2012 Maumee River Walleye Run – Gearing Up

You have spent the week scouring your possible honey holes to make certain you can get in and out safely after you have limited. Now, it’s time to make certain that you have the appropriate gear, to haul in your limits.

I will point this out right off the git-go, I do not have reels, I have precision casting instruments!…all right, okay, they’re reels. There are many types of reels available on the market today: 1. Spinning 2. Baitcast (low profile & round). 3. Spincast. 4. Levelwind. 5. Line Counter. 6. Fly. 7. Centerpin. These are the ones that I am most familiar with.

The ones that you will probably use most often for the Maumee River Walleye Run are spinning, baitcast, spincast or fly. A few terms that you are going to want to be familiar with when seeking out your own precision casting instruments are: Front drag, Rear drag, Drag pounds, Ball bearings, Gear Ratio, and Line capacity.

Spinning reels are made in a very wide array of sizes. Each manufacturer will use a different method and verbiage for its sizes. Pflueger uses a 20-50 size range for their spinning reels. The letters before and after are usually only to depict the model, for example, the President, Trion, Supreme and Patriarch.

The 20 sizes are going to be the smallest, usually considered micro-light or ultra-light. A 50 size is going to be a very large spool and typically will offer more drag pounds than its smaller counterparts. Shimano’s sizing system is currently 500-8000. Again, the letters before depict model. Letters at the rear, typically, will depict if the reel is front or rear drag. Shimano offers either/or with the Spirex line or the Symetre line. You would be safe with a 30 or 3000 size, depending on which manufacturer you choose.

Ball bearings are a very integral part of what makes a good reel or what makes a great reel. The amount of ball bearings that a manufacturer uses, in the construction of their reel, is going to determine how smooth your reel is going to retrieve, when you are hooked into a fish. It is typical theory that the more bearings a reel has, the smoother it is going to retrieve, or reel in. I have had my hands on hundreds of reels and cannot tell you how absolutely factual this is.

Shimano is one manufacturer, however, that does not follow this thought process. The construction, of most Shimano spinning reels, is superior on many levels, compared to many manufacturers. They use a sealed, treated bearing system, which allows them to utilize fewer bearings, while still providing maximum retrieval smoothness. This sealed and treated system, also aids in making a reel safe to use in salt water conditions.

Shimano is responsible for many amazing reels available on the market today. They offer such a large variety of reels that there is no way that I would be able to list them all and keep your attention…what was I saying?? Seriously though, Shimano offers some of the best values for the money. They offer reels that range in price from $12.99 – $700.00 with each giving its owner a plethora of adjectives to describe its precision.

I am going to talk about a couple of their lower end spinning reels though, because like I said, I am not interested in spending ALL the money to get quality. My absolute favorite is the Shimano Sahara. This reel is a power house. At $79.99, the Sahara gives you the Shimano Line Propulsion Management System. This system is newer technology, which sole purpose is to aid your line in coming off the spool better. The easier your line exits the spool, the further casting distance you will get, and the happier you will be. You will encounter far fewer line twist and tangles.

There are other manufacturers with excellent reel technology, including Pflueger and Abu Garcia. Many big box retailers also offer their “line of reels.” Do not be fooled by their name on the product though, they don’t actually produce their own reels, rods or lures for that matter. They tend to have other manufacturers produce them. General rule of thumb, whoever produces them the least expensive, gets the contract.

The Pflueger manufacturer offers two very affordable reels, which are a huge value for the money. The President as well as the lower end Trion. The Pflueger President will cost around $59.99. With its ten bearings, solid, lightweight graphite frame and variety of spool sizes, a including a micro-light, the Pflueger President has everything you could want from a reel. This is one of the lines that I sold the most of when I was working at Bass Pro. I have also personally used this reel and really enjoyed all of its benefits. The lower end Pflueger Trion, is nothing to turn your nose up at. This line offers you a 7 bearing system as well as a variety of spool sizes. Quite a little power house at its meager $39.99 price tag.

The line capacity of a reel is a guideline, usually printed on the spool, or at the very least on the box or packaging that the reel came in. It refers to the amount of line that the spool can and should hold. Unless the reel is specifically designed for braided, super lines, the capacities given are more often than not, for monofilament lines. We will talk about different lines a bit later on. The amount of line that a spool can hold is important for a couple of reasons. First, there are some fish that “run.” By run, I mean swim away from you very fast! When this happens, line is being taken off of your spool. If you do not have enough line on your spool, this could be a problem. Salmon and Steelhead come to mind for fresh water fish that have a tendency to run.

Another reason to make sure that you have a spool, with enough line capacity, is that you are going to lose a lot of line. The bottom of the river is very rocky with snags, some natural and others created by other fishermen that have lost their rigs. Unless you have a spare spool ready to go; which is honestly something to consider, once your line is gone from your active set up, your options are to either quit fishing for the day or sit on the bank and re-spool. Coming down to the river prepared can make your experience so much more enjoyable.

