An 'eye-catching display'
Veteran guide Lynn Niklasch takes precision trolling for huge walleyes to a level most casual anglers can't even comprehend. But meticulous attention to detail has rewards: 40 Wisconsin walleyes longer than 30 inches in just the last six weeks.
Niklasch has worked the waters of Door County every August and early September for the past dozen years, probing every hump and bump on Green Bay from Henderson Point south of Sturgeon Bay clear up to Gill's Rock.
Offshore structures north of Egg Harbor hold more walleyes above the trophy threshold of 30 inches than waters further south, but putting a hook which a gigantic 'eye finds irresistible in the strike zone is much easier than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Most of the time Niklasch attacks these fish with crawler harnesses pulled at precise speed and orientation behind planer boards. Sometimes he trolls Rapala Husky Jerk crankbaits. But most of the time his weapons are a combination of beads and blades which remain in the rod box of his big Ranger until it's time to deploy the MinnKota and get serious about fishing.
Niklasch likes to set three lines on each side of the boat. Planer boards allow him to cover a swath about 175 feet wide with every trolling pass near specific sub-surface structure. Snap weights from ½ to 1 ounce attached 50 feet ahead of the crawler harness before attaching the board 27 to 52 feet ahead of the snap weight enable him to keep these lures mere inches off the bottom without snagging up.
It takes almost 20 years for a walleye to grow to 30 inches long and to a weight of approximately 10 pounds. Fish with this kind of survival savvy aren't prone to making mistakes or wasting energy chasing down food.
This is one reason Niklasch deploys his MinnKota electric motor instead of using a small outboard kicker motor most walleye anglers use to chase walleyes in a trolling presentation. He always trolls with the wind at 1.4-1.8 mph.
Boat control is key in getting a bite. The wind seldom cooperates in allowing Niklasch to drag his lures precisely along preferred depth contours. Since Niklasch's arms are too short to box with God, he sets rods in specific order and depends of the trolling motor to tack and crab just over the rocky rubble bottom and prays that his efforts will fool a big fish.
Niklasch has hundreds of waypoints plugged into the GPS on his boat. Until just last week wind speed and direction were the two biggest factors determining which reef this guide would probe at a certain time of day.
Lately, water temperature has also become a major consideration. Niklasch checks his smartphone several times each day to find the warmest water in the inland sea that is Green Bay.
This guide uses 10-pound test fluorocarbon line on 8½ foot trolling rods equipped with line counter reels. A small barrel swivel exactly 6 feet in front of the spinner rig minimizes line twist.
The color, number and geometric characteristics of the beads are designed to mimic the forage base of walleyes at different depths in the water column. Aquamarine and crystal beads are on shallower rigs to mimic shiner minnows. Deeper lines have green and brown beads to look like gobies, an invasive baitfish which is drastically changing the ecosystem in Green Bay.
Niklasch also considers blade size and style extremely important in his spinner rig configurations. He uses both Colorado and willow leaf blades on his rigs, but would not disclose details on blade size or color.
Does trolling really require all this attention to detail? Only if sliding the landing net under a trophy walleye on an almost-daily basis is near the top of your hierarchy of needs.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.