There is no lure or presentation more synonymous with walleye fishing than the jig. In fact, I’d argue that jigging is responsible for more walleyes hitting the net, and earning a hot grease release, than any other method for targeting these toothy, tasty critters.
Versatility is at the root of jigging’s extreme productivity. At different times of the year and on different bodies of water, anglers might target walleyes with jigs that are very light – 1/16 or 1/8 of an ounce – or jigs that are extremely heavy, weighing 1-2 ounces or more, depending on water depth and current speed. Jigs can be dressed with live baits, soft plastics, or even classic natural materials like bucktail or marabou. Walleyes eat jigs in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs throughout their native and stocked range. Take a peek into any serious walleye angler’s tackle collection, and you’ll find jigs of every size, color, and design imaginable.
Jigging is a terrific way to target walleyes early in the season. As water temperatures warm through the 50s, walleyes transition from the rigors of reproduction and strap on the post-spawn feedbag. The bulk of the walleye population remains relatively shallow, feasting on a buffet of baitfish and small panfish that are drawn to warming waters and sparse cover. Presenting a jig tipped with a lively minnow of a supple soft plastic bait will turn heads and trigger strikes; these tips will help you to hone your early-season jigging approach.
First, let’s consider the old classic – the jig and minnow combo. If I were alone in the wilderness and had to survive off the fruits of the land (or the water), I’d like my chances if I had a box of leadhead jigs and a minnow trap! In the spring, when many walleyes ahold in shallow weedbeds, a jig dressed with a minnow can be your ticket to consistent, day-long action. Let’s imagine a classic spring weedbed – really little more than stubble from last year’s growth punctuated by a few green shoots. Such habitat can often be found in water that is 5-10 deep in relatively clear lakes, and perhaps limited to shallower depths in stained bodies of water. I’ll position my boat over deep water, beyond the outside the deep edge of these areas but well within casting distance. I use my Minn Kota trolling motor’s Spot Lock feature to hold my boat in place while I fish, taking advantage of the motor’s Jog feature to move me slowly and methodically along the weedbed’s length. On the business end of my presentation is a light jig, typically 1/16 oz but perhaps up to 1/8 oz. Dress the jig with a medium-sized minnow, which could be a fathead or a shiner If available, passing the hook into the minnow’s mouth and out of its body behind the head. This keeps the minnow’s head relatively close to the jighead and helps prevent it from flying off during the cast or when working through weeds. For rod and reel, I use a 7’6” medium-light power, fast or extra fast action graphite rod, equipped with a 2500 series spinning reel and spooled with 20 lb test Seaguar Smackdown in the hi-vis Flash Green color pattern. Link the braided mainline to the jig using a 12-18” leader of 8-10 lb test Seaguar AbrazX 100% fluorocarbon.
Begin with a long cast into the heart of the weeds. Don’t be intimidated by all of that greenery, as the light jig and buoyant minnow will help the presentation to settle on top of the weed growth, rather than plunge toward the bottom. Work the jig through the weeds using a series of short hops and pops, with regular pauses for the bait to glide back to the weed tops. All of this action will come from your wrist, popping the rod tip from 10:00 to 11:00. Avoid large, sweeping motions – I tell anglers that, “less is more,” and to, “let the jig do the work.” Frequently, the bite will simply be the presence of extra weight when you begin to do your next series of jig hops; if something doesn’t feel quite right, point the rod tip and the bait, take up your slackline and set the hook.
Another great way to target early-season walleyes is by snap-jigging with soft plastics – a presentation that is almost the exact opposite of finesse live-bait jigging. Here, we’ll typically be working a breakline or sparse cover, rather than casting right into the heart of the weeds. Turn to a heavier jig – ¼ oz is the “industry standard” – which you’ll dress with a three to four-inch soft plastic, like a fluke or a paddletail minnow. I prefer a shorter, somewhat more stout rod for snap jigging, like a 6’8” medium power, extra-fast action rod, equipped with a 2500 series spinning reel and spooled with 30 lb test Seaguar Smackdown in Flash Green. I use a heavier leader for snap-jigging, like 20 lb test Seaguar Gold Label 100% fluorocarbon.
As the name implies, snap-jigging is an active, aggressive jigging presentation. After a long cast along a breakline or parallel to a weed edge, allow the jig to settle to the bottom and pick up your slack line. Then, make a sharp upward snap of the rod tip, from 10:00 to 12:00, and let the jig dark back to the bottom on a tight line, following the bait down with the rod tip. Once the jig hits the bottom, lower your rod tip, pick up your slack line, and repeat the sequence until the retrieve is complete. Bites elicited by snap-jigging are not subtle; rather, they are authoritative and powerful, and leave no doubt than an apex predator has connected with your lure.
Early season jigging for walleyes is a blast. Give it a try this spring!