The larger a reel, the more line it must have to fill it properly. Smaller reels will hold less. In the case of reels, size DOES matter. You would never want to take an ultra light reel out to fish for salmon or other large species. It just won’t perform the way you want it to. The main and most typical failure would be the drag, thus burning out the gears.

A reel’s gear ratio, 7.1:1, for example, determines how many inches of line, per crank you will retrieve. The lower the number, the slower you will retrieve line and the higher the number, the faster you will retrieve line. Spinning reels tend to have a median range of ratio’s available, maxing out right around 6.2:1. Baitcast reels offer the widest variety of ratios available, and range from 4:1 to the fastest at 7.3:1.

The higher gear ratios are called “burners.” Because they retrieve so fast that your lures “burn” through the water. There are many different applications that each different ratio is suited for. However, unless you intend on becoming a professional angler, you will never need to concern yourself too much on what gear ratio your reel is. What I would recommend, as you begin, is to choose one that is a middle of the road speed. This will give you the most versatility. It is not bad to maintain a middle of the road retrieval speed while down at the Maumee River Walleye Run.

A spincast reel is one which has a push button line release. It also fully encloses the line spool. There are very few manufacturers that are using metal gears in these reels anymore. Most are utilizing nylons and plastics. These are not my favorite type of reel and if I could rid the world of them, I would. Well, maybe not the world, because they are designed to be very easy to use. This becomes important when you are taking children out to fish.

This style of reel is absolutely the most simplistic reel designed. You simply push and hold the button with your thumb, bring the rod back above your shoulder and as you start to go forward, release only your thumb from the button. If you are concerned about letting the whole pole go, trust me I have seen it happen, there are rod floats available at most sporting good stores. Spincast reels are also effective for just holding the rod over the side of the boat and dropping your lure down.

The downfall, of the spincast style reel, is with them enclosing the line spool, if you do get a tangle inside there, you have to take the entire reel apart to get to it. If you’re like me, you want as few “loose parts” near the water as possible. Another thing about spincast reels is that they are just not designed to last anymore. My customers were replacing their spincast reels at least every season, if not more often. Like I said before, I am not interested in continuing to invest in something. I want products that are going to last. I want a reel that is designed to do what I need and want it to do. And finally, the drag system on a spincast reel simply falls short. From your microcasts to larger “cat fishing” spincasts, the drag system will be less substantial when comparing to a spinning or baitcasting reel.

Baitcasters are designed to be precision casting reels. Their construction will allow you to cast further, as well as, get dead on accuracy. Unlike its spinning reel counterpart, the line on a Baitcast reel comes straight off of the top of their reel, while the line on a spinning real comes off in coils. Once you become proficient with a baitcast a reel you can cast it a country mile. They are, however, a little more involved to learn. I would personally never discourage someone from trying to learn how to use a baitcast reel. There are just some times when we need all of the distance we can get.

This brings me to line choices. They are many and they all have different fishing applications. The most common line is monofilament. This is a single fiber of plastic. It is the least expensive not only to produce but to purchase as well. Monofilament offers a variety of diameters and tensile strengths. It is also available in a multitude of colors such as, blue, hi vis yellow, lo vis green, white, clear, orange & fluorescent.

There are also braided lines, fused lines, co-polymer and fluorocarbon to name a few. Braided lines and fused lines are designed to offer anglers a heavier test pound with a smaller diameter, thus allowing you to use much lighter weight gear. Braided and fused lines can be quite pricey. The benefits, however, you will quickly find, outnumber the cost. The strength and abrasion resistance these two types of lines offer are unrivaled by their plastic or nylon counterparts. These two types of line have no stretch, as you will find in monofilament, and other co-polymers. This characteristic offers anglers unprecedented sensitivity. These characteristics, when you are fishing down on the Maumee River, can make or break your day.

During the Maumee River Walleye Run, my idea of perfect line combination is 10 lb monofilament with an 8 lb fluorocarbon leader. I’ll get to the specifics of rigs in a soon to come article. I feel like I get the greatest amount of sensitivity and durability with this combination. While Monofilament is a more buoyant line, fluorocarbon is much denser, less visible and will sink. In the raging spring Maumee River current, that extra density can help put and keep you in the strike zone.

I am compelled to share with you, my personal opinion, regarding braids and fused lines during the walleye run. I am not a fan. The strength of the braids and fused lines, some of you guys are using a little over kill with 20 & 30 lb test will make certain that when you get snagged up, you are going to end up leaving that line stuck to a rock on the river bottom. That line that you cut, be it 5 ft or 10 yards, is going to do nothing but create huge snags, for the rest of us. At least with monofilament and fluorocarbon, you have a shot at breaking out of it. Yes, I know that you’re getting more sensitivity with the braids & fused lines, and I understand that you want to fill your freezer. I guess all that I’m asking, is that you remain conscientious of what’s happening when you lose your line.

