Is This For Real? The Walleyes Think So!
By Keith Kavajecz and Gary Parsons
Spring is in the air, which means it is time to clean out the garage. Since you are going to need space to work, the first thing you need to do is hook the boat up to your truck and pull it onto the driveway.
Once it is out of the garage, take a slow walk around your rig and wipe your finger along the hull of the boat. Now, look at your finger. Is there dust on it? If there is, you have a problem. Obviously you can’t spend the day cleaning your garage, just to park a dusty boat back inside! That’s like tracking mud across a freshly mopped kitchen floor!
As luck would have it, the rivers are open, giving you the perfect place to take your boat for a bath. Being the multi-tasking person that you are, it would only make sense to bring your river fishing gear along to catch a meal at the same time!
One of the best ways to catch walleyes on rivers in the spring is by vertical jigging. Keeping the presentation vertical means you’re fishing with the least amount of line out, therefore you’ve got the most direct line to the fish. The goal is to drift the river the same speed as the current. The biggest problem to doing this is usually the wind. No matter if the wind is blowing up stream, downstream or cross-stream, point the bow into the wind, set the tolling motor speed on a higher setting, and use short, powerful bursts to quickly move the boat in order to keep the lines vertical. That way, as soon as the lines angle off to the left, a quick burst of power moving the boat to the left brings them back vertical again. By “following the lines” instead of trying to get the jigs to “follow the boat”, you’ll find it much easier to be successful at vertical jigging. Keep your eyes on the depth finder at all times to maintain proper depth, or hold on a break or channel edge.
When it comes to bait, a basic jig tipped with a minnow has been the go-to presentation for years. Now, even the most die-hard river rats are changing their ways. Over the past decade, artificial baits have been proven to be just as effective as their live bait counterparts when it comes to catching walleyes.
They can also save you a lot of time and hassle on the water. Artificials tend to be more durable on the hook than live bait, so you save time not having to re-bait as often. That “stay on the hook” characteristic can occasionally even get you a “second chance” bite that you would not get if you were using live bait.
For most early season vertical jigging scenarios, a subtle action tail will be your best choice. The Berkley Power Jig Worm is a 3-inch worm with a paddle on the back. This worm is very limber, which means that you don’t have to put a lot of effort into moving the bait to give it a lot of action. We prefer to stick with natural colors to make the worm look more like a real crawler.
Another go-to bait is the Berkley PowerBait Minnow in the 2 or 3-inch sizes, which mimic a real minnow quite well. We often will double up the baits, threading a 3-inch minnow on the jig right up to the jig head, followed by hooking a 2-inch version through the nose. This tandem bait set-up is deadly at times because it increases the lure’s profile, adds a little extra action to the presentation, and in the event that a short strike results in the 2-inch minnow being plucked off, you can quickly drop the bait back down to the fish, often resulting in a second strike that will hook the fish.
We like to work these baits by giving the jig a sharp pop off the bottom, followed by holding it for a couple of seconds before slowly lowering back down. As soon as it hits bottom, pop it again. The walleyes are relating to the bottom, so keep the “pop” to a minimum, usually about 6 inches. You don’t want to let the jig sit on bottom very long, as it will drag in the current and snag. If you feel weight on the lift, set the hook!
Another bait that can add even more scent appeal to the presentation is the 3-inch Berkley GULP! Minnow. GULP! Products are not soft plastic. Soft plastics like the PowerBait line are made with oil-based resins, where as GULP! is made with water-based resins. This allows for much more scent distribution since when scent is added to a bait created from oil-based resins, the oil literally traps the scent inside the bait. While some of the scent does get out, the oil is actually functioning as a barrier. Gulp!, on the other hand, disperses the water-soluble scent as soon as it hits the water because there is no oil barrier keeping the water out. This allows the bait to disperse scent almost like a blood trail, expanding the strike zone by attracting fish that do not see the bait. That’s why it is important to fish GULP! Baits slowly and allow the bait to do what it is intended to do: disperse scent.
Once the water begins to warm up, you will want to move to a bait with more action, such as the 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad. This bait has a rippled minnow-shaped body that gives it vibration and swimming action. It also has a paddle-tail that puts out a lot of vibration as the lure is retrieved. The Ripple Shad has become a lure that we use almost like we would a mini-crankbait or small swim-bait, but with a jigging action rather than a steady retrieve. You want to make sure when you work this lure, you jig it in such a way as to make sure that paddle tail vibrates vigorously on the up-swing and flutters as it drops back down. Fish the Ripple Shad on a heavier jig than you would normally fish live bait, typically in the quarter to 3/8 ounce range. This will help you get the action needed to make the tail work the way you want it to.
Another great bait to try in warmer water is the 4-inch Berkley PowerBait Pro Shad. Like the Ripple Shad, it has a paddle-tail that helps to attract the walleyes through vibration. The large minnow profile gives it a very realistic look.
As the water continues to warm up throughout the spring, don’t be afraid to push the envelope with your presentation. A Moonshine Shiver Minnow is a great bait to use for more aggressive walleyes. The darting action of the lure catches the attention of the fish. Drop it down to just above bottom and then “pop” it up to make it jump. Then give the lure some slack to make it turn around and return to the starting position. Hold the lure in place and “shiver” it with a quick shaking of the rod tip. This will make it look like a minnow holding in current. You can use these baits tipped or untipped.
Not only can artificial baits save you time on the water, but also so can your choice of jigs. We like to use the Bass Pro Shops XPS Walleye Angler semi-standup jig heads. Not only does this jig reduce your chance of getting snagged, but it also puts the hook in the right position for walleyes that grab it off the bottom.
Using the “anchor” mode on your MotorGuide Xi5 bow mount trolling motor can also be a huge time saver. As soon as you get a bite, press the button on the FOB hanging from a lanyard around your neck. The motor will hold your position while you fight the fish, unhook it and re-bait your hook! It also gives you the opportunity to take note of where you caught your fish, and continue fishing where you left off, instead of several hundred feet downstream.
By now you should have enough fish for a meal and the winter dust washed off your boat, but cleaning the garage can wait another day. Enjoy the day on the river while waiting for your Next Bite!