When it comes to catching walleyes in the earlier part of the season (spring and early summer), it's important to keep in mind that the bait fish the walleyes are feeding on this time of year are relatively small. They could be feeding on young-of-the-year perch, young shad or smaller minnows. This is a key factor to keep in mind when choosing crankbaits to use because you want to give the fish a profile they're comfortable feeding on.
Trolling for early season walleyes is a very under-utilized tactic on most walleye waters. This early in the year, a small bait in the 4- to 5-cm. size will typically be the right size to "match the hatch," as it were, and imitate the size of forage the walleyes are keying on. When choosing a small lure, you want to make sure to use one with enough attracting characteristics that it will stand out and draw attention to itself. For instance, The Berkley Flicker Shad in the 4-cm. size has tremendous side flash to it, giving it a lot of attraction capability for such a small package. The side flash comes from the “top-to-bottom” rolling action of a crankbait, and the 4-cm. size Flicker Shad has some of the best “roll” of the baits in this size range I've used in recent years.
Prime trolling presentations this time of year is in 3 to 4 feet of water along rock-to-muck transitions. Running the baits back 50 to 60 feet on long rods will keep the 4-cm. Flicker Shads just off the bottom and in the feeding zone. Shallow bays off big bodies of water or even oxbows off a river can also be good early season trolling areas. Another scenario where we did real well using the smaller 4-cm. Flicker Shads was trolling on lead core set-ups. The smaller size of the bait does a nice job of “following” the lead core line as you troll it and vary your depths.
For early-season trolling presentations I often use very long rods -- 10 to 12 footers -- to keep baits out away from the boat, but without the added accessories such as planer boards. This way, I have total control of where I am putting the baits on each trolling pass. The areas I'm targeting are often structure related, so this helps me keep the lures right where I want them since covering wide swaths of water doesn't play as big of a role here. Like all my other trolling tactics, I incorporate line counter reels, usually spooled with Berkley Trilene XT in 10-pound test, or occasionally Berkley FireLine Fused Original, also in 10-pound test. The FireLine helps run the lures a little deeper, plus being that it’s no-stretch, it allows me to "monitor" the action of the baits more closely. I also use the FireLine as my leader material when trolling with lead core line.
As mentioned above, my top lures for early season trolling are the 4-cm. and 5-cm. size Berkley Flicker Shads. As with any crankbait, every angler has their favorite colors. The Flicker Shad line of baits offers some dynamite fish-catching color options. Some of my "confidence colors" include standard colors, Firetiger, Rainbow Trout and Racy Shad as well as my all-time favorite Pearl White (often referred to as “Mouse” because of its gray back and white belly).