Getting a Line on Walleyes

We hear it all the time at seminars: “What kind of line works best for walleyes?”

The answer depends on how you’re fishing for them. With so many different kinds of lines out there, lines with the right properties will help you catch more fish.

Jigging
Whether vertical jigging in rivers, casting jigs to a rock hump or dragging jigs with big minnows, a jigging line needs to be limp and thin. “Low memory” means the line doesn’t come off your reel “remembering” how it was coiled on the spool. Stiff lines come off the spool like the old Slinky toy and while everyone loves a Slinky, you don’t want your line to behave like one. Lots of memory means you won’t be able to feel the jig as well. You’ll lose good contact with the bottom and a fish can suck the jig in and you won’t even know it.

Thin diameter makes it easier to maintain bottom contact with the jig by what it does above the water. Thin line cuts through the wind and doesn’t let it blow a bow into the line. Bows are bad – they’ll make it real hard to feel the subtle sensation of a walleye sucking in the bait.

We use eight-pound Berkley Select almost exclusively with jig fishing. It has a thin diameter, and although it’s labeled at eight-pound test, the actual break strength is more like 10-pound test. In big winds, drop down to six or even four- pound test. If you’re only going to fill one spool, stick with eight just in case a big one bites.

Bottom Bouncer Fishing
The two important properties for line with bottom bouncers are low stretch and high durability. Low stretch enhances your feel through the weight. High durability is necessary because you’re often dragging a bottom bouncer through some tough territory — rocks and wood can take a toll on line when dragging bottom bouncers.

Trilene XT is a good example of a line with both qualities. On the rod side of a Rockrunner Bottom Bouncer, use 10-pound test because it is a good compromise between strength and thickness. While you want strength to muscle in a walleye, you also want a fairly thin diameter so the line doesn’t billow too much while dragging a bottom bouncer.

For the leader line, use 10- or 12-pound XT for spinners to reduce line wear at the clevis; 8-pound test XT when just using plain live bait. XT will avoid abrasions when the line contacts rocks. Mustad also makes pre-tied No. 2 Finesse Hook snells for leeches and minnows or Crawler Harnesses with No. 2 spade end hooks for nightcrawlers. Both are tied with 10 lb test line.

Rigging
When pulling live bait rigs, the main consideration is thin diameter. Thinner diameter line lets the bait swim around more freely, plus thin line has less water resistance and lets you fish deep without having a whole lot of line behind the boat. Thin line also allows a fish to suck the bait in its mouth more easily.

Trilene’s Select line is strong for its diameter. The low memory characteristic already discussed also allows the line to peel smoothly off the reel when a bite is detected. Use 4- pound test, sometimes moving up to 6-pound test when big fish are around.

Open Water Trolling
Whether pulling plugs or open-water spinner fishing, a tough line is the ticket for trolling. Usually trolling “systems” snap things to the line like Off-Shore Snap Weights or Off-Shore In-line planer boards. The line has to stand up to being pinched in the rubber clamp, and we’ve found that Trilene XT fills the bill. Use 10-pound test because open water often produces some pretty big fish. Plus, the best reference book on crankbait depth, called Crankbaits In-Depth, used 10-pound XT when recording the various depths of many different trolling plugs. By using the same line our results will match those in the book.

If you’d like to achieve some extra depth, drop down to eight XT. The In-Depth book states the lures will get an extra 10% diving depth by using this thinner diameter line.

Structure Trolling
When pulling cranks around rocks without boards, we move up in line strength but stick with the abrasion resistant Trilene XT. By using line as heavy as 17-pound test, we can usually pull a crank free of snags, just slightly bending the hook. The thicker line diameter also prevents the lure from diving so quickly therefore more line can be let out to get the lure away from the boat. This can be especially important when trolling in clear water, or in water less than 10 foot.

Other Line Considerations
We tend to change line more often than most anglers because of our tournament atmosphere. Jigging line is stripped nightly, and trolling line once per tournament. A weekend angler probably doesn’t have to change a good quality trolling line more than once a year. For thin diameter rigging and jigging lines, sunlight and heat can deteriorate them quickly. Try to strip off and replace the last 100 feet or so off spinning reels about every 5 fishing days.

For color, stick with clear or green line. We don’t see a difference in which color the fish bite better. Often, we use different colors just to keep track of the pound test — all the 8-pound test will be green, while all the 10-pound test will clear. Line doesn’t seem to spook walleyes. We’ve even tested the bright chartreuse-colored Solar line against clear line and gotten just as many bites. In dingy water Solar XT makes absolutely no difference and sometimes allows us to see the twitch of a walleye biting. We haven’t seen any difference in clear water, either, but, like most fishermen, we just have more confidence in line that is nearly invisible.

Finally, a word about the newer specialty lines. The only time we’ve used the braided lines is when trolling deep, open water with Dipsey Divers. The super low stretch helps these diving disks to release easier. We’ve recently tried the new Berkley Fire Line for open water trolling with terrific initial results. This ultra thin line allows cranks to dive much deeper and give the bait better actions. More on how to use this low stretch line after we use it through the season and learn more about it.

When it comes right down to it, almost any line will catch walleyes. But matching the line with the right properties to specific presentations will make your fishing more enjoyable by producing more and bigger walleyes.

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