Ron Anlauf covers all the bases when it comes to live bait rigs for early summer walleyes.
There’s more than one way to rig walleyes, and there’s a good reason for every possible option. From the basic set-up, to bait selection, to seemingly unimportant details like hook color or leader length, the variations are limitless. As subtle as the changes may seem, paying attention to details can mean more fish in the live-well at the end of the day. The key is knowing where and when to change this or adjust that, and by identifying a few simple factors you too can easily put together a successful presentation.
First and foremost on the factor list is the basic makeup of the bottom of the area you intend to fish. Content may vary from soft mud to rocky boulders and will determine the type of rig you select.
Softer bottoms can be easily worked with a live bait rig with a sliding walking sinker like the Northland Roach Rig. This sinker type is designed to be drug across the bottom, and allows the user to free line the bait after a fish has picked it up. Allowing a fish to run with the bait on a free line is critical to nailing finicky biters.
The Roach Rig utilizes a slip knot that allows you to adjust the length of the leader, and longer leaders are often the key to enticing fussy walleyes into taking the bait. Professional Walleye Fisherman and 2002 RCL Championship winner Bruce Sampson of Minnetrista, Minnesota uses the Roach Rig but with a small variation: “I’ll replace the slip knot with a small split shot when I’m using longer leaders. The problem with the real long leaders, let’s say in the eight to ten foot range or more, is getting a net under a fish. With a split shot you can actually reel the shot to the rod tip and keep reeling while the line slips through it allowing you to get a big walleye close enough to easily get a net under it.”
Weeds can be effectively worked with the same type of live bait rig if the weeds are sparse enough but a small change may be in order. Instead of the walking sinker you might try replacing it with a bullet type which will allow the rig to slide through the weeds more easily. Another option if you’re dealing with newly emergent or short growing weeds like sand grass is to use a floating jig head instead of a plain hook. A floating jig head like the Northland Gum-Drop Bait Floater and a longer snell can suspend the bait up and over the weed tops where it can run clean and be easily seen.
Harder bottom areas like gravel humps and bars can be worked with the walking type sinker but you may have to switch tactics if you’re hanging up too often. In that case you might try a hybrid sliding bottom bouncer like the Northland Tackle Rock-Runner Slip Bouncer. The Slip Bouncer acts like a regular bottom bouncer with its wire tip keeping the bait out of the rocks, but yet allows for a fish to run on a free line just like you can with the walking type sinkers.
Because of its design the Slip Bouncer is less likely to hang up even after you’ve let it lay down in the rocks. Where you can run into trouble is when you’re faced with the biggest rocks and the heaviest snags. In that case you may not be able to free line the rig and may have to simply hang on until a light biter completely takes the bait.
Pro Walleye Fisherman Rick Olson of Mina, South Dakota will make a couple of small changes when confronted with finicky biters hanging out in snag infested areas. “I’ll use a light bottom bouncer in the 3/4oz. range and lengthen out my snell to maybe five or six feet. The longer snell will buy you some time after a fish picks up the bait before he feels the weight of the bouncer which will increase your odds of hooking up.”
Besides the sinkers, plain hooks or floaters, and even snell length, the type of bait you use can be critical to your success. There is a rule of thumb that includes using minnows during the spring, followed by leeches during late spring and early summer and then switching to crawlers for most of the summer period. It’s a good rule and does have merit but there are always exceptions to the rule.
Professional guide and PWT competitor Rich Boggs of Nisswa, Minnesota has found that the right minnow can produce all summer long: “Give me a couple dozen red tail chubs and I’ll show you a great time. They’re more work to keep alive than leeches or crawlers but they are definitely worth the effort. Thanks to a new high tech system in my 2004 Crestliner Tournament Series Boat that breaks up the water molecule and releases the oxygen keeping bait and fish alive just got a whole lot easier!”
Variations in how you hook what you’re using can also make a difference, for example; most fisherman rig a minnow by hooking it through the lips but you’ll get more action out of it if you hook the bait through the tail or under the dorsal fin. The downside is you have to move excruciatingly slow to be effective. Crawlers are typically hooked through the nose or brown tip but by hooking it once through the middle you’ll get a different action and it can make a real difference especially later on in the summer period.
Leeches are more enticing when hooked through the sucker which is actually the tail end. The thing is rigs do work, especially if there set up correctly for the given conditions. A live bait rig in the right hands can be absolutely deadly at times, so you might as well get to it. See you on the water.