It’s been 60 years since I caught my first walleye, and it was taken while trolling a nightcrawler harness along bottom on Houghton Lake. It’s been 40+ years since my first walleye was caught on a jig.
An old gentleman on an Ontario lake offered this jigging advice many years ago: “I don’t care what color jig you use as long as it is yellow.” And for many years, yellow jigs were my favorites.
Many things have changed over six decades, and that is especially true when jigging for winter walleyes. Lures, reels, rods, line and almost everything else has changed, except for the fish.
Equipment has changed over time. Everything is smaller and easier to use.
Jigging rods have become smaller, more sensitive, and the reels are usually smaller and stocked with six-pound line. There also has been considerable difference in the lures being used.
Four lures — a jigging Rapala, Swedish Pimple, Hali and Do-Jigger — are my favorite winter walleye lures. I cut my teeth on river fishing many years ago on the Saginaw River when the big Saginaw Bay walleyes moved in, and after mastering jigging methods there, I began fishing on the Bay itself.
I favor a short, medium-action rod with a spinning reel loaded with six-pound mono. Add a snap swivel and the jigging lure, and begin fishing near bottom. Walleyes occasionally will come up off bottom to hit, but most winter fish are caught within two or three inches of bottom.
Let’s take a look at each lure. I favor the medium-sized jigging Rapala in silver-black or chartreuse-red although the gold model works well at times. A one-inch emerald shiner is hooked Through the bottom jaw and out the top of the head on each end hook, and one on each barb of the treble hook. Lift it two inches off bottom, hold it for a second and allow it to spiral back down.
Try this jigging method but experiment with others.
Jig upward, pause for a second, and lower it down again. The jig can be lowered on a tight or loose line. I prefer to lower it on a taut line because it makes it easier to detect a soft strike.
The Swedish Pimple is a metal lure, and favorite colors for me are silver, silver-blue or white. I use models measuring about two inches long, and again add an emerald shiner to each hook. Snap it up about two inches and allow it to flutter down. Pause as the baited lure settles down, and then jig again. This lure has produced some very big walleyes for me.
The Hali works well too. My favorite is one about an inch long in silver, white, blue or any sparkly color that will produce reflected light. Add emerald shiners to this lure because the action and the smell of meat offers a double-barreled attraction to this game fish.
The Do-Jigger is a spoon made by Bay de Noc Lure Company that also produces the Swedish Pimple. Blue-silver, all silver, silver-green, white or orange spoons work when sweetened with one, two or three minnows. This lure has an excellent fluttering action, and seems to work best when lifted off bottom, and then allowed to flutter back down. The more minnows added, the less fluttering there will be although the flutter-drop can be more erratic.
Try moving around and sampling new areas.
Take your pick of lures but remember that walleyes are always on the move and are usually hungry. Keep moving from hole to hole. If one spot doesn’t produce a hit or a fish within 10 minutes, move elsewhere.
Often a move of 10 yards or so is enough to put fish under the hole. Walleyes will occasionally slam a jig or jigging spoon, but often the lure hesitates as the upward stroke begins. Set the hook hard at any hesitation, but don’t be so heavy-handed that the line breaks. There could be a big fish — a 10-pounder — on the other end.
Years ago I watched Saginaw Bay ice fishermen fish for perch with two lines, often in the same hole. I don’t subscribe to that theory, especially with lures that swim or wobble around, but jigging in two holes jusr two or three feet apart, will work. The added flash of two lures baited with minnow can trigger numerous strikes.
Experimentation and prospecting for fish are two major keys to success. Try using different colors and sizes of jigging lures, and keep moving. It’s possible to catch walleyes by sitting in one spot, but it’s more likely to hit fish by moving whenever the action slows.
Nothing in fishing can match setting up over a school of winter walleyes, and hooking a big fish on the first try. Those anglers who think walleyes don’t fight have never hooked a six- or eight-pound walleye 10 feet below on 6-pound line.
These fish can provide a scrap that is impossible to ignore.