Most anglers believe they know all about jigs just because jigs have been around ever since man first pinched lead shot on a hook. But that’s just not so. Jigging basics may seem simple enough, but mastering jigging techniques can mean the difference between catching and not catching fish.
Try this 10-step program to improve your jigging skills and make you a better walleye angler.
Step 1: Stay on the bottom–Lake, river, or reservoir walleyes relating to structure and current spend most of their time on or near the bottom. Choose the right-size jig to keep your minnow, leech, or nightcrawler down among the fish. Walleyes eat by inhaling the water around their target. A light jig may be easier to engulf. But be prepared to adapt. Jigs that are too small for the conditions may remain outside the strike zone. They may also make it impossible to keep your line vertical to sense light bites.
Increase the weight of your jig as depth, wind, or current increases. When in doubt, go heavier. At times, only a 1-ounce jig will do. If you miss strikes with a big jig, add a stinger to increase odds of a hookup. Try leaving the barbs of the stinger hook completely outside your bait to increase the natural action and appearance of your livebait.
Smaller is usually better when working the shallows. In lakes, cast or flip 1/16- or 1/8-ounce jigs to riprap or to pockets in weeds. In rivers, use just enough weight to take the jig to the bottom when you cast upstream. Lift it, and the flow should move it downstream just off the bottom, until it comes to rest again. Repeat.
Step 2: Consider the forage–Although a light jig often will accomplish the primary goal of bottom contact, jigs with a bigger profile may be better when walleyes are keying on larger forage. Let the fish tell you what they want.
Step 3: Use the right tool–Jigheads come in several shapes for a reason. Ballheads are the most common. They work well in current or in still water for casting and vertical jigging. Larger sizes can be trolled or drifted. Swimming jigs have a long, flat design with the hookeye in front. They’re best for casting in weeds. Current cutters (pancake jigs), designed to be hydrodynamic in moving water, excel in rivers. Where legal, larger sizes can be used on the dropper line of a three-way rig for an additional hook in the water.
Step 4: Change colors–We all go to the water with notions of what should work. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the choice of colors. Jigheads and plastics are available in a thousand hues. Yet we insist on using the same old favorites. Just because something worked yesterday or even this morning doesn’t mean it will work now. Water clarity and light conditions change constantly. Use trial and error to determine a combination that triggers strikes.
Try plastic trailers. Don’t forget maribou-type jigs, such as the Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub. And don’t stop experimenting even when you start catching fish. If chartreuse or orange or pink or blue seem to work, try different shades of those colors to fine-tune your presentation. A slight variation may entice the biggest fish. If action stops, switch again. For starters, try brighter colors in stained or dirty water; darker colors for clear water.
Step 5: Vary livebait, too–Since jigs are one of the oldest, most effective livebait delivery systems, we’ve developed rules over the years on when minnows, nightcrawlers, or leeches should work best. Minnows are the choice in the cold water of spring and fall. Leeches are favored in warm water, and nightcrawlers seem good across the calendar. But, don’t be afraid to break the rules. Many times during spring floods, walleyes will inhale worms and ignore minnows. The fish will let you know what works.
Step 6: Alter jig action–Walleyes will destroy a bait at times. Other times, they don’t seem interested at all. Perhaps a cold front has passed through or the wind direction changed. Keep testing. Attract the most aggressive fish by popping your jig up, then letting it fall back to the bottom. Follow the jig down with your rod tip, keeping your line taut to maintain control of the jig. Next, try a slow lift-drop lift-drop. Then drag the jig on bottom or quiver it slightly.
Step 7: Concentrate–Visualize your jig. Imagine where it is in the water and what it looks like to a fish. Better yet, use an underwater fish camera to see exactly how walleyes react to your bait. Most anglers “overjig.” Use your jig as a tool to gather information. For example, try to feel subtle changes in the bottom. Spots where the bottom changes from hard to soft can be key. Intense focus also helps when bites are so light that nothing is telegraphed to your rod. A slight movement or “heavy” feel may be all the notice you get. Set the hook at the slightest change.
Step 8: Two rods are better than one–Practice using two matched rod and reel combos, if regulations allow. Test different colors and livebait on each. If controlling both rods to keep both jigs in the strike zone becomes difficult, put one rod down or use it as a deadstick in a rod holder. One jig fished correctly is better than two fished poorly.
Step 9: Practice boat control–Boat control is essential to good jigging. In current, point your bow upstream or into the wind and use short bursts from an electric trolling motor to match boat speed to water flow. Keep your line vertical below the boat and watch your rod tip for a slight bow to signal bottom contact. All rules have exceptions, however. In places like the Rainy River, walleyes seem to prefer stationary jigs below anchored boats. Try that, too. In absence of current, a puck transducer mounted on your trolling motor to feed data to your bowmounted sonar or flasher helps keep your jig on that critical “spot on a spot.”
Step 10: Fish fish–The best jigging mechanics won’t do any good if you aren’t fishing fishy areas. Study the map of lake or river section you are targeting to find likely spots, using what you know about walleye movements in the calendar period. Along the way, stop at more than one bait shop for the latest word on where schools are located, and which presentations are producing. Ask questions at the ramp. Once on the water, move from spot to spot, using electronics to find forage fish and walleyes before you start to fish.
*Walleye pro Ted Takasaki, Brainerd, Minnesota, is president of Lindy-Little Joe Tackle company. Scott Richardson is a retired outdoor writer from Bloomington, Illinois.