Jig Like A Pro For Fall Walleye
Of all the ways that we can invent to catch the elusive walleye, one presentation has likely resulted in more fish hitting the net than all other methods combined – and that singularly important technique is jigging. Indeed, the jig’s simplicity is the perfect disguise for its versatility. We can tip jigs with live bait – a leech, a crawler, a minnow, perhaps even a frog when the water cols and those tasty amphibians return to shallow muddy bays for a long winter’s nap. Frequently, we tip jigs with artificial baits – ringworms, flukes, paddletails, and more make for wonderful soft plastic additions to jigs. There is no better time to dust off your walleye jigging skills than the fall; here are four tips that will help you jig up a few more ‘eyes this season.
If there’s one mistake that many walleye anglers make, it is to fish with FAR too heavy of a jig than conditions warrant. In lakes with minimal current, I fish many finesse (2-3”) soft plastics and most of my live bait offerings on a 1/16 or 1/8 oz jig, in water up to 20 feet deep. I would select a ¼ oz jig in water that is 20-30 feet deep, and admittedly, rarely fish deeper than 30 feet because fish caught and released from those depths suffer from very high mortality. In rivers, where current speed can often be much more important than depth for locating fish, I fish with enough weight to keep my jig in the strike zone – that magic 6-8” above the bottom, where current is diminished and many predator fish lie in ambush. Whether you fish lakes or rivers, too heavy of a jig makes bait actions unnatural and provides unnecessary resistance as a walleye opens its mouth to inhale the lure.
Lighter means your line too.
A lightweight jig rigged on supple, light line gets more bites – period. The most productive line combination for jigging walleyes is a thin diameter, super sensitive braided main line – like 20 lb test Seaguar Smackdown – coupled to a two to three-foot section of a fluorocarbon leader – like 6 or 8 lb test Seaguar AbrazX. Smackdown’s thin diameter supports long casts and helps it to cut through the water like a warm knife through butter, which keeps your light jig in the strike zone. As you know, walleye live around cover like rocks and wood that can easily weaken or cut inferior lines and leaders, and 100% fluorocarbon AbrazX is uniquely formulated for extreme abrasion resistance to keep the leader sound and strong. The near invisibility of AbrazX underwater also maintains a stealthy presentation at the jig, ensuring more bites and delivering more fish to the boat.
Don’t skimp on your rod.
A walleye jigging rod isn’t the place to pinch pennies. We’re looking for as sensitive a rod as possible, and that’s going to come from a premium graphite blank and lightweight components. For vertical jigging on rivers, I prefer a shorter rod, something in the 6’ to 6’3” range. When snap-jigging soft plastics on ¼ oz jigs, step up to a 6’8” rod, and a 7’6” rod is hard to beat for ultra-finesse work. If I had to pick one “general purpose” jigging rod, it would probably be a seven-footer. In each length, look for a medium power rod with fast or extra fast action. Most walleye rods pair well with a 2500-series spinning reel; select a lightweight reel like the Okuma Helios SX, which is built with corrosion-resistant carbon fiber components to perfectly complement a light, sensitive graphite rod.
Match your jigging stroke to your bait.
Frequently, I watch inexperienced walleye anglers imparting too much, or too little, action to their jig. In general terms, jigs tipped with live bait or finesse soft plastics should be presented with minimal added action. We want the natural strike-provoking characteristics of a writhing leech, wiggling worm or struggling minnow to help us seal the deal. On the other hand, when jigging with soft plastics like flukes or paddletails, or when presenting a classic hair jig, a more aggressive jig stroke is called for. Indeed, snap jigging is not about convincing a walleye that a live bait is worth eating; rather, this fast-paced jig stroke is all about eliciting a reaction strike – a potential meal is trying to escape, one that must be killed. Match your jig stroke to your bait, and watch your catch rates soar!