Bottom Bouncing Walleyes by Paul Folden It's easy to use and catches tons of walleyes. Sounds like some sort of wonder lure, doesn't it? Well, in a way, they are. Bottom bouncers have been around for many years now. Born in the Dakotas, these peculiar looking weights were developed to minimize break-offs, while covering large areas quickly, in the snag plagued waters of Lake Oahe and Lake Sakakawea. When they were first developed, the typical presentation was a bottom bouncer weighing three ounces or more pulling a spinner and nightcrawler combination. Today, after thirty-some years of refinement, there are dozens of combinations and with many different weights used. Weights utilized today range from 1/8th ounce to as big as five ounces, with each having its own time and place.
As anglers became more and more comfortable with the bottom bouncer, the assortment of combinations used behind it developed also. The possibilities became endless as anglers tried just about anything, trying to gain an edge. A few years ago, if you saw someone trolling the shoreline at a fairly good speed you could just about be certain that they were trolling bottom bouncers and spinners. Not anymore.
Early in the year, my favorite bottom bouncer presentation is a plain snell. I'll use a bottom bouncer just heavy enough to maintain bottom contact directly under the boat. In shallow water, this may be as light as 1/4th ounce, in deeper water it may be as heavy as one ounce. I'll tie the plain snell anywhere from three to six feet long, depending on the activity of the walleyes and the clarity of the water. I usually bait the snell with a smaller fathead minnow, but a lively leech also works at times. I'll use this presentation while working distinct edges of structure, pulling myself along with my MotorGuide trolling motor at about .5 mph.
Using an electric trolling motor for this presentation is a must. You are fishing directly beneath the boat and the sound of a gas motor will spook the fish. I have seen anglers try to get by using the gas motor by letting out more line to get the presentation away from the boat. While you may catch a few fish this way, you have very little control of what you bottom bouncer is doing. By keeping it close, you are sure that the bottom bouncer is running upright and you will be able to literally feel what kind of bottom you are going over. Besides, a bottom bouncer dragging on its side is a snag waiting to happen instead of being virtually snag free.
As spring starts to turn into summer, spinners come into play. My favorite combination for this time of year is a small spinner baited with a fathead minnow. I tie my spinners about four feet long and use a small blade like the #2 Colorado AstroBrite blades from Bait Rigs Tackle. The reason these blades work so well is because of the deep cup the blade has. I'll use my MotorGuide to pull this presentation about .5 to one mph. The deep cup in the AstroBrite blade allows it to spin easily during these slow trolling speeds. You will find that you generally have to use a heavier bottom bouncer when pulling spinners. Use one that is heavy enough to keep the presentation close to the boat. One way I use to judge how much weight I should use is by watching my line as it is running through the water. I like to keep about a 45 degree angle in the line going to the bottom bouncer. With the line running at that angle, I am assured that the bottom bouncer is running upright.
As the water warms and the walleyes become more active, bigger and faster presentations work better. I like to switch to a #5 Colorado AstroBrite blade rigged with a two hook spinner and bait it with a lively nightcrawler. Make sure when placing the hooks in the nightcrawler that you allow for the nightcrawler to stretch out. If not, when the 'crawler lengthens out, it will create a loop which causes the 'crawler to twist instead of running naturally straight. I also like to vary my speed while using this presentation, letting the walleyes tell me what they want.
Another bottom bouncer presentation that is very effective for larger walleyes during the summer is running a small crankbait on a snell behind the bottom bouncer. Crankbaits that work well during relatively slow trolling speeds work the best. Lazy Ikes and Bomber 14A are a couple of good choices. Present this combination just like you would a spinner. Here in North Dakota we are allowed two lines per person and what I'll do is use a bottom bouncer and spinner on one rod and use a bottom bouncer and crankbait on the other rod. Running a crankbait this slow often is something the bigger fish can not resist.
As the water cools in the fall, I'll switch back to the plain snell combination again. The only difference is the size of the bait I use. Instead of the smaller minnow, I like to use large minnows that are four inches or longer. Late in the year walleyes are looking to fatten up before winter sets in and a big, easy meal is too tempting to let go by.
Bottom bouncers are something that has become a mainstay in every serious anglers tackle box. Although they come in many different designs and styles, I recommend using the SteadyFlow Pro-Bottombouncer from Bait Rigs Tackle. The advantage of this bottom bouncer can be seen at the point where you tie your line to it. It is designed to run through the water easily and to transmit every little change in the bottom content to you. When the stiff wire used in making the Pro-Bottombouncer jumps over a snag it creates a stop-and-go action that triggers strikes from even neutral walleyes.
When selecting a rod and reel combo for fishing bottom bouncers, I recommend using a good quality baitcasting reel like the Quantum Energy E600Ti reel paired with a Quantum XL QXLC79MW Species Specific rod. The Energy reel has 6 ball bearings and continuous anti- reverse making it a smooth operating reel capable of rock solid hooksets. The XL rod has the backbone needed for pulling the heavier bottom bouncers with a forgiving tip section.
For line you want to use a line that has a small diameter like Super Silver Thread. Super Silver Thread has less stretch than many other monos and the spool memory is almost nonexistent. Whether it's spring, summer, or fall, bottom bouncing is a very effective way to find and catch walleyes. By simply changing the combination you use behind the bottom bouncer, you can put fish into your boat, consistently, all year long.