Columbia River Walleye Fishing
HOW TO CATCH COLUMBIA RIVER WALLEYE: CRAWLER HARNESS 101
Crawler Harnesses: Walleye Magnets
Want to know how to catch Columbia River walleye, learn our easy Crawler Harness techniques and put more fish in the boat. If I had to choose just one bait and one bait only, there is no doubt, it would be the crawler harness. Reason is, they are extremely effective in a variety of waters, depths and versatile walleye catching machines. I’ve been super fortunate to fish all over the country in prime walleye fisheries. The Great Lakes is considered the walleye capital of the world and guess what. Crawler harness fishing is epic. The Columbia river is also considered trophy waters and offers walleye anglers awesome fishing opportunities. The most important key I’ve noticed, crawler harness fishing works year around. My other takeaway is the versatility if offers in a variety of water conditions. Let’s talk some crawler harness 101.
The Crawler Harness:
Talk about having some options. There are tons and tons of crawler harness choices on the market. Blade size and color, hook style, bead patterns and line length will all be decisions you’ll have to make. For most all situations, purchase a double hook harness and pick a blade color that best mimics bait. I personally tie my own rigs for a couple good reasons. Most important, I know who the tier is and use selective components that works for me. Second reason is, I choose my favorite line, leader length, bead patterns and blade colors to match the hatch.
Favorite Columbia River Harness
My crawler harness starts with a 5 ft. fluorocarbon leader in 15 lb. test. Why is that, Fluorocarbon line is more abrasion resistant and virtually invisible for leader shy fish. I also believe my beads and blades function more efficient on fluorocarbon. I typically use a little heavier line for the walleye’s sharp teeth.
Harness Blades: Match the Hatch
Because we are a fishing guide service, we have lots of opportunities to fish a variety of blades. As an example, the left side of the boat might be fishing smile blades while the right side fishes Colorado blades. I like to use a clevis which gives me the ability to change out quickly. Think smaller blade size in clear cold water and larger profiles in stained conditions. Water temp and color plays a big role in making decisions. My personal favorite is a chartreuse smile blade for the Columbia river. I also really like purple and silver. When choosing bead colors, think about matching the hatch. What is the most prominent bait fish? Again, think about the conditions and time of year.
Double Hook Set-Up
The only time I will fish a single hook is when fishing a death hook rigging. All my crawler harness set-ups are tied with two Gamakatsu hooks. I use the octopus style hook in #2 and #4 and personally, like the red color. Make sure you keep about a 1.5” to 2” inches a part to allow the crawler to run straight. Keeping some distance between hooks also creates better hook-ups. As for the death hook set-up, it fishes really well with a crawler and one bead. When fishing Potholes Reservoir, the death hook and crawler with no bead can be deadly. Experiment and find what will work best for you.
Rod and Reel
Just about any rod will work for pulling worm harnesses. Our rod sponsor thinks we have the best set up and will happily share our gear list. In our opinion, the perfect rod is medium to fast action, medium weight bait casting stick. We use the Edge 881 8-15 lb. that is versatile enough to pull cranks. The rod is super sensitive and has plenty of backbone for bigger fish. There are times we fish deeper water and heavier bottom bouncers which is never a problem for the 881. As for the reel, line counters are crucial for maintaining contact with the bottom. The low-profile, Diawa Lexa 100 is the perfect match for our Edge rod. The bait-caster offers many advantages over spinning reels, mainly spool control.
The Columbia River Bottom Walker
The Columbia River requires paying full attention to rod the entire time. The key is to present your crawler harness down into the strike zone. The Columbia has a fluctuating bottom and requires constant tending to those changes. Most of my fishing on the Columbia is done with a 3 oz. bottom bouncer. This weight fishes well in both shallow and deep water. The versatility of being able to change out sizes allows us to adjust when fishing weed-lines, drop-offs, edges, reefs, and flats. One important point is, periodically touch the bottom and keep from dragging the weight. I always know where my bouncer is by watching my rod tip. I always look for that perfect 45, degree angler which also factors into weight choice.
Speed & Rod Angle
My go to speed for pulling crawler harnesses is around .8 – 1.2 mph. River fishing can be tricky, and the Columbia is no different. I always troll down river to establish the desired speed, first and foremost. The second thing to consider is choosing the right weight that maintains a line angle of 45 degrees. I make sure to focus on creating that angle from my line in the water to the end of my rod tip. I really prefer to not drag the weight and keep the bouncer just above the bottom. This also helps to alleviate from getting snagged all the time, when fishing structure. You might have to periodically drop your rod tip back to touch the bottom. Remember, tick not drag.
The Walleye Bite – Nudge
Well, there are those that enjoy the chase, some enjoy the bite, and others it’s about the eats. The truth of the matter is, fishing crawler harnesses produce bites that I refer to as a nudge. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks that help my hook up to land ratio. When a walleye grabs on to the crawler harness, it is not a viscous attack, but more a slow steady pull. Think of the fish actually swimming rather than a violent attack. We like to slowly drop the rod back and sweep forward until the hook is set. Too many anglers grab the rod out of the holder and jerk straight up. When this happens, I will actually let the rod “load up” and accelerate my motor to create positive hook up. There are even times that I won’t clue an angler into a bite. Walleye are finicky so sometimes I’ll back off the gas and let my bait drop. All little tricks of the trade!
Fishing Crawlers on the Columbia
Catching more Columbia River walleye means fishing live crawlers. There are other times and applications where plastics fish, but nothing is better than a live crawler hanging off the back of a hook. Here’s a Pro’s Tip, pinch off the crawler with only a few inches hanging behind the back hook. Reason is, walleye bite lite, and my hooking percentage goes up. The crawler still has excellent action and walleye have a chance to eat the entire worm right down to the hooks. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Whether you are fishing Lake Erie, Detroit River, Lake Michigan, Lake Winnebago or the Columbia River, crawler harnesses are fishing catching magnets. Get out of your comfort zone, learn our crawler harness 101 tips and catch more Columbia River walleye. Most of our fishing around the Tri Cities area, down to the McNary Pool is done by pulling our harness rigs. The Pacific northwest is ideal harness fishing for all our lakes and reservoirs. Our guide service knows that putting more walleye in our nets, means fishing our home-made harness rigs.