As our lakes warm up, using Bottom Bouncers and Carolina Rigs on Bull Shoals and Lake Norfork should be a part of your regular walleye fishing routine. Our thermocline will begin setting up any time, and the fish are relating to the old shoreline, that being between 25-32 feet of water. Both rigs are very productive methods for pulling harnesses using nightcrawlers, leeches and even minnows.
If you are new to bottom bouncing, it’s not that difficult. But you will need to keep a few things in mind to be successful.
This trolling technique involves a special weight (bottom bouncer) with a spinner blade and crawler harness trailing behind. The spinner blades create flash and vibration that gets the walleye's attention, and the addition of live bait like nightcrawlers or minnows gives off a scent that gets the walleye to bite.
The typical bottom bouncer is a weight attached to a piece of wire bent at a 90-degree angle. The bottom bouncer keeps the rig down near the bottom without getting snagged on rocks and bottom structure. It’s important to understand that just because it called a bottom bouncer, it's not designed to pull across the bottom. The bottom bouncer has a wire sticking out the bottom, which is designed to be a gauge, allowing you to drop the rig down until you feel the bottom, then crank your reel a couple of times. This will keep your harness close to the bottom. And when fishing in lakes where the bottom varies, you will need to recheck the bouncer to ensure it's not dragging the bottom, and you need to make sure it's not too high in the water column. You will want to get your boat to the correct speed, then slowly let line out watching your crawler harness making sure it's rotating correctly, then slowly allow the entire rig to sink until you feel the bottom. You will normally hold the rod while trolling bouncers, especially if you are new to this fishing method.
Bottom bouncers are available in several weights and styles. The most common style is the traditional wire arm. But some anglers (me included) use the pencil style. One really isn’t better than the other, it’s just personal preference. If you are new to this trolling method, I’d recommend using the wire arm style. They are very common in our local tackle shops too.
Bouncers are available in several weights, but you will most likely be using a 2.5-3 oz weight. The deeper you are fishing, the more weight you will need. A 2.5 and 3 oz weight will get your harness down to the 25ft to 35 ft depth at .7 mph, which is where the thermocline usually will occur.
Boat control will be a huge part of your trolling success. Bouncers are typically trolled at between .7-1.2 mph. A good way to know if you are pulling the bouncer at the correct speed is to watch your line. Your goal is to see the fishing line at a 45-degree angle. (See below image) You will need to adjust your speed or change up weights if needed to get this angle, but to be successful, you will need to get this correct.
When I first started visiting this area back in 2009, I hired a guide to take us fishing on Bull Shoals. The only tackle he used was a crawler harness, ¼ oz egg sinker, and a glass bead. The hook was a sudden death #2. Nothing fancy, but we caught lots of fish using this “Carolina Rig” trolling method. Ed Druml explained in our May meeting that he uses this method often, and sometimes just uses a split shot and worm. Sometimes simple is better 😊.
Fred Gordon gave me a really good tip a few years ago that I continue to use today. Once you feel confident trolling the bottom bouncer, you can use a dead stick to pull bouncers. Fred explained that he always uses a line counter reel with a dead stick bottom bouncer set-up. He gets the bouncer to the correct depth then cranks it up about 5 turns which makes it run a little higher than normal, but he places the reel in a rod holder. When he sees a bite on the dead stick rod, while leaving the reel in the holder, he gives the reel a quick 4-5 cranks which sets the hook and gives him a little time to bring his other lines in. You can watch Fred's bottom bouncing video at the bottom of this page,
Funny thing is I’ve caught just a many good fish on my dead sticks as I have holding my rods...
Go practice this trolling method, it will put walleye in your boat!