Walleye and the High Action Plug Bite
By Mark Romanack
In recent times crankbaits have ruled the roost on the Great Lakes and other bodies of water popular with walleye fishermen. Population explosions fueled by unprecedented high water levels and several successful spawning year classes have countless fisheries literally crawling with catchable fish.
Natural reproduction can be a fleeting gift, but fortunately for those who enjoy targeting walleye, the fish Gods have shined brightly on these fisheries. To say recent fishing success for walleye has been excellent is an understatement. Limit catches have been the norm and anglers who have historically targeted walleye using traditional methods like nightcrawler harnesses are putting away the “meat” in favor of trolling with less labor intensive crankbaits.
Crankbaits have always been a popular and productive choice for walleye. In the past, most anglers have depended heavily on traditional minnow style crankbaits early and also late in the year when the water temperature is cool to cold. It’s clear to see that crankbaits fished in combination with planer boards have become the fast track to limit catches.
CRANKBAITS OF A DIFFERENT FLAVOR
Most anglers would agree that a handful of popular minnow diving crankbaits dominate on the walleye scene. Slowly anglers are discovering there are other noteworthy baits worth exploring.
In the Western Basin of Lake Erie where white perch and white bass often get in the way of catching walleye, charter captains have quietly turned to a different class of crankbait to save the day. “When I was in high school and my college years, I worked as a first mate for several charters working out of the Western Basin,” says Jake Romanack, co-host of Fishing 411 TV. “As soon as the water temperature warmed up to about 60 degrees abundant populations of white bass and white perch feed so aggressively it becomes challenging to keep these non-target species off the lines long enough to catch walleyes! A typical Lake Erie walleye charter runs 12 to 15 lines and it wasn’t uncommon for every line to be dragging a white perch or silver bass!”
“You haven’t experienced frustration until you’ve worked the back of a charter boat in 85 degree heat, setting lines as fast as humanly possible only to catch a handful of walleye mixed into bucket loads of trash fish,” explains Romanack. “Increasing trolling speed and switching to high action crankbaits was the solution to this annual problem.”
The only practical way to avoid silver bass and white perch is to troll fast enough to mitigate how many of these undesirable fish are caught while trolling for walleye. “Only a handful of crankbaits are up to the challenge when it comes to high speed trolling,” adds Romanack. “The problem is that charter captains stack so many lines per side of the boat, a bait has to run perfectly true in the water or adjoining lures will wander and foul each other.”
A NEW CLASS OF WOBBLER
These days a new class of high action wobblers are finding success on Erie and many other fisheries coast to coast. The Yakima Bait Company Mag Lip was designed by Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame angler Buzz Ramsey as a wobbling plug aimed at the salmon, steelhead and trout markets. The Mag Lip is a banana shaped lure that features a built-in “skip beat” action.
“It only took a few years and the Mag Lip was dominating plug sales among steelhead, salmon and trout fishermen on the West Coast,” says Buzz Ramsey. “Word about the Mag Lip and how many fish it catches quickly spread to the Great Lakes. The demand for more sizes and colors of Mag Lip soon reached a fever pace.”
Currently Mag Lip is available in seven different sizes and over four dozen different factory standard colors. Many retailers are also offering their own “custom color” options that continue to feed the growing demand.
“It has taken a few years, but walleye anglers have finally discovered that Mag Lip is deadly effective when trolling at high speeds and in warm water conditions,” says Captain Eric Hirzel of Erie Gold Walleye Charters. “I first used the 3.5 size of Mag Lip on spring salmon trolling trips at Lake Michigan. I was so impressed with the Mag Lip, I started using the 3.5 and 3.0 sizes on my Lake Erie walleye charters.”
Mag Lip is the perfect niche lure for a number of reasons. Each lure is perfectly tuned and runs true right out of the package. Mag Lip features a wide wobble, loud rattle and aggressive action, but these baits can also tolerate trolling speeds up to 4.0 MPH without blowing out. The “skip beat” or hunting action of the Mag Lip generates explosive strikes and these baits come in a host of productive color options.
“Most of the factory colors on Mag Lip are admittedly trout and salmon colors,” says Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV. “Our staff has worked closely with Yakima Bait to introduce several new “walleye specific” colors that are going to be popular on Erie and Saginaw Bay. “Our crew has had had the opportunity to fish these new colors in the spring and summer of 2019 and they are lights out for walleye. Our favorites include Metallic Silver Clown, Metallic Silver FireTiger, Metallic Gold/Black Red Lip and Rosemary.”
Other factory standard colors that produce consistent results on walleye include Metallic Silver Rainbow Trout, Mad Man, Grinch, Double Trouble, Metallic Gold/Flame, Keeper, Metallic Perch and Metallic Gold Green Pirate.
“The first thing I noticed about Mag Lip is fish T-bone them,” says Captain Hirzel. “When walleye hit most crankbaits they tend to be hooked on the back hook. With the Mag Lip a majority of the fish are hooked on the front treble or they have the bait right down their throat.”
Buzz Ramsey says that it’s the unique hunting action of the Mag Lip that causes fish to react with explosive strikes. “Most crankbaits have a rhythmic and consistent action,” says Ramsey “Crankbaits with a hunting action tease fish into biting. Think of it like playing with a cat using a ball and string. Eventually the cat can’t stand it anymore and pounces. The same thing happens when fishing with Mag Lip.”
Mag Lip has great action at a wide variety of speeds, but the skip beat action is more distinctive at faster trolling speeds. “On Lake Erie we did best trolling 3.5 Mag Lip at between 2.2 and 3.0 MPH,” says Jake Romanack who recently filmed a TV episode focusing on the virtues of high action crankbaits. “Walleye pounded the Mag Lip and it was a struggle just to keep our legal number of lines in the water!”
THE FINAL WORD
The good news is that walleye populations on Lake Erie and countless other fisheries nationwide are at epic levels. The future looks bright for these fisheries despite heavy fishing pressure.
Crankbait trolling is obviously not the only way anglers can catch open water walleye, but it’s clear that no other fishing method is as consistently productive as board trolling with crankbaits.
It’s true that minnow/diver style crankbaits are the baits most walleye anglers have faith in, but these days high action plugs like the Yakima Bait Mag Lip are delivering impressive catches. For those who haven’t tried fishing high action plugs, in the late spring and throughout the summer when water temperatures are warm, it’s hard to beat these loud and proud crankbaits.