Colorful jigs and dressings, vibrating bladebaits, flashy jigging spoons — all are more glamorous than the lowly and humble three-way rig; nothing sexy about a swivel, hook, line, and sinker. Unless you’re a walleye on the verge of deciding whether or not to pounce on that morsel bobbing and weaving just above your eyeballs, tethered in place by the aforementioned rigging. Hunger, proximity, vulnerability, and opportunity become a convincing argument.
Three-way rigs aren’t fancy, but they’re certainly effective. And seldom used, if at all.
The three-way’s strength is its ability to hold a bait or lure a set distance off bottom, with the rig held in place by a weight of sufficient size for depth, current, or desired motion. Three-ways are traditionally popular among anglers who anchor and sit and soak livebait; or those who cast from the bank, tighten the line, lean the rod in a forked stick, and let nature take its course. Time, patience, and lively critters do the work. All you need do is reel ‘em in when they decide to cooperate.
Mobile anglers, however, often overlook three-way rigging. It’s a deadly and versatile rigging for a multitude of baits or lures. Troll upstream, drift downstream, hover in place, and all the above. Even reel it up and cast it a time or two before imparting boat movement to position your offering.
Unlike slipsinker riggings so popular in lakes and reservoirs, three-ways don’t slip, and you don’t feed line to a biter. Excess line in current creates drag and forfeits sensitivity and control. Not good in river current. When you sense a bite, simply drop the rod tip a smidgen while the rig itself collapses back toward the fish. As it tightens again, sweepset upward to set the hook.
General Tips for Rivers — Maintain both a short leader and a short dropper. A short dropper keeps your lure or bait near bottom where the fish are. Fifteen inches is a good start. Longer droppers position the bait higher above bottom-hugging walleyes hunkered down tight to allow the current to pass over their heads. Too far off bottom and you don’t get a strike. Short leaders, meanwhile, reduce excessive sway in current, minimize snags, and retain control. Start at two feet and fine-tune as necessary.
Use sufficient weight to match depth and current; don’t overkill or underestimate. A properly weighted rig should lift-drop under increased tension when you lift the rod tip, slipping slightly downcurrent before settling to bottom again. Weight style is open, though bell sinkers in the 1- to 3-ounce range are typical; go heavier if current is excessive or for deep water. Bell sinkers, pyramids, cylindrical weights — nearly anything other than traditional slipsinker versions. Substitute a heavy jig for the sinker to double your chances, simultaneously presenting a lure on and slightly above bottom (Dubuque Rig).
Livebait Rigs — Standard river setup: a lip-hooked minnow, known in some circles as the Wolf River Rig. This rig offers all the advantages and none of the drawbacks; it holds bait in place just off bottom, whether you’re casting, hovering, anchored, or trolling. Switch back and forth between these tactics without rerigging. Just apply it in a different fashion.
As a weight settles to bottom, the rig pulls tight and the bait or lure extends downstream, swinging, swaying, dancing in current. Don’t be in a hurry to move it. The current-bait combo does all the work for you. Put it in a potential spot — a current break or eddy — and be patient.
Floater Rigs — All the deadly advantages of a plain-hook livebait rig, plus a couple more. First, the flotation of the jighead keeps the bait from drooping toward bottom in areas of reduced current or slack water. Second, a floating jighead bobs and weaves in current, adding action and attraction even when the sinker is at rest on bottom. Third, floating heads add color and profile options, creating bigger or bulkier baits. Perhaps the second most underused adaptation to three-ways.
Crankbaits — Undoubtedly the most underused though superb three-way option for rivers. Cranks that are run behind a three-way swivel wiggle and wobble in current, even when the sinker is at rest in an anchored position. Troll upstream, and they go nuts in the current. They also perform well for trolling downstream; move along slightly faster than the current to make the bait wiggle. From an anchored position, a crankbait will wobble in place if current is sufficient.
Shallow-diving cranks, notably minnow- imitators, excel for rivers. Perhaps lengthen the dropper slightly to accommodate the diving depth of the lure, which won’t be more than a few inches on a short leader. Perhaps shorten the leader slightly to prevent the lure from diving and snagging bottom. Rig accordingly.
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