The last thing that I am going to cover in this article will be rods. There are yet as many different rods as there are reels and line. Each designed with specific fishing applications in mind. One thing to remember about rods, you can always pull a smaller fish in with a heavier duty rod….but pulling in the big ones on a lighter weight rod takes patience.

There are graphite blanks, carbon blanks, fiberglass blanks, boron blanks and variations of these materials galore. Your more common are graphite blanks. These have been the material to use for many years, until carbon started being used. Both offer super light weighted blanks with mind-blowing sensitivity. I joke with some of my clients that some of the rods are sensitive enough that you can feel if the fish has a booger!

The amount of graphite that is in a rod blank will determine its sensitivity and weight. The more graphite that a rod contains; the lighter weight and more sensitive it will be. Be wary however, this also means it will be a whole lot more brittle and definitely not a rod to choose, if you’re the angler that horses fish up and out. A good general amount would be right around 60 million modulus of graphite, which would be equivalent to right around an IM-10 blank (Intermediate Modulus)

Rods come in a variety of lengths as well. You have your small 24″ rods for Ice fishing all the way up to 20′ rods for crappie fishing. Down at the Maumee during the run, I personally use a 7’6″ length rod, but would prefer to step up to an 8’0-8’6″. Why you ask? Casting distance. Since I fish from shore, or wade out from shore, distance is the name of the game. I am not a big fan of heading out to the center of the river with the packs. I think it’s dangerous. The longer rods, offer the casting distance that I need, to get to where the fish are. If you’re one of the anglers out in the boat packs, you’re definitely not going to want a longer rod.

When you are talking about the rods power, Ultra-light, light, medium light, medium, medium heavy, heavy, extra heavy, what you are referring to, is how much pressure it takes for the rod to bend or flex. Different rod powers, are also designed, to handle different lure weights. This becomes very important as you are choosing which species of fish to target. You wouldn’t use an ultra-light powered rod to fish for sharks just as you wouldn’t use an extra heavy powered rod to fish for blue gill.

Rods also have what is known as “action.” The typical actions available are slow, moderate, moderate fast, fast, and extra fast. This is determined by where the rod bends or flexes. Where a rod flexes is going to be determined by the blanks material and its taper. A rod with a faster action is designed to flex closer to the tip and the slower action rods are going to bend more toward the butt or handle of the rod. Without getting too technical and losing you to the information highway, choosing which action of rod is a matter of personal preference. You will know when a rod feels right during the application you are using it for. Typically the rods that I choose and use down on the Maumee for the walleye run are medium power, fast action. They feel good in my hands and feel right bringing in the eyes.

Some of the best rods that I have used are St. Croix products. There are a number of reasons, including technology, price, quality and warranty that I feel make them one of the leading rod manufacturers. They offer an extensive line of products and have rod designs for just about every application imaginable. One of the best things about a St. Croix rod though is, many of them are still made here in the U.S.. That in its self is reason enough to put one in your hands. St. Croix is also very customer service oriented. I have never had a bad encounter with them after I have purchased a product from them. Sometimes that after the sale service, makes the extra few dollars spent, well worth it.

With all of this being mentioned, I will tell you, that you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars, to catch fish. There are a great many rods the you can still purchase for under $30.00. The most durable of these rods are the Shakespeare Ugly Stik. Yes this is really the name. These rods can definitely take a beating like no other. The only downfall, when comparing them to say, a St. Croix, is they lack that sensitivity.

I often ask clients if they want or need durability or sensitivity. The response definitely varies. There are some anglers that know that they’re rough on their gear and choose durability. Using something such as an Ugly Stik also gives you a little more variety with one rod. What I mean by this is that I could use a much lighter powered Ugly Stick, for something that I would have to use a heavier powered St. Croix for. In terms of species, I could get away with a light powered Ugly Stik fishing for walleye down on the Maumee, where as with a graphite blank rod, I would definitely want a medium or higher power.

Make no mistakes, how you use the rod is just as important, as what power and action you choose. There is no rod immune to snapping in two, or sometimes a few pieces. You can take precautions with your fishing techniques to get the longevity of life from your gear that it deserves. One common mistake that I see being made at the run is hook set. I see so many of you yanking up so hard that if you did have a fish on you probably just ripped its lips off. The misfortune to this behavior, my guess is that 98% of the time, you just set your hook on a rock fish or a snag fish. Both can be fatal to your gear. If you let the rods power and action do most of the work on hook set, you will break a whole lot fewer good rods and have many more successful hook sets.

I think you now have an understanding that you are going to need a reel, line and a rod to head down to the raging Maumee River this spring. In the last article of this series, I will draw this all together for you and give you the tips and techniques that you have been waiting for. I will do my best to make certain you know exactly what gear you need and I will cover casting techniques, color selection, rigs & knots.