Jig Progressions for Spring Walleyes
by John Peterson with Noel Vick
Jigs get a lot of ink these days. This period of popularity has many justifications, though. First and most significant, jigs catch fish, possibly more than all other categories of lures combined. They’re easy to use, not to mention talk and write about, too. And then there’s the versatility issue. Regardless of the species at hand or time of year, there’s a suitable application for jigs – no matter how far-fetched it might seem.
Oh, and you gotta give Al Lindner credit. He’s been promoting jigs for decades for one simple reason: they catch fish.
We don’t intend to reinvent the wheel or lull you to sleep, either. However, it’s impossible to let a spring go by without discussing jigs. They’re just too significant a weapon to ignore.
So for this conversation, it’s about jig progressions, methodically upsizing jigs to match changing conditions. The philosophy is founded on the pursuit of walleyes, but with some tinkering, the system can be applied to everything from panfish to pike.
The jig is man’s most realistic contribution to fishing. It’s small, subtle, succulent, and can be fished with finesse. But in the rip of a wrist, jigging transforms into an aggressive technique that triggers strikes on primal instinct alone. A jig is that multidimensional, that flexible.
Jigs are especially effective in the spring, too. Walleyes are finished spawning and beginning to feed, but not yet at peak form, so it’s necessary to feed them a little at a time. A small, slow moving jig caters to this chiefly lethargic disposition, too. A 1/16th or 1/8th ounce Fire-Ball Jig with a small minnow is a good match. It’s a concise and natural package fish can’t resist.
Consider fishing understated tones as well. Natural, lifelike metallics and earthy-looking hues are preferred, unless water clarity and light-intensity directs otherwise. Silver, black, and blue are favored in clear water. Gold, chartreuse and green are better suited for stained or lightly colored water. But when she’s super-murky, or you’re jigging in the dark, opt for hot florescent or glow-in-the-dark attractor colors. Northland’s Neon-Tone fluorescents and Super-Glo phosphorescents are bright, bold, and irresistible to fish.
The term “tone” brings up another important concept. Certain colors are more visible and attractive to fish in certain conditions. And those circumstances are governed by water clarity and light levels. Because we can’t always predict what color best matches the environment, nor can we pretend to know what shade fish actually prefer, a solution is using a jig that features multiple tones. Luckily, too, store shelves are full of two and three tone jigs.
The best complement to a gentle jig is a subtle motion. “Swimming,” “dragging” and “bumping” are important jigging sequences and easy to learn as well. Swimming is the easiest to execute. Just cast the jig out and retrieve it on a taut line, keeping the lure tight to the bottom but not dredging it. You can sway it from side to side with the rod tip, too, but while maintaining a smooth presentation. Dragging is basically the same process, but instead of the jig riding above the bottom, it delicately “drags” the bottom. For obvious reasons, dragging is only suggested over clean, snag-free bottoms. Bumping takes swimming and dragging and incorporates slight vertical “hops.” It’s sort of like jigging in slow motion with sleepy 6-inch steps.
When you’ve really got ‘em pinpointed, or the fish are terribly lazy, deadsticking does the trick. Ironically, too, deadsticking is the least utilized but often most lethal jigging method; deadsticking’s lack of popularity is likely because of the patience it requires. Just cast it the jig out there, let it settle to bottom, and sip on a soda for 10 to 30 seconds. The minnow does all the labor, which brings up the topic of fresh bait. Discard the dead ones and continuously check the condition of the one on your hook. There’s a reason they call it “live bait,” not “dead bait.”
Not long after you’ve perfected a jigging system for cold water walleyes – “Poof!” – we’re into late spring and early summer. That’s the next stage in walleye activity. Things are happening. Water temperatures are rising and baitfish have fully mobilized. Walleyes are eating more; and more often. And as fate would have it, fish are still partial to jigs, although on a slightly different level.
The jigs are different, but not dramatically so. They’re a smidgen heavier. The extra weight holds the bottom better in deeper water, and that’s where the fish are heading. An upsized jig also tracks better as you increase jigging speed.
Walleyes are feeding greedily across sand and gravel flats, as well as large rocky formations. Covering such spacious areas with a simple jig and artsy technique doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to take it up a notch while administering a different ball of lead, too. 1/8th ouncers remain in play, but not 1/16th’s, and plan to carry plenty of ¼ and 3/8th ounce jigs.
The Fire-Ball continues as an excellent choice, but the new Rattlin’ Fire-Ball Jig is an even better fit. It thumps, ticks, clicks, and clatters – sounds created by an internal brass rattle chamber – to draw walleyes from great distances, and its lifelike moving eyeballs seal the deal at close range.
Nothing complements the added commotion, either, than bigger bait. Trade the skimpy fathead in for a full-sized, light colored female fathead, or better yet, a rainbow chub, redtail chub, local run shiner, or a small sucker.
Kiss the deadsticking and dragging goodbye, too, except for during cold fronts. Mix higher lifts – one to two foot – with aggressive swimming, almost sweeping motions. And be erratic. When the bite’s on, an irregular, snapping motion will out-produce an uninterrupted motion two to one. Don’t be rhythmic; be eccentric and aggressive.
A hint of plastic doesn’t hurt, either, even in conjunction with a minnow. It adds welcomed volume. The Lip-stick Jig offers the right amount of plastic to fatten up a jig but not overwhelm the fish, either. That comes later, further into summer when seldom is a jig considered too big to bite. Those are occasions for twin-tailed grubs and pounding paddle tails.
That’ll guide you through spring, late spring, and early summer. You can certainly factor in a live bait bottom rig as well, but it’s wisest to begin with a jig. And usually, the experimenting ends there anyway.
To learn more about Northland Tackle’s complete lineup of winter and summer lures go to www.northlandtackle.com or dial 1-800-SUN-FISH and request a free catalog.
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