Author Matt Straw on a good hair day.

Tactics that catch both walleyes and bass can be annoying. The net is always out and before you know it the boat is surrounded. But when walleyes bite more aggressively than the bass do, you’re onto something.

Pros and guides know the value of having good hair. Not haute coiffure for photo sessions (well, that too). I’m talking hair jigs for walleyes. Anglers entering the game in recent decades may stare blankly. Deploying a hair jig for walleyes, especially in still water could be considered an archaic pursuit.

Check the box of a river rat, however—no matter how old—and you won’t have to dig deep to find bucktail. Rivers get cloudy. It happens at least once a year in every river where walleyes swim. River rats know hair bulks up the profile of a lure while slowing its fall, giving fish more time to see it. “When the water’s high, nothing works better than a bucktail jig,” says hair-jig artist and river guide Tim Hutchinson. “It glides while other jig combinations fall. Bucktail is easier for fish to see and it falls slower.”

A similar dynamic exists when fishing lakes, but the tactic has slipped gradually into history. “They jokingly call hair jigs Bemidji Rigs ‘round here,” says guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. “On lakes Bemidji, Winnibigoshish, and Leech, old-timers have been doing it for years. Younger anglers use plastics, but some veterans keep tipping bucktail jigs with a small fathead minnow or nothing at all. The fall is slow, giving walleyes time to see it in the evening. I’ve had my butt kicked by people using hair jigs when I was fishing plastics.”

Bro learned to fish hair for walleyes as a youth. “We used hair jigs for walleyes all the time,” he says. “Hair helps a jig float over weeds and rock spines, making it more efficient in those situations. So they’re great guide baits, keeping clients fishing longer between snags and foul-ups.” Walleye pro Scott Glorvigen says he and his brother Marty used hair jigs when growing up as well. “Doll flies and bucktail jigs were staples before softbaits came along,” he says.

The hair jigs of Bro’s youth were largely homogeneous, with a narrow choice of colors—yellow or white with an occasional red-and-white mix; sometimes black or natural brown. All were tied with bucktail. Today, hair-jig artists like Gave Hillebrand of Hill Brand Tackle, Paul Jensen of Jensen Jigs, and Andy Vallombroso of Andy’s Custom Bass Lures are tying a different breed of hair jig. Some patterns take cues from fly tiers—realistic replications of sculpins, shiners, gobies, and shad. Some are tied as versions of jig-plastic combinations and swim jigs. All of them catch walleyes.

“Hair jigs represent two presentation pathways,” says Glorvigen, a successful tournament veteran. “Those beautiful, lifelike ones are great for clear-water situations where fish react visually, often the case in natural lakes. You also encounter dark-water situations where you’re often trying to trigger walleyes to strike. There the function of a jig is defined less by realism and more by function. In the latter case, you’re trying to help them see it or give them time to feel it coming. Matching preyfish is less important. That happens a lot in rivers.”

Realism paid off for me last summer in Minnesota lakes. Creations from Hillebrand, Jensen, and Vallombroso produced some awesome catches where I’d rarely had much luck with hair jigs before. Pressed for a reason, I’d suggest that blending different materials, the way these guys do, produces jigs that move in ways hair jigs never moved before. On the undulation scale, deer hair moves least and marabou moves most. Bear, fox, and bunny furs fall somewhere between. Blend any two or all of the above—maybe throw in a strand of silicone or living rubber—and you’ve got an awesome lifelike creation fish have never seen.

One of the least understood properties of a jigging presentation is speed. Hair modifies speed. Tied sparsely, hair allows jigs to drop fast. Dense ties yield a slow fall. Each change in density or material results in different drop speeds and horizontal speeds.

Swimming a jig often works best. Cast, then drop the rod tip toward the water, allowing the jig to drop to bottom (or count it down near bottom in snaggy areas), and start retrieving. Keep the rod tip down, so you’re in position to set the hook, and reel slowly. If the jig drags on bottom, speed up slightly. If the jig never touches bottom, slow down slightly. If that doesn’t work, change jig size, density, and color until walleyes respond.

Back east, Vallombroso of Connecticut follows a similar approach. Though he loves bass, “I fish for walleyes with hair jigs quite a bit,” he says. “I use a 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod with 8-pound mono. I fish my Sculpin Head Swim Jig by swimming it just off bottom. Sometimes, where substrates allow, I drag it slowly. I let the fish tell me how fast they want it.”

I fish 3/32-, 1/8-, and 1/4-ounce hair jigs with 4- to 6-pound mono on fast, 7- to 8-foot, light to medium-light rods from St. Croix and G. Loomis. Hillebrand asked me to help design a walleye jig and the result was Matt’s Fox-Z Twitch, one of the more effective patterns I used all summer. “No one’s ever asked me to design a jig for walleyes,” Hillebrand says. “Most of my patterns are designed for several species. My best designs for walleyes have been the Roo-Too, Double Bunny, and the Wooly Jig. The Wooly Jig looks like anything that swims and I left room for tipping with a minnow, leech, or nightcrawler. The Double Bunny has two strips of rabbit that move through the water like a plastic worm or paddletail grub.”

Another effective pattern has been Jensen’s Bunny Worm, a 5-inch bunny strip with a close-cropped collar of flashy synthetics. Swimming this jig with an occasional twitch or pop of the rod tip didn’t catch as many fish as ring worms, but it fooled some of the biggest walleyes we caught all year. “I fish these jigs for walleye with the same gear I use for bass, pike, and muskies,” Jensen says. “The rod is a fast, 6.5-foot one-piece Shimano Sensilite. I use a Shakespeare Axiom reel filled with 20-pound Sufix 832 braid in high-vis green. My leader is 20-pound Berkley Vanish. I’ve taken muskies up to 48 inches with this rig, swimming and popping the hair jigs we use for walleyes.”

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