A popular bait to troll with on Lake Erie from late spring to early fall is the crawler harness. You’ll pay upwards of $3-$5for some pre-tied crawler harnesses in the local sporting good stores and bait shops, but you can make them yourself for pennies on the dollar right in your own home. All that is needed are some beads, hooks, line, clevises, and little baggies. I’m going to share with you how I build my harnesses, so you can easily build them too.
This illustration shows how to tie a snell knot. Start by cutting a 5 foot piece of 17-20 pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line from the spool. I usually cut a dozen at a time, so the line doesn’t end up all over the house from a playful cat.
When it comes to hooks, they are not all created equal. Buy a good quality hook known for its sharpness. Your bait shop dealer can help you with that. I like to use a size 2 hook for my harnesses.
Start by putting the tag end of the line through the eye of the hook, so that the line is headed down the shank of the hook about ½ inch long. Then tightly wrap the line around the shank, covering that tag end, anywhere from 7-10 turns. Bring the end of the line back through the eye from the bottom, out through the top, and pull tight.
You can stop at this point if you want to use it as a one hook casting harness, like a “Weapon”, or you can add another hook to make a two hook trolling harness.
For the two hook harness, add the second hook by putting the tag end of the line through the eye from the bottom and out through the top of the hook. Slide the hook down the line until it’s about 4 inches from the other hook. Try to make sure the hooks are facing the same way and are in line with each other. This will ensure better hook ups when a fish bites. Wrap the line around the shank 7-10 times and send the tag end of the line through the eye the same direction; from the bottom out through the top.
It’s time to add the colored beads to your harness. This is the fun part. Most often you’ll find an 8 mm bead used. You can find these in different colors, and in bulk, in many of the local bait shops around town, or you can go to a craft store to buy them. Some tried and true colors that you should have in your box are orange, purple, chartreuse, green, red, blue, silver, gold, pink and white. There are several other colors available to use, but this basic 10 will get you started. Creating color patterns is fun and easy. For instance, purple and chartreuse, purple and orange, purple and white, green and orange, pink and white, pink and chartreuse, red and gold, green and gold, green and chartreuse, are all great color combinations that work on Lake Erie and other bodies of water. But it’s not the only color patterns that work. Use your imagination and just create something you think might work. But make sure to make at least 4 of them, because if it does work, and you only made one, then you can’t put more out to put more fish in your boat at a faster pace.
Adding a quick change clevis will make it easy for changing to different blades that you want to experiment with. Blades are created differently. Colorado blades, which are round in shape, are for slower moving harnesses and give a loud “thump, thump, thump” as they spin through the water. Indiana blades are more of a tear drop shaped blade that allows the spinner to move at a faster pace through the water, giving the noise a different vibration. Willow blades, which are pointy on both ends and allow you to go even faster, are most often used in the heat of summer when the white bass, white perch and sheephead are in competition for your baits. Speeding up the presentation helps to eliminate some of those junk fish bites.
Blades come in different sizes too. The most common size for this lake is the #5 and #6 blade. Size is reflected in the number. Unlike hooks, the smaller the number is, the larger the hook is, and the larger the number is, the smaller the hook is; blades are logical. The #5 blade will be a little smaller than #6. Sometimes switching from one size to the other is all that it takes to get fish to start biting, so experimenting while you’re on the water is a wise practice.
When you are satisfied with your work, the tag end of the line needs to be finished off with a loop/knot or by attaching a barrel swivel. I like to use the loop/knot since it’s free, and that means one less thing to buy.
Take the tag end of the line and fold it back on itself one time, so there is about 3-4 inches of doubled up line. Holding the double line in your left hand, make an over hand loop. Pinch the connecting point with a thumb and index finger. You now have one big loop with the tag end being a smaller loop now too.
With the opposite hand, slide your index finger through the big loop (just at the tip) and turn the loop around one time, so that the connecting point forms a second twist in the line. Grab the tag end loop with the finger that is already through the big loop, and pull it through. Then, pull it tight. You now have a finished crawler harness ready to use or to store for use at a later date.
Storing finished harnesses, without the blades attached, can be done easily in small Ziploc bags and kept in a deep waterproof box with many slots to keep them organized by color patterns.
Catching fish on a crawler harness that you created is very satisfying, so enjoy making your own harnesses and good luck fishing!