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Delivering minnow baits on a three-way system

Today’s walleye anglers have a plethora of baits, tackle and techniques to choose from which no doubt lends a hand to successful fishing. Conversely, using an unsuitable delivery system is every reason why you could be not catching fish and therefore sometimes keeping it simple should be in your best interest.

Minnow baits on a three-way rig
Minnow baits on a three-way rigCharley Stull

During times when walleyes are relating to bottom contours, holding tight in deep corners and crevasse along sharp breaks. Typical techniques call for slowly and methodically dissecting these areas with bottom fishing offerings such as Lindy-rigs and jigs. These techniques can certainly be most effective, especially when the bite is slow.

However, there are times when it takes something different to get walleyes to bite and also, when a different triggering quality is needed such as sudden speed to entice a reaction. Standard long-line trolling or flat lining methods can sometimes pass by these fish that are hiding deep because baits running by are simple outside the strike zone.

Three-way rigging is the answer to quickly cover more water effectively while eliminating the unproductive waters and when sudden speed is needed to convert a reactionary bite.

The term speed is not about just pulling plugs at a fast trolling speed over structure, but rather using the running attributes of a hard-bait with sudden surging pulses from the rod, where you can manipulate the plug in a way to make it quickly dart off in different directions, slowly wobble, pause and flutter back while maintaining control in the strike zone.

Legendary walleye pro Al Linder describes three-way rigging with minnow baits a precision method and “when it comes to precision and that’s what we are talking about, you got to do it this way.”

Al Linder goes on to talk about the baits to be used with this method and how shape plays an important role with this system. “When you’re doing this type of fishing, shape is always a consideration and day in and day out, the best shape you could fish on these three ways like this is the minnow shape.”

Since three-way rigging requires trolling speeds at 1 to 2 ph with an electric trolling motor, long and thin profiles with plenty of flash and wobble work best. Rapala’s original floating baits in numbers 9and 11 are a sure bet at these speeds.

Another good alternative is the Storm Thunder stick and Storm Jr. Jointed lures are not traditionally used as much as straight bodied baits with three-ways, but under certain circumstances can be just as deadly.

The three-way rig is a delivery system that presents the bait down deep in the strike zone by way of a three-way swivel, hence the name the “three-way rig”. This rig gives you maximum versatility because it allows you to quickly adjust the size of the weight, the length of the dropper line and the leader.

The dropper line is nothing more than an adjustable vertical line that hangs the weight below the three-way swivel, typically at 2’ to 3 in length. Bell sinkers 2oz. to 3oz. gets the rig to the bottom quickly and allows for proper alignment of main line in relation to the position of the rod at the right trolling speed to be used. (Typically no more than 45°)

The dropper line should be a lighter strength line than the main trolling line. The whole theory behind this idea is that if and when a snag occurs, the lighter dropper line typically breaks while disengaging the snag and only a lead weight is lost instead of losing the entire rig.

The leader on the three-way swivel runs horizontal with the bait and can also be adjusted. Standard lengths of 4’ to 8’ fluorocarbon is advisable with 4’ being used for quicker response and more control of the bait. On the long end, 8’ leaders are great for allowing floating baits to rise and neutral baits to hover before turning in another direction, giving it another element to entice a bite.

Keep the rod pointed towards the water and the line no more than at a 45° angle, maintain intermittent bottom contact with trolling speeds of 1 to 2 mph and work the rod.

What you are trying to do is feel the bottom, focus and visualize in your mind what’s happening down below with the rig and how to manipulate the lure in a way where it is enticing enough to trigger a reactionary bite.

Three-way rigging is a hands on method that’s not left in the rod holder because frequent bottom contact is required to gage the bottom in relation to your bait, and in most cases if you are not making bottom contact, you’re not catching fish.

Being hands-on also allows you to feel the bottom composition, whether you’re on hard bottom as opposed to soft and that helps with keeping the snagging of bottom content to a minimum.

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting your rig wet and within the first few minutes, having to deal with a snag and possibly losing your rig all because you decided to not to be proactive.

If for example you’re are all alone to operate the boat while using this method, rod holders can be used to get situated, but keep the rig well off the bottom until you’re ready to put it into effect.

Engage the trolling motor and get it up to speed, lower your three-way rig all the way and make bottom contact briefly. Now methodically work the rod, and think about what the baits doing while bumping bottom. From there experiment with different actions until you give the fish what they want and keep repeating it to get a pattern going.

Dial in your bottom finder, taking note of your position and experience a delivery system in the three-way rig that has proven to be a most effective way to catch more and bigger walleyes.