Lee Clancy: Three-way rig is a midsummer classic for walleye anglers

This walleye was caught using a three-way rig during midsummer. Having the ability to cover more water efficiently is key to catching dinner when the walleyes are on the move.

From early June to early July, a timeframe often dubbed "the summer peak," walleye have seemingly limitless dining options. The young-of-the-year minnows are an efficiently edible size for hungry walleyes, and bug hatches will start to be visible above and below the surface. Water temperatures typically have stabilized by this time of year, allowing the forage base unimpeded movement and development throughout a lake or river.

Unfortunately for anglers, the widespread abundance of food throughout the system can make it difficult to pinpoint walleye location.

Tried-and-true presentations like live-bait rigging and vertical jigging during this time can be very productive approaches to finding your limit of walleye, especially if you stumble into a sizable, stationary school of fish. However, both methods require relatively slow boat speed. Consequently, you are going to be covering less water and contacting fewer fish during a time of active walleye movement and relatively aggressive feeding.

During the summer peak on many popular Minnesotan walleye waters, fish will be relating to structure in the 16-28 foot depth range. Often hanging out on the edges or breaks of these structures, it can be difficult to keep your bait in the strike zone.

This is where the three-way-rig excels.


All about efficiency

The ability of the three-way-rig to be trolled slowly and almost directly under the boat allows for incredibly accurate boat control and the ability to efficiently work structure that would be inaccessible with traditional, faster paced, long-line trolling methods.

Very few components are needed to tie a three-way rig. Simply tie your main line to a three-way swivel. From one of the eyelets on the swivel, tie a "dropper line" that's approximately eight inches long. On the end of the dropper line, attach your bell sinker. On the last remaining swivel eyelet, tie a 4-5 foot fluorocarbon leader with your favorite crankbait in tow.

Not all crankbaits are created equal for three-way rig presentations. Since a three-way rig is typically presented slower than traditional long-line trolling, usually speeds as low as 1 mph to about 1.7 mph, finding a bait that has adequate action at lower speed is vitally important. My all-time favorite lure for three-way rigging is a Rapala Flat Rap.

The Rapala Flat Rap has a wonderful, rolling flash as it's pulled slowly through the water. The Flat Rap is available in myriad sizes and colors, but try not to get too hung up on lure color. Just try to match what you believe the walleye are likely feeding on. Usually yellow perch, shiner or other minnow color lures perform well.

It is good practice to verify that your lure selection has proper swimming action before dropping it to the depths and dragging it around for a couple hours. When you have your speed dialed in, ideally around 1.2 – 1.5 mph, simply lower your bait into the water just off the side of your boat. Make sure the lure has a nice wobble or wiggle, whatever it's designed to do. Then drop it down to the bottom.

Depending on the depth you're planning on fishing, you should have a minimum of three different size bell sinkers available. I would recommend having 1 ounce, 2 ounce and 3 ounce sinkers at the ready.

Adapt to what walleye want


When you're trolling along, try to maintain a 45-degree angle from where the line leaves your rod tip to where the line enters the water. This is a general rule that helps me know when to increase or decrease my bell sinker weight.

The idea is to keep the lure close to the boat as you maneuver along structure. Having less line behind the boat will aid in keeping your bait in the strike zone.

I prefer tying a cross-lock snap on my main line and dropper line. The cross-lock snap allows for quicker and easier sinker weight changes as you alter your approach throughout the day and begin fishing different water depths. The cross-lock snap on the main line allows for easier removal of the three-way rig and keeps rods from getting tangled when stowed.

Sometimes the fish prefer to have the sinker constantly in contact with the bottom. The dragging sinker stirs up the sand, mud or rubble you're fishing and can trigger a bite. The orientation of the sinker and swivel will usually prevent weeds or muck from fouling your lure. So, don't be afraid to let the sinker drag.

Other times, walleye prefer a lure that is lifted just slightly above the bottom. Slowly lifting your rod tip, then dropping the sinker back down to the bottom, is another method that can trigger a nearby fish. In either case, experiment with different cadences as you're trolling along. Let the fish dictate which method is going to work on that particular day.

Lastly, use a rod that has a good backbone. I prefer a 7'-7'6" medium-weight, fast action baitcasting rod for three-way rigging. The medium weight rod helps compensate for the heavy sinker at the end of your line and still has enough strength to obtain a solid hookset.

Give three-way rigging a shot this year during the summer peak while the fish are active and looking for a food. I think you'll be pleased with the results.


three-way rig.jpg
A three-way rig is simple to tie. Using cross-lock snaps can make for easier weight and bait changes throughout the day.

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