By Jason Mitchell
In both North and South Dakota, bottom bouncer rigs have been catching walleye on the Missouri River reservoirs for an awfully long time. The popularity of bottom bouncers however has expanded far and wide. Come mid-summer, bottom bouncers are probably my go to presentation to catch walleyes day in and day out on many different fisheries. The reason bottom bouncers are so effective is the simple versatility. You can speed up to cover water at over two miles per hour with a bottom bouncer. You can also slow down at a mile per hour or less. You can fish deep water or shallow. You can run plain snells and live bait. You can run half crawler Slow Death style hooks that have become so popular over the last decade. You can run spinner harnesses with blades.
All these options enable the angler to fish slow or fast, with subtleness or vibration with flash. You can fish shallow or deep. Through this entire spectrum, bottom bouncers are forgiving in that you can slide out into deeper water or move up shallow and keep your presentation near the bottom if need be. You can also simply put the rod in the rod holder and the rod simply loads up with a fish. Bottom bouncers are so simple to use and so effective. I have often joked that bottom bouncers are a guide’s best friend because you can catch a lot of walleye with a bottom bouncer regardless of experience or feel. Last, bottom bouncers are simply fun. Feeling a hard strike on a bottom bouncer and setting the hook is right up with catching a fish on a jig.
Bottom bouncers can also help you really learn what you are fishing. Great tools for really fine-tuning bottom transitions and feeling rock, gravel, etc. which ultimately greatly aids your boat control and understanding of a location, the wire on a bottom bouncer transmits so much valuable information.
As a rule of thumb, we recommend an ounce of weight for every ten feet of water. Choosing the right weight is important so that you can keep the bottom bouncer along the bottom upright and close to the boat. There are exceptions of course, there are times when we will run lighter bottom bouncers behind the boat at faster speeds particularly along shallow flats but this is the basic starting point. An ounce for every ten feet of water will enable you to easily fish the bottom bouncer below the boat at about a forty-five-degree angle. This keeps your presentation close to what you are seeing on your electronics. As you change depths, you can always let out more line or pick up line. Usually, if there is any doubt, error on the side of heavy because heavier bottom bouncers are much more forgiving with not only depth but speed. Often, we simply catch more fish with bottom bouncers by simply speeding up to cover water to find active fish and triggering fish.
Since I do like to run bottom bouncers at faster speeds, I am also a big believer in using heavier snells. This is not a case for finesse. If I must fish slow with light line, I often prefer to slip bobber or live bait rig. Heavier snells hold up to faster speeds so much better. If your snell or harness is getting twisted, you are using too light of poundage on your snell. I find that fourteen or even twenty-pound snells track behind the bottom bouncer much better at the faster speeds and enable you to use speed to find and trigger fish. Snell length can really vary. Most spinners are tied with a five to six-foot snell but I often prefer to use a shorter three-foot snell when fishing around weeds or using slow death style hooks. Of course, there are exceptions. Long eight to twelve-foot snells can be deadly in clear water or over a real soft bottom. When dealing with clear water or high numbers of incidental pike, I often tie snells with Fluorocarbon and offset the sinking characteristics of fluorocarbon by using a float in the snell or spinner harness.
Perhaps one of the hottest trends we are seeing in our travels is the popularity of subtle harnesses that include small metal props, mylar blades like Mack Blades or plastic props like Northland Fishing Tackle Butterfly and Wingnut Blades. These blade options are more subtle than a traditional metal spinner blade and turn at much slower speeds which is deadly whenever you must turn the boat a lot to stay on structure.
In clear water, using a simple plain snell is extremely deadly and is underrated at times. From the basic simple snell that has a single hook, you can experiment by adding a single bead or a handful of beads and a float. The next step with vibration is the prop options described above and of course classic spinner harness rigs are a solid option when more vibration and flash is needed. I personally like to lean heavily on spinner harnesses whenever the water is dirty or stained either from wind, water color or algae blooms. Spinner harnesses can also shine when the fish are extremely aggressive as a turning blade can be seen and felt from much further away. On most inland lakes, deep cup Colorado blades have long been the most popular and offer the most thump or vibration at the slowest speeds. Indiana blades shine at slightly faster speeds of over a mile and a half per hour and willow leaf blades shine over open water and fast speeds but put off noticeably less vibration.
As water temperatures climb through the summer, speed is your biggest trigger especially when using bottom bouncers and snells. If we are missing fish, we often find that we improve our batting average by simply speeding up. There is often no need to drop the rod back or feed line, simply drag the fish and let them choke up on the bait. When the water temperatures are over seventy degrees, we often see the fish grab on to the bait and as the bait keeps moving, the fish simply do not want the bait to get out of their mouth. When the rod loads from a fish, simply drag the fish until the rod starts to load even more and as you feel the fish shake, set the hook with a sweep of the rod or use the momentum of the boat to hook the fish… this is why a rod holder will often out fish you holding the rod in the summer when you are using bottom bouncers.
Bottom bouncers and spinner harnesses can be run with no live bait as well which can be extremely deadly at times. Gulp! crawlers and minnows or traditional soft plastic fluke and worm profiles are much more durable than live bait and really shine around weeds or small nuisance fish. I often find that I can catch bigger walleye by ditching the live bait options and using soft plastics. One of my favorite tricks for improving the size of walleye I catch with harnesses is using soft plastic or Gulp! behind a harness and hooking the soft bait with a two hook harness so the bait is warped or curved like a banana. These curved soft baits zig zag and swim through the water at over a mile and a half per hour and really seem to trigger the larger fish and the added movement seems to keep the smaller fish from being able to get their mouths around the bait.
For rods and reels, I prefer to use a baitcasting set up. I personally like to use a stiffer seven-foot medium heavy bait casting rod as the stiffer rod loads up and pops the bottom bouncer through rocks and snags much better especially if you have the rods in the rod holders. Stiffer rods are also needed to hook up fish at slower speeds below the boat. Scheels currently has a perfect bottom bouncer rod in their Walleye Series that is a seven-foot casting rod in a medium heavy action. For holding the rod, nothing beats a good baitcasting reel with a flipping switch which are getting harder to find. Quantum still makes a reel with a flipping switch called the Accurist PT. For running bottom bouncers in rod holders or when guiding, Scheels has an exclusive low-profile line counter reel that is incredible for keeping bottom bouncing simple and easy.
Bottom bouncer rigs are so incredibly effective on so many fisheries right now. In fact, if I could only use one presentation alone during the month of July, it would be hard to beat a bottom bouncer teamed up with either a spinner harness or some type of rig. You can slow down a bottom bouncer and fish a plain snell with live bait for example if the bite gets tough after a front or in the middle of the day when there is no wind. You can trigger fish with speed and harnesses or go with more subtle hybrid rigs like Butterfly Blades and cover a lot of water on the other end of the spectrum. Bottom bouncers shine around rock, gravel and sand. Bottom bouncers are one of my favorite presentations for running weed line edges as the bottom bouncer serves as a large weed guard collecting a lot of the weeds while the harness runs clean behind. There are few tools that will help you catch more walleye right now under so many different conditions.