When the ice leaves the lakes in walleye country, anglers start to get anxious. They know that the walleye bite can be very good early in the year. This year the ice left much earlier than usual, and the walleye bite started much earlier than usual. Anglers have been chasing and catching walleyes more than in years past. Many of those anglers have a jig tied onto their line. Walleyes will eat a variety of baits this time of year, but if you want to put the odds in your favor for walleye success, a jig on your line will do so. Following are some ideas for catching walleyes on jigs in the next few weeks.
Early in the year, a casting presentation will be best. There are exceptions, but in most places the walleyes will be in water less than ten feet in depth, and in shallow water it works best to cast.
Just as casting usually works best for early season shallow water walleyes, a slow retrieve is also usually more productive. A dragging retrieve will usually out-produce a hopping retrieve. If you’re going to be dragging, a stand-up jig will be more effective than a traditional round-head jig. A stand-up Fire-Ball jig in the eighth ounce size tipped with a three inch minnow is perfect much of the time. Fathead minnows are good, but sometimes the walleyes show a very definite preference to shiners. Shiners can be harder to keep alive, so an aerated container like Frabill’s 1404 is an important part of your equipment: It does an outstanding job of keeping fragile minnows lively.
Put the jig hook in the minnow’s mouth and out the back of its head. By hooking the minnow this way, it will stay on the hook longer and still be appealing to the walleyes.
Cast the jig into an area that you suspect holds walleyes. Let it sink to the bottom, then begin a dragging retrieve. The stand-up design of the jig will keep the minnow visible to the walleyes. Even if the fish are more interested in spawning than eating, a jig/minnow combo dragged slowly by will be hard to resist.
Tie your jig to six or eight pound test Trilene XT or Sensation. Six pound test is really good, but eight pound is better if you’re fishing around lots of rocks and potential snags.
Keep moving until you find an area that is holding walleyes. Usually if you can find a little current mixed with a sand or rubble bottom, there will be at least a few walleyes around, and some of them will be willing to eat your jig.
Keep a few of the smaller ones to eat, put the big ones back. If you have the option, try different bodies of water. Some lakes or rivers will turn on sooner than others. If you can move around a bit, you’ll be able to extend the fishing action. And, as soon as the spawn has been completed for a few days, the action will start over. You’ll probably have to move to a different area, and another presentation might be more effective, but for now, keep in mind that jigs are great for catching walleyes.
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photo: Bob Jensen