Look up the definition of “fickle” and you’ll find: likely to change, especially due to caprice, irresolution, or instability; casually changeable. And this makes that one word the perfect depiction for walleyes.
Despite their pickiness, walleyes are still a top species targeted by anglers. While they’re popular due to their superiority on the dinner table, it might be that very fickle personality that also keeps this species on the radar: it becomes a personal vendetta against a species that so often leaves folks with empty livewells.
Covering the Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) tournaments for several years, I learned countless tips and tricks from the top ’eye anglers in the world. And overall, it was rarely a specific bait that put them on the podium, but rather the tiny nuances that made their lures or live bait do what it did best. Oftentimes, it was a particular type of fishing line that was key.
But fluorocarbon wasn’t brought to the forefront until the later years of the tournament trail.
Was it such a secret that anglers weren’t willing to give up the ghost about this specialty line? Were some of the best walleye anglers on the water unfamiliar with fluorocarbon? Looking back, I say it was a little of both.
What’s up with fluoro?
Walleye anglers quickly realize that a fluorocarbon leader is nothing like monofilament. Although it may look similar on a spool, it’s make up is much different.
Fluorocarbon is denser than monofilament; has less stretch; and obtains a near suspending property in the water, versus floating. This permits baits to be more easily located in different parts of the water column. And mere inches matter when it comes to catching fickle fish.
This means a crawler, leech or minnow fished on a live-bait rig can be fished with more precision.
Are the ’eyes bellied on bottom and refusing to budge? Fluorocarbon can put bait in a walleye’s face with precision. If fish are slightly off bottom, floating beads can be slid on and pegged near the hook to raise the bait up. Did the fish move up even higher? Just lengthen the leader, add more floats, and up it goes.
Today’s fluorocarbon is extremely abrasion-resistant, too, which allows live bait rigs and spinners (aka: crawler harnesses) to rumble over rocks, wood and zebra and quagga mussels with less fear of line nicks and lost fish.
According to Walleye Pro Mark Brumbaugh, it’s fluorocarbon’s durability that is the key when fishing hand-tied spinner rigs.
“Fluorocarbon’s tough; I use it for hand-tying my spinners whether I’m trolling them high in the water column behind in-line planer boards or with bottom-bouncers,” the Arcanum, Ohio, pro claims. “And the low-stretch properties make for better hook sets.”
So why does Brumbaugh want so much abrasion resistance when he’s fishing these rigs up high? Because just the rotation of the blade and clevis alone will eventually erode any line, and fluorocarbon lasts longer. Overall, he ties his harnesses with three number-2 single hooks on 17- to 20-pound-test fluoro, and uses quick-change clevises so he can exchange blades to a different size or color in a pinch.
When using bladebaits, too, Brumbaugh uses a fluoro leader. His preference is to pitch these heavy-weight lures along rock walls and pylons, which are frequently coated with mussels. And he ties the leader directly to braided superline with either a blood knot or uni-to-uni rather than using a swivel for a cleaner, lower-profile presentation.
The ups and downs
Fluorocarbon’s density makes it work wonders when fishing with vertical presentations.
Don’t like tying a jig directly to brightly-colored superline when fishing clear water? A 3-foot section of fluorocarbon leader will boost your confidence. And no leader works better for slip-bobber fishing than one made of fluorocarbon. The line is thinner than monofilament, which allows live bait to dance its wildest, and its ultra-clear look won’t have a lethargic walleye studying your bait too long before it decides to suck it up.
One thing I’ll personally be testing as summer turns to fall is casting suspending bodybaits into shallow water after dark with fluorocarbon. In general, walleye anglers tend to use superline when casting these baits and giving them a jerk-and-long-pause retrieve. After all, bass professionals have been touting fluorocarbon as the line of choice for twitching suspending baits for years now. And since fluorocarbon doesn’t absorb water, it won’t freeze up once fall nights become frosty.
I will admit, however, I have been reluctant to fill my spinning reel spools with fluorocarbon as a main line because of using inferior fluoro in the past, and having trouble with it coming off the reel smoothly and without coiling.
But fluorocarbon’s come a long way when it comes to softness since my last attempt, even in cold weather. So I’m going for it and spooling with the brand that first brought fluorocarbon to the United States back in 1971 — Seaguar — and spooling with Tatsu, which employs two custom, 100% fluorocarbon resins for a double-structured main line. Perfect for when walleyes are in water less than four feet and tend to run into structure. And best of all, it’s supple and casts easily, an essential trait when casting in the darkness.
There’s no doubting walleyes are some of the most fickle creatures with fins. And there’s also no way to get around the fact that walleye pros don’t always give up every little detail when it comes to exactly how they took top honors at a tournament.
While using fluorocarbon to make lures and bait run higher or lower in the water column might be just one trick of the catching trade, it’s one of the most important..
Having trouble catching ’eyes in open water? The answer is clear…fluorocarbon. Better late than never, I say.
– by David Rose