Vertical jigging is an effective way to put your bait directly in front of a walleye while fishing rivers in the spring.
While baiting jigs with live minnows was the standard for years, artificial baits now rule the river. One benefit to using artificial baits is that they tend to be more durable than live bait, because they stay on the hook longer. Not only does this save time from having to bait your hook again, it often gives you a second chance to catch a fish that might try to “steal” live bait from your hook.
During early spring, bait with subtle tail action will often work best. I like to use the 3-inch Berkley Power Jig Worm, which has a paddle on the back. With a very limber design, you don’t have to work hard for this bait to have a lot of action. Natural colors work well, as they mimic a night crawler.
The 2.5 and 3-inch Berkley Gulp Minnows do an excellent job at mimicking a real minnow. You can increase the profile of your presentation by doubling up the baits. To do this, thread a 3-inch minnow on the jig all the way up to the jig head. Should one of the minnows get plucked off the jig, you can drop it right back down and try to get a second bite.
The walleyes will be relating to the bottom, so you will want to give the jig a sharp 6-inch “pop” off the bottom and hold it for a couple seconds before slowly lowering back down. As soon as it hits bottom, pop it again. Do not let the bait sit on bottom long, as it can drag in the current and snag. Once you feel weight on the lift, set the hook!
I like to use the Bass Pro Shops XPS Walleye jigs for much of my vertical jigging. These jigs have a “semi-stand-up” design. This means that the hook is angled up as the jig sits on bottom, putting it in the perfect position for a fish to inhale it. This increases your odds of hooking up. Another great jig is the Mustad WL746 Walleye Elite Jig, which is a traditional round head with a razor-sharp UltraPoint hook. The longer than normal sized hook on this jig allows it to come out of the back of a Berkley GULP! Minnow in the perfect spot. The hook also stays sharp after banging on rocks.
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