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how to catch Walleye on the Columbia River ..... Walleye fishing tips

By Patrick McGann

The Columbia River (Oregon) produces big walleye . . . very big walleye. There's no secret about that anymore. Sizes range into the high teens and anglers come to the Magnificent River from all over North America to tangle with a genuine wallhanger, and just maybe, get their name in "The Book".

Power Dive Minnow
Power Minnow
Power Trolling - Innovation has played a critical role in the relatively new walleye fishery on the Columbia River. The latest tactic, power trolling, is proving to be perhaps the deadliest and most consistent yet for big walleye in the middle stretches of the river. Power trolling is an aggressive strategy, but there is a method to its madness.

Big walleye spend the warmer half of the year prowling the flats close to the bottom or lying in ambush near rocky structure . . . in both cases at 20 to 30 feet for fish over 4 pounds. They use their eyes to locate prey and their speed to overcome it. Target prey are shad and squawfish smolts, sculpins and the occasional salmon, steelhead or trout smolts. Walleye are NOT timid feeders. On the contrary, they are ferocious predators. When they see one of these fast-moving forage fish within their range, they strike with an aggressiveness that rivals ANY game fish!

Hot Lips Express
Hot Lips Express - Trolling Model
Power trolling puts the angler into this aggressive feeding loop by realistically imitating the size, shape, color and behavior of the walleye's targeted food source at the depth range where the biggest walleye are lurking. It requires . . . absolutely . . . the conflicting requirements of a lure that looks and acts like the walleye's natural prey, yet can swim in the right depth range, down to 30 feet.

Four different plugs, manufactured virtually on top of this trophy fishery, meet both requirements perfectly: the Luhr Jensen Power Dive® Minnow, Hot Lips Express®, Deep Secret™ and Rock Walker™. The first two feature the unique Tri-Lobe Power Bill® which delivers incredible diving performance without any sacrifice in lure action. The third has a totally new concept in deep-diving small lure lip design. Its "staged compound booster plate system" gives it unprecedented depth for a small lure. The Rock Walker™ has a highly-reflective brass diving bill that serves as an attractant and can stand up to the rigors of the bottom bouncing that is sometimes demanded. And they all come in the right colors to mimic the walleye's prefered food fish. What these plugs have allowed walleye anglers to do is to troll, without added weight or an added diving aid, right through the regular dining room of the biggest walleye in the river!
Speed Kills - All these baitfish have one thing in common . . . a slender, torpedo-shaped body and absolutely no desire to loiter in walleye-infested waters. They're fast movers, and to imitate them, you have to shuck your natural desire to troll slow. Also be ready to vary your speed somewhat depending on the speed of the river current. Rock Walker lure
Rock Walker
Get Back, Way Back - Let out a lot of line. The Power Dive® Minnow, Hot Lips Express® and Deep Secret™ will reach maximum depth at less than 100 feet of paid out line. Most of the experts now scoring regularly with this tactic are letting out anywhere from 150 to 200 feet of line, sometimes more, usually as much as 170 to 180 feet. The idea at work here is to give the walleye a little room to move back into the trolling lane after your boat's sound and shadow have moved them out.

Work The Boat - Most of the time you'll be heading upstream, but there will be current conditions which will require downstream trolling. For example, upstream trolling may increase line drag and pull your lure line up. Remember, the idea here is depth, lure action and speed.

Cover The Water - The speed aspect of this technique gives you the advantage over the jigger or slow troller when fish are hard to find or scattered. Play the structure. The best is long, stepped cliffs and ledges running up and down the river. There's plenty of that, hundreds of yards if not miles of continuous structure. It's perfect for power trolling. Locate a shelf or ledge with a break point at 20 to 30 feet and troll the length of it, then work the ledge sides on deeper shelves for suspended fish. The volcanic basalt in the Columbia River system contains good structure for walleye.

The other place to troll is in the flats. (While you need sonar to effectively find and mark ledges and shelves, you can use NOAA river charts with some degree of reliability to locate the flats.) The only way to work the flats efficiently is to troll, and because fish are isolated and roaming rather than concentrated and sitting still, power trolling is the most efficient way to troll those areas.

Ripple Tail
Ripple Tail
Fingerling Hi-Catch
Fingerling Hi-Catch
Lure Color and Size - There is still a lot of experimenting going on in this category, but the basic colors settling out are White/Red Head, Silver/Chartreuse Back, Chartreuse/Red Head, Clearwater Flash, Fire Tiger, Purple Tiger and Blue Shad. During the summer you'll see more blue and chartreuse, and in the fall you'll see more reds and oranges because, in addition to being a dynamite tactic on walleye, power trolling also suckers salmon and steelhead.

Beyond the basics above, as long as you stick to the basic blue, chartreuse and silver (and orange and red in late summer and early fall), it's largely angler preference. Lure size isn't as critical. The actual forage fish targeted by this class of walleye are between 5 and 8 inches in length, so anglers can use the 1/4 Hot Lips®, the 6-inch Power Dive® Minnow and the 1/2 Deep Secret™.

When - Walleye can be taken on the Columbia year-round, but power trolling is most effective when they are most active. That's from a week to ten days after the spawn (which is by no means a single, coordinated event. Different fish spawn at different times in different parts of the river, through the summer and into the fall with a cutoff occurring roughly when the water at 20 to 30 feet gradually falls through the 45-degree into the 40-degree range. Generally, the best power trolling conditions exsist from late June through late fall, with the water in the 55-70 degree range.

During the winter when Walleye are not as active, slow trolling, back trolling and drifting with Ripple Tails, Mr. Biggs Walleye Spinners, and Jeweled Bead Spinners work well with a long streamed nightcrawler attached. The bite can be soft, and sometimes mistaken for a bottom hang-up.

Where -Everyone power trolling on the Columbia will say that it will work everywhere. Then why are they only trolling below the dams? Four reasons: 1) these walleye anglers know the tailrace areas best. 2) a stronger current seems to help lure action and currents are stronger below the dams. 3) forage fish are more concentrated below dams (where there's less river) than above. 4) the depth characteristics are more favorable below the dams.
Mr. Biggs Walleye Spinner

So, knowing that, the best areas to power troll are below Bonneville, The Dalles and especially John Day and McNary Dams. Of the four dams, Bonneville is the least favored because of arguably fewer and smaller fish available and less abundant cover. Yet some very nice fish are taken there, gets hit the hardest because it's closest to Portland. The Dalles has more flats than ledges, so it might have an edge for those without sonar. Stay close to the dam and explore the rip rap along the Oregon shoreline.

The John Day Dam doesn't produce the huge fish that McNary doeson the upstream side but it has an excellent average size in the 6 to 10-lb. range for power trollers. It also has some outstanding structure including stepped ledges that go for miles all the way from the deadline right below the dam down past Biggs to and beyond Miller Island off the mouth of the Deschutes River. There is an excellent submerged island on the Oregon side of the main channel, just below the deadline. It give you a good quarter-mile troll along stepped ledges set almost uniformly at 10-ft. increments (but that ledge is probably the hardest hit in the area). McNary is trophy walleye country. It's the most challenging too. Before the dam was erected, there were dozens of small, rocky islands, now submerged. These offer outstanding walleye structure, but require a good hand with a sonar. A troller can spend years and never cover all the good channels and cover there. There are also good, isolated flats. The better water seems to be a little farther below the dam rather than closer to it.


Jeweled Bead Walleye Spinner
Nut and Bolts - To power troll, you'll need a boat that can handle the Columbia. It should be high-sided and relatively powerful, but bass boats work quite well, providing you keep a close eye on the wind, especially in the Columbia River Gorge.
There really is no ideal rod-reel combination, but a stout rod with plenty of hook-setting power is recommended. such as a heavy action steelhead rod. Some use a lighter rod in order to judge lure action by rod tip movement.

From the boat work back over 200 feet and move at the upper end of the speed range, or move at the slower end of the scale and let out 150 to 180 feet. Heavier line gives you an advantage in setting the hook with the long line distances involved, while lighter line (limp 12-lb.) with less drag in the water allows deeper diving and better lure action. (Use 10- to 20-lb. test line for starters). Reels are generally big baitcasters with fast retrieves and tight drags, though spinning reels can be used

By late summer, salmon and steelhead start showing up, so it's not a good idea to be using light line at that time of year!

Finally -Once you get used to the idea that speed means more fish, power trolling is easy. Use the right plugs, the best colors, stay either on rocky structure or in the flats at the right depth zones (the Luhr Jensen deep divers do that for you) let out enough line, go fast (if in doubt, go faster), keep your bow upstream, and even on your first time out, you stand an excellent chance of catching big walleye.


  • POWER TROLLING (and some slow/back trolling thoughts).
  • SPECIES: Walleye, 4 to 10 pounds commonly, range to 18 pounds.
  • WHERE: Middle stretches of the Columbia River
  • BEST BETS: Top four miles below McNary, John Day, The Dalles, Bonneville Dams . . . in that order.
  • LURES: Luhr-Jensen #600 Power Dive® Minnow, 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 Hot Lips Express®; 1/2 Deep Secret™ and 3/4 Rock Walker™ crankbaits. Colors: White/Red Head, Clearwater Flash, Chartreuse Shad, Silver/Blue Top/ Orange Belly, Blue Shad, Silver/Chartreuse, Silver/Blue Top, Hot Head, Fire Tiger and Purple Tiger.
  • CONCEPT: Troll fast, let out a lot of line, use a realistic crankbait that can dive 20 to 30 feet.
  • RIVER REPORTS: John Day - Dinty's Market, Biggs 541-739-2236; The Dalles - Dinty's Market West 541-298-1894; Bonneville, Covert's Landing, Cascade Locks 541-374-8577.

thanks to Luhr Jensen for giving us permission to repost the above information