Yet at times, walleyes shun those tasty morsels.
What to do? Heed the advice that young Ben Braddock was given in the ’60s film The Graduate. “Plastics, my boy.”
Like Benjamin, plastic should be in your future anytime walleyes turn up their noses at natural baits. The look-alikes can light a fuse and transform the slowest day into a plastic-explosive one.
In spring, walleyes are fooled by soft, lifelike minnow replicas, such as a marabou-tailed Fuzz-E-Grub or curlytail grub bodies, worked slowly on hard-bottomed points and humps with rock or gravel. Or pitch them to shorelines and reel them steadily back to the boat at dawn and dusk.
Artificial worms, leeches, and minnows can dominate in early summer. They’re great for attacking emerging beds of sparse coontail and cabbage. Use a pop-and-drop or steady retrieve to swim them through open patches and corridors in the weeds. Durable plastics stay on a hook better than natural bait in vegetation. They also withstand attack from nuisance bluegills, perch, and yellow bass that steal livebait or rip and tear it into an unappetizing mess before walleyes get a chance at it.
Use minnow replicas in late summer and fall to explore the edges of thick weedbeds in the shallows, or the deeper edges and tops of plants like sandgrass that remain green and attractive to fish all year long.
Plastic baits can be fished faster than their fragile livebait counterparts. Quicker speeds may trigger bites from neutral or negative fish while cutting time from the search for aggressive ones. Plastic baits that bump and grind through an obstacle course of weed stems cause a ruckus and grab a walleye’s attention more so than livebait that must be fished more slowly and cautiously.
We may get lazy in changing a real nightcrawler or chub for a fresh one when the action is slow. But plastic bait always looks its best. That fact alone may tip the scales in our favor when times are tough.
Small livebaits moved at a crawl are the only things that work during cold fronts, right? Not so. Fast approaches with plastic often ignite lethargic fish, like turning on a light bulb in a dark room. For that reason, plastics often outproduce livebait in bad weather.
Livebait or artificial, which will it be? Let the fish tell you what they want. Try livebait at a handful of spots that normally produce walleyes, and graduate to plastic if you don’t get action soon. With two people in the boat, try different approaches to see if the fish show a preference. It won’t take long. Remember, walleyes often change their moods over the course of a day. If action stops with one type of bait, switch to the other.
Where To Start
Effective use of plastic bait begins with your choice of jighead.
Weedless jigs like Lindy-Little Joe’s Veg-E-Jig have the eye at the front to avoid snagging in weeds and wood. Snagless jigs with light, flexible weedguards, like the Veg-E-Jig and Timb’r Rock Jig, often are best if you expect plastic baits to make it through a garden or forest of potential hang-ups.
Ball (round head) jigs work well with shad-type bodies and twisters with oscillating tails. Use a steady retrieve in snag-free spots or over weed tops, maximizing their natural wiggling action. Or vertically jig them in deep water or river current.
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