I received a clinic, literally, on catching Great Lakes walleyes and steelhead when I sat in on walleye pro Mark Brumbaugh’s fishing seminar at the Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel show in February. The timing for his scheduled talk wasn’t good for drawing a crowd; Brumbaugh’s was the first talk of the day, a Sunday to boot, when many folks are prone to sleep in a bit or attend church before heading to the local sport show. And the weather wasn’t helping either.
As a fishing seminar leader myself, I know the feeling when seats are empty at show time, and how “salting” a crowd with a few warm bodies can help draw more. I sat down in the second row, front and center to the walleye pro, figuring I’d remain until a few more folks showed up and he’d have an audience to speak to. After all, I’m a veteran Lake Erie walleye angler and have witnessed dozens of such talks over the years. Or just parts of them, which I now regret.
Forty minutes later I was still in my seat, craning forward to see how Brumbaugh ties his Mayfly “Weapon” rig for drift-and-casting on spinning rigs. He recommended spooling reels with Tracer Yellow-color Fireline for visibility and Berkley Trilene XT in 17- or 20-pound test for the leaders. That came after a detailed treatise on rods and reels and lines for Great Lakes trolling and casting. By that time he had drawn a sparse but avid crowd of anglers soaking up each tidbit of info this veteran Great Lakes fishing pro was revealing. Some were taking written notes while others in the audience recorded the presentation on their cell phones.
Looking back on his presentation, here is a smattering of what I came away with. For trolling, Brumbaugh spools his line-counter baitcasting reels with monofilament almost exclusively, XT in 10-pound test for a main line and 17- to 20-pound test for leaders. He appreciates the stretch the mono line offers, which Brumbaugh believes helps with the presentation of his baits and the landing process from hook-up through getting the netted fish onto the deck. He will use fluorocarbon line as a leader in clear water conditions and super-braids at times when trolling and casting, but that is the exception. Brumbaugh’s trolling rods are medium-action 8-footers and he casts with the same action rods in 6- to 7-foot lengths.
To get trolled baits down to the fish he uses an Off Shore Tackle Pro Guppy in-line weight, from half to 3 ounces, which he attaches to his main line with a snap off the nose and a snap on the tail, which trails a 6-foot leader attached to a crawler harness with a barrel swivel. He also uses bottom bouncers of various weights, often as a flat-line rig, which he drops down to the bottom and releases line a little at a time until he can feel the bouncers “leg” ticking the bottom occasionally, with the line as close to a 45-degree angle off the transom as possible.
Brumbaugh uses in-line planer boards, and prefers Off Shore boards fitted with tattle-tale flags and Snapper Adjustable Tension releases, which can be set for use with mono and braided lines.
His trolling speed ranges anywhere from sub-1 to 3 mph, depending on the conditions, and he says he has worn the paint off his bow-mounted motor’s remote steering control.
“My boat’s path looks like a drunken sailor is at the wheel,” Brumbaugh joked during his presentation, regarding his near constant direction changes. “Walleye follow baits more than most people realize. Sometimes that change in direction and lure speed is all that’s needed to trigger a strike.”
In fact, the only time you’ll see Brumbaugh’s Lund trolling in a straight line is when he’s pulling Dipsy-Diver planers on Spiderwire braid, which range far and wide underwater and are prone to tangling during even small directional changes.
Brumbaugh said crankbaits are very effective on walleye, but that day in and day out more fish can be fooled by live bait – night crawlers in particular. He ties his own three-hook crawler harnesses using mono, which he fits with beads to add color and keep the blades from hitting the upper hooks. Those blades are in a variety of colors and commonly “Colorado” in shape, but he will go to the more oval “Indiana” or slim “Willow” style blades, respectively, when the walleye pro needs to troll faster to trigger a strike. Quick-change clevis pins makes switching blades fast and easy.
No matter the method Brumbaugh is prepared to use on a given day on the Great Lakes, he doesn’t stop to wet a line until he has discovered gamefish below, using his fishfinder. He has the transducer of his Lowrance sonar precisely set to allow him to cruise at speeds up to 30 mph and show hooks of fish in the depths below his boat.
“Most folks don’t use their electronics enough before stopping to fish,” Brumbaugh said, adding, “Not that locating walleyes is going to be a problem in the next several seasons, at least on Lake Erie. The walleye hatches that lake has produced in the past few seasons make these the good old days fishermen will be talking about for decades!”
Captain Spotlight: Master Captain Rich Tack of R&S Charters
Rich Tack captains a 31-foot Baha Cruiser christened Busch Whacker out of Oscoda, Mich., to ply the waters of Lake Huron. The J&S Charter base is actually on the world-famous Ausable River a few miles up from the Great Lake where all the tackle is provided. Salmon and trout are the primary targets and trips can be booked for full- or half-day fishing charters aboard one of my favorite Great Lakes fishing boat brands. What’s more, the family-owned angling operation has its own line of tackle (www.rscharters.com) and donates a full-day charter annually to the 500-plus member Michigan Charter Boat Association as a fundraiser and to get folks hooked on fishing the Great Lakes.