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Published: Friday, 4/22/2005

Trolling is the ticket for big Erie walleye

The top time of the fishing year to land trophy-size walleyes from

western Lake Erie is right now, and avid anglers are out there

trolling up a storm.

Years of fishing experience, particularly since the coming of the

national tournament circuits to the western basin each spring, have

shown that trolling indeed is the preferred tactic when it comes to

putting big fish in the box.

Travis Hartman, a state Lake Erie biologist and a dedicated walleye

fisherman, said that test netting by Ohio Division of Wildlife crews

shows that perhaps a third of the fish still were spawning as of mid

week. But the rest are on the post-spawn prowl, trying to replace

weight and energy lost in reproductive activity.

"They're definitely leaving the reefs and starting to feed," the

biologist added.

Note, for example, that the top two teams in last weekend's Western

Basin Sportfishing Association's one-day tournament both averaged

more than nine pounds a fish for five-fish entries. All the

tournament teams, moreover, were trolling, either with plastic

crankbaits or slow-trolled worm harnesses dressed with nightcrawlers.

"I was one of the few pulling spinners," said Hartman, who fished the

WBSA event. He was referring to loading up a couple rods with

worm-harnesses, which include a spinner blade in the rigging. The

angler-biologist trolled both deep-diving crankbaits and harnesses,

explaining that the harnesses seem more effective for more tentative

fish, down near the bottom, whereas the high-action cranks will draw

more active fish suspended well off the bottom.

Hartman uses a fairly standard trolling setup - small side

planer-boards with interchangeable in-line weights attached to a

snap-swivel, followed by the worm harness. He runs them 30 to 45 feet back of the boat and generally trolls around 1.5 mph. Last weekend he used three-ounce weights on his rigs to put his harnesses 20 to 25 feet down.

With crankbaits he rigs his reels with Fire Line and then uses a four

to five-foot fluorocarbon leader to attach the bait. He favors Reef

Runner RipSticks and Deep Diving Crankbaits, and Deep Husky Jerks, and runs them 20 to 45 feet back. He noted that at times he may want to put a crankbait down deeper than its lip-design will take it, so he clips on a one-ounce in-line weight.

Based on last weekend's tourney results, it appears that the biggest

fish are being taken north of the Kelleys Island area, a familiar

big-fish haunt. Hartman said that the fish are fewer there, but the

average seems larger. "The Kelleys bite should go for perhaps another month."

He added that there still are plenty of fish to be trolled up in the

North Bass Island-Middle Bass Island area. He landed a six-pound

average during practice trolls in that area before the WBSA,

including a post-spawn 29-inch female that weighed 9-1/2 pounds.

In addition to the Kelleys Island and North/Middle Bass areas,

Hartman also thinks that decent fish can be found around Rattlesnake, Green, and South Bass islands, and the areas north and east of the reef complex off B-Can, C-Can, and D-Can of the outer Camp Perry firing range. Another "fishing lane" to try, he added, is the 25-foot contour from D-Can to Catawba Island peninsula northeast of Port Clinton.

After he has his tackle set up to satisfaction and the boards are

running smoothly, Hartman simply focuses. "You have to pay attention to speed."

Every veteran has his magic speed-zone, but Hartman's generally is in the 1.5 to 2 mph range. Some successful trollers last weekend crawled down to 1 mph.

"Sometimes when you make a turn, you'll pick up a fish on an inside

or outside board, which will tell you something about the best

speed." A fish on an inside board in a turn dictates that you slow

your troll after straightening out lines. Fish taken an outside board

telegraphs the message to speed up.

• The 2005 Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, offering a $471,000 purse, comes to Port Clinton next Wednesday through Saturday . Up to 150 pros and 150 co-anglers will be competing for top awards of $90,000 and $17,000 respectively.

Daily flights of competitors will leave from the West Harbor launch

ramp, 1955 Northeast Catawba Rd., beginning at 7 a.m., with weigh-ins at 3 p.m. at the ramp Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The final

weigh-in will be Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Wal-Mart store at 4070

East Harbor Rd. For other information call 270-252-1000, or visit the

event Web site, FLWOutdoors.com.

Contact Steve Pollick at:spollick@theblade.comor 419-724-6068.



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