Harbor on Lake Ontario.  Captain Bob specializes in sport fishing for trophy walleye, browns, lake trout, king salmon, northern pike and smallmouth bass. He has lived and fished the eastern end of Lake Ontario and tributaries his entire life and is a member of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association.

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