I get asked a lot about how I find active fish on a new body of water, especially one that you have never been to before. There are several things I do long before even leaving the house but the one thing I almost always do when I arrive at a new body of water is troll or cast crankbaits. Crankbaits are usually worked back to the boat at a fairly rapid speed and trolled at 1.5mph or faster making this a sure fire way to cover water quickly. Like most everyone else I have a few baits that I prefer over others. I like to call those my confidence baits. What makes these my confidence baits? I have caught a lot of fish on them. They always run true out of the box. They have trustworthy hooks on them and some just tend to perform well most of the time. This doesn’t mean my other baits can’t be more effective at times. Confidence baits are just my starting point. Here is a list of my Top 5 crankbaits for walleye.
Salmo Hornets: If you're a walleye angler, you have some Salmo Hornets in your arsenal of crankbaits. They may be rattling, floating or deep diving Salmo’s but I bet you have some at arms reach. And if you don’t, then I guess you're not catching as many walleye as you could be. These particular baits have a very aggressive action which usually means to only use during warm water periods when the fish are more active. However I will not hesitate to run my Salmo Hornets in early spring and all through out the year. When the fish are in a funk and just not biting, the Hornets aggressive action does a great job of creating a reaction strike those big pre-spawn females can’t resist. It’s without a doubt that my biggest walleye to date - a 31” - was caught on a #5.5 Salmo Rattlin Hornet.
2. Berkley Flicker Shads: These crank baits have become a main stay in any walleye anglers bag. When Berkley introduced the newly designed Flicker Shad several years ago at a price anglers couldn’t pass up, they became a must have almost over night. With the continued years of innovation, Flicker Shads are offered in a number of sizes and a plethora of colors. They are a multi-species fish catching machine. Recently they have introduced the new jointed flicker shad and the shallow diving flicker shad. Now you can cover the water column from 1-30’ with just the Flicker Shad family alone. What makes these baits so effective besides the price? They have a very tight vibration that works pretty much year round. Paired with the high pitch rattle these cranks are hard for walleye to let pass by.
3. Berkley Flicker Minnows: With the huge success of the Flicker Shad, Berkley decided they needed a minnow style bait to join in the ranks of the Flicker family. The Flicker Minnow is a longer minnow style body different from the shorter shad style body of its predecessor. These baits were brought on board to target those large walleye that roam the Great Lakes, and really anywhere smelt or similar size bait fish are present. These cranks come in several different sizes and colors as well and can reach depths up to 31’ on 10lb Berkley Fireline. Their tight wobble and perfectly tuned action have put many big walleye in my boat.
4. Jointed Shad Raps: Rapala is the original innovator of crankbaits. Still today, they continue to put out new styles, colors and actions of baits. One of the many cranks that I really enjoy in the Rapala family is the Jointed Shad Rap. Shad Raps typically don’t have as much action as some of the other crank baits mentioned above but many times that more subtle action is what the fish like. However when you mix in a jointed Shad Rap, you just brought the action of the crank bait to a whole new level. When I get anything to go and I know there are fish in the area, my go-to is a jointed Shad Rap. The erratic action of the jointed crank bait really resembles a bait fish that doesn’t look like the others, making for an easy target. I like to switch out my rear hook on this with a VMC Sure set hook. If a walleye devours the crank bait past the joint, I feel that they will want to spit the crank sooner than later. But with the Sure set hook they will be hard pressed to let this one go.
5. Rapala Tail Dancers: I began using Tail Dancers years ago on Lewis and Clark Lake in Yankton, SD. My main purpose was to get down deep in the fall to those big walleye roaming in the depths of 25 feet and greater. At the time I didn’t use lead core line and didn’t know much about snap weights, so the deep diving ability of these lures enticed me enough to depend on these in the fall. Many years later that has not changed, except now I run them on my lead core line. These are a banana bait style body crank bait with an aggressive side to side motion from the tail end. And yes these baits dive deep and run true. I have caught loads of big walleye on this particular bait over the years and it’s one of my go-to’s without a doubt in the fall or late summer targeting deep walleye.
I don't know a single die hard walleye angler that doesn't have any of these crank baits in their boat but I know we all have a different amount of each and probably more colors than we will ever use. But a walleye angler is also known as crankbait addict. If you only have one it's the one that the fish are biting and you will certainly loose it to a snag. Probably the reason we all have more than we will ever use but a good walleye angler is always prepared for what the fish want that given day. We all have our favorite confidence bait but if you only use that bait you may be missing out on something even better. Keep trying new things and keep your mind open to switching out baits when one isn't working as good as another.