Forty years ago,” recalls Tom Neustrom, veteran fishing guide and avid multispecies angler, “my dad taught me to look for dark water adjoining weededges, indicating a drop-off to deeper water. We focused our efforts along the boundary where broadleaf cabbage weeds mysteriously dissipated into open water, and caught loads of walleyes. Back then, our lures of choice were L & S Minnow Lures or River Runts, or perhaps livebaits like chubs or shiners dangled beneath a bobber. But once we discovered the effectiveness of Doll Fly Jigs dressed with hair or feathers, tipped with a half-crawler, it was all over. I’ve been a jigger ever since.”
Neustrom, like many anglers who learned to fish in the weedy natural lakes of the Upper Midwest, also discovered that points, pockets, and turns along those edges concentrated walleyes and other gamefish in predictable areas where you could tickle the fringe of the weeds for relatively active walleyes. Or, as an alternative, probe farther inside the weedgrowth for those that were in a more neutral or negative mood. “During the day,” Neustrom postulates, “walleyes positioned well inside weedbeds are often deep down near bottom and somewhat inactive, while those that remain nearer to weededges tend to be more active and catchable. It could be inside edges, outside edges, even visible open pockets formed by bottom changes within weedbeds that I like to call ‘circles of doom.’ Pitch a jig along irregularities in weededges and you’ll find fish, often walleyes.”
Most of the time, Neustrom uses either a round ballhead jig like a Northland FireBall for average weed conditions, switching to a pointier-nosed jig like a Fire-Ball Stand-Up when the green stuff is tough and thick. The idea is, you want the jig to hang up just enough to help interpret the weed type and thickness, without fouling the lure. In brittle weeds like sparse cabbage, an open-hook round or mushroom head jig is easy to fish along edges; if it settles on the growth and hangs up slightly, give the rod a quick wrist snap to break the stalk or leaf and send the jig sailing free, which often triggers a strike. In softer and denser weeds like coontail, however, more weedless jigs designed to slide through weedgrowth without snagging tend to excel; hang up too much, and you uproot the whole stalk when you try to pop the jig free.
“Standup jigs also add a little action,” Neustrom notes. “Pull ‘em a little, and a plastic tail waggles more. Plus they stand up at rest, letting the fish see your lure. Plain round heads tend to fall on their sides when the line’s not under tension.
“I like phosphorescent glow green or glow orange jigs if the water has a bit of color, to help fish locate the lure. In clear conditions, however, I’ll often just use plain old lead for subtlety. And we always use a small Luhr Jensen file to keep hooks sharp for better hooksetting. Tie direct; no wire leaders, even if you get cut off by the occasional offending pike. You don’t want to deter walleye strikes with a leader. Pike and walleyes are compatible, and you often catch them in the same areas — which is a bonus, rather than a nuisance.
“A lot of the time, my clients and I simply tip the jighead with a half-crawler. Just thread it on through the broken center, nice and straight. I like to use the back half of the crawler [many anglers prefer the front half]. I feel the front end of the crawler is meatier, while the tail end is softer and has more action. This is particularly good when swimming the jig with a soft, undulating, up-down motion through areas of relatively open water. When in weeds, however, let the jig come to rest as it sinks, then wiggle or pop it free. Walleyes often strike as the jig falls, so be sure to let it reach bottom before finally retrieving it back to the boat.